Question: What benefits can the month of Ramadan provide for us to become disciplined people? What good habits should we develop during this month?
Discipline means the directions and prohibitions, as well as the rational, ethical and spiritual training one must abide by. It is the “spirit of order” one must obtain to become a balanced person. A disciplined person is thus one who lives within the parameters of certain rules and principles and one who is sensitive to order and regulations. As a matter of fact, the life of a believer should always be in harmony. They should always know what to do and when they should do it, what activities they should engage in beforehand and they should act accordingly. Apart from organizing a program and creating a time frame in which to perform certain activities, they should not think: “I wonder what I should do now?” They should determine their duties and responsibilities towards their Creator, to other people and to themselves, being aware all the time of when they should perform these acts in an organized predetermined manner, and always displaying exemplary order and structure. In fact, prescribed prayers provide us with a timetable to organize our time. Believers map out their time frame saying, “after the noon prayer (zuhr) . . . before the evening prayer (maghrib),” thus ensuring that they do not waste one moment of time.
Those who know the value of time and realize that their life is a blessing which should be utilized properly ensure that all aspects of their lives, from sleeping to waking, from eating to drinking, are under control. They do not neglect matters or procrastinate. They are well aware of the fact that both people and organizations are the most productive when they are organized well. Therefore, Ramadan is a response to the carnal desires for eating, drinking, sleeping, etc, and in this way it instills discipline into our lives, ensuring that these needs are met according to our basic requirements and within the parameters of gratitude. Through seeking refuge in the spiritual atmosphere of the heart and soul against one’s carnal desires and through strengthening the will by setting into motion the conscience, Ramadan teaches us that we must maintain this discipline.
Ramadan ensures that the desire to eat and drink, which can be a true weak spot for some, is constrained and under control. It teaches us discipline in eating. Of course, we need to eat and drink to live, however, not only is it unhealthy for the body to eat and drink without taking into account basic principles of nutrition; it is also a catastrophe if the stomach is allowed to dominate the heart and soul, causing a person to plummet into the pits of material and carnal desires. Indeed, to eat in an unregulated manner in which the stomach is always full is not only harmful to the body, it is also an act not condoned by God. The fasting that is carried out during Ramadan serves to limit the times for the intake of food, thus avoiding an overloading of the stomach, as well as avoiding those things that are harmful to both the body and soul; in addition one is able to ensure that one always stays within the parameters of what is permitted. People who undergo the Ramadan gain a disciplined spirit.
Ramadan brings to each person who is able to benefit from it the status of a loyal servant. Each believer who fasts and who is able to discover the hidden meaning will not only be awarded with God’s blessing, but will also be loyal and virtuous in their dealings with their community. It will not be enough for them just to worship at certain times, but they will walk towards the horizon of integrity by making use of their whole day with this consciousness, living as if in worship each moment. When they are able to free themselves from worldly and material inclinations, the objective of becoming a symbol of truth and devotion to God will appear before them. With the purpose of achieving this aim, they, in the words of Bediuzzaman Said Nursi, will start to think for the sake of God, speak for the sake of God, love for the sake of God, aiming to always be surrounded by God’s approval; each day this intention brings them closer to success, and one day they become a person of loyaltyand devotion.
In fact, fasting is the best indication of loyalty as it is a concurrence between the Creator and created. The servant shows that they are able to give up certain things during certain times and they show their devotion through such restrain. In return, God declares that He will give the reward for such a display of loyalty. A person who is loyal to God in time is elevated to the status of “a monument of loyalty” in their personal and social life. With these feelings, they care for their family and relatives (sila-i rahim); they reach out to all in need; they never forgo charity (zakat); their thirst for giving alms is never insatiable (sadaqa). For Muslims, one of the important aspects of the relationship with the Creator is reading the Qur’an and praying to God, seeking refuge in Him at all times. It is unfortunate that often it is only during Ramadan that the Qur’an is liberated from the carved chests and embroidered silk cases, becoming a sweet syrup for the tongue and heart. This holy month puts the flavor of the Qur’an into the mouth and instills in people the discipline of the daily religious tasks. Those whose lives with all dimensions become regulated in Ramadan-eating, sleeping, praying, etc.- should ensure that they are able to protect and continue the worship and religious obligations that they fulfilled for the entire month in an orderly fashion after Ramadan has finished. For example, those believers who interrupt their sleep during the month to benefit from the blessings of predawn meal (sahur) and who have a reunion with their prayer mat should consider these thirty nights as a stepping stone that enables them to see each night of the year as a night of reunion, and enlighten their nights with a few cycles of prayer (tahajjud).
Disciplined people predetermine how they shall live and act; they carve a path for themselves with certain principles and proceed carefully. Islam has already determined the color, shape and design of our actions. For example, belief in God and His Prophet is the most important principle. This principle acts as a corner Stone in shaping our behavioral traits. We are responsible to advocate for God and the Prophet, who is a guide to all humanity. It is our duty to teach our religion. Accordingly, we try to conquer hearts and we try to represent Islam, which means being good to others, through our own actions that reflect this goodness. We mingle with others who have been adorned with the actions that are shaped by our religion and introduce them to our values. Apart from actions that have been religiously forbidden, we use all means necessary to explain to others the ideals to which we have devoted ourselves, trying to eliminate all the obstacles that stand between them and the truths of faith. At the same time, we distinguish between being a disciplined person and being bound by regulations that lead to inflexibility; we take into account the circumstances which we find ourselves in at the same time as safeguarding our cultural realities and enlightening those around us in an appropriate manner. If we aim to be bestowed with the good pleasure of God and we have devoted ourselves to communicate Him to humanity, then regardless of conditions in which we find ourselves in, we will be far from inactivity, we will not fall weak, and we will not avoid our responsibility. “Let the spring come, the flowers blossom, the nightingales sing, and then I will also sing” is not a thought that would enter the mind of a disciplined person. They will sing in the winter and in the summer and serenade the roses in the spring and autumn. They find a tune for each season and time and never refrain from chanting these truths. Of course, this supremacy of a heart and spirit that has been disciplined in this way-unless there is benevolence endowed by God-cannot be achieved at once. To reach such a horizon requires a long time and serious commitment. But it is enough to say that Ramadan is a beginning and that it is a fruitful time to sow these virtues so that they may be reaped later.
Actually, for those who believe, a person’s life is Ramadan, adolescence is when the fasting begins, and death is the breaking of the fast. One month of Ramadan is like a rehearsal for a fast that will last a life time. Those who know how to continue to enjoy the virtues gained in this month are aware that the remuneration of staying thirsty and hungry in this world will come to them when they break the fast with God’s words “My servants, I used to see you off color, with your eyes and cheeks sunken and you used to endure this for Me. Eat and drink to your hearts’ content for all that you sent ahead in advance in days past.”1
1. Haqqah 69:24.