Fasting: A Habit or an Act of Spiritual Devotion?
It is related that Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
''Good conduct is a habit, and bad conduct is just obnoxious.'' (Ibn Hibban &
This Prophetic statement brings up the question of the extent to which our
formal worship is prescribed to us to positively develop our personalities and
cultivate our spirituality.
This role for our worship is further reinforced by the Prophet's words:
''A man continues to speak the truth and verify the truth until it is written
with Allah that he is an honest man… And another man continues to lie and
chase after false reports until it is written with Allah that he is a habitual
liar.'' (Al-Bukhari & Muslim)
When we do an act over and over again, it becomes a habit. Carrying it out
becomes part and parcel of our personalities and identities. When a person
strives to be honest by deliberately and consistently choosing to speak truly
(even against self-interest), then honesty becomes a character trait.
Ultimately, God elevates that person to the status of Siddiq (One who is truly
For honest people, honesty is indeed a habit. However, this does not negate
the fact that speaking the truth remains an act of worship and pious devotion.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) did not separate between habituation and
devotion. In fact, he did the opposite. He said:
''The most beloved of good deeds with Allah are those which are practiced with
constancy over a long period of time, even if the deed is small.'' (Al-Bukhari
Also, Aisha relates that: ''When Allah's Messenger practiced a good deed, he
would do so consistently.'' (Muslim)
Habituation becomes a problem when people begin carrying out habitual acts
unthinkingly. Some habits – like the manner of combing one's hair, or moving
one's hands, or biting one's nails – become so ingrained that the person
ceases to be conscious of doing the habitual act. People might even deny such
a habit if it is brought to their attention.
At the same time, some positive habits have a tangible good effect on a
person's character and outlook on life. For instance, a person who has a habit
of devoting a certain hour of every day to the remembrance of God or to
reading the Quran has integrated these virtuous acts into daily life. They
become, as a consequence, resulting in greater blessings and spiritual growth.
Once a man came to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) and said: ''All the
Islamic rites have become so many for me. Give me something I can hold fast
to.'' The Prophet replied: ''Keep your tongue moist with Allah's
remembrance.'' (At-Tirmidhi & Ibn Majah)
This is a recommendation to turn the remembrance of God into a good habit.
We should therefore not use the word ''habit'' as if it is a bad thing, like
when some of us say: ''Prayer is an act of worship and not a habit.''
Certainly prayer is an act of worship, and if it is our constant habit as
well, then all the better.
It is a good thing that it
is a person's habit to pray, as long as we do not mean by ''habit'' that the
person is just going along with the crowd or is praying absentmindedly. The
positive connotation of habit we intend here is that of constancy and
dedication, along with presence of mind and sincerity. A habit is something a
person is comfortable doing. Leaving it off is something that makes the
habituated person uncomfortable. How good it is for worship to be easy and
comfortable for a person so that it never feels like a burden.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) once said:
''O Bilal! Call the people to prayer. Give us our relaxation in prayer.'' (Abu
This shows us that for the Prophet and his Companions, the performance of
prayer was a source of comfort and solace.
The Prophet also said: ''Prayer has been made the sweetness of my eyes.'' (Al-Nasa'i)
Ramadan and Positive Change
Devotion and piety can themselves become habits. When a person starts
concentrating in prayer, it is difficult at first to keep focus. The mind is
easily distracted. However, after years of persistence, devotion and presence
of mind in prayer become second-nature.
Ask yourself honestly: Do you feel happy about the arrival of Ramadan? Or does
it get you down? Or do you have mixed feelings?
If you have any negative feelings, then take some time to read about the
virtues and blessings of Ramadan. Then think of your own life and your
shortcomings. Think of how much you need God's mercy and forgiveness. Know
that fasting in Ramadan was prescribed by the one who is most generous, most
kind and most forgiving. He did not prescribe fasting to punish us, but rather
to purify our minds and hearts, and to make us more generous, compassionate,
and healthy people. You will come away from such thinking looking forward to
the arrival of Ramadan, thankful that you are able to fast.
With the same spirit, you will be motivated to perform the nightly Taraweeh
prayers, or at least to observe of those prayers daily what is easy for you.
Think of the great number of people who are praying with you. Look for a
location where the positive atmosphere is most conducive. Find a mosque where
the imam reads most beautifully. There is nothing wrong with that.
Observe the prayer as much as your heart stays engaged with it. If you find
yourself growing weary, then depart. Keep in mind that God's mercy is
descending upon the congregation and you are among them sharing in that
blessing. ''They are such an assembly, that one who is in their company is not
bereft of blessings.''
When you are prostrating, disclose your troubles and sorrows to God while
beseeching Him to forgive you and overlook your sins. No matter how great your
transgressions might be, they are nothing in comparison to God's generosity
and mercy. Be optimistic that God will accept your prayers, despite the
shortcomings in your devotion and presence of mind. Everything in life
requires striving, and we all have our shortcomings and difficulties. We place
our hopes in God.
Remember that God says: ''I am as my servant expects of Me to be.'' (Al-Bukhari
Ramadan will become the beginning of a change for the better. It will be an
experience of faith that will bring joy, new hope and greater happiness to
Make it your habit in Ramadan to spend in charity. When you are shopping to
choose nice foods to break your fast with, consider those who do not have
enough to eat. Think about the mothers in the world who do not have enough
food to feed their starving children and whose decision is to determine which
of them is presently closer to death.
Make it your habit in Ramadan to be with your family. Make the atmosphere at
home one of love and kindness. Ramadan gives us many occasions to spend
quality time together and to share memorable experiences with our children. We
should likewise make it our Ramadan habit to cement ties with our relatives,
neighbors and friends, even by making phone calls, sending an e-mail, or
giving Ramadan greetings by Blackberry!! Let us not make it our Ramadan habit
to overeat at night.
Let us not make it the month where we eat more than at any other time of year.
Instead, make it your habit to show kindness to others, to keep your anger in
check, and to forgive others their faults.
May Allah accept from us our worship during this blessed month.
Source: Islam Today - http://www.islamtoday.com