CRUCIBLE: Ramadan – month of immense bestowal, By Julkipli Wadi
Wednesday, 02 September 2009 11:22
[A khutba delivered at the Mushallah of the Institute of Islamic Studies, University of the Philippines, August 28, 2009. It is transcribed from an extemporaneous, MP3 recorded version. Due to lack of time to meticulously write the Arabic orthography, the transliteration of Qur’anic words and verses is made to veer slightly from the standard Arabic transliteration. Readers are advised to rely instead on the Arabic scripts of the Qur’an.]
Alhamdulillah awwala bilaa awwal kaana qablahu wa l-akhirii bilaa aakhir yakuunu ba’dahu. Afdalu s-salaat wa akmalu t-tahiyyaat a’laa shahibi l-hawri l-mawruud wa maqaami muhammadi l-mahmuud. Ash hadu an laa ilaaha illa l-llaah wahdahu laa sharikala lahu l-mulk wa lahu l-hamd wa huwa a’laa kulli shay-in qadiir. Wa ash hadu anna muhammadan a’bduhu wa rasuulu.
Amma ba’ad. Qaala l-llahu subhanahu wa ta’ala fii qur-aani l-kariim: “yaa ayyuha l-ladhiina aamanuu ittaqu l-llaah haqqa tuqaatihi walaa tamuutunna illaa wa antum muslimuun.”
Faqaala a’idan. “Bismillahir rahmaan nir-rahiim. Kutiba a’laykumu s-siyaam kamaa kutiba a’la l-lladhiina min qablikum la’allakum tattaquun. Ayyaaman ma’dudaatin faman kaana minkum mariidan aw a’laa safarin faiddatun min ayyami l-ukhar. Wa ‘ala l-lladhiina yutiiquunahu fidyatun ta-aamu miskiin wa man tatawwa-‘a khairan wa huwa khairun lahu wa antasuumu khairun lakum wa antum ta’maluun. Sahru ramadaan alladhii undhila fiihi l-qur-aan hudan linnaas wa bayyinaatin mina l-huda wa l-furqaan. Faman shahida minkumu –sh-shahra falyasumhu wa man kaana minkum mariidan aw a’laa safarin faiddatun min ayyaami l-ukhar. Yuriidu l-llaaha bikumu l-yusra walaa yuriidu bikumu l-usra walitukmilu l-iddata wali tukabbiru l-llaha a’laa maahaadakum wa la-allakum taskuruun. Wa idhaa sa-alaka ibaadi ‘annii fa-innii qariib ujiibu da’watu t-daa-i idha da-aani falyastajiibuuli wa l-yu’minuubi la-allahum yarshuduun.” Sadaqa l-llaahu a’liyyu l-‘ajiim.
We praise Allah (SWT) for bestowing upon us the time and the age by allowing us to reach this stage of our life in this holy month of Ramadan. Just the same, we extend our salam and salutation to the Prophet, Nabi Muhammad (SAW), the model of those who perform fasting perfectly.
It is, indeed, our thanks that we reach this stage of our life.
To begin with, it must be said that creation has a law. For it to persist and to sustain itself, creation has to be renewed by Allah (SWT). He is the Originator and Renewer of creation. In this regard, there is a supplication of Prophet Muhammad (SAW): “Yaa man yabda-u l-khalqa thummaa yu’iiduhu.” “O He who originates creation then renews it.”
Fasting in the holy month of Ramadan, while distinct from the law of creation, has certain similarity as far as the principle of renewal is concerned. Creature, for one, follows certain season. The Arabs call it musim, which is the root word of the English word “monsoon.” In the movement of time, all creatures adopt to season like in Summer, Winter, Fall, and Autumn. Creatures, thus, follows the pattern in time and season.
You may have observed how trees or flowers bloom in certain period and die, too, in certain period. While some animals, for instance, undergo the process known as metamorphosis, where butterflies, snakes and others shed out their old skins so that their new skins would come out. Why? It is a law in creation that for creatures to sustain themselves, they have to be renewed every now and then.
Brothers and Sisters in Islam,
Fasting or sawm, we say, while distinct from the law in creation, has certain similarity with the above-mentioned principle. It is for this reason that fasting has been a time-honored principle and tradition amongst various peoples of old particularly the prophets and their communities. This is the wisdom of the Qur’an when it says: “Bismillaahir rahmaan nirrahiim. Yaa ayyuha l-ladhiina aamanuu kutiba ‘alaykumu s-siyaam kamaa kutiba ‘ala l-lladhiina min qablikum...” Fasting is made obligatory for you like that of the previous generations before you. This verse is testament that fasting is an age-old tradition.
Thus, fasting is not a new teaching of the Qur’an or a new tradition of Prophet Muhammad (SAW). This is why in some religions fasting is still valued and their respective followers also performed it, although their niyah or intention and their methods are different from the way of the prophets.
In some communities, people recourse to fasting as a form of therapy or physical cleansing. In fact, today’s science has already proven that fasting is an effective method in maintaining one’s health and well-being.
Islam appreciates, too, such benefit of fasting but it is couched in broader spiritual intent of “la’allakum tattaquun” – so that the believers become righteous or they practice self-restraint or they exude piety in their life. Indeed, the formation of muttaquun is the primary objective of fasting.
So that the consequence of health and its benefit, while important is secondary. Anyhow, this principle shows the comprehensiveness of Islam: that when Muslims are required to perform certain obligation like fasting, such requirement carries with it some attendant physical, therapeutic and medical benefits.
As an analogy, imagine, for instance, a car running or working the whole year without being check-up, repaired, maintained, or calibrated and so on. What will happen to it? In the same manner, our digestive system should be able to relax for sometime so that it can function well. This is the reason why fasting should be done regularly, at least, once a month in a year. It is a way for the body to reinvigorate, to repair old tissues, and to remove fats and other impurities. This other principle enunciates the therapeutic and medical benefits of fasting, despite as mentioned, the primary motive is to make an individual a muttaquun.
Indeed, to be able to reach this stage of our life is something. Many of us are now 30, 40, 50 years old. Let us say one started performing fasting when he reached aqil baaligh that is, when he was 15 years old; it means he already has lot of years accumulated in fasting. What if one has just started to fast few years ago? It means he has only few opportunities left to fast. We thus have to maximize our time especially our performance of ‘ibadah in this rare yet holy month of Ramadan.
There is a very familiar hadith referring to the central position of fasting, wherein it is the only form of worship “personalized” by Allah (SWT) when He said in the hadith quds: “As-sawmu lii wa anaa ajiibihi.” Fasting is for Me and I am the One to reward it.
Thus, there is no form of worship given high status by no less than Allah (SWT). The consequence of this highly venerated month for a person in performing prayer and nawafil and other forms of ‘ibadah is that his reward and bestowal from Allah (SWT) is multiplied several times compared to acts of devotion in regular months. It includes reading the Qur’an, performing taraawi prayer and many others.
There is yet another familiar hadith: that fasting period is divided into three quarters. In the first quarter where we are now in, a saaim will be bestowed rahmah (mercy); in the second, maghfirah (forgiveness); and in the final quarter, one will be blessed with ithqun mina n-naar (being saved from the Hellfire).
Indeed, fasting as a form of renewing oneself is very important. It is because man has the tendency to suffer from the grip of his lower nafs (desire) and to simply fulfill the needs of his physical self hence making him accumulate what is known in medical parlance as too much fat and other undesirable substance in the body.
But in spiritual dimension, a person who is not renewed could hardly see the truth of Allah (SWT). He could hardly feel that every moment there is bestowal given to him. In the words of the Qur’an: “kulla yawmin huwa fii sa’nin.” In every moment He is in new splendor. In other words, the bestowal of Allah (SWT) is actually continuous and perpetual. We have discussed this subject of Divine bestowal in several of our khutbah in the past.
Truly, if one’s nafs suffers a person can hardly see the truth from Allah (SWT), despite that Allah (SWT) is the waasi’ul ataa’ (Bestower of profused gifts). This is unfortunate because if Allah (SWT) is kind to creation, He is more merciful to mankind. But there are just men who could hardly see beyond their veil (hijab) and thus could not see the truth of His bestowal.
Brothers and sisters in Islam,
This month is an opportunity for us to make this body suffer so that the impurities are removed where fasting helps – with the Grace of Allah (SWT) – in tearing off the veil [so we can see the truth of Allah (SWT)]. This is the most important point: fasting as a method of unveiling so that we will see in its entirety the truth, the bestowal of Allah (SWT). This means fasting is not simply to restraint from eating and drinking. Doing so is just one step. But one has to really move forward.
Let’s say you started fasting when you were fifteen years old. The assumption is your understanding of Islam that time is still very elementary. I think you could not remain in your old state simply content in having basic appreciation of Islam, like merely restraining from thirst and hunger during Ramadan. As you grow older, you have to develop new appreciation [of fasting] so that whenever a new Ramadan comes in there is a new step you take and another Ramadan comes in another step and so and so forth. It means you won’t be repeating the first step again and again without being elevated [to higher stage of spiritual experience that is usually bestowed during the holy month of Ramadan.] It’s in conjunction with the verse of the Qur’an: “latarqabunna tabaaqan ani t-tabaaqah.” You shall surely travel from stage to stage.
Brothers and sisters in Islam,
This is the point when we say we are thankful that we reach this stage of our life. It means we are given opportunity not only to purify ourselves but to elevate our state to the level of the muttaquun. Being pious and righteous is, of course, beyond the measure of any human being. No one can claim “I am pious” or “he is pious” and so on and so forth. Piety is in the eyes of Allah (SWT). Therefore, it has to be worked on continuously especially in sacred month like this.
If you read Suratu l-Baqarah, which contains most of the exhortation on fasting, it has, at least, seven verses starting from verse 183 to 189. These verses apart from enunciation on the “law” and method of fasting, you will read the succeeding and more revealing verse: “wa idhaa sa-alaka ‘ibaadii ‘annii fa-innii qariib.” When My servant asked you about Me, verily I am near. It’s not incidental that the issue of “nearness” [from the Arabic word] qariib is made to intersperse with the legal exhortation of verses about fasting.
Hence, when you connect the verse: “Yaa ayyuha l-lhadiina aamanuu kutiba ‘alaykumu s-siyaam…” to this verse “wa idhaa sa-alaka ‘ibaadi ‘annii fa-innii qariib,” you are already given a hint: that fasting is not simply restraining oneself from eating and drinking; rather, it is both principle and method of making ourselves near to Allah (SWT). Certainly, you may fast the whole year – you don’t eat and drink – but you do not necessarily become near towards Allah (SWT) – especially if your lower nafs have suffered tremendously.
Can’t you see the Mercy and Grace of Allah (SWT)? We are given the opportunity to discipline that nafs through fasting so we can move forward to become “qariib” to Allah (SWT). We must have read this pertinent verse several times but somehow we fail to see its significance: “wa idhaa sa-alaka ‘ibaadii ‘annii fa-innii qariib.”
In truth, fasting in the month of Ramadan is a gift from Allah (SWT) to the believers; it is not an imposition of burden and difficulty. As we said, Allah (SWT) is the waasi’ul ataa’ (Bestower of profused gifts). It is a gift not given to other forms of creation. The latter simply continues performing their function as creatures but they are not elevated. That’s the difference between creation and man. The former is not elevated and thus would remain as creature. But it is not the case of man, more so, if that nafs is disciplined armed with right understanding, right intention, right principle and right methods of fasting.
This is, in brief, the principles of fasting. We don’t need to mention the rituals herein. I think most of us are familiar with the prayers and other supplicatory acts that must be done in this month. What we would like to highlight is for us to develop a new attitude on fasting. We have to grow.
As the Qur’an explains the spirituality of fasting, non-believers view it usually as a source of difficulty. You must have been asked by other people how you were able to survive with out eating and drinking the whole day. But the Qur’an reminds us with a general statement: “wa antasuumuu khairu l-lakum wa antum ta’lamuun.” It is better for you to fast if you only know. This means there is higher benefit of fasting “if you only know.” Thus, fasting is not something that causes burden. It is, in fact, intended for our comfort and our ease. The Qur’an says: “walaa yuriiduu bikumu l-yusra walaa yuriiduu bikumu l-usra.” It is not to cause burden but comfort and ease.
Definitely, a person who does not have any understanding of fasting will really get afraid let alone think to even perform it. But if a person has the proper knowledge of what fasting really is, something that he considers eating and drinking as just the first step and incidental to whole logic of fasting, notwithstanding its medicinal and therapeutic benefits, a person thus would have to inevitably take it as a great opportunity to make himself near – a muqarrab—towards Allah (SWT).
Wa aquulu qawli haadha wa nastaghfirullahulii walakum innahu huwa l-ghafuuru l-rahiim
Alhamdulillah nahmaduhuu wa nasta-iinuhu wa nastaghfiruh wana-uudhubillaahi min suruuri anfusina wa min shay-aati a’maalinaa ash hadu an laailaaha illa l-llah wahdahu laa shariikala wa ash hadu anna muhammadan ‘abduhu wa rasuuluhu. Amma ba’ad.
Brothers and sisters in Islam,
Again, as our language is short, let us put forward our point in another form of analogy.
Imagine you are invited by an important person, say, a king into a banquet or to some kind of celebration. And consider, too, that you used to get such invitation since you were fifteen years old. And, incidentally, you feel you have been offered with the same food every year. Even if such foods are delicious, tasty and so on, won’t you ask yourself why you were offered with similar foods every time you join the banquet? Would you not look for something different?
Brothers and sisters in faith,
Indeed, there are two types of person who engaged in fasting. The first type is a fasting performed by persons by merely restraining themselves from thirst and hunger. It is the usual understanding and practice of fasting; it is the fasting of the common. You ate your sahur early in the morning and you broke your fast before maghrib. It’s the usual process of fasting.
But in the banquet you attended you see the king has a special preparation exclusively to a small and distinct group of people. As all of you are invited into the banquet, why is it there are special persons who sit and eat “near” the king? They are those who are qariib – who sit near – the king. For obvious reasons, everybody wants to sit beside him but only very few are given the privilege to do so. Why?
Because, there is another type of persons who perform fast that make them qariib to the King. Yes, they restraint themselves from thirst and hunger but they go beyond it. They have a special technique and special rituals during the whole month of Ramadan. They don’t just sleep the whole night, just wake up to eat their sahur. They are very busy with their special devotions at night. Immediately after their iisha prayer, they are busy with their nawafil, their tahajjud, dhikr and so on. In other words, this group of people called muqarrabuun by the Qur’an understands the essence of fasting.
While we say that it is very difficult to become ones of the “special friend” of the King, we have to aspire and work for it as we are still have the time to correct whatever is there need to correct so that we can fully maximize the benefits and bestowal of this year’s Ramadan. And so that we may be able to join inshaa allah the ranks of what the Qur’an refers to as ‘ibaadii – My servants, slaves and worshippers. This is the feeling of the early sahaabah whenever the Ramadan comes in, and conversely, their grief as they weep and cry, whenever the Ramadan ends.
So, we are now in the first quarter of this month, inshaa allah we must be in the fold of those who receive Allah’s rahma and we hope we could maximize our time further to reach the stage of maghfirah and ithqun mina n-naar.
Wa ba’ad. Inna l-llahaa wa malaaikatahu yusalluuna ‘ala n-nabi yaa ayyuha l-ladhiina aamanuu salluhuu alay wa sallimuu tasliimah….
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Julkipli Wadi is Associate Professor of Islamic Studies at the University of the Philippines Diliman, Quezon City).
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