Saturday, July 12, 2014

Imbibing the spirit of Ramadan by Prof Shad Saleem Faruqi

A person who submits to hunger and thirst but does not behave righteously misses the whole point of the fasting month.

MUSLIMS around the world are submitting themselves with reverence to the mandatory fasts of Ramadan. It is appropriate, therefore, to reflect on the spirit of this holy month.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Its sanctity is derived from the fact that this is the month when the first revelation of the Holy Quran was sent down to Prophet Muhammad in the Hira cave on the Jabal an-Nour mountain, three miles north of Mecca, around the year 610.

Self-restraint: Ramadan is a month of fasting, prayer, devotion, reflection and expiation. Muslims are commanded to fast so that they may “learn self-restraint” (Holy Quran 2:183). During Ramadan, the faithful are required to abstain from worldly desires, strengthen self-control and achieve self-improvement.

Ramadan reminds us of the myriad blessings of life which we take for granted. It teaches us to empathise with the hunger and deprivation of the less fortunate. It reminds us of our duty to alleviate their suffering. Charity and generosity are urged during Ramadan.

Soul-cleansing: The fast is not merely to detoxify the body but also the soul. The physical fast is an outward expression of the more significant spiritual cleansing and the bringing of solace to the soul. It is about refraining not only from food and drink but also from evil actions, thoughts and words. It addresses the whole domain of human nature and its ultimate aim is to promote piety, honesty, peace and justice.

Pursuing righteousness is the real purpose of fasting. A person who submits to hunger and thirst but does not behave righteously misses the whole point of Ramadan. A Hadith (saying of the Holy Prophet) narrated by Imam Jafar As-Sadiq states: “When you fast, all your senses, eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet must fast with you.”

The implication is that during fasting, we must abstain from all sinful acts, including gossip, slander and sinful thoughts. Patience, peace and tranquillity must be cultivated.

This brings me to the deeply distressing news that in this holy month of Ramadan, scores of Malaysian Muslims are finding religious fulfilment by joining the internecine dispute between Shi’ites and Sunnis in war-torn Iraq and Syria.

Who is financing their expedition is not known. What motivates them to dedicate their lives to such militancy is not clear. I wonder whether our periodic outbursts against the “threat from Shi’ites” may have fed the reservoirs of hatred that these “jihadists” are drinking from?

Jihad: This concept is wrongly interpreted to refer exclusively to a “holy war” even though it refers to any struggle, whether with a sword or a pen. The Holy Quran calls all Muslims to “invite all to the way of Allah with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious” (16:125).

Jihad includes a struggle with oneself. According to a famous saying, the best jihad is by the one who strives against his own self for Allah.

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