The true fast is fasting with Prophet Adam! Walking with him in the desert of existence with the burning sand under one's feet, with the flame of love in one's heart, and the heat of search in one's chest, and the tears streaming from one's eyes! Wandering, searching restlessly for Him, the One and Only, drawn by the pain of separation! In other words, our fasting efforts have to connect us with the first human being, the father of humankind, the Prophet Adam. Our fasting has to draw us to walk in his footsteps, because he was in search of love, he was searching to regain the love, forgiveness and contentment of God the Majestic with his tearful repentance. He had only one goal, one longing, one wish, one thought for forty years, to ask for forgiveness, love and mercy from His Supreme Creator.
The father of humankind had no eyes and ears for the world, his life was a fasting life walking in the burning desert of human existence. He lived a life of seclusion with his Lord. His life signifies the true khalwat, true asceticism. He was made to leave the exalted station of paradise where the angels prostrated to him. But his pain of separation was not caused by the loss of paradise, the loss of the company of the angels, his loss was the loss of his Beloved!
Therefore, if fasting is not directed toward fasting from the world for the sake of the increase of love for the Lord of the worlds, our fasts are wasted effort and struggle. The result degenerates into a good meal at fast breaking. The opposite of fasting is not luxury, wealth, status, ownership, as the opposite of wealth is not poverty. Wealth, glamour, luxury is the absence of love, which means the opposite of fasting is the absence of the most Graceful, most Merciful! Fasting from the world means to dive into the ocean of God's mercy and gain the treasury of intimacy and love. This is our Prophet Adam, who reached the most exalted degree of love, described by Rumi:
When Adam lapsed, God exiled him from paradise. God said to him, "O Adam! Since I have held you responsible and punished you for that sin you committed, why did you not dispute with Me? After all, you had an argument. You could have said, 'All is from You, and You make all. Whatever You desire in the world comes to pass, and whatever You do not desire will never come to pass.' After all, you had such a clear, correct and patent argument. Why did you not give expression to it?" Adam replied, "I knew that, but I did not abandon courtesy in Your Presence; love for You did not allow me to reproach You."
This conversation shows the most noble feature of modesty, humility, love and shame or "haya."
Observing the life of Prophet Adam, we learn that the human heart has to be cleansed with two attributes; repentance and muhabba. Repentance opens the door of one's helplessness, need, poverty and the recognition of one's servanthood and total dependence on the All-Majestic Lord of all the worlds. The recognition of one's mistakes, insufficiencies, heedlessness, weakness, incapacities, and imperfections is the crucial point where love starts. Truthful repentance creates modesty or haya and haya is the awareness of love.
The wisdom we can draw from the father of humankind is that without seclusion from the world, there is no love. Love is only sold in the house of human hardship, efforts, fasting, works. We have to see the world as a plane of the hereafter! The fruit of eternity and divine harmony are only earned through struggle in daily life. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said, "Struggling makes one witness the Sacred Essence." This principle is especially effective in terms of fasting. We fast in the world from the world. We fast with the body to overcome the body. Through our temporal, limited existence, the material self, we can realize our true existence and reach selflessness. The education of the body through fasting is nothing but making matter subtle, making the heavy light, striving towards cleanliness and purity. In short, the body has to become refined by our own efforts up to the point of transforming it into a holy instrument through which God Himself can act as stated in the holy tradition, "When I love a servant I become the eyes with which he sees and the ears with which he hears..."
A wise man said, "True comfort is freedom from the desires of the lower self! Your prison is your own lower self. As soon as you escape from it, you will live in the comfort of eternity." In other words, what makes you free is the abundance of what imprisons you! Fasting is the method to free oneself from the tyranny of one's lower self. The wisdom of the fasting month is that you do not fill your stomach with food, so you might see the light of "marifa" within yourself! To become the king of our own heart is the result of true fasting! The root of all sicknesses is attachment to the world and the healing for all sicknesses is attachment to the hereafter! With fasting one learns to say no to the world and yes to the hereafter. With the help of fasting one is empowered by the world and enriched by the divine Presence. God's Messenger said, "The one who fasts has two satisfactions. One is when he breaks his fast at the end of the day. The other is when he sees." There are numerous levels of fasting, apart from fasting exclusively with one's stomach, and the ultimate fasting of truth is the fasting which is not limited to the month of Ramadan, nor any other time. On the way of truth we have to answer to everything with hunger, referring to the famous utterance of the Prophet: "Knock on the door of hunger." Hunger generates the absolute need of creatures for their Creator; hunger burns away impurities and clears the way to the Lord of Majesty and Bounty; hunger is our supreme teacher for all spiritual sicknesses. It is a remedy for all human distress, calamities, fears, depression.
The great saint Jalaladdin Rumi commented on so-called modern man eight hundred years ago:
You have an escape from God, but not from food. You have an escape from religion, but not from idols. Oh you who cannot bear to be without this despicable world! How can you bear to be without Him who spread it as a carpet? Oh you who cannot be without luxuries and comforts! How can you bear to be without the Generous God?
The crucial point is this; if we wish to save ourselves from the dangerous and low places of human existence, we have to discover the thirst of our souls. Today, modern societies obviously suffer a great thirst due to the unfortunate fact that the human soul is not attracted by the Water. Humans veil the light of their own sun by their own clouds of unconsciousness. Thus fasting is the perfect means to wake up from our sleep of unconsciousness and our ignorance. Fasting effectively increases our divine thirst! More precisely, it increases the need for the truth! In order to understand our true nature and find the purpose of our lives, we have to occupy ourselves with God. We have to drink from the water of life, we have to eat from the banquet of heaven, and we have to experience the heavenly ascension. There is no other reason why fasting is given to humanity except that it enables us to realize the eternal secret of human existence. When we do not build our lives on belief, we will be lost in moral decay, disorder and ignorance. In other words we will lack humanity.
To conclude, fasting from the world brings us paradoxically closer to the world, penetrating into the dynamic of human life on earth. It brings us closer to ourselves, it brings us closer to our fellow beings, and therefore it brings us closer to our Lord. This is the treasury of fasting-healing from the terror of selfishness, from the lower desires of the flesh, from the darkness of unconsciousness.
Oh Lord, turn off the hatred, envy, indifference, lightheartedness, and darkness of our hearts and replace them with affection, love, mercy, compassion, and generosity to our brothers and sisters! Oh Lord, enfold us in the robe of firm belief.
Oh our Lord, increase our immortality and decrease our profanity, increase our spirituality and decrease our materiality, increase our admiration and decrease our calculation.
We ask ourselves how much is the most precious of all books, the holy Qur'an in our hands, on our lips, in our eyes, in our hearts? How much is the Qur'an in our lives? Is it just placed on a shelf in our houses or is it not there at all? We ask ourselves how much do we run to do good deeds? How concerned are we to help our fellow beings in need? How much time do we reserve for the service of the poor and sick?
Oh Lord, we are ashamed of the answer to these questions. One of Your greatest servants, the venerable Abdul Qadr al-Jilani never slept at night for forty years! He made his morning prayer with the ablution he had taken to make his night prayer. He read the Qur'an every night so that sleep should not overtake him. He stood on one foot and leaned against the wall with one hand. He did not change this position until he had recited the whole Qur'an. When he could not fight sleep himself, he would hear a voice that shook every cell of his body. It would say, "O Abdul Qadr, I did not create you to sleep. You were nothing. I gave you life. So while you are alive you will not be unaware of Us!"
O my heart which finds rest in fasting, what a miraculous blessing of healing! What a relief from these constant ego attacks, what a great comfort, what freedom having cleaned the mirror of our hearts from dirt and dust, what a benefit, what a present for my soul having made order and set the barriers for the human kingdom of the body!
Rabia Christine Brodbeck is the author of From the Stage to the Prayer Mat: The Story of How a World-Famous Dancer Fell in Love with the Divine.