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Let the change begin

Publishing Date : 14 May, 2019

IQBAL EBRAHIM
UNDERSTANDING ISLAM


Almost a week gone and Muslims are into their month of fasting. One may ask, why fast? The Quran says: ‘O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn self-restraint’. (Quran 2: 183). We fast in order to fulfil the Command of our Lord.



This is a month in which on a physical level we abstain from all food, drink, smoking and fulfilling our marital carnal desires from sunrise to sunset. In addition on a behavioural level we refrain from bad vices like jealousy, vain talk, anger, gossip, and other everyday human traits. It is also a time forgiveness – we should forgive those whom we think have hurt us or done something against us. How can we expect the Lord to forgive us when we don’t forgive our fellow human beings?


During this time we can fulfil our obligations to our Lord and Creator and at the same time to purge and cleanse the mind, the body and souls of the bad vices we have succumbed to. Think about it, throughout the year many of us fall into such bad habits as gorging down our food and overeating thus stressing out our bodies and our internal systems. Fasting gives the body that much needed chance and time to reinvigorate and cleanse itself. Doctors are now discovering the physical benefits of fasting have a wonderful cleansing effect on the body. Many impurities are burned up within the body, thus clearing, cleansing and healing the body.


So, this is the month for Muslims to abandon their bad habits and turn around their lives – as the saying goes; ‘We first make our habits, and then our habits make us’. This is an opportune time to work towards bringing the good habits and practices back into our lives.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: ‘Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah's rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.’


As often made reference to, fasting is not only limited to Islam but also is a practice common to many other religions, maybe not as pronounced and specified as in Islam, but it is there in the Scriptures and teachings. The Bible refers to fasting in a number of instances.
Fasting is prescribed in almost all religions. The Jews and Christians also fast. Jewish law order a yearly fast on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. I read an item sometime back that said that Orthodox Jews require the bride and groom to fast on the day before their wedding. Many Christians fast during Lent, the period of 40 days that Jesus (pbuh) spent fasting in the wilderness. People of the Buddhist and Hindu faith also fast.


Among the verses in the Bible: “Then was Jesus led up of the Spirit into the wilderness, to be tempted of the devil. And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights….. (Matthew 4: 1-4). And: “And it came to pass, when I heard these words, that I sat down and wept, and mourned certain days, and fasted, and prayed before the God of heaven. (Nehemiah 1: 4)


For Muslims this month also has a great significance: ‘Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed as a guide to mankind and as a clear evidence for guidance and judgement between right and wrong. So whoever among you witnesses this month, let him spend it in fasting….’ (Quran 2: 183 – 185)


For all Muslims from the age of puberty upwards the month long fasting is obligatory and it includes intensive devotional activities. However if one is ill, on a journey or for some reason unable to fast during this month, they can make up for it later. For those who cannot do so for other reasons for example, the regular intake of medicines, they have to make penance or make up for it by feeding the indigent and needy.


Fasting constitutes the third obligatory pillar of faith and worship in Islam and the first lesson fasting brings to us, is that of obedience: we have to learn to cultivate obedience to the orders of Allah. Without this obedience there is little hope of ever changing our inner self to gain piety. This is not about picking and choosing, not about what to obey and what to leave out, but about total submission to Allah. Islam is to submit.


Neither is it only about ‘starvation’ from all food and drink throughout the daylight hours, but it is more than this. With the intensity of the fasting it brings about the opportunity to take stock of our lives, to reflect on what we have been, what we are doing, and what we should have been doing. This should bring into focus an inner reflection of the conduct of our lives.


Muslims also engage in increased devotional activities during this month; in addition to the five times daily prayers, additional prayers are added to the evening prayer. During these additional congregational prayers, the Imaam leads them by reciting (from memory) the entire Quran, from first chapter to the final chapter, spaced over the month. In addition to this many Muslims increase their devotional activities even by reading / reciting the entire Quran at home on their own during this month. 


These actions teach us self-discipline, self-control, steadfastness and resilience as they train us to be flexible and adaptable in our habits and thus capable of enduring hardships. For example, throughout the year we can eat and drink anytime all day long but not so during the fasting month. During our fasting month we cannot do so from sunrise to sunset, so we begin to realise that indeed food and drink are precious gifts not to be taken for granted.


This in turn brings about a consciousness of the plight of the poor and needy who constantly experience this state of hunger, from this we learn to appreciate the daily bounties from our Lord that we usually take for granted. This brings about active compassion and the spirit of charity towards the poor and needy.


The intensity of our devotional activities during this month should trigger off in us a deep reflection and a soul searching to identify those weak spots in our spiritual goals and values. This then becomes a unique opportunity to utilize to move and devote ourselves to our spiritual development.


As mentioned earlier amongst other things we should avoid vain talk, gossip, learn to control our temper; Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, "Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting)". Further:  'Five things break a man's Fast: lying, backbiting, gossiping, perjury and a lustful gaze’. And: “Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is fasting he should neither indulge in obscene language, nor should he raise his voice in anger. If someone verbally attacks or insults him, let him say: "I am fasting!" 

To Muslims the world over the message is, Ramadan Mubarak and may you gain the maximum benefits from your actions during this auspicious month.         

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