This year the month of Ramadan will fall in June 2016. But for many people, they will finish 30 days of fasting as the same person they were when they started. What are we doing to prepare?
Fasting – the temporary abstinence from food and drink during daylight hours – is prescribed in Islam as a godly act to build self-discipline and piety, compulsory in the Holy Month of Ramadan and highly encouraged elsewhere in the year.
The act allows us to drastically break from our normal routine, and consider – temporarily – what life would be like if we didn’t have enough to eat and drink, thus sharing a moment with the poor and downtrodden of this Earth.
It also elevates the status of the human, boosting our self-discipline, helping us break free from our daily desire to satisfy our hunger and thirst and giving us an opportunity to put at the centre of our universe something larger than our desire for our next cup of coffee. Fasting thus combines numerous benefits both to individuals and to society.
But fasting requires the right mind set, the right preparation and an effort to truly understand “why” we perform this act (“because God tells me to” is not a valid answer!) and then internalising this underlying philosophy.
When Eating is Better than Fasting
The consequence of not doing this is that our fast will yield us no benefit except hunger and thirst. This is vividly described in this saying of Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s):
“There is many a person who fasts, whose fast is nothing but just hunger and thirst,
and many an offerer of prayers whose prayer is no better than wakefulness and hardship.
The sleep as well as the eating and drinking of the intelligent (God-knowing) person are far better.”
Ali ibn Abi Talib (a.s)
Nahjul Balagha, Saying No. 145
The wisdom in this saying can be split into three sections:
- For many people the results of fasting stop at the physical level – the physical feelings of hunger and thirst only – and does not penetrate the soul and inspire spiritual growth.
- An analogy is made with the five daily compulsory prayers where similarly the worshipper without concentration is only exerting himself at a physical level – putting himself through challenges such as waking up early for Fajr prayers or rescheduling his time during the day to allow sufficient time to pray Dhuhr or Asr prayers – but it is all performed in vain if it results in little to no spiritual progress.
- Other actions not normally associated as acts of worship – like sleeping, eating and drinking – if performed with sincere attentions, can actually be regarded as far better in the eyes of God than praying and fasting!
The third section is the powerful punchline, reminding us that the acts of praying and fasting are not ends in themselves, but merely means to a higher end.
Anyone can pray and fast – they are relatively easy physical actions – but it takes the wise and intelligent person to reflect on the beauty of these actions, internalise their effect on their soul and move one’s self towards change and self-reform.
Plan for the Month of Ramadan
There is just under 4 weeks to go until the Month of Ramadan begins. But for many people they will finish 30 days of fasting on 1st Shawwal as the same person they were at the start on 1st Ramadan – with no spiritual growth or progress.
How do we avoid this?
The old maxim lies true: “Failing to Plan is Planning to Fail”
Plan your month from now. Ask yourself: What daily routine will you adopt? How will you juggle your family, work, study and other commitments? How many iftar (sunset meal) social invites will you accept and how many evenings will you focus on personal worship instead? (Both are important, but its easy to be excessive! So set yourself your ideal balanced split from now) Do you want to focus on reciting the Quran, memorising new chapters or understanding verses by reading tafsir (exegisis)? How will you share the mercy of the Month with your neighbours, work colleagues or friends? And when will you buy any gifts you wish to purchase for Eid?
It’ll fly by – act now!
30 days is not a long time and it will fly by!
Start planning for your Month of Ramadan today. Set aside for yourself one morning or afternoon between now and June to do your planning and ideally write it down so you can refer back to it later. Set yourself goals and get organised.
If you don’t already have a framework to plan, here are a few good starting points:
There are many resources out there to choose from, but the important thing is just to pick one, set aside some time to write it down and then stick to it!
Let’s not make this Month of Ramadan end with nothing more than physical hunger and thirst.