Ramadan is here with its message of hope and spiritual renewal.
This year it arrives in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world and brought humankind to our knees. It has exposed our vulnerability and forced us to engage in introspection and a rethinking of our priorities and habits in life.
The fact that – all our impressive scientific achievements notwithstanding – a single virus can render us helpless should convince even the most skeptical that we are ultimately at the mercy of our Creator. The Qur’an reminds us of the fragile nature of our existence:
“O humanity! A lesson is set forth, so listen to it ˹carefully˺: those ˹idols˺ you invoke besides Allah can never create ˹so much as˺ a fly, even if they ˹all˺ were to come together for that. And if a fly were to snatch anything away from them, they cannot ˹even˺ retrieve it from the fly. How powerless are those who invoke and those invoked!” (Qur’an: 22: 73).
Ramadan arrives every year to remind us that no matter how powerful we may think we are, we can never be independent of our Creator. “O mankind, you are all poor and ever dependent on Allah; Allah alone is self-sufficient, the all praised.” (Qur’an: 35: 15). Since we can never be independent of Allah, only leading a fully examined life can save us from our follies, reckless attitudes and behaviours, which now threaten humanity’s future. The COVID-19 pandemic is only one of its manifestations.
Ramadan, the fifth pillar of Islam, is part of a holistic program for moulding us into improved people. The four pillars, namely Salah, Zakah, Siyam, and Hajj, constitute a comprehensive program that aims to develop morally and spiritually fit individuals.
At the heart of the program is the testimony of Oneness, which serves like a nucleus or its life-blood.
Next comes Salah, which brings us face to face with God to commune with Him and thus empower us spiritual; it also makes us aware of our accountability before God.
Zakah helps us overcome our greed and teaches us to share God’s blessings with the less fortunate, thus developing social responsibility.
Besides reinforcing the above lessons, Hajj also teaches us to shun our parochial, tribal mindsets to see the world as our home and humankind as our family.
The primary purpose of Siyam, which is our topic today, is to nurture taqwa – Allah says:
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become mindful (of God).” (Qur’an: 2: 183).
Fasting helps us to nurture God-consciousness, for, while fasting, we deny ourselves food, drink, and other forms of gratification, day in and day out. We do so simply out of fear and love of God.
A fasting person experiences pangs of hunger and thirst that millions of others in the world live with every day. Thus, it helps develop empathy and motivates one to share Allah’s blessings with the less fortunate. The Prophet reminded us of this aspect of fasting when he called Ramadan the month of charity. It is no wonder then, that his companions described him as the most generous person who was even more so during the month of Ramadan.
Besides training in self-mastery, Ramadan also helps us to change our bad habits and develop positive ones. Our success and failure in life are tied to the habits we form. According to behavioural psychologists, it takes twenty-one days to break a bad habit and develop a new one. It is not at all surprising that God, our Creator, has gifted us with a program to establish a fresh beginning and attitude to life which spans an entire month.
Breaking bad habits and developing positive habits are essential for success in life. The practices we ought to cease must include, among others, any extravagant lifestyle choices and instead we should develop moderation and simplicity. The world today is reaping the bitter fruits of our reckless greed and consumerism and unfortunately, Muslims are no exception.
We must heed the wisdom of Imam Ghazali who reminded us that when it comes to fasting, there are three types:
The first group foregoes food and drink and sexual gratifications from dawn to dusk. The second group goes a step further. They restrain all of their faculties from sins and transgressions. The third group goes to a higher level: They turn away from all frivolities and focus their thoughts single-mindedly on Allah. They are the ones who realize the maximum benefits of Ramadan.
Let us conclude by citing the Arab poet:
“Ramadan is here: “Ramadan is here—a spiritual harvest for humans, to cleanse them of corruption in their souls. So be prepared to pay the guest his due respect, in words and deeds, and use it to make your provision for the Day of Resurrection. Whosoever plants the seeds and fails to water them will only regret it on the day of harvest.”