By Muneeb Nasir
Ramadan is a sacred time - it is the ‘anniversary of anniversaries’, a time that the One God, Allah, singles out sincere believers for rewards.
God's Apostle, peace be upon him said, "God said, 'All the deeds of sons of Adam (people) are for them, except fasting which is for Me, and I will give the reward for it.' (Hadith Qudsi, Sahih al-Bukhari).
As such, this month is a feast for the believers - not of noise and chatter and extravagance, but a feast for the faithful and those seeking God.
The month of Ramadan brings us back to the essentials and away from the periphery.
Every year, Ramadan comes to unsettle our settled lifestyle to reach a higher level of awareness of God and heal the brokenness in our relationship with Him.
Fasting ‘is a wellspring for the spiritually dry, a compass for the spiritually lost, and inner nourishment for the spiritually hungry.’*
Worldly life is about adding and accumulating material possessions.
Ramadan comes to remind us that to get closer to God we must subtract the desires and attractions of worldly life.
But fasting in Ramadan is meant to be more than going hungry and thirsty and performing rituals for a month.
The Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, cautions us about becoming too preoccupied with the ritual of fasting and lose sight of the purpose of fasting:
“There are people who fast and get nothing from their fast except hunger, and there are those who pray and get nothing from their prayer but a sleepless night.” (Hadith, Sunan Ibn Majah).
One of the influential figures in Muslim history, Imam Abu Hamid Al-Ghazali, said that beyond keeping away from the physical things, there is the special fast that means keeping one's ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet -- and all other organs -- free from sin and from objectionable things.
Al-Ghazali goes on to say that the highest grade of fasting is the extra-special fasting which is the fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts.
Fasting for a month, in our world of today, is counter cultural and, as such, it should push us to present an alternative way of life to society - a way of life that has a moral conscience.
Fasting should give us sensitivity to the inequities in our society and world.
This sensitivity to the inequalities around us should inspire us to seek out those who need help, giving and sharing with others, and helping as much as possible in the community.
Fasting should force us to question the way we relate to wealth and consumption because we experience hunger and thirst on a very personal level and can empathize with those in the world who have little to eat every day.
It should also force us to be concerned about the thousands of our fellow citizens who are dealing with food insecurity or who are homeless on any given night.
Ramadan should give us an awareness of the social injustices in our society - from the social and racial inequities, to the human rights abuses, to the injustices of settler colonialism, here and over there.
In this month, we should be questioning our justice work and responses.
For too long, we have been concerned with injustices against our people or our community.
We would be morally compromised if we are concerned about injustices over there but not concerned about injustices here; or we are vocal and concerned about settler colonialism over there but are silent about settler colonialism here.
At this time, we are being called to embolden the work of justice - to be a moral voice.
Emboldening the work of justice will require courage and integrity.
Courage to speak out and stand for justice when it is inconvenient and painful.
Integrity to stand with those who are not our people, who are not from our community and to call out those who are close to us or those who are our siblings.
Courage and integrity is what God calls us to uphold in our justice work.
In the Qur’an, God revealed:
“You who believe, uphold justice and bear witness to God, even if it is against yourselves, your parents, or your close relatives. Whether the person is rich or poor, God can best take care of both. Refrain from following your own desire, so that you can act justly- if you distort or neglect justice, God is fully aware of what you do.” [Quran, 4:135].
May Allah bless us in the month of Ramadan, make our fasting the fasts of those who fast sincerely, and our standing up in prayer of those who stand up in prayer obediently; may He awaken us from the sleep of heedlessness, and forgive us our sins.
O Allah let us be, in the month of Ramadan, from among those who turn to You repentant and ask forgiveness for our sins; let us be from among those who do good and are generous.
O Living, O Sustaining God, in Your Mercy we seek relief from the pain and suffering in the world.
Help us to obtain strength for the sake of the weary, hope for those who are discouraged, and joy for each and every one who is downhearted.
O Lord, do not burden us with more than we have strength to bear; pardon us, forgive us, and have mercy on us.
O God, We ask You for Your love and the love of those who love You and the deeds that will bring us Your love.
*Reference for quote, fasting ‘is a wellspring for the spiritually dry, a compass for the spiritually lost, and inner nourishment for the spiritually hungry.’ - Rev. Thomas Ryan, CSP, The Sacred Art of Fasting: Preparing to Practice (Woodstock, Vermont,SkyLight Paths, 2005).