Fasting is a way to understand what it feels like to be hungry so that we can have sympathy for the poor and be more generous. This is something many of us have read this time of the lunar year.
Fasting to feel sympathy and be more generous may be the outcome of Ramadan for some. But those living in poverty are also required to fast. Is the point of their fasting to understand something they already know?
Looking at Ramadan through the lens of “cultivating sympathy for the poor and hungry” would be like looking at the universe through a pinhole. It not only gives an extremely limited view, it is a view that can only come out of a certain perspective.
What is Ramadan about?
The purpose of Ramadan is not solely about humanizing those who suffer poverty and hunger all year round; it is not just about cultivating generosity; Ramadan is not even solely about fasting, either. Ramadan is about the Quran.
Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was first revealed to the Messenger of Allah (PBUH). It was in this month that the Prophet, as he was known to do, went to the Cave of Hira’ to contemplate.
Those of us who feel weighed down by all the suffering we see in the news, corruption in politics, and the rising tide of bigotry and self-worship will understand the Prophet’s (PBUH) motivation to go to the Cave of Hira’.
He (PBUH) needed to get away and be with himself, to be introspective, to reflect on the state of his world. He saw the greed and abuse of power, the horrible treatment of the weak in his society, the rampant idol worship and it weighed heavily on his heart.
He (PBUH) was seeking understanding of his world through a greater lens. He was seeking God.
It is reported in Muslim that:
[…] solitude became dear to him and he used to seclude himself in the cave of Hira’, where he would engage in tahannuth (a worship for a number of nights) before returning to his family and getting provisions again for this purpose.
He would then return to Khadijah and take provisions for a like period, till the Truth came upon him while he was in the cave of Hira’. There came to him the angel and said: “Recite”.
Time to reconnect with the Quran
Ramadan for us today is our time to reflect, to contemplate, and seek nearness to God as the Quran instructs us.
It is a time to strengthen and renew our spiritual existence; to unburden our hearts in recitation, salah, and dua; to reconnect with the revelation. Ramadan is our time to go to the cave so to speak.
Maria Zain, an About Islam author who passed away in December 2014, wrote, “Ramadan indicates an opportunity for a spiritual upgrade, a chance for betterment, to increase good deeds and to jointly shun those that do not benefit us, and one of the best opportunities to strengthen our relationship with God.”
Ramadan is not about fasting. Fasting is a means to and end. It is a way to facilitate our spiritual renewal.
Fasting breaks down the divide we put up in our normal lives between our physical and spiritual existence. It forces our minds to turn in on themselves and reflect on the nature of our existence. It forces our bodies to feel its own frailty in comparison to the Greatness of God. It forces our hearts to feel gratitude for what Allah (SWT) has provided for us.
In Ramadan the mind, the body, and the heart turn toward the Quran to hear the words of its Author and our Architect.
The Quran breaks down the divide we put up between ourselves and the world in which we live, it disrupts the rift we believe time creates between ourselves and those who came before us, it breaks down the walls we put up between ourselves and our fellow creation.
The Quran directs the mind to stop thinking so much about the self. It directs the body to be in the service of others. It directs the heart to be soft and merciful to all.
Fasting is not the point of the month, showing mercy is not the point of the month, increased generosity is not the point either, nor is humility. The Quran is the point of the month.
And the Quran brings us to these conclusions- God loves those who show mercy, those who are humble, those who do good, and are just; and there is no greater goal than attaining the love of God.
Character development is a byproduct of a close connection to the Quran that is available all year round, but is made easier through the fasting of Ramadan.
So, if you are one of the blessed few in this world who has more than you need, and Ramadan brings you to the conclusion that you should feel empathy and be more generous, this is simply a sign that you are doing Ramadan right.