INsights 036, Friday 10th March 2023
INsights 036, Friday 10th March 2023
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Assalamu-alaikum. Peace be upon you.
Ramadan is just around the corner. If you’re looking for guidance as to how to make the most of the blessed month, then your first stop should be revelation.
God mentions the word Ramadan just once in the Qur’an. This occurs in Chapter 2, al-Baqarah, The Cow, Verse 185. Below are Verses 183-185, along with some of my reflections and practical suggestions.
Let’s find out what our Lord has to say…
You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God.
With this verse, fasting became an obligation. But it certainly wasn’t a new one. Just like prayer (salat) and alms-giving (zakat), it was an ancient practice of previous prophets and communities. It was simply being reemphasised, not introduced for the first time.
When you fast, this is something to keep in mind. You are engaging in, and helping to preserve, a discipline that is thousands of years old.
The purpose of fasting is to help us attain taqwa. This special quality is about having a constant awareness of God. If you remain mindful of His presence, you will conduct yourself in a careful and considered way. You will allow for useful pauses between inclination and action.
Preserving yourself from God’s displeasure requires you to have a high level of self-control as you pursue your journey on the straight path.
Fasting is such a powerful way of increasing taqwa because it breaks the connection between instinct and response, between desire and fulfilment.
It does so even for things which would otherwise be completely lawful. So the distance created between us and actions or behaviours that are ordinarily harmful or prohibited becomes even greater.
Over the course of a whole month of fasting, you will go through hundreds of experiences of self-control...
You feel like drinking water, you stop yourself.
You feel like eating something, you stop yourself.
You feel like enjoying intimacy with your spouse, you stop yourself.
That’s the school of Ramadan in action. That is mindfulness of God (taqwa) in development.
We have within us a capacity for discipline, self-control and patience that is more than we typically imagine. Ramadan reminds us of our true potential!
Fast for a specific number of days, but if one of you is ill, or on a journey, then on other days later. For those who can fast only with extreme difficulty, there is a way to compensate – feed a needy person. If anyone does good of their own accord, it is better for them, and fasting is better for you, if only you knew.
This verse is all about putting the minds of believers at ease.
The very first time someone learns of the requirement to fast, they might become quite anxious. Immediately God reassures that person that it’s only for “a specific number of days” and that we can always skip fasts and make up for them later if we are unwell or travelling.
If it’s really difficult or even impossible to fast based on your ordinary circumstances, don’t worry. You shouldn’t feel guilty. All you need to do is feed a needy person to make up for it.
Having said that, God gently suggests that a person should try and push themselves to complete their fasts if possible because its benefits are significant. You shouldn’t miss out on them if you can help it.
It was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong. So any one of you who witnesses the month should fast…
These words inform us that the reason we fast in Ramadan specifically, and not in any other month, is because this is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed.
This could be a reference to the timing of the very first revelation. Or it could refer to the descent of the entire revelation, after which it was transmitted to the final messenger, may God grant him blessings and peace, over the course of his prophetic mission.
Based on this, we can think about fasting in Ramadan as a way to celebrate and honour the Qur’an.
By fasting, we are less distracted by our day-to-day needs and can hopefully give more time to understanding and implementing the guidance it contains.
It’s as if the message to each of us is: don’t fill yourself with food and drink, fill yourself with revelation!
I like to think of holding back from consumption as a way of making more room inside me for reflection and self-purification, for which the verses of the Qur’an are a powerful catalyst.
I suggest that you think carefully about the balance between breadth and depth when it comes to your engagement with the Qur’an this Ramadan...
It’s common practice to try one’s best to complete a recitation of the entire book. No doubt, this is a noble goal as long as it’s done in a meaningful way. But it’s not a necessary target by any means.
What matters is engaging more than you ordinarily do and deriving some real learnings for yourself.
1. To this end, you might want to think about selecting a passage that you plan to explore in further depth over the course of the month, in addition to your regular reading target.
It could be a set of short chapters or a small number of medium-sized chapters, or just one long chapter.
2. What you would then do is recite and read the translation of the same section repeatedly during the month. You would spend time pondering the verses more deeply and jotting down lessons.
You would open up discussions with family members or friends on those verses. You would conduct further research using available resources to aid your reflection and to get answers to any questions that have arisen.
This is fairly uncommon advice as far as Qur’an habits in Ramadan are concerned.
But, keeping the quality over quantity maxim in mind, do consider whether this approach is likely to be far more profound and lasting in its positive effects for you rather than reciting or reading more of the Qur’an without as much thought.
In order to help you with this, I’m planning to run a series of five deep-dive sessions in Ramadan, entitled The True Believer. I intend to provide, God willing, an in-depth explanation of key passages in which the qualities of true believers are mentioned in the Qur’an.
As always, I’ll take a practical, action-oriented approach so we can all discover how to transform ourselves into true believers. Watch this space for more details!
…and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up for the lost days by fasting on other days later. God wants ease for you, not hardship. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to declare His greatness for having guided you, so that you may be thankful.
Again, our Lord reminds us that fasts can be made up later if required.
He provides further reassurance by saying that He’s not trying to put us through hardship. In fact, He wants ease for us.
Many of us can really do with this reminder. God is not oppressive or petty. He encourages us to stretch ourselves so that we can make progress towards Him, but not in such a way that seeks to catch us out or become overly burdensome.
Finally, God specifically emphasises takbir and shukr, namely declaring His greatness – Allahu akbar – and being grateful to Him.
Ramadan and fasting are about celebrating guidance, revelation and all the blessings that He has given us.
So take the time to reflect on what these mean for you and experience all your efforts this Ramadan as a means of thanking your Lord.
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Have a blessed fortnight. I'll see you in two Fridays, God willing.