The holy month of Ramadan is getting to a close. Muslims who have made it through are thankful that they have been able to do so, hopefully renewed and reformed, not only in terms of losing a couple extra pounds, but more in terms of spirit and character – that they have become better than what they were before. The Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said “One might fast and he gets nothing from his fast but hunger. One might pray at night but he gets nothing from his prayer but fatigue.”
In another hadith, the Prophet also said “When Ramadan comes, satans are chained up, the gates of fire are closed and the gates of paradise are open.” So, God does what we expect from His infinite Mercy; but are we doing what He expects of us, that is another question. Although satans are chained and they cannot come near us, we may still feel tempted to go near them. Without truly transforming in behavior, fasting, and all acts of worship for that matter, become only ritual, family tradition, diet, or physical exercise. I really hope we have made that transformation, or at least embarked on a journey on that path with this Ramadan.
I also choose to look into what we are going through under the pandemic conditions from the prism of Ramadan. As we pray for the loss of many who died due to Covid-19, we also need to think what the divine wisdom might be behind this what appears to be the smallest killer of all time, which is not even a living thing. What might be the wisdom that we are all grounded in our homes and now our mosques and temples closed?
I have been speaking with many friends about their Ramadan experience this year. And an overwhelming majority said this has been one of the best Ramadan they ever had. Of course, we miss hugging friends, enjoying iftar meals together, and praying the tarawih at the mosque. But it appears to me that we probably have lacked the true depth of prayer at an individual level which manifests itself when we can focus – and solitude is sometimes the best tool to reinstall our factory settings, to remember our true human nature. This is why many mystics seek to retreat from society to be able to listen to the inner call that is innately there and we humans under the conditions of our modern lifestyles are too busy to hear that divine voice.
So, fasting is not about remaining hungry a whole day, nor any forms of worship are physical exercise. Fasting serves best when we can “fast from the material world” to reinforce our spiritual world. Our religious traditions – at least that’s the case in Islam – are teaching us to seek a balance between our physical and spiritual needs – both need to be satisfied, both need to weigh equally on the scale. But we live in a world of rat race in which all of us live hastily to bring home bread, to pursue career ambitions that fill our whole time, and many of us do not even have a minute to have some serious deep contemplation about who we are, why we are here in this life, and what our purpose is.
“Quarantine” etymologically means “forty days.” Many mystics observe what we call in Islamic tradition chila or arbaeen, both of which mean 40, to attain that spiritual fulfilment they are after. Our pandemic has already been past forty days, but I think what we can do in these times of forced seclusion is to turn our homes into places of worship, not only to schools or offices, and try to engage in a deeper spiritual journeying even when Ramadan is over.
Fasting is a state of being year-round. For as believers we are already told to fast from bad behavior, over-consumption, greed, hatred, bad words, injustice, and eating certain things. We fast from our weaknesses and our trespassing desires. The holy month of Ramadan is a reminder of this duty, by observing our limits at least for a month. Thus, fasting is an important tool to bring harmony and security to the social order. During Ramadan statistics show that there is a huge drop in criminal activity in Muslim lands. The Prophet said, “When you are provoked to fight or argue during Ramadan, just say ‘I am fasting.’” We humans are unique for we can say no to our passions and elevate ourselves to an angelic form of living. Indeed, we can do much better than what our biological makeup allows us to. Our inner, spiritual peace and outer social peace can become possible when we can truly “fast” throughout the year.