ALHAMDULILLAH. It is the time of the year when Muslims the world over prepare for the coming of the holy month of Ramadan; thirty days of physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual purification. It is highly likely that the sighting of the new crescent moon will be on the 12th of April, meaning that Muslims will begin their fast the day after. The actual visibility of the crescent depends on various factors. This includes atmospheric conditions, the absence or presence of clouds, and the distance between the sun and the moon on the horizon.

For adherents of the Islamic faith, Ramadan is the month in which the first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), more than 1400 years ago. Throughout the month, observing Muslims fast just before the crack of dawn right up to the start of dusk. The markers are the Fajr and Maghrib prayers; the former a starting point while the latter is when the daily fast ends. Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the profession of Shahadah (Muslim declaration of faith), daily prayers, Zakat (paying of alms) and performing the Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca if one is physically and financially capable.

Fasting is not merely physical abstention from food, drink, and sexual intimacy. The intention behind such an act is to achieve Taqwa, or consciousness of God. Many other religious traditions place due significance to this form of worship, including the Hindus who practice on new moon days, and during festivals such as Shivarati, Saraswati, and Puja. The same can be said of Jews, who fast during Yom Kippur or the Day of Atonement. Although the guidelines behind fasting might be different, the aforementioned traditions highlight a common need to intentionally remove oneself from physical desires, so as to be closer to the Divine.

We might have heard that fasting teaches us to understand what the poor and impoverished go through on a daily basis. This is somewhat true, but is not the only reason behind a willing abstention from physical pleasures. As mentioned, the primary objective of holding on to a fast is that we achieve Taqwa. The remembrance of God acts as a catalyst to our cognisance of thoughts and actions. This state enables us to conduct ourselves with a greater sense of humility and sincerity, which is the blessed way of God’s messengers.

Fasting is also an act that facilitates the process of being free. In our modern world, much has been made about the concept of freedom and how it ought to be upheld at both the individual and societal level. However, the freedom that is touched upon here is of a much deeper resonance in that we learn to establish freedom against our own desires. Fasting teaches us that we are capable to resist temptation, and to remove ourselves from inane chatter and idle talk.

Although we might take it for granted, the guarding of one’s tongue is actually an almost herculean task. How often do we speak of others in negative light, justifying such action as normal gossip? How often do we inflate our egos by speaking boastfully of our many achievements? Ramadan is the time when we can take a step back, and wilfully say “I am in control of myself and my actions!” In terms of speech or lisan, we have to first ask ourselves if what we intend to say is true. The veracity of such claims leads us to the second point; is it necessary? In understanding necessity, we ought to reflect if our words will be of benefit to others, or otherwise.

In ‘Purification of the Heart: Signs, Symptoms and Cures of the Spiritual Diseases of the Heart’, a translation of Imam Al-Mawlud’s ‘Matharat Al-Qulub’ by Shaykh Hamza Yusuf, freedom is thought to be achieved when one realises the qualities of shame and humility, and empties him/herself from their opposites (shamelessness and arrogance). Freedom has real meaning, for example, when a situation of temptation arises and one remains God-fearing, steadfast, and in control of one’s actions. This holds true even when the temptation produces flickers of desire in person, who nonetheless refrains from indulging. Imam Mawlud adds that there is no salvation “like the heart’s salvation given that all the limbs respond to its desires.” If one’s heart is safe, it naturally follows that his/her limbs are safe too, for the limbs carry out deeds galvanised by the heart. On the contrary, the limbs of the corrupt become instruments through which corruption is spread and becomes ubiquitous. At its most fundamental, fasting helps us attain a sound heart (though the process takes years, if not a lifetime). 

In writing this, I am advising myself first and foremost. It is hoped that this Ramadan will open our hearts to carry out good deeds, as well as to clear our tired minds from the hullabaloo of the 9-5.

Everything that is good comes from God Almighty, while all errors, flaws, and mistakes are of my own doing. It would be wise to remember that we are all in this together. Ramadan Mubarak!

* The writer is a Research Assistant for the Political Future Experts Group (PFEG) based at the International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilisation (ISTAC).

** The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author (s) and do not necessarily reflect the position of Astro AWANI.