Ramzan: The Holy Month when Muslims Undergo Rigorous Fastby Opinion Express May 18, 2018 0 comments
The fasting custom is an eagerly awaited break for Muslims to utilize the absence of drink, food and other indulgences as an opportunity to concentrate on meditation, worship and prayer. This inspires greater reflection on one’s life and appreciation for resources that we usually taken for granted.
This is the holy month when Muslims undergo rigorous fast (they do not have a drop of water; not even a spittle passes their throats). Muslims around the world undergo the journey to discover their inner strength and strive zealously to subjugate their evil instinct. This is abstinence in its literal, metaphorical and allegorical sense.
From dawn to dusk, each day during this month, Muslims do not eat, drink, smoke, use perfume or apply leeches. They abstain from conjugal relations. It is the month of Ramzan, the ninth and the holiest month of the Muslim lunar year, a month of sacrifice and humility punctuated by joyous family gatherings during which, conscientious observance of every divine commandment marks a water mark in the lives of Muslims.
The rules of Ramzan are fairly straightforward: For one month, all practicing, able-bodied Muslims over the age of 12 are forbidden to eat or drink from sun-up to sun-down. Muslims believe that during this month, the gates of hell close — meaning the devil is unable to tempt them during a month of discipline, charity and self-control.
The objective of the fast, which also prohibits participating in ‘sensual pleasures’ such as smoking, sex and even listening to music during daylight hours, is to diminish believers’ dependence on material goods, purify their hearts and establish solidarity with the poor to encourage charitable works during the year. It’s as much a period of self-growth as of self-denial: Muhammad reportedly said, “He who does not abandon falsehood in word and action in accordance with fasting, God has no need that he should abandon his food and drink.”
The origin of the word Ramzan comes from the classical Arabic root, ramida, ar-ramad or ramdaa, meaning scorching heat or dryness — believed to be either in reference to the heat of thirst and hunger or because fasting burns away one’s past sins. The first Ramzan is thought to have occurred during the middle of summer. In other words, Ramzan is a month meant to purify the body of toxins and the soul of the lavish desires of life, such as greed, hatred and malice. The month of Ramzan is further divided into three parts, consisting of 10 days each. Each 10-day period is referred to as ashra, which is the Arabic word for ten. These three parts are the Rahmah (god’s mercy), Maghfirah (god’s forgiveness), and Najah (salvation). The first 10 days of the month of Ramzan are dedicated to mercy from Allah. The next 10 days focus on forgiveness from Allah and the last 10 on freedom from Hell Fire.
Ramzan commemorates the time when Quran was first revealed to Prophet Mohammad about 1,400 years ago through the angel Gabriel. This revelation was the final link in the chain of divine communication, which includes the Commandments of Moses, the Psalms of David, the Scrolls of Abraham and the Gospel of Jesus.
Fasting or sawm is one of the vital pillars of Islam. Sawm is derived from the root sama which means ‘to abstain’ — although sawm is most commonly understood as the obligation to fast during Ramzan; it is more broadly interpreted as the obligation to refrain between dawn and dusk from food, drink, sexual activity, and all forms of immoral behaviour, including impure or unkind thoughts. Thus, false words or bad deeds or intentions are as destructive of a fast as is eating or drinking. As Lent may be prescribed for Christians and Yom Kippur for those of the Jewish faith, Ramzan is an eagerly awaited interval for Muslims to utilise the absence of food, drink and other luxuries, as an opportunity to concentrate on prayer, meditation and worship. This in-turn encourages greater reflection on life itself and appreciation for resources we sometimes take for granted.
Unintentional breaking of the fast is not punished and Muslims are enjoined to break their fast if there is a threat to health. Other types of infractions require restitution. This is of two kinds: Qada, which involves making up missed days and Kaffarah, which additionally exacts penalty from the transgressor.
The devout Muslim is also expected to observe the Shari’ah, which means “the path to follow.” Based on the Quran, the deeds and sayings of Muhammad and the consensus of Islamic scholars, the Shari’ah is not just a compilation of criminal and civil law, but a complex, all-embracing code of ethics, morality and religious duties. It is a sophisticated system of jurisprudence that summarises 1,400 years of experience and constantly adapts, in subtle ways, to new circumstances. The Kaaba, a shrine in the Grand Mosque of Mecca is, for Islam, the most sacred place on earth and making a pilgrimage there at least once in one’s life is one of the basic obligations of devout Muslims.
In many ways, Ramzan mirrors a form of spiritual renewal — a time for new resolutions and a revival of inner peace. Similar to how one might attend a nature retreat once a year to escape the humdrum of a dog-eat-dog world, Ramazan provides an internal retreat where the mind and it’s natural ‘thirst’ for knowledge, awakening and reason is given greater precedence over the physical needs and desires of the body — needs which are regularly served but rarely satisfied. Human desire in its bare essence is animalistic and selfish. It has been the evolution of teachings of faith that has kept in check much of our primitive needs for constant self-gratification.
The struggle for internal balance and control of the self is as old as mankind. Ramzan is a long arduous ordeal to prepare mankind for a journey into a new year with renewed spiritual energy and fresh pledges. It is a means of building self-control and striking a balance between the spiritual and the mundane. It is a way of adapting one’s life to subjugate the evil instincts and vicious ambitions like lust, greed and hatred .
Islam has a beautiful word to describe this war against man’s carnal instincts. It is called jihad. In fact, Islam repeatedly emphasises it and calls it the ‘greater jihad’. The ‘greater struggle’ is the personal one: The struggle to resist temptation, combat one’s own evil traits and imperfections and become a better person in god’s sight. King James speaks of it as seeking ‘The Kingdom of god’ and the Hindu spiritual classic Bhagavad Gita represents it in the battle of Kuruksetra.
For a Muslim seeking Ramzan’s spiritual bliss, it is like a traveler climbing a mountain; the higher he goes the farther he sees. It elevates the human mind to great heights of ecstasy, comparable to what the greatest English poet John Keats experienced when he discovered On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer:
Then felt I like some watcher of the skies
When a new planet swims into his ken;
Or like stout Cortez when with eagle eyes
He star’d at the Pacific—and all his men
Look’d at each other with a wild surmise — Silent, upon a peak in Darien.
(The writer is the author of Village Diary of a Heretic Banker)
Writer: Moin Qazi
Courtesy: The Pioneer