Has fasting [fill in number] Ramaḍāns in my life changed me? If not, why? The answers to these twin questions are my most important pre-Ramaḍān preparation.
Transforming Tawhīd and Akhlāq
The intent of Ramaḍān is to transform my tawḥīd and, consequently, my akhlāq.
Tawḥīd is when conceptual belief in Allāh’s Divine Unicity becomes experiential in my heart’s perception, feeling, and will.
Akhlāq, inner character, is the tawḥīd of Allāh’s Names and Attributes manifested at the level of my human potential. Allāh, for example, is Infinite in His Loving-Mercy (al-Raḥīm), Justice (al-‘Adl) and Wisdom (al-Ḥakīm). I must strive to be, to the best of my finite human ability, lovingly-merciful, just and wise.
Through tawḥīd and akhlāq, I know Allāh experientially and I represent His Names and Attributes. I become His khalīfah.
The Prize of Taqwā
Tawḥīd and akhlāq are the two precious components of Ramaḍān’s ultimate prize: taqwā.
Allāh says: O you who have believed, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain taqwā. (2:183)
What is taqwā except the heart’s experiential awareness of Allāh’s Beauty and Majesty, and the translation of His Names and Attributes into my character and behaviour?
Circling back to the first two questions: Has my heart attained taqwā by fasting [fill in number] Ramaḍāns in my life? If not, why?
Said someone: Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. If my heart has not attained taqwā through fasting, I am doing something wrong. What is it? It must be this: If my heart has not attained taqwā through fasting, I must be fasting incorrectly.
I must critically examine my fasting history in light of the intent of fasting. Let me enter the living, sacred space of this Ramaḍān after first visiting the graveyards of my past Ramaḍāns.
If I enter those graveyards, I will likely find ten sequential epitaphs inscribed on the tombstones:
1. HERE LIES SOMEONE WHO DID NOT SINCERELY SEEK THE SPIRIT OF FASTING.
It begins here. ‘Ibādah, or worship, is meant to produce a change of heart. Every law of the Sharī‘ah purifies and transforms the heart – but if, and only if, the law is practiced in both form and spirit. Without practicing the outer and inner dimensions of fasting, my heart will remain unimpacted. And while I fulfil the legal conditions of fasting, I could fall far short in its spiritual prerequisites.
The Messenger ﷺ stated: In the body is a morsel-like entity. If it is sound, the entire body will be sound; if it is corrupt, the entire body will be corrupt. Indeed, it is the heart.
2. HERE LIES SOMEONE WHO DID NOT FAST FROM SINS WITH HIS SENSES.
This is an essential spirit of fasting. The senses are the doors to my heart. What I see, hear, speak, think, and what I commit with my hands, sexual organs and feet, will either cleanse or corrupt my heart. I must fast with my limbs or senses – eyes, ears, mind, tongue, hands, sexual organs, and feet – from every act that displeases Allāh.
The Messenger ﷺ stated: Whoever does not give up false testimony [and, by analogy, all sin] and acting upon it, Allāh has no need of him abandoning his food and drink.
3. HERE LIES SOMEONE WHO DID NOT FAST FROM THEIR TONGUE’S POISON.
Fasting with my tongue deserves special attention. The evils of the tongue are grave and prolific, yet often completely ignored and overlooked. They include lies (black and white), backbiting, slander, rumour mongering, passing on false information, violating trusts, vulgarity, mockery, excessive jesting, disputation and argumentation, complaining, and on and on – and on.
The Messenger ﷺ stated: …and what causes people to be cast into Hell upon their faces except the harvest of their tongues?
4. HERE LIES SOMEONE WHO DIDN’T FAST FROM THE SINS OF THE HEART.
This is another essential spirit of fasting. In addition to fasting from sins of the senses, I must also fast from sins of my heart. I sin with my heart when I harbour cardinal vices like arrogance (kibr), delusion (ghurūr), miserliness (bukhl), violent jealousy (ḥasad), ostentation (riyā’), obscenity (badhā’ah), harshness (qasāwah), and love of the world (ḥubb al-dunyā), among others. Fasting with my heart is to internally struggle against such feelings and not indulge or embrace them.
Allāh states: Avoid the external of sin and the internal of it. (6:120)
5. HERE LIES SOMEONE WHO DID NOT FAST WITH SPIRITUAL VIGILANCE.
Fasting with its inner dimensions requires spiritual vigilance – or murāqabah – that Allāh is Ever-Watchful of my senses and my heart. If I am aware of Allāh’s watchful gaze on my heart, I will find it easier to screen negative thoughts and feelings before they take root, grow, strengthen and produce the evil fruits of words and actions. It is easier to stop a walking horse than one at full canter.
Murāqabah of Allāh is a core element of iḥsān, or spiritual beauty and excellence. Being in a state of murāqabah of the Infinitely Beautiful produces beauty in my words and action.
Practically speaking, when base thoughts and feelings arise, I should do the following: Turn to Allāh in forgiveness and protection; ignore the thoughts and feelings; calmly keep re-orienting my heart to Allāh; busy myself – ideally with my heart – in acts of His remembrance; and act with the virtuous opposite of the inner vice that is plaguing me. And with Allāh is all success.
Allāh says: And Allāh is Ever-Watchful over all things. (33:52)
6. HERE LIES SOMEONE WHO DID NOT TRULY FAST IN THEIR PRAYERS.
Ṣalāh is an intimate communion with the Divine Himself. It is the foundational pillar in my journey of inner purification. Five times a day, ṣalāh is a gift of heavenly ascension, or mi’raj, to the Divine Presence. But the wormhole that allows me to break from my mundane, worldly existence into the sacred, heavenly realm of Divine proximity requires incredible energy. That energy is my focused effort – the sincere extent to which I struggle to fast with my heart from distracting thoughts and feelings while offering my ṣalāh.
Allāh says: Truly, the believers are successful – those who are mindfully reverent in their ṣalāh. (23:1)
7. HERE LIES SOMEONE WHO DID NOT FAST WITH A WIRD.
Every moment of Ramaḍān is spiritual nourishment. The greatest enemy of my heart is myself – my lower-self, or nafs. The unrefined nafs makes every excuse to escape from spiritual work; if I do not busy my nafs with good, it will busy me with evil.
Without a practical, realistic daily schedule, much valuable time will be squandered. The scholar-saints of our tradition term a daily schedule of ‘ibādah a wird. The root word of wird means to come to water and drink. Without a daily wird, my heart will thirst, dehydrate and die.
There are many fountains of spiritual nourishment. A daily wird should contain at least five elements:
- Quality, unhurried, focused ṣalāh
- Recitation of the Qur’ān
Sending ṣalawāt, prayers of peace and blessings, upon the Messenger ﷺ
- Regular du‘ā’, or supplication
- Regular ṣadaqah (charity) and khidmah (service) to others
- The Messenger ﷺ said: The most beloved deeds to Allāh are the most constant, even though they may be few.
8. HERE LIES ONE WHO DID NOT FAST FROM BAD COMPANIONSHIP.
There is no surer way to sap the spirit of my fasting than bad ṣuḥbah, or companionship. Hearts draw deeply from the spiritual states of one another. Evil companions will stir the sinful propensities in my lower-self and weaken my will to do good. I must be cognizant that the concept of ṣuḥbah in the modern age extends to the virtual, online world, which offers unrestricted access and accessibility to the most spiritually fatal forms of ṣuḥbah.
Allāh says: O you who believe, have a conscious reverence of Allāh and be with the truthful. (9:119)
9. HERE LIES SOMEONE WHO DID NOT FAST WITH QUALITY KHALWAH.
To fast meaningfully requires inner focus. Focus requires a severing of distractive attachments. Quality time alone, khalwah, is a crucible for transformative inner change. There is no profound spiritual growth, affirm our scholar-saints, without moments of quality khalwah. And what is more beneficial than to use my moments of khalwah to reflect on the spiritual quality of my fasting – by reflecting, for example, on my observance of each of the nine dimensions mentioned – and by imploring Allāh for strength and steadfastness?
The Messenger ﷺ said: O child of Adam, free yourself for my ‘ibādah – I will fill your heart with richness and I will guarantee you freedom from poverty….
10. HERE LIES ONE WHO DID NOT FAST WITH HIS FAMILY.
The failings of fasting represented by the nine epitaphs apply to families as well. Families are made of individual hearts. When those individual hearts fast with true spirit, there will be spiritual resonance and collective growth. And that collective growth will, in turn, spiritually empower each individual family member. Without this spiritual synchronicity, we might impede if not destructively interfere with each other’s inner growth.
It is my duty to find creative, innovative and wise ways to manifest the nine spiritual dimensions of fasting with my family. The best place to begin is to establish a spiritual hub around which good will gravitate: We should regularly offer ṣalāh together and, when finished, remain seated in collective dhikr and du‘ā’, aloud, with hope, gratitude, joy and love.
Allāh says: O you who believe, save yourselves and your families from a Fire….(66:6)
A Program for a Spiritual Ramadān
These ten epitaphs, summarized positively, are the backbone of a practical and coherent spiritual program:
- I fast seeking the spirit of fasting.
- I fast with all of my senses from sin.
- I fast with my tongue from sin.
- I fast with my heart from inner vices.
- I fast in a state of murāqabah of Allāh’s watchfulness.
- I fast from outer and inner distractions in ṣalāḥ.
- I fast with a wird, or schedule, of spiritual works.
- I fast with moments of khalwah, or quality time alone.
- I fast from evil companions, live, on-site and online.
- I fast with my family, together, observing these spiritual dimensions.
When the Messenger ﷺ saw the first crescent, he would pray:
O Allāh, let it rise over us with goodness and faith, peace and security, and loving surrender.
May the rising, delicate, new crescent be the birth of a new Ramaḍān for me, filled with goodness, faith, peace, security and loving surrender – the gifts, so many, of taqwā, and the spiritual essences of ‘Eīd itself. Āmīn.
Ramaḍān Mubārak, my dearest brother and sister.