Ramadan: the golden opportunity

Titled as the sultan of the eleven months a new blessed Ramadan is coming. We live in the end times. We commit many sins and are addicted to various of them. The best way to get rid of our sins is to evaluate Ramadan at utmost level.

While returning Madinah after the Treaty of Hudaybiyyah our Prophet (asw) told his companions that a surah was revealed to him that night, and it was more pleasing to him than anything on earth. Why he talked like that is because surah al-Fath was revealed. And at the beginning of the surah Allah (swt) says that his past and future sins are forgiven. [not that he committed any sin, because the Prophet is exempt from sin and does not commit them, but forgiveness for a meaning in keeping with the rank of prophethood]

Do we want such a thing? Every Muslim wants this, right? Every one of us wants his sins to be forgiven. Ramadan is such a month that it can be a means for forgiveness.

Our Prophet (asw) said that whoever established prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven; and whoever fasts in the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven.

If we evaluate every day of Ramadan as if it is Qadir night, if we fast during the day and pray salat al-Taraweeh in the night, all our past sins can be forgiven.

Some narrations includes that a person’s future sins can be forgiven as well.

***

Have you ever noticed? We live in the most comfortable time in history. This is such a time that Allah (swt) sends His bounties in abundance. We benefit from blessings in abundance. We can eat summer fruit and vegetables in winter, and winter fruit and vegetables in summer. Today’s human lives a better life than sultans and kings in the past. We can eat more various foods than them. When a sultan wanted to travel from Istanbul to Ankara, for instance, he would ride on horseback for days. But today we can travel in the most comfortable and fastest transportations.

Despite all of these, however, almost nobody is pleased with his life. Almost everybody complains and bemoans. We are not pleased with what we have.

Allah (swt) wants gratitude for the blessings He gives. Allah (swt) says in the Qur’an, “If you are grateful, I will surely increase you [in favour]; but if you deny, indeed, My punishment is severe.” (Ibrahim, 14:7)

In one hadith it is mentioned that if we, servants of Allah (swt), obey Him dutifully, He will send rain at night [so that we will not be disturbed by it].

But people don’t really thank today.

Then there is also a hadith that suggests looking at the people poorer than us, not richer.

But today people always look at the people who are better off.

Hazrat Aisha (ra) said, “Sometimes in our house no meal was cooked for 2-3 months.” They asked “what did you eat?” She answered: “date and water.”

One night our prophet goes out. He comes across Abu Bakr (ra) and Omar (ra). And he asks them what makes them go out at that time of the night? Hunger, they said. And our Prophet says he is out for the same reason, too. Another companion sees them and asks the reason why they are outside. And he learns the reason. He invites them to his home and serves them some food. They have their meal. After the meal our Prophet tells them that these are also among the blessings they will be accounted for.

Ramadan has an important role at this point. People who fast truly understand how valuable the foods are, which they do not value at normal times.

So that’s why Ramadan is very important.

***

According to narrations, there was a 7-year-starvation during Prophet Yusuf’s duty in administration. It is said that Yusuf (as) never filled his stomach full during those seven years. People asked him why he was doing so. He answered, “If I fill my stomach, I forget the poor. That’s why I don’t eat so much.”

Similarly, there was a time of starvation during Omar (ra)’s rule. One day he invites a man for meal. The man eats like he is starving. Omar (ra) is surprised and says, “You eat like you have never eaten for so long.” Man says, “I haven’t eaten such a meal, and seen anyone eat it for so long.” Upon this, Omar (ra) says, “Until my people can start to eat from this, I will not eat it again.” He did not eat that meal until the starvation ended.

We should take a lesson from these examples. Today millions of Muslims suffer around the world. We should help them.

One thing has been forgotten today: to be “digergam” (selfless, or altruist). Instead, we have become “khodgam” (selfish). Thinking others on the one hand, and thinking one’s self on the other.

Islam sees “altruism” as an important virtue. It encourages Muslims to be “altruist” with many verses and hadiths.

Who is not merciful cannot see mercy. Those who sleep full when their neighbours are hungry are not from among Muslims. We must share the difficulties of others.

Ramadan is important in this respect. A person who never gets hungry cannot really feel the situation of the poor. After fasting, people can feel and understand the poor condition of other people.

There are many wisdoms of Ramadan in this respect. One of them is this.

There is a mosque in Istanbul. Its name is “San ki Yedim” (meaning “suppose that I ate it”).  The man who built it used to ask the price of a fruit or something in the bazaar, but not buy it. Instead, he used to pull some money from his right pocket and put it in his left pocket. In this way he saved enough money to build that mosque.

We spend a lot of money for the things that we really don’t need. It even reaches to the degree of wasting. If we save money, we can help the poor to a certain degree. We should give a helping hand to the needy.

***

Imam Ghazali says, “Pharaoh declared his divinity. There are also many people who want to declare it, but they cannot; because they do not have the same opportunities of Pharaoh.”

Some mutasawwif make a simile: We have a lower self and a heart. Lower self is like Pharaoh, and heart is like Prophet Musa (peace be upon him). Just as there was a struggle between Pharaoh and Prophet Musa (as), there is a similar one between lower self and heart.

Today there are people who are away from Allah, never think about Allah, never think about the blessing given to them, and commit every kind of sins. Especially if a person is rich, he makes his lower self like a Pharaoh.

As you know from the verses in the Qur’an, the Pharaoh said “I believe” when he was about to be drown; but it was not accepted.

People who claim a kind of lordship finally have to accept the lordship of Allah (swt) when they get in a difficulty, when they really feel their weakness and poorness.

In Ramadan people who fast, when they feel hunger, when they understand Who sends those blessings, when they see how they need the blessing of Allah (swt), they gain a clear understanding that they are servants of Allah (swt), they have no lordship, and they are in need of Allah’s blessings.

During Ramadan Allah (swt) wants to discipline our lower self by commanding us to fast, by keeping us away from the desires of lower self.

***

Our Prophet, regarding the importance of fasting of Ramadan, made many important explanations.

“If my ummah knew the value, the honour and the importance of the month Ramadan properly, they would desire the entire of the year to be Ramadan.”

Our Prophet (pbuh) ascended the minbar and proceeded to say: “Amen, Amen, Amen.” He was asked: “O Messenger of Allah, [What caused] you to ascend the minbar and then say, ‘Amen?’ three times.” He replied: “The Angel Gabriel came to me and said: ‘Whoever attains to the month of Ramadan and is not forgiven will enter Hell and be distanced from Allah.’ He then commanded: ‘Say Amen!’ So I said: ‘Amen.’ (…)

I want to draw your attention: those who cannot evaluate the opportunity to be forgiven in Ramadan cannot benefit from the mercy. This is very important. If someone calls himself a Muslim but does not fast, he might face grave consequences.

Our Prophet said that Allah, the Majestic and Exalted, said, “Every deed of man will receive ten to 700 times reward, except Siyam (fasting), for it is for Me and I shall reward it (as I like).”

“Whoever fasts one day for the sake of Allah, Allah will keep his face seventy years’ distance from Hell.”

“Fasting and the Qur’an will intercede for the slave on the Day of Judgement.”

Since the fasting is very valuable in the sight of Allah, since Allah says “it is for Me and I shall reward it (as I like).”

May Allah make us among the servants who evaluate this Ramadan praying, fasting, reading the Qur’an.

***

Our prophet said, “Fast and be in good health.”

We can point at two sides of this hadith of our Prophet. Fast helps us to get healthy against material illnesses. Secondly, it is important to get rid of the spiritual illnesses.

Today there is an illness called “obesity.” It is very common. It is especially common in wealthy countries. It is seen as a really big problem.

If we fast, we would not have obesity. Those who have obesity talk about struggle against obesity. What they should do is to fast.

Doctors talk about the idea that the fasting is a means to get healthy:

For eleven months of a year, our stomach continuously works. Because of this continuous work, they say, some damages and wounds occur in the stomach.

When we fast, because we do not eat from pre-dawn to sunset, our stomach in fact enjoys it. Because there is not so much eating and digestion, the stomach releases salvia and it heals those damages and wounds according to some scientists. In this respect, fasting has a feature that can protect us from physical illnesses.

Secondly, which is the most important aspect, our Prophet said that everything has zakah and the zakah of the body is fasting.

So when we fast, this becomes in fact the zakah of our body. And also in some hadiths it is said that zakah cleanses the dirt of the property.

So, just as the zakah cleanses the dirt of the property, we become clean and purified from the dirt of our body by fasting.

Our biggest illness is our spiritual illnesses. Our nafs, lower self, deceives us, leads us to commit various sins, and makes us afflicted with many spiritual illnesses. During fasting we discipline our nafs. And thanks to this disciplining we get rid of the spiritual illnesses.

In another hadith, our Prophet said that fasting is the half of patience. Patience is very important. Fasting helps us to get used to patience.

If we instilled patience in ourselves, we could abstain from many sins. So, fasting helps us practice patience, and show patience against difficulties.

Among the narrations there is a hadith as follows:

“Allah Almighty said to the nafs: ‘What am I and what are you?’ The nafs replied: ‘I am myself and You are Yourself.’ So He punished it and cast it into Hell, then asked it again. Again it replied: ‘I am myself and You are Yourself.’ However He punished it, it did not give up its egoism. Finally He punished it with hunger. That is, He left it hungry. Then again He asked it: ‘Who am I and who are you?’ And the nafs replied: ‘You are my Compassionate Sustainer and I am your powerless slave.’”

To sum up, the biggest means that destroy the pride of nafs, which makes it understand its weakness and poverty in the sight of Allah, is the fasting. It is a means to get rid of the spiritual illnesses of our nafs. For this reason, it is accepted as a principle to eat less, to sleep less in all tarikahs. And fasting is accepted as a fundamental in disciplining of the nafs.

***

Human needs Allah (swt). Some scholars say the following:

Allah (swt) has created angels and given them consciousness and intelligence, He has created animals and given them desire, and He has created humans and given them both consciousness and intelligence given to angels, and desire given to animals. In this respect, human resembles the angels with his consciousness and intelligence, and he resembles the animals with his desires like eating, passion etc. In fact, these two characteristics of human are very important in the test of life.

In Ramadan, because that human gives up eating and desire, his state becomes similar to the conditions of angels.

One of the Divine Names of Allah (swt) is الصمد, al-Samad, which means that He does not need anyone or anything. While fasting human becomes a mirror to the Divine Name of Samad of Allah (swt). That is, just as Allah is Samad, does not need anything, so too the human gets a state of not needing any eating or desire, and becomes a mirror to the Divine Name of Samad from morning to evening. Of course, it does not mean that this state of human is like Allah’s being Samad. Allah (swt) does not need anything, but human needs Allah (swt). However, as we said earlier with his fasting human becomes a mirror to the Divine Name of Samad.

At this point, we must be careful about this:

Fasting does not only mean giving up eating. The most beautiful and perfect fasting, along with giving up eating, is to make our  organs like eyes, tongue, ears, hands, and feet stay away from sins.

That is, we do not look at haram, forbidden, and keep our eyes from sins, and we use them in reading the Qur’an and books of knowledge during Ramadan. Also we protect our tongue from backbiting, lies, and slanders, and we busy it with the Qur’an recitation, and dhikr, remembrance, of Allah. So, we keep all of our organs away from sins, and we try to busy them with worship during Ramadan.

Our Prophet (pbuh) said that there are some people who fast that they get nothing from their fast except hunger and thirst. What we understand from this is that a person, along with abstaining from eating, must benefit and take share from the spiritual atmosphere of Ramadan. If a person gives up eating, but does not keep away from sins, he lacks the spirituality of Ramadan.

In another hadith, “Fasting is a shield protecting us from the fires of Hell.” But our Prophet adds, “It is a shield as long as there is nothing that harms fasting.”

If we allow our fasting to be harmed, it does not protect us from Hell. They asked our Prophet, “What are those things that harm fasting?” He answered, “Things like backbiting and lie.”

Although our scholars say, when a person lies or backbites, his fasting is not broken. That is, it is accepted in terms of fiqh, but that person might lack the spiritual rewards and blessings of fasting. As our Prophet said, some people fast, but what they get from it is only to be hungry and thirsty.

So we should stay away from sins not only in Ramadan but all the times. We must be extra careful during Ramadan so that we benefit from the rewards and blessings of our fasts.

May Allah make us among His servants who fast truly and benefit from its spirituality! Amin.

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* This piece is a translation of a talk about the importance of Ramadan.

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