By A. Faizur Rahman,
The holy month of fasting has come to an end and Eid-ul-Fitr has also been celebrated. On that day (the first day of the month of Shawwal) Muslims gathered in Eidgahs and mosques to thank God for having enabled them to fulfil their Ramazan obligations Ã¢â‚¬â€œ the seeking of spiritual proximity to Him through prayers, striving for moral discipline by conquering physical desires and inculcating a sense of social commitment to the cause of the economically deprived. And as an expression of this solidarity an obligatory charity called zakat ul fitr was disbursed to the needy before the thanksgiving congregational prayer.
But once the festivities are over, it has been observed, most Muslims renege on their Ramazan resolutions. The spiritual training undergone during this holy month somehow fails to energise them into sustaining the good work for the next eleven months. The reason for this could be that the statutory requirements of Ramazan such as the thirty day dawn to dusk fasting (soum) are taken as a ritualistic end in themselves sans a higher purpose. And perhaps the only way to remedy this situation is to revisit the idea of Ramazan as proposed by the Quran and expounded by the Prophet.
The instructions regarding Ramazan and fasting during that month form part of a discussion in a section (ruku) of 6 verses (183-188) in the second chapter (surah) of the Quran which begins by saying: Ã¢â‚¬Å“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn self-restraint.Ã¢â‚¬Â As the verse rightly claims the concept of fasting is not peculiar to Islam. The Hindus fast on special festivals such as Maha Shivratri and Navaratri and also on particular days like Ekadasi and Purnima. In Christianity, the Old Testament (Exodus 34:28) talks of a 40-day fast by Moses before receiving the Ten Commandants, and the New Testament mentions Jesus as rebuking his followers saying, Ã¢â‚¬Å“And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, who try to look pale and disheveled so people will admire them for their fasting.Ã¢â‚¬Â (Mathew 6:16-17).
The most relevant in the above mentioned Quranic verse is its latter part which reveals the purpose behind fasting, that is, to acquire taqwa, which has been variously translated as self-restraint, god-consciousness and guarding of the self against evil. Nevertheless, fasting is just one of the means to achieve the aim of Ramazan as this verse proves. Ã¢â‚¬Å“Ramazan is the month in which was sent down the Quran, as a guide to mankind including clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) by days laterÃ¢â‚¬Â (2:185).
This means that the significance of Ramazan stems from the revelation of Divine Guidance to mankind in that month, and the objective of this special month would be fulfilled only when the message of the Quran is internalised during the thirty day period. This is possible only when the core teachings of Islam are identified. And of a surety they do not include the appeasement of a personal god through superstitious rituals as some preachers would have us believe.
To put in a nutshell, Islam means the recognition of a Creator and service to humanity. According to one of the most quoted verses, Ã¢â‚¬Å“It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards east or west; but it is righteousness-to believe in God and the Last Day, and the angels, and the Book, and the messengers; to spend of your substance, out of love for Him, for your kin, for orphans, for the needy, for the wayfarer, for those who ask, and for the ransom of slaves; to be steadfast in prayer, and practice zakat; to fulfil the contracts which ye have made; and to be firm and patient, in suffering and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic. Such are the people of truth and such are the muttaqoon (people with taqwa).Ã¢â‚¬Â (2:177).
It may be noted here that if the purpose of fasting is taqwa (as mentioned in 2:183 above), and people with taqwa are those who serve humanity in different ways and also pray and pay zakat (compulsory charity), the seemingly liturgical practices of prayers, fasting, Zakat and Haj can be described as institutional means to establish the humanitarian order of Islam. This is because, the five times prayers and Haj inculcate social equality, fasting sensitises the rich to the pangs of extreme poverty, and zakat helps finance socio-economic development. No wonder the Prophet referred to these institutions as the foundation on which the edifice of Islam rests. Therefore, the Muslims should not allow themselves to be overcome by complacency just by praying and fasting. Just as the Prophet said that God does not stand in need of a person giving up his food and drink if he does not give up lying and acting falsely, fasting and prayer would be of no use if our apathetic attitude towards the deprived sections of the society does not change.
It must be realised that according to The National Commission for Enterprises in the Unorganized Sector (NCEUS) report more than 77% of the Indian population and 84% of the Muslims do not have employment and social security and are live on less than Rs. 20 a day, not to mention the conditions of the Muslims as brought out in the Sachar Report. And according to an UNICEF report malnutrition in India is more rampant than sub-Saharan Africa as more than one third of the malnourished children live in our country. But most rich Muslims are oblivious to such sufferings. They continue to spend on non-obligatory pilgrimages and extravagant marriages. It is as if they are yet to understand the symbolism of Ramazan.
The word Ramazan is derived from ramaz which means Ã¢â‚¬Å“intense heatÃ¢â‚¬Â, and soum means to stop, cease or abstain from an activity. Therefore, when the Quran talks of its message being revealed in the month of intense heat and asks people to fast during this period it is also a reference to the savage conditions that prevailed in Arabia before Islam and how the first Muslims dealt with them. And understood through this symbolism the phrase Ã¢â‚¬Å“every one of you who is present during that month should spend it in fastingÃ¢â‚¬Â in 2: 185 would mean (apart from regular fasting) that anyone who finds himself in circumstances of ramaz he or she must undergo the training of soum using the Quran as guidance to extricate the community from such situations. In other words, the Quran has been revealed to mankind as a practical remedy for any crisis in life.
When the Prophet started his reform movement armed with the guidance of the Quran, murder, mayhem, fratricidal wars and female infanticide were the order of the day. And during his entire 13-year stay in Mecca, till he was forced to migrate to Medina, the Prophet, in the light of the Quranic teachings, practiced a kind of soum in which he stopped himself and his followers from all forms of physical retaliation against the barbaric Meccans. As a result even when his companions Yasir and his wife Sumaiya were brutally murdered, and a bare-bodied Hazrat Bilal dragged through the rough streets of Mecca under a blazing sun the Prophet advocated patience. It was this non-violent response of tolerance, self-restraint, and perseverance against all odds with the message of truth that endeared Islam to the people of Arabia.
Circumstances today demand that Muslims undertake a similar form of soum in which they commit themselves to abstain from extravagance, ostentation and self-indulgence so as to save their community from the Ã¢â‚¬Å“intense heatÃ¢â‚¬Â of all round backwardness. Then they would have attained the highest stage of spiritual development which characterises the people of taqwa.
(The author is secretary general of Forum for the Promotion of Moderate Thought among Muslims. He can be reached email@example.com)