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Aspect of Spiritual Ramadan and Fasting

{O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.} (Quran 2: 183)

God provides many opportunities for human beings to purify their hearts and clean themselves from sins. The mercy of God encompasses them in every moment of their lives. He manifests His mercy in various ways and invites His servants to benefit from it. He embraces sinful people with His forgiveness and gives them another chance to elevate to the level of real servanthood.

Ramadan is a month which contains innumerous gems, jewelry and valuable items. Whoever wants to make a great profit he/she should seek it in this month. Indeed, the beginning of Ramadan is a mercy of God, its middle is His forgiveness and its end is a salvation from Hell.

In order to clean His servants and raise them to the level of angels God has prescribed fasting upon Muslims as well as upon nations before Muslims. Ramadan brings about a heavenly atmosphere of its own and showers us with blessings.

Ramadan is a time for Believers to check their spirituality and progress in servanthood. Through self-criticism they discover their inner and spiritual depth and this leads them to make the necessary spiritual and intellectual effort to acquire true human values.

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Self-criticism helps Muslims to see their past mistakes and amend them. For spiritual purification, people should question themselves and make necessary changes in their lives.

Nafs (evil commanding self) is the center of faculties such as lusts, anger, ill will, grudge, hatred, and irritation. There is a continuous interactive relationship between the spirit and the body. Whenever the body expresses its submission to God through the acts of worship and obedience the great happiness and joy encompasses the spirit. Opposing to this, when a person follows his carnal desires and indulges into worldly pleasures the heart becomes sad and unsatisfied. God stated in the Qur’an:

{And (by) the human nafs (carnal self) and the One Who has formed it to perfection; and Who has inspired it with the conscience of what is wrong and bad for it, and what is right and good for it. He is indeed prosperous who has grown it in purity.} (91: 7–9)

It is possible for human beings either to fall into the lowest of the low as a result of following their carnal desires, or to rise to human perfection through living a spiritual life. If the nafs has not been trained and purified, human beings fall into sins, mistakes and shortcomings.

Despite its satanic characteristics, nafs has a potential to raise human beings to the level of angels when purified and turned to God in worship and prayer and seeks refuge in Him from the potential evils in its nature. Thus, spirituality and carnal desires work against each other in human nature and people become more spiritual when fasting.

Because of nafs, human beings continuously struggle against their negative characteristics and sharpen their resolution. When purified, nafs abandons its basic mission which is urging people to commit evils and becomes a source of good deeds.

As nafs passes through the spiritual purification stages, the veils of darkness from human nature goes away and the rays of spirituality begin to shine on all sides. However, if it is not purified, the darkness of the lusts invades its horizon, and nafs suffers corruption under the influence of carnal desires. It becomes so blind that cannot recognize God and His manifestations in the universe.

The Three Levels of Fasting

Fasting has three levels; the first level is abstaining from eating, drinking and sexual activities during daytime hours, the second level is in which Believers ensure all organs of their body refrain from any kind of sin, and the third level of fasting is keeping the soul, mind and heart clear of all thoughts and feelings that could distract one from God.

Fasting as the Discipliner of the Nafs

Fasting enables Believers to abandon sins committed by their bodily senses and use them in the acts of worship particular to each. For example, instead of using the tongue in lying, backbiting, and swearing, through fasting Believers use it with reciting the Quran, glorifying God, seeking His forgiveness, and calling His blessing upon Prophet Muhammad.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) narrates from his Lord:

“The Fast is for Me and I will give the reward for it, as he (the one who observes the fast) leaves his sexual desire, food and drink for My Sake. Fasting is a screen (from Hell) and there are two pleasures for a fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord. And the smell of the mouth of a fasting person is better in God’s sight than the smell of musk.”  (Bukhari, Sahih, Tawhid, 35).

Human nafs can be trained and disciplined best by fasting. Although it is difficult to observe, fasting strengths the will power and purifies the soul. Through hardships and sufferings Believers promote to higher spiritual degrees, and this is why all Messengers experienced the most grievous hardships and sufferings.

When fasting Muslims experience hungriness and thirstiness but this keeps them away from sins and the seductions of Satan.

Human nature is a composite of two distinct powers: the spirit and the flesh. When following bodily lusts spirituality lessens in human nature, therefore if a person can control his carnal desires and oppose bodily lusts, he becomes more spiritual.

However, today people are indulged into worldly pleasures much more than ever before and they live to satisfy their carnal desires. In order to grow spiritually they need to sacrifice from the enjoyment of worldly pleasures. In this regard, fasting is a golden opportunity for a person who wants to progress spiritually.

The evil commanding self (nafs al-ammarah) assumes itself free and unrestricted. Even it can claim lordship as it was seen in the personality of Pharaoh. However, when fasting during the month of Ramadan human self understands that there is One who creates, provides, sustains etc.

So, through fasting, nafs abandons the stage of imaginary lordship and raises to the level of servanthood. Because, it understands that if God does not provide it cannot do even the most common things, like eating and drinking.

Observing the fast in Ramadan defeats the carnal self and its illusory lordship. When carnal self does not recognize God Almighty, fasting breaks its haughtiness and reminds it that it is innately helpless therefore a servant of God.

Although it is not reported through authentic chains of transmission, the following report gives an idea how carnal self can be disciplined through hunger; when God asked the carnal self:

“Who am I, and who are you?”

It replied: “You are Yourself, and I am myself.”

However much God punished it and repeated His question, He received the same answer. But when He subjected it to hunger, it replied:

“You are my All-Compassionate Lord; I am Your helpless servant.”

If carnal self is not trained through hunger, it cannot discriminate between lawful and unlawful. A person who eats, drinks and acts as he wishes would have hard time to follow Islamic principles.

Through fasting, people train carnal self and make it obey Islamic rulings. If a person can forsake what is allowed due to fasting in Ramadan, he can easily refrain from what is forbidden. Thus, because of fasting carnal self cannot corrupt its owner’s spiritual life. By enduring a long-lasting hunger patiently, Believers train themselves in self-discipline and cure their impatience and the lack of endurance.

RamadanSpirituality and full stomach work against each other. People become less spiritual when they eat more, because bodily members would be busy with stomach and forgetful of their own worship. That is why pious people prefer hunger to be more spiritual.

Fasting reminds people that they are not created just for eating and drinking. Through fasting they experience angelic and spiritual states and progress towards spiritual perfection. Because, fasting purifies people’s heart, spirit, reason, and innermost senses.

Naturally, human’s carnal self does not perceive its inherent infinite impotence, poverty, and defects. Without thinking about the consequences of its acts it indulges into worldly pleasures as if it would live forever. In this state it is heedless and forgets its Creator. But fasting reminds human beings their real nature and makes them feel their weakness and innate poverty. The need for compassion and care in their nature lead them to seek refuge in God’s mercy.

Fasting and Spiritual Ramadan

Fasting in Ramadan is like representing angelic state for human beings. By abandoning the needs of body such as food and drink they act like angels. Instead of following the lusts of carnal self, Believers dedicate themselves to worship in Ramadan. They recite or listen the Qur’an for Ramadan is a month in which the Qur’an started to be revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him).

Millions of Muslims recite the Qur’an and this makes the world like a huge mosque. Thus, fasting and reciting the Qur’an is like establishing a heavenly spiritual Ramadan atmosphere.

Believers become like angels while fasting and represent angelic attributes. They become pure spirit manifested in corporeal dress by abandoning worldly pleasures. Since Ramadan is a spiritual festival, fasting is commanded so that people abstain from their bodily preoccupations to some extent.

In Ramadan, the spiritual rewards are multiplied and a person can achieve a thousand rewards for one good deed. God promised 10 rewards for each good deed and this will bring forth 10 fruits of Paradise, but during Ramadan it is increased more. Reciting one letter of the Qur’an in this month can bring a thousand rewards or more and becomes like a huge blessed tree producing millions of permanent fruits of Paradise.

Believers will recognize in the Afterlife which righteous deeds in the world brought the blessings they enjoy in Paradise. In the same way, they will understand how fasting and suffering hunger in this world turn into joys in Paradise.

No other fasting can be compared to the one in Ramadan therefore believers feel serious grief when this blessed month is gone.

Ramadan and the Social Solidarity

God prepared this world as a table to demonstrate His bounties and mercy to human beings but most of the people cannot recognize it. But during Ramadan, the beauty and value of God’s favors upon servants are appreciated better because fasting makes them see those favors clearly. Especially, when about to break their fast towards the end of the day they feel that the earth is like a banquet prepared by God for them.

This feeling leads them to give thanks God for His bounties. Understanding the real value of God’s bounties is being grateful to Him in real sense. There is a price for every food which human beings buy and the price of countless bounties of God is acknowledging our need to them and appreciating them fully and thanking God wholeheartedly.

feed soul

Therefore, Ramadan and fasting in this month is the key to a true and comprehensive thanksgiving. Because, when experiencing hunger, people appreciate the value of bounties better. They understand that if God did not create those bounties, they would not achieve it. Since God creates all bounties and bestows upon His servants, He is the only one who should be appreciated and thanked.

We understand better those poor people who suffer from hunger and feel empathy for them. This feeling leads us to share our food with them and show mercy to them.

We invite people to our houses and share dinner with them. Acting this way we eliminate the huge rifts between different sections of the society and of overcoming prejudices. Sharing Iftar dinners with abundance and diversity of guests can stop unending grudges, hatreds and rages.

Caring for one’s fellow beings and being merciful to them is a foundation of true thanksgiving. People care each other better when feeling hunger in their personal life, thus fasting helps people to perceive the pain of hunger and poverty.

Unfortunately, people of our time have not seen beauties of Islam much through witnessing true Muslim attitudes and behaviors. So, Ramadan and its spiritual atmosphere can be utilized as opportunity to show none-Muslims the genuine face of Islam.

I would like to take this opportunity to wish all a blessed Ramadan, hoping that we could feel in our hearts the troubled condition of our extended Muslim family and pray for our salvation and for the salvation of all humanity.

About Dr. Recep Dogan
Dr. Recep Dogan is a prominent Muslim scholar, prolific author and a respected community activist in Australia. Dr. Recep completed his PhD in the Islamic Studies Department, Philosophy of Religion at University of Ankara. He undertook private study of Islamic Sciences with the world renowned Muslim Scholar, M. Fethullah Gulen, who is the founder of 'Hizmet', a global peace and education movement. Dr. Recep was the Imam of the Tolerance Foundation in California USA from 2004 to 2011. He is also the Muslim Chaplain for Charles Sturt University; he gives lectures on the following topics Islamic Studies; Sīrah (the life of the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh); Core Islamic Sciences; Usūl Tafsir (The Methodology of Qur'anic Exegeses); Usūl Hadith (The Methodology of Prophetic Traditions); Islamic Jurisprudence (from Hanafi Perspective); Usūl al-Fiqh (The Methodology of Islamic Law); Kalām (Islamic Theology).