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Ramadan: A Training of Spiritual Endurance

In the greatest month of the year, the blessed month of Ramadan, we turn to our Lord with heavy hearts consumed by the challenges we face as Muslims living in the West, and consumed by the overwhelming struggles that have befallen our brethren across the world.
Such challenges are expected by Muslims, as they go in line with the nature of this life. Allah Almighty stated:

{Do the people think that they will be left to say, “We believe” and they will not be tried?} (Al-`Ankabut 29: 2)

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

Hellfire has been surrounded with temptations and Paradise has been surrounded by difficulties“”(Bukhari and Muslim)

But, indeed, Allah has granted the believers solace with the coming of the ‘spiritual training camp’, the month of Ramadan, in which each and every one of us is granted a golden opportunity to practice spiritual endurance, a necessary requirement to overcome the obstacles of life.

The Prophet of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) has emphasized the significance of endurance. It was reported on the account of `A’ishah (may Allah be pleased with her) that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) entered upon her while there was a woman in her presence. He inquired: “Who is this?”

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`A’ishah replied: “This is so and so” and she praised her worship.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) disapprovingly commented:

Engage in the amount of worship which you can withstand [being consistent upon without any harm[1]], for by Allah, Allah does not cease [to reward] you until you grow bored [of worship].”

The most beloved of faith to him (peace and blessings be upon him) was that which one was consistent in performing, even if it was little”. (Bukhari and Muslim) Imam an-Nawawi commented on this hadith by stating:

This hadith indicates that it is encouraged to be consistent in action, and that few actions that are consistent are better than many actions that are not. The few consistent actions are better because the continuity of the little amount of deeds make the person in a constant state of servitude, remembrance, God consciousness (Muraqabah), sincerity and direction towards Allah.” (Imam An-Nawawi’s commentary on Sahih Muslim)

There are a plenty of religious evidences that raise the merit of endurance and consistency, and Ramadan focuses on the source of these strengths. Indeed, the key to positive change and the gateway to endurance reside within the heart of every one of us. Such an understanding is a manifestation of the statement of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him)

Indeed there is a piece of flesh in the body that, if healthy, will cause the entire body to be healthy, and if it is corrupted, it will cause the entire body to be corrupted. Indeed it is the heart.”(Bukhari and Muslim)

The spiritual environment of Ramadan aims at uplifting and reviving the hearts. Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

When Ramadan enters, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hellfire are closed and the devils are chained.“(Bukhari and Muslim)

Imam `Izz Ad-Din ibn `Abd As-Salam commented on this hadith by stating:

“As for opening the gates of Paradise, this basically means increasing the acts of servitude that are a cause of opening the gates of Paradise. As for sealing the gates of Hellfire, this basically means limiting the paths to sin, which are a cause of the gates of Hellfire being opened. As for chaining the devils, it basically means an end to the whispers of the devils to those who are fasting, because they do not have any hope of them being responsive to performing sins”.( `Izz Ad-Din ibn `Abd As-Salam, Maqasid As-Sawm)

Al-Qadi `Iyad said:

“It may be that the apparent and literal meaning is intended, and that opening the gates of Paradise and sealing the gates of Hellfire and chaining the devils is a sign of the entry of this month and raising the merit of its sanctity.” (Imam An-Nawawi’s commentary on Sahih Muslim)

Hence, Allah Almighty granted us the best conditions for us to focus on our religious wellbeing and to fortify our spiritual endurance:

1. He cut off a main route that causes us to remain heedless, which is the efforts of the devils, as He said: {Indeed, Satan is an enemy to you; so take him as an enemy. He only invites his party to be among the inmates of the Blazing Fire.} (Fatir 35: 6)

2. He also encouraged us to stay awake late hours of the night in prostration and prayers. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Whosoever revives the nights of Ramadan with faith and seeking Allah’s reward alone will be forgiven his past (minor) sins“. (Bukhari and Muslim)

3. Ramadan is also geared towards congregational subservience to the Creator, as is apparent in the moments of breaking the fast, being awake before the break of dawn for Suhur, Tarawih and I`tikaf. Imam an-Nawawi said:

“The scholars are in consensus that tarawih is recommended, but they have differed as to whether it is preferred to be prayed alone in one’s home or in congregation.

Imam Ash-Shafi`i and the majority of his followers, Imam Abu Hanifa, Imam Ahmad and some Maliki scholars are of the opinion that it is recommended to be prayed in congregation, as `Umar ibn Al-Khattab and the companions performed and the actions of the Muslims have been consistent upon”.(Imam An-Nawawi’s commentary on Sahih Muslim)

4. Ramadan is a month characterized by leaving indulgence in worldly pleasures, be it sleep, food, marital relations or the comfort of one’s home. Imam ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali mentioned:

“Fasting is to leave one’s basic pleasures and natural inclination for Allah Almighty, and such conduct is not found in any act of worship besides fasting. In Ihram (the state of pilgrim during Hajj or `Umrah), one is only commanded to leave marital relations and wearing musk, not the other pleasures, and similarly is the case in I`tikaf (with regard to marital relations), although it’s linked to fasting in any case.

As for Salah, although one leaves all pleasures in it, it’s only for a brief period and one does not long for food and drink in such a short period. In fact, we have been prohibited to pray on hunger.” (Ibn Rajab Al-Hanbali, Lata’if Al-Ma`arif )

Hence, the spiritual training camp of Ramadan instills within us the will to endure the trials of this life and overcome our temptations and equips us with spiritual energy that will help us remain faithful to the Lord of the heaven and the earth. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:

Paradise is closer to any one of you than the strap of his shoes, and Hellfire is also similar to that.“(Bukhari)

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) also said:

Do not belittle any good deed, even if it is just to meet your fellow Muslim with a cheerful face.” (Muslim)

I ask Allah, Glorified and Exalted, to allow us to be from those who strive for excellence and those worthy of the blessings of the month of Ramadan.

[1]This clarification between the brackets is taken from the commentary of Imam an-Nawawi upon this hadith.