Every Ramadhan we are reminded of the Hadith of RasulullLah s.a.w. that there are those who fast (sawm) in vain, gaining nothing. Abu Huraira related that RasululLah s.a.w. said, “Many people who fast get nothing from their fast except hunger and thirst, and many people who pray at night get nothing from it except wakefulness”.
Don’t we not understand the importance and dire implications of this Hadith? Don’t we not see that all the talks, khutbahs and seminars about fasting, all the hullabaloo about abstaining from eating and drinking, the buzz of Ramadhan activities, the iftar events, the campaigns for healthy diets and quitting from smoking in Ramadhan, the anticipation of collecting porridge foriftar complete with schedules with when and where to collect them… All of these may just be distractions leading us to gain nothing out of our fasting except hunger and thirst?
Maybe, we should fast from all these artificially contrived buzz of Ramadhan complete with launches of new flashy websites on Ramadhan and newly conceived Ramadhan activities. Instead of deeper and more comprehensive abstention of the desires and senses; Instead of intensifying our fard ibadah and increasing the nawafil; Instead of increasing in the reading and recitation of our scriptures and contemplation of Allah’s words; Instead of a greater awareness of God-consciousness through fasting, we are indulging in more of “everything” that distracts from the important things Ramadhan represents.
Am I absolutely against all of these buzz? Is not a new flashy website on Ramadhan with all the information accessible and updated a good thing? Of course! Can I not think of anything positive out of all these Ramadhan buzz and activities? Of course I can! Anybody can! In general, I have nothing against all of these per se but to illustrate my point about “distractions”, we need to revisit what Prof. S.M. Naquib Al-Attas says about ad-dunya . Dunya in his analysis is something that is brought near. Dunya, this place where we live our lives and carry out our ibadah including fasting, is really a symbol, it really represents what is encapsulated in the phrase AyatulLah, a Sign of God for which there is meaning to be sought and understood by thinking men and women. Ironically, ad-dunya is brought near to us to better enable us to read its meaning because the created is really a symbol that points to the Creator. But Prof. Al-Attas also says that the nearness of dunya to us also serves to distract us away from it’s meaning – just as dunya is “brought near”, akhirah seems far. Dunya thus distracts us from the inevitability and certainty of akhirah. This gives us some insight as to how we receive Ramadhan because today more than ever, the blessed month of Ramadhan comes with great distractions of ad-dunya. It is this that I think we need to remind ourselves of.
So, maybe, we should fast from having such “Ramadhan activities” and get back to basics! Why exactly are we fasting? Indeed, are we really fasting? No, the question, “Are we really fasting?” is not out of place nor unfair. Sadly Ramadhan has become a month of much hypocrisy. Astaghfirullah! But how would you describe a Muslim who avowedly fasts during the day and yet spends like crazy and buy more food than he can eat at the bazaars right before Maghrib thereby causing untold wastage of food? How would you describe a Muslim who in effect simply change the time of his meals from daylight to night-time whereby the total intake of food is actually more during Ramadhan than during other months? How would you describe a Muslim who spends more on food sometimes triple the amount, during Ramadhan than during any other month? How would you describe the situation whereby instead of having simple meals for iftar as RasulullLah s.a.w. used to have, we arrange for elaborate meals during both iftar and sahur? How would you describe the situation whereby Ramadhan has become an excuse for eating extra sumptuous, extra delicious, in extra helpings and quantities, in the month we claim to be fasting for Allah s.w.t.? Subhanallah! May Allah s.w.t. help and guide us!
Are we really fasting when we do not stop with the lies and the fitnah? Are we really fasting when for hours we are still glued onto the Internet anticipating the latest Facebook status update about what our FB friends are doing? Are we really fasting as we while-away time shopping for clothes and trinkets and figuring out what food to buy and eat for iftar? Are we really fasting when we are still busy with grand plans to make money out of Ramadhan? We should be reminded of a Hadith whereby the Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. declares: “Allah does not accept the fasting of those who do not restrain themselves from telling falsehood or from doing false deeds.” “Telling falsehood” is easy enough to understand but “false deeds” should set you to think, for indeed, what are you doing in the month of Ramadhan? This is an important question because reflecting on what we do in terms of‘amal in Ramadhan, we can more clearly see if we are in fact distracted by the glitter commercialisation and drive to satisfy our desire for nice clothes, food and trinkets during Ramadhan and come Syawal.
Some might ask, “Distracted from what?”. Well, the answer to that question lies in another question; What is the true purpose of fasting? Arguably the most oft-quoted verse of the Qur’an on fasting is in Surah al-Baqarah, ayat 183 which says, “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint”. The translated term “self-restraint” while correct, may be more accurately understood when a look at the Arabic phrase “La a’lakum tataqun”. This clearly refers to Taqwa – the phrase can be translated as “so that you learn (aquire) taqwa” . The purpose of fasting is thus to learn to be God-conscious i.e. to train the self to be conscious of the presence of Allah s.w.t. Indeed, fasting does that because fasting comes with the realisation that only Allah s.w.t. and the one who fasts are truly aware if he/she is fasting. So when I speak of distractions here, it is about being distracted from attaining the true purpose of fasting i.e. Taqwa. Indeed, how are we to be God-conscious when while fasting we are still caught up with shopping for clothes, paraphernalia and what food to eat at iftar?
As written by Ibn Arabi, An-Nasa’i related that Abu Umama said, “I came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, ‘Give me something that I can take from you.’ He said, ‘You must fast. There is nothing like it.” So Fasting is not like any of the acts of worship which are prescribed for the servants of Allah s.w.t.. Why then do we allow ourselves to be distracted away from truly fasting? Indeed, all of the early ulama affirm that fasting is a special ibadah even if many of us do not understand and much less appreciate why. Imam Muslim transmitted in the Sahih that Abu Hurayra reported from RasululLah s.a.w. that Allah s.w.t. said, “Every action of the son of Adam belongs to him except the fast. It is Mine, and I repay him for it”. The significance of this Hadith demands our contemplation and appreciation. It is not surprising then that Ibn Arabi says, “The fast belongs to Allah, and yet you are the one dying of hunger, so know (contemplate) that!”.
Fasting is much more than abstaining from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. It is about subduing our will and desires and submitting to the will of Allah s.w.t. Indeed is not submitting to the will of Allah s.w.t. the very meaning of Islam itself?
All Praises be to Allah s.w.t. the Lord of the worlds and salutations to his Messenger, our beloved Muhammad RasulullLah s.a.w and his family. May Allah s.w.t. give us the grace and the strength to subdue our wills and desires thereby submitting our will to His in this blessed month so that we would truly fast (sawm) in this Ramadhan just as it is narrated that RasululLah s.a.w. said that for a good Muslim his today is better than his yesterday and his tomorrow is better than his today, therefore oh Allah, we beseech You make it so that our fast this Ramadhan is better than our fasts in all previous Ramadhans! Salutations to Muhammad RasululLah s.a.w., his family and his companions and All Praises be to Allah s.w.t. befitting a praise that only He could give Himself! Amin Ya Rabb al-‘alamin!