Sunday, 2 October 2011

The Glory of Sav’m, the Fasting in Ramadan

The Glory of Sav’m
Fasting  in Ramadan

The Prophet of Islam S.A.W.S. said,
"Paradise has eight gates and one of them is named Ar Raiya’n.
No one will enter through it except those who observe Fasting".
(Narrated by Companion Sahi bin Sa'd  R.A.A.
and reported by Imam Bukhari)

Years back, on a Friday, I was returning to Jeddah after performing Umrah and the Salaathul Juma’a in the Holy Masjid al Haram at Makkathul Mukarramah. It was extremely hot and we were sweating profusely.  It was Ramadan and we were on saw'm, the fast.

In the taxi, beside me and the driver, were two other passengers.  They were visitors from an African country.  Their robes and caps proclaimed it.  They were holding iced soft drink cans in their hands and were drinking from them.  As travelers, perhaps, they thought it fit to avail the exemption from fasting allowed to musafireen, travellers. 

But they became overly generous and offered the driver an unopened can from their stock.  Inspite of his refusal to take it, they persisted. 

It was so hot.  On both sides of the Highway was the sprawling desert. Its sand dunes and the bare mountains behind them radiated intense heat. The driver was under such intense strain that he must have been tempted to accept the offer.  But he remained steadfast and continued his saw'm.

It is this, the pre-eminence of the Ramadan fast. It is endowed such honor in our faith that, according to a Hadith narrated by Abu Hurairah R.A.A.,

“Anyone who intentionally breaks it (the Fast) without permission from Allah, remains uncovered for that day even if he observes continuous fast all through his life (to compensate for it).”
Our Saudi brother remembered the penalty Allah has prescribed for deliberate contravention of the laws governing fasting.  His  Eimaan, his staunch faith, was sorely tested.  He triumphed.

Fasting is an intensely personal contract we make with Allah. No one but Allah knows how true we are to Him. 

It may be suspected by those who do not know the depth of our faith that, in the privacy of the home or an office cubicle, a fasting person could treat himself to some food or drink unseen by anyone.  But no Muslim does so.
We are so conscious of Allah's presence and our nearness to Him that the idea of causing even the slightest displeasure to the Lord and Master is repudiated by our conscience.  And Allah loves us for being so.
I have witnessed in West Africa the dynamism of the Muslim fast.  After every Ramadan, Islam gains the adherence of a higher and higher number of the people of the region. 

The example of their own African brothers and sisters demonstrating such self-discipline inspires in them also an unshakable faith in Islam.

They see how it is possible to defy all odds and overcome adversity by sheer devotion to the Creator and to His Command. They conquer the pangs of hunger and deprivation with their love of Allah. This drama of African awakening to Islam is just true and consthant and amazing to one and all.

They do not have large and spacious Masajid.  But they have large hearts filled with the love of Allah and His Rasool S.A.W.S..  It is a region with the world's highest rainfall.  The downpour lasts all six months.  They come, the devout Muslim men, women and children and fill the Masaajid they have.  Those who find no space within, stand in pouring rain outside these structures and perform Salaah in Jama’ath. 

And in the farm they spread a jute sack on the ground and pray to Allah in the shade of a palm tree.  They endure economic deprivation with patience.  With true faith, they look forward to a better and brighter future that Allah's grace will certainly bring them before long.

Every religion has prescribed some kind of fasting as an affirmation of faith.  But only Islam has perfected the form and observance of this duty and accorded it the highest eminence and magnificent rewards.

Ramadan is the ninth month of Hijri, the calendar Muslims follow.
In this month the Holy Qur'an was first revealed to humanity.
The entire month is earmarked for self-purification through fasting.
Every day, the Muslim fasts from a little before sunrise to sunset. 
Not a morsel of food nor a sip of water nor even a smoke is to be had during those hours.

It was the ennobling custom of the Holy Prophet S.A.W.S. that he was always the first to bring the happy news of the arrival of Ramadan to his companions.

He has informed us: “Ramadan has come to you, a blessed month prescribed by Allah for fasting.  Throughout this month, the gates of heaven are opened wide and the gates of hell closed shut.  The devils are shackled (without exception).  It has one night of eminence that is equal to a thousand months. Whoever misses the opportunity of earning blessings from Allah on that night will be a real loser indeed!”

We can imagine Allah watching us with satisfaction, as the entire Muslim world stands up for Salaah, facing His Blessed House in Makkah and making Saj’dah, prostration to Him, in rows after rows, relayed from one masjid to another, all across the globe, five times each day.

In the same way, every Muslim community presents itself before the Glorious Creator, observing and breaking the Ramadan fast in relays from one country to another and celebrating also the Eidul Fith’r on completion of the month of fasting, all at the same time.

The international unity of Islam is for real.  Its incomparable grandeur sustains our devotion to Our One and Only Lord, Allahu Sub’hanahu va tha Aalaa.

Even angels would envy us the honors Allah has granted us for the  triumphal Sav’m  (Fast) the Ummah (Commonwealth) of Syedina Mohammed S.A.W.S. has contnued to perform.through every Ramadan month over the last 1420 years.

All praise to Allah for His Constant Support that has boosted the zeal and glory of our eimaan and enabled us to defy and defeat Shai’ythaan and his powerful coterie and uphold everywhere the standard of Islam.

To the body, food is the vital and essential source of energy.
 It is also the most delectable of all the luxuries that we human beings are enamoured of.

To forego voluntarily the joy and savour of it is a great sacrifice indeed.

Yet we do it for full thirty days every year.  The pangs of hunger we endure with patience. We are truly disciplining ourselves as we deny ourselves food and drink through the prescribed hours. No smoking, not a whiff of snuff, no sexual contact, no bad thoughts nor scandalous speech!

Of all our good deeds, therefore, our fasting is dearest to Allah.  We fast for Allah’s sake.  We gain His grace.

As we cope with the fast’s challenge to our tenacity, we remind ourselves of a fact of life. There are millions of human beings, the indigent worldwide, who go without food most days because they have no money to buy it. To them, undernourishment and even starvation are the most constant companions. Their clothes are in tatters, their homes cold and unlit.

And this brings us to the fourth most important duty of a Muslim.  We go to the aid of the needy.  Rather than shed tears for them and stay philosophic about the socio-economic woes of the world, we sit down and honestly work out the Zakaah that Allah has comanded us to give away.

 Our saw'm has been subjected to thorough scrutiny from every angle and has passed every test, spiritual, economic and scientific.

The glory of Islam has become more manifest, more real and soul stirring to every unbiased observer from year to year, because of this, the miracle of saw'm.

The social scientist notes that fasting affords affluent people an opportunity to feel through thirty days the pangs of hunger that the poor endure throughout the year.

The rich are inspired in this way to be more charitable to the not-so-rich and show them more consideration and sympathy in the coming months. It is also the best inducement for them to come up with Zakaah and Fith’r for the less fortunate in this holy month of devotion and charity.  Invariably, it  inspires them to be philanthropic through life.
The religious thinkers find in sav'm  an excellent course in self-discipline.

There is nothing to prevent a person from food, drink and indulgence.  But the Muslim voluntarily foregoes all these, from a little before dawn right upto sunset, just to gain the approval of his Maker, Allahu Sub’hanahu va tha Aalaa.

Throughout these long hours, he cultivates piety of the highest order, abjures falsehood and sham, recites the Holy Qur'an, prays to Allah with true devotion and helps those in need. 

As a result, his character shines forth in excellence and there is a unique radiance in his heart.  And peace and harmony prevail in his home and in the community around him.

Every single act of our devotion in the month of Ramadan brings us seventy times more reward from Allah than in the other months.

In the Sahih al Bukhari collection of Hadith, the Prophet of Islam S.A.W.S. says: “Every good deed of man is granted by Allah ten to seven hundred (times its actual) rewards.

“But Allah says, ‘The fast is an exception.  It is entirely for me (and me) alone.  And I reward it (far more, and) as high as I like.’”

The Prophet of Islam S.A.W.S. has confirmed that Allah forgives the sins of the person who fasts for Allah through the month of Ramadan. 

Also, the fasting person's breath is more fragrant to Allah than even musk.

The Niy’yath, expression of intent, is important in the Fast also.  It would suffice if the intent is made in our heart even.

But it is best to state it either after Salaathuth Tharavaeh or immediately after completing Suhoor, our last meal of the night, prior to commencing the fast.

The Arabi Niy’yath for the Ramadan fast is: NAVAIY'THU SAV’MA GHADIN FAR’DI RAMADANI HAAZIHIL SINATHI LILLAHI THA AALAA. (I state my intent to observe the Far’d Fast of Ramadan tomorrow for Allah).

Just before breaking the fast, we say:


Fasting in Ramadan is Far’d, obligatory, on every indiviDuaal.  Only the sick and those who are travelling and the women who are in their periods, are exempted. 

The sick pay Fidiya to a designated person who will fast both for him/herself and the donor. This is explained in detail at the end of the chapter.

The traveller and the menstruating woman observe the defaulted fasts later on.  Nobody cheats.

The uninformed would expect a community entering a whole month of rigorous fasting and self discipline to look rather famished, subdued or desolate.  The truth is otherwise.

The month of Ramadan is welcomed as the harbinger of good times and happiness. The doors of every Muslim home are opened wide to prosperity and good fortune for the entire year of Islami devotion that Ramadan inaugurates. 

In Saudi Arabia, it is virtually New Year's Day. The greeting everywhere is KULLU AAM VA ANTHUM BI KHAIR!  "May the year commencing now be a year of peace and good fortune to you!" 

The whole community is united in observing this fast.And people young and old and the boisterous kids just enjoy every minute of it.

A festival atmosphere permeates.  Muslims are outgoing in their regard for, and assistance to, each other.  No one is left alone with his problems. Brotherly love pervades and all difficulties are easily overcome.

As in the days of the First Commonwealth of Islam in Madinah in the 7th century C.E., the Ramadan tradition continues to this day, of all Muslims developing rapport among themselves and helping and supporting one another, in reality,  as one great family.

The special charm of Ramadan is that the rites of fasting are observed, at the appointed hour, by one and all, in every land.

As the world rothates and the hours advance from east to west, the blessings of saw'm are relayed onwards clockwise from one country to another.

The entire humanity is honoring wholeheartedly the Ramadan commitment of man to God.

We gather as one community, to view the first crescent heralding the arrival of Ramadan.  If clouds bar our view, we get the news from our brothers over phone or the radio and TV.

The Qazi, the Muslim leader of the city, makes the announcement.

When the new moon is sighted, we feel we have grantted the greatest of good fortune. It is auspicious now to recite the Surath al Fath’ha (INNAA FATHAH’NA LAKA FATH’HAM MUBEENAN…) from the Holy Qur'an three times and pray to Allah for the fulfillment of our highest aims.

We go to the Masjid that night for the first of the Salaath al Tharavaeh.

We join the Muslims of our neigbourhood and celebrate the Glory of Allah in this Salaah. 

It feels great to be granted by Allah the privilege to fast for His sake.

In the last quarter of the same night, the entire city wakes up for Suhoor.  In our early years we joined people going round the neigborhood, singing the praise of Allah and His Chosen Rasool S.A.W.S.. 

We helped the people in this way, awakening them to partake of the last meal before Sav'm.

The Suhoor is indeed a neymath, reward, from Allah.  It is preferable, acccording to Hadith, to have Suhoor rather late in the night, but well before the deadline.

However, in exceptional circumstances, if we were unable to wake up in time, we can eat and drink right upto the first note of Aza'n of the Salaathul Faj'r. 
If we are far from a Masjid and have no means knowing the hour, the Holy Qur’an informs us that we will know that the deadline has arrived "when the white thread becomes distinguishable from a black one in the dark of the night.”

Those who wake up in time are fortunate. They can perform the Salaathuth Thahajjud before or after the Suhoor.  We ensure ourselves limitless blessings from Allah by this. However, if we feel too tired, there is no harm if we go back to sleep. 

An hour or so later we find ourselves in the Masjid again, joining other Muslims in the Salaathul Faj'r.  We come back, rest awhile and go on to perform as many good deeds as we can and offer charity and help to others.

We also make sure that our duties as a breadearner of the family or as a student in the school or university and so on are fully and conscientiously discharged by us.

The sav'm  allows  a person all the  rest he/she needs. A fasting person could be overpowered by fatigue or ennui and go to sleep. His sleep is not frowned upon.  It is also counted as worthy of reward.  But this concession is seldom availed of.

Muslims who have accustomed themselves to hard work and an active life present sav'm in its full glory. The Muslim fast is honored by them and never made an excuse for a shoddy or lacklustre performance in any field.

In my boyhood days, I was most inspired by a soccer star who was Muslim. He played center forward and won for his team the championship in a state level tournament.  It was Ramadan. The games were played in late evenings, when the pangs of hunger took the heaviest toll of the fasting person and his endurance.

The champion was on fast but he displayed no trace of fatigue or exhaustion.  An ideal Muslim, he equalled and even excelled other players in stamina and speed.  He was superb in tackling and would maneuver the ball to the opponents' goal within seconds.  He netted most of the time and won every match.

The spectators were thrilled.  They were mostly non-Muslims and did not know till then what sav'm meant.
They were amazed to learn of its rigors. They were deeply impressed by the faith of a person who could go hungry and still play such an exacting soccer!

Ramadan brings out the best in every Muslim.

Does anyone feel the pangs of hunger during the day?  No. We are just feeling great!  We are one with our family, with our neigbours and with our Muslim brothers and sisters around the world.

It is as though we are in a Devotion Workshop and the euphoria does not just disappear at the end of Ramadan. 

It stays with us through the following eleven months and makes us excellent Muslims.  All praise to Allah for the wonderful gift of Ramadan.

Those who find this hard believe, are welcome to visit a Muslim neigborhood during Ramadan and discover the truth themselves!

We are indeed at our happiest and noblest in Ramadan and we sincerely affirm our devotion to the Lord Who grants us all that is precious and magnificent in life.

We perform the Salaah’s Zuh'r and As'r in Jama’ath. For Salaathul  Maghrib we go to the Masjid taking with us our Ifthaar (dates, fruit, bread, lemonade and so on). This breakfast food is shared with our brothers assembled there.

We are counseled, in Hadith, to hasten (and not delay) the timely Ifthaar (the sunsetbreakfast).

We come back for a hearty meal at home, in which guests often join. An hour of rest and again to the Masjid for Salaah’s Ishaa and Tharavaeh. 

To sum up, we quote the Holy Prophet S.A.W.S. from Sahih Bukhari: "If a person does not stop lying or living by the evil of falsehood, Allah does not require him to give up food and drink". 

(This inspires in the Muslim the realization that fasting, by itself, is just not enough and we must try with equal zeal and desist from every evil, every bit of falsehood  and from  all acts that are  abhorrent to Allah).

And:  "The Fast is a Muslim's shield (protecting him/her from evil).  When one is on fast, he/she must not quarrel with, or abuse, anyone. If subjected to such foul treatment, he/she must say, 'Brother, I am on fast and I will not reciprocate your bad manners'."

Syedina Mohammed S.A.W.S.  has assured us that our fasts, our prayers and our recitations of the Holy Qur'an will intercede with Allah for our salvation (on the Day of Judgment).

The good deeds we have performed in Ramadan will plead for the grant of pardon to us by Allah. And this on a day when the entire humanity will be trembling in fear and despairing for some good deed to show up in their life record that could save them from the wrath of Allah!

We also know from Hadith that Shaiy'thaan is shackled and rendered inoperative during the whole of Ramadan. The gates of Hell are closed shut and the doors to Heaven, to Allah's Rah’math, Allah's Compassion, are opened wide to the Muslims.

For our fast and our devotion to Allah through Ramadan, we are graced with:

Allah’s Love and His Magnificent Protection to us and to our family in this careworn world and
Eternal Bliss, Unimaginable Luxury and Everlasting Happiness in the Life to Come.

In a later chapter the special Salaah’s suggested by Muslim scholars for the very special and most auspicious Lai’ylathul Qad’r, the Night  of Glory, are detailed.

Fasting is forbidden on the days of the two festivals:

Eidul Fith’r (which proclaims the grand conclusion of the Ramadan fast) and

Eid al Ad'haa (which commemorates the offer made by Prophet Ibrahim to sacrifice his dear son Ismail for the love of Allah).