Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala has blessed us that we are now at the doorsteps of another season of Ramadan. And we should have great gratitude to Allah that we were able to reach this far in the year for how many of our brothers and our sisters in the Ummah have passed away since the last Ramadan and hence are unable to take benefit of this month.
The month of Ramadan is a type of spiritual school to which we enter every year but yet unfortunately only few of us graduate. But Allah through His Mercy has allowed us to come back to this school year after year that perhaps we eventually graduate through the lessons we draw from this month.
Literal Meaning of Sawm
The word sawm comes from the Arabic word saam and saam from sawama, which actually means to stop, when something freezes, e.g. the Arabs will say saamatish shams referring to the sun when it reaches its zenith and it appears to be completely frozen. This month of Ramadan is a time for us to stop, to pull away from this duniya, to pull away from the pressures around us and to reflect on the purpose of life, to have some introspection, to look into ourselves.
Concept of Freedom in Islam
Before we start talking about Ramadan and Siyam, I would like to allude to the concept of freedom in Islam. As Muslims we find that our concept of freedom as defined by Islam is radically different from that generally perceived in the West. So while the western concept of freedom revolves around freedom ‘of’ the self and individualism, Islam focuses on freedom ‘from’ the self. So by Islamic definition, to be truly liberated is to be free from the chains of the nafs and freedom of the self is in reality chains put on the ability to be truly free. Our nafs is always subjected to challenges and to undertake a path that is distant from the path of inner peace. And therefore distant from the path of nearness to Allah; and distant from the source of attainment of true happiness both in this world and in the hereafter.
Liberation of the Soul
Fasting and Sawm as prescribed by Allah intend to liberate us. That when we’re eating everyday and drinking everyday and focusing as many of us do on material things everyday, then Allah from his love and from His Rahmah and compassion upon us, He prescribed the month of fasting which disengages us from that addiction to food and drink and all the other things. So that we realize that there is life beyond eating, that there is joy and pleasure and happiness the source of which is neither physical or material.
Now if we continue to do just that without ever taking a break, without ever looking inward into our soul, what happens is that all the world is for me is how it appears from the outside. And that’s detrimental for me, that’s how my heart dies, that’s how I develop more and more inner ailments of more greed, of more arrogance, of more prejudice and so on and so forth. So Allah breaks that for me by prescribing a month of fasting upon the believers. So fasting for at least one month during a year is for me an opportunity to liberate myself from the attachment and therefore the addiction that I may develop for material things. Ramadan liberates me. We begin to notice that there is life beyond physical life; there is joy beyond material joy.
During Ramadan when we voluntarily abstain from all these elements, we also begin to feel kindness and compassion. When we voluntarily stop from eating from dawn to sunset then perhaps if we are involved internally with our Sawm then we begin to know what it feels when we are hungry. While our hunger is by choice, there are those who are hungry by necessity. And many of them don’t have homes to go to of food to break their fast from. If we understand what Sawm actually means, it would enable us to consequently develop compassion and care for those who are in need, for those who are desperate, for those who are hungry.
Fasting is Not to Celebrate Eating
And especially because Sawm is not celebrating eating. Its celebrating NOT eating, its celebrating an inner dimension of fulfillment and of nourishment. Unfortunately though, in the Muslim world we have developed this habit of eating more in Ramadan than outside of Ramadan. More money is spent on food and desserts in Ramadan than outside of it. To the extent that even non-muslims who are known to write on Muslims, they describe all these wonderful and tasty foods that are prepared by Muslim families in Ramadan. That is perhaps why that many of us don’t truly benefit from Sawm.
Ramadan is about celebrating not eating, to discover the joy and the pleasure not in the realm of the physical but in the realm of the Qalb and in the realm of the ruh, in the realm of the spiritual.When we break our fast, we eat with vengeance even though we know from the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) that he used to break his fast with very light food.
Kana rasulullahi iza aftara yuftiru a’ala thamrin aw a’ala thamratin aw maa
When Rasulullah broke his fast, he broke it with one date or few pieces of date or with some water.
And then we go to Salah after that and we expect to focus on Salah while we have eaten so much. That when you eat so much what happens to the mind? What happens to the nafs? The nafs is enslaved and it has enslaved you. And therefore our mind sleeps and we come to Salah bored & yawning. And yet Salah is the connectedness of the human qalb with Allah azza wajal. To the extent that Rasulullah teaches that the value of one’s Salah is worth only the extent of the presence of his or her heart in that Salah.
Laysa lil mari min salatihi illa maa aqila minha
And yet when I eat so much I loose that focus. I discover through fasting that there is life and pleasure and joy outside of eating and drinking and sleeping and copulating.
It is narrated that Rasulullah has said:
Anna shaitana yajree najrad dammi fibni Adam
That Shaitan runs inside the child of Adam as the blood runs inside the veins or it may mean that Shaitan runs within the course of the blood in the veins of the child of Adam
Now since Shaitan runs through our blood and our blood is fed by what we eat so if we eat properly and balanced and we fast there would not be enough nourishment inside the blood for Shaitan and subsequently the path of Shaitan inside our veins would be narrowed.Some early scholars used to say:
Dayiqu najarish shaitan bil-joo’
Restrain and narrow down the passages of Shaitan inside the human veins by fasting
Purpose of Siyam
Allah subhanahu wa Ta’ala says in the Quran:
Ya ayuhal lazeena aamanu kutiba alaikumus siyamu kama kutiba a’lalazeena
O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may develop taqwa.
What is Taqwa? The word taqwa is derived from waqa, ittaqa
Waqa – to protect, to shield, Ittaqa – to protect one self
Taqwa is a noun derived from that meaning to shield oneself, to protect oneself. What are we seeking protection from? From the ru’oona of the nafs and the impact of Shaitan. To protect the human being from the excessive indulgences of the self that leads to chain the individual to be addicted to the self and also protects us from the wrath and displeasure of Allah.
Fasting by its very nature precludes Riya, i.e. showing off. This is why Allah azza wajal said in the hadithe-qudsi that
Kullu a’mal ibn-e-Adam lahu illas Siyam fa innahu lee wana ajzee bih
Every act of the son of Adam is for him except for fasting, which is exclusively for me and I alone will reward him for it
Why didn’t Allah say the same thing about other ibadaat? Why did he choose fasting alone? The scholars have said that fasting has a unique characteristic in that that it does not permit showing off, in the sense that nobody actually knows if someone is fasting or not. Who knows if one eats or drinks in secret? So it’s only between Allah and the person fasting. So this lends to ikhlaas. So therefore the sense that Allah is watching you, the sense that one must guard his or her gaze, his or her glances, his or her words, his or her actions is something we can gain in Ramadan. And riya i.e. showing off is a very dangerous disease. So we know that the Prophet described it as being more inconspicuous than a black ant crawling upon a black mountain in the middle of the night.
If we look at the two forces usually that hold me from doing good, they are Shaitan and our nafs. Rasulullah has said that Shaitan is chained during the month of Ramadan, which leaves us with the nafs. Now we’ve been through scientific experiments in school where there are multiple variables involved in a certain experiment. So by removing one or more variables, we discover the impact of each of the variables individually. Likewise, here Allah has provided us with this opportunity to evaluate the true nature of our nafs. And then when I do wrong, who is to blame?
Now another of the benefits of fasting is to purify and build our character. The prophet said, As-Sawmu junnatun, i.e. fasting is a shield. So if anyone of you is fasting, he or she should not do any act of sinfulness of that of ignorance. And if somebody insults you or tries to fight with you, he should not respond back by cursing or fighting back but say inni saim, inni saim, I am fasting, I am fasting. And the Prophet has said that:
He who does not give up uttering falsehood and acting according to it, Allah has no need of him to give up his food and drink.
It is narrated that two women were fasting during the time of Allah’s Messenger. They were so fatigued towards the end of the day, from hunger and thirst that they were on the verge of collapsing. They therefore sent a message to the Prophet, requesting permission to break their Fast. In response, the Prophet, sent them a bowl and said: “Tell them to vomit into it what they have eaten.” One of them vomited and half filled the bowl with fresh blood and tender meat, while the other brought up the same so that they filled it between them. The onlookers were astonished. The Prophet then said: “These two women have been Fasting from what God made lawful to them, and have broken their Fast on what God, Exalted is He, made unlawful to them. They sat together and indulged in backbiting, and here is the flesh of the people they maligned!
We should remember that in this month we are not only restraining from food drink and copulation but also restraining from bad character. And here every one of us should contemplate and think. What behavior do I have that is incorrect and that I should change. Now these changes do not come about by the mere whim, in fact one must struggle and put in effort to bring forth these changes. So if we need to develop good character, we should practice good character and leaving bad character. So we should try to be introspective and try to see where is it that we fall short? Is it that I lie? Is it that I indulge in back-biting others? Is it that I am over-zealous for money and tend to shy away from spending it in charity? One should find that disease and use the month of Ramadan to work on removing it.Al-Bukhari & Muslim reported on the authority of Abu Huraira that the Prophet said:
Man saama ramadana imanawn wahtisaban ghufira lahu ma taqddama min zanbih
He or she who observes fasting within the month of Ramadan with faith while seeking the reward from Allah, he will have his past sins forgiven
If we can stop ourselves from having something that is halal, it should become a lot easier for us to help us to stay away from haram.
He or she is a great loser who finds Ramadan then comes out of it without gaining forgiveness and goodness
One of the meanings of this hadith as described by our scholars is that if we’re not able to seek Allah’s forgiveness in this month, we would not be able to do so in other months as well. If we were not able to perform the best of deeds in this month then we won’t be able to do any better in the other months either. If we are not able to get Allah’s Mercy in this month, then we will be far from it in the other months.
We see that the month of Ramadan finds its importance through Quran. As Ibn Abbas mentioned Allah sent down the Quran-al-Kareem to Bayt-ul-Uzza, which is a place in the first heaven in the month of Ramadan. Then the first verses that were revealed to the Prophet (PBUH) also were in the month of Ramadan.
We pray to Allah Subhanahu wa Ta’ala that He accept our deeds and that He makes us from amongst those who truly benefit from Ramadan.
Allahumma ballighna Ramadan wa a’inna feehi alas siyami wal-qiyam. Allahumma a’inna feehi ala salihil a’amal. Allahumma ya zaljalali wal ikram, ija’al ahsana a’malina khawatimaha. Wa khaira ayyamina yawma nalqaak.