The Meaning of Ramadan
Fasting during Ramadan, the Muslims holy month, was ordained during the second
year of Hijrah. Why not earlier? In Makkah the economic conditions of the
Muslims were bad. They were being persecuted. Often days would go by before
they had anything to eat. It is easy to skip meals if you don't have any.
Obviously fasting would have been easier under the circumstances. So why not
The answer may be that Ramadan is not only about skipping meals. While fasting
is an integral and paramount part of it, Ramadan offers a comprehensive
program for our spiritual overhaul. The entire program required the peace and
security that was offered by Madinah.
Yes, Ramadan is the most important month of the year. It is the month that the
believers await with eagerness. At the beginning of Rajab --- two full months
before Ramadan --- the Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, used to
supplicate thus: "O Allah! Bless us during Rajab and Sha'ban, and let us reach
Ramadan (in good health)."
During Ramadan the believers get busy seeking Allah's mercy, forgiveness, and
protection from Hellfire. This is the month for renewing our commitment and
re-establishing our relationship with our Creator. It is the spring season for
goodness and virtues when righteousness blossoms throughout the Muslim
communities. "If we combine all the blessings of the other eleven months, they
would not add up to the blessings of Ramadan," said the great scholar and
reformer Shaikh Ahmed Farooqi (Mujaddad Alif Thani). It offers every Muslim an
opportunity to strengthen his Iman, purify his heart and soul, and to remove
the evil effects of the sins committed by him.
"Anyone who fasts during this month with purity of belief and with expectation
of a good reward (from his Creator), will have his previous sins forgiven,"
said Prophet Muhammad, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam. "Anyone who stands in
prayers during its nights with purity of belief and expectation of a reward,
will have his previous sins forgiven." As other ahadith tell us, the rewards
for good deeds are multiplied manifold during Ramadan.
Along with the possibility of a great reward, there is the risk of a terrible
loss. If we let any other month pass by carelessly, we just lost a month. If
we do the same during Ramadan, we have lost everything. The person who misses
just one day's fast without a legitimate reason, cannot really make up for it
even if he were to fast everyday for the rest of his life. And of the three
persons that Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam cursed, one is the
unfortunate Muslim who finds Ramadan in good health but does not use the
opportunity to seek Allah's mercy.
One who does not fast is obviously in this category, but so also is the person
who fasts and prays but makes no effort to stay away from sins or attain
purity of the heart through the numerous opportunities offered by Ramadan. The
Prophet, Sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam, warned us: "There are those who get
nothing from their fast but hunger and thirst. There are those who get nothing
from their nightly prayers but loss of sleep."
Those who understood this, for them Ramadan was indeed a very special month.
In addition to fasting, mandatory Salat, and extra Travih Salat, they spent
the whole month in acts of worship like voluntary Salat, Tilawa (recitation of
Qur'an), Dhikr etc. After mentioning that this has been the tradition of the
pious people of this Ummah throughout the centuries, Abul Hasan Ali Nadvi
notes: " I have seen with my own eyes such ulema and mashaikh who used to
finish recitation of the entire Qur'an everyday during Ramadan. They spent
almost the entire night in prayers. They used to eat so little that one
wondered how they could endure all this. These greats valued every moment of
Ramadan and would not waste any of it in any other pursuit...Watching them
made one believe the astounding stories of Ibada and devotion of our elders
recorded by history."
This emphasis on these acts of worship may sound strange --- even misplaced
--- to some. It requires some explanation. We know that the term Ibada
(worship and obedience) in Islam applies not only to the formal acts of
worship and devotion like Salat , Tilawa, and Dhikr, but it also applies to
worldly acts when performed in obedience to Shariah and with the intention of
pleasing Allah. Thus a believer going to work is performing Ibada when he
seeks Halal income to discharge his responsibility as a bread-winner for the
family. However a distinction must be made between the two. The first category
consists of direct Ibada, acts that are required for their own sake. The
second category consists of indirect Ibada --- worldly acts that become Ibada
through proper intention and observation of Shariah. While the second category
is important for it extends the idea of Ibada to our entire life, there is
also a danger because by their very nature these acts can camouflage other
motives. (Is my going to work really Ibada or am I actually in the rat race?).
Here the direct Ibada comes to the rescue. Through them we can purify our
motives, and re-establish our relationship with Allah.
Islam does not approve of monasticism. It does not ask us to permanently
isolate ourselves from this world, since our test is in living here according
to the Commands of our Creator. But it does ask us to take periodic breaks
from it. The mandatory Salat (five daily prayers) is one example. For a few
minutes every so many hours throughout the day, we leave the affairs of this
world and appear before Allah to remind ourselves that none but He is worthy
of worship and of our unfaltering obedience. Ramadan takes this to the next
higher plane, providing intense training for a whole month.
This spirit is captured in I'tikaf, a unique Ibada associated with Ramadan, in
which a person gives up all his normal activities and enters a mosque for a
specific period. There is great merit in it and every Muslim community is
encouraged to provide at least one person who will perform I'tikaf for the
last ten days of Ramadan. But even those who cannot spare ten days are
encouraged to spend as much time in the mosque as possible.
Through direct Ibada we "charge our batteries"; the indirect ones allow us to
use the power so accumulated in driving the vehicle of our life. Ramadan is
the month for rebuilding our spiritual strength. How much we benefit from it
is up to us.
Contributed by: Khalid Baig