Special Worship, Patience and Sympathy, Overeating
Issue 997 » May 4, 2018 - Shaban 18, 1439
Al-Baqara (The Cow) Sura 2: Verse 183
In our legal formulation, fasting is usually listed among the ritual acts of worship but here its rules and commandments are listed immediately after the laws on the sanctity of life and of property. Traditionally, one might argue, it should have been placed after the verse mentioning Prayer and infaq, spending in the cause of Allah. But obviously, the commandments in the Quran are not arranged as they are in our books of fiqh (Islamic jurisprudence). Rather, their arrangement is determined by considerations of the higher wisdom of the Islamic Shariah — the reformation of society, the purification of souls and the prevailing needs of society. The commandments on fasting focus on the worship that nourishes and encourages self-control and God-consciousness, to help human beings restrain their unbridled propensities for greed, provocation, revenge and incitement.
Fasting is the special worship prescribed in Islam to nurture taqwa and patience — the moral qualities that restrain people from aggression against others or violation of their rights. At the same time, fasting encourages them to work for birr (giving each what is justly due to him or her), ihsan (compassion and kindness) and truth and justice. The commandment about fasting here provides a basis for training in implementing the previous commandments. It also lays down a firm basis for continuing patience in carrying out subsequent laws including the prohibition of bribery and stipulations on Hajj and jihad. Thus the sequence in which the commandment about fasting is placed, and its context, makes its purpose quite clear. This context helps to explain why fasting is prescribed in Islam, what are its objectives and benefits, and how it affects our social life. The entire fabric of Divine law rests on taqwa, self-restraint or God-consciousness that is gained through the ability to control one's emotions and desires. Fasting is the best means of harnessing, training and refining this ability and control.
The Muslim community is not the first or the only one for whom fasting has been prescribed. In fact, fasting has always formed a part of all revealed laws as a special worship for achieving self-control. This reference here is merely to dispel any anxiety from the minds of ordinary people. By informing them that fasting is nothing new, they are encouraged to embrace it and benefit from it.
"Pondering Over The Qur'an: Surah al-Fatiha and Surah al-Baqarah" - Amin Ahsan Islahi
Patience and Sympathy
"This is indeed the month of patience, and the reward for true patience is paradise. It is the month of sympathy with one's fellow human beings; it is the month wherein a true believer's provisions is increased." [Bukhari]
Ramadan is the month of patience. Hence, even if great difficulty is experienced in prescribed fasting, one should bear it cheerfully with patience; one should not complain, as people are likely to do during the hot summer days. Similarly, if the pre-dawn meal is missed, one should not complain. Should we feel fatigued at the time of the Special Prayer (tarawih), this too should be borne with patience. Do not consider it a great imposition or trial otherwise these performances may lose credit with God. When we turn our back on worldly comforts, forsake our eating and drinking for the sake of livelihood, then in comparison with God's pleasure what are these little difficulties?
Further, the Traditions states that this is the month of sympathy, especially with the poor and destitute. Sympathy should be of a practical nature; when ten things are placed before us for post-sunset meal, at least three or four of them should be set aside for the poor and needy, even if we cannot treat them equally as well as ourselves. In showing sympathy for the poor, as in all other matters, the Companions were living examples, and in this respect, it is our duty to follow or at least try to follow them.
Ramadan: Motivating Believers To Action, "The Virtues of Ramadan Seen Through the Traditions'" - Muhammad Zakariyya Kandhlawi
There is no receptacle more odious to God, Great and Glorious is He, than a belly stuffed full with lawful food. Of what use is the Fast as a means of conquering God's enemy and abating appetite, if at the time of breaking it one not only makes up for all one has missed during the daytime, but perhaps also indulges in a variety of extra foods? It has even become the custom to stock up for Ramadan with all kinds of foodstuffs, so that more is consumed during that time than in the course of several other months put together. It is well known that the object of Fasting is to experience hunger and to check desire, in order to reinforce the soul in piety. If the stomach is starved from early morning till evening, so that its appetite is aroused and its craving intensified, and it is then offered delicacies and allowed to eat its fill, its taste for pleasure is increased and its force exaggerated; passions are activated which would have lain dormant under normal conditions.
The spirit and secret nature of Fasting is to weaken the forces which are Satan's means of leading us back to evil. It is therefore essential to cut down one's intake to what one would consume on a normal night, when not Fasting. No benefit is derived from the Fast if one consumes as much as one would usually take during the day and night combined. Moreover, one of the proprieties consists in taking little sleep during the daytime, so that one feels the hunger and thirst and becomes conscious of the weakening of one's powers, with the consequent purification of the heart.
One should let a certain degree of weakness carry over into the night, making it easier to perform the night Prayers (tahajjud) and to recite the litanies (awrad). It may then be that Satan will not hover around one's heart, and that one will behold the Kingdom of Heaven. The Night of Destiny represents the night on which something of this Kingdom is revealed. Anyone who puts a bag of food between his heart and his breast becomes blind to this revelation. Nor is keeping the stomach empty sufficient to remove the veil, unless one also empties the mind of everything but God, Great and Glorious is He. That is the entire matter, and the starting point of it all is cutting down on food.
"Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship" - Imam al-Ghazali