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Ramadan: A Month of Reflection, Awaking, and Renewal-II

İbrahim Özdemir

Visiting Scholar of Islamic Studies


Abo Akademi University, Turku - Finland
ib60dmr@gmail.com

Marshall G. S. Hodgson, in his The Venture of Islam: Conscience and History in a World
Civilization, suggests a three-part model for understanding Islamic religious experience.

He argues that to understand the spirit of Islam, it is essential to comprehend "devotional


religious experience and behavior" together. To understand the spirit of the Qur’anic
message to humanity, fasting in Ramadan is a good example.

Although Muslims observe fasting as a religious obligation ordained by Allah, we do believe


that there are numerous purposes and wisdom in the fasting. Ramadan thus has far-
reaching meanings and lessons for all of us.

I will try to summarize some of these major wisdoms of fasting. In doing so, I primarily
consulted and benefited from Said Nursi’s treatise on Ramadan. Nursi is one of probably
the most influential Muslim thinkers in Turkey in the 20th Century.

Nursi underlines that fasting in Ramadan is one of Islam's foremost pillars and greatest
symbols. Many of its purposes relate to God's Lordship and giving thanks for His bounties,
as well as to humanity's individual and collective life, self-training, and self-discipline. Then,
he delineates the wisdom of Ramadan as follows:

First, the noble Qur’an, the word of God, was revealed to humanity in the month of
Ramadan (the Qur'an, 2:185).

Accordingly, to shun the lower demands of the ego and trivialities and to resemble the
angelic state by abstaining from food and drink in order to greet that heavenly address in
the best manner is to attain a holy state.

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As Muslims, during Ramadan, we read and listen to the Qur’an as though it was newly
revealed. We try to listen to the Divine address as though hearing it from our Beloved
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)--indeed, from the Angel Gabriel, or from Allah Himself.

We then strive to live the full implications of this certitude. We endeavor all the days of our
life to bear the Qur'an in our heart, and to allow it to transform us from the inside and
become our very character.

Professor Aref Ali Nayed reminds us that the Qur'an is like the inhabitant of a house who
transforms it into a “home” by living in it and maintaining it. We also know that without the
Qur'an, our heart, mind, and body will collapse just as a deserted house eventually
degenerates.

Therefore, during Ramadan we invite the Qur'an to inhabit our heart, and to eventually
become our very habitus. However, we do not merely read the Qur'an as we would read
intellectually stimulating and thrilling books, nor do we recite it in the way of poetry.
Rather, we recite it in that very special way called 'tilawah'.

Second, fasting teaches us to be thankful for Allah Almighty's bounties.

Allah created the face of the earth in the form of a table laden with every sort of bounty. In
this way, Allah states the perfection of His Mercifulness and Compassion to us. Human
beings cannot discern clearly the reality of this situation while in the sphere of causes or
under the veil of heedlessness, and they sometimes forget this. To thank Allah, is to
recognize that the bounties come directly from Him; it is to appreciate their worth and to
perceive one’s own need for them.

Third, fasting in Ramadan, then, is the key to a true, sincere, extensive, and universal
thankfulness. For at the other times of the year, most of those who are not in difficult
circumstances do not realize the value of many bounties since they do not experience real
hunger.

However, during Ramadan, everyone from the wealthy to the needy manifests a sort of
gratitude through understanding the value of those bounties. As sunset approaches, they
display a worshipful attitude as though having been invited to the Royal banquet, they
await the command of “Fall to and help yourselves!”

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Fourth, there is also some wisdom in fasting from the point of view of humanity’s social life
as well. Human beings are not equal with regard to their livelihoods. However, as Kathleen
and McGinnis underline, “justice entitles every person to the basic economic necessities of
life, for God created the earth's resources for the development of all persons”.

Therefore, Allah Almighty invites the rich to assist the poor, so that through the hunger
experienced in fasting, they can truly understand the pains and hunger which the poor
suffer.

Fifth, the human ego forgets itself through heedlessness. We tend not to see our utter
powerlessness, need, and deficiency within ourselves. However, fasting awakens even the
most heedless and obstinate to their weakness, impotence, and want. By means of hunger,
they think of their stomachs; they understand the need therein.

Sixth, fasting is a healing physical and spiritual diet of the most important kind.

When humanity's instinctual ego eats and drinks just as it pleases, this harms both our
physical and spiritual well-being. The gurus of diet programs are a good evidence of this.
Fasting teaches us self-discipline and total control over our physical and spiritual well-being.

Seventh, fasting is also a demonstration of the unity of the Muslims. The whole Muslim
Community (Ummah) fasts together in one and the same month. We identify with one
another in our obedience to God. This gives us a new sense of togetherness and
association. [Nursi, Bediuzzaman Said, (1994). On Ramadan, Thanks, and Frugality].

Western travelers to Muslim lands, always overwhelmed with the impact of Ramadan on
Muslim societies. Muhammad Asad when visited Cairo in 1924 is an eye witness to
awaking, transforming, and renewing power of Ramadan. He was a Jewish-born Austro-
Hungarian Muslim journalist, traveler, writer, thinker, diplomat, and Islamic scholar. He was
considered as one of the most influential European Muslims of the 20th century. His first
observation of Ramadan is as follows:

On the third day after my arrival, at sunset, I heard the muffled sound of cannon
from the Citadel. At the same moment a circle of lights sprang up on the highest
galleries of the two minarets that flanked the Citadel.

And all this happened because the new crescent moon announced a new month
(for the Islamic calendar goes by lunar months and years), and that month was
Ramadan, the most solemn month of the Islamic year.

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It commemorates the time, more than thirteen hundred years ago, when,
according to tradition, Muhammad received the first revelation of the Koran.
Strict fasting is expected of every Muslim during this month.

Men and women, save those who are ill, are forbidden to take food or drink (and
even to smoke) from the moment when the first streak of light on the eastern
horizon announces the coming dawn, until sunset: for thirty days.

During these thirty days the people of Cairo went around with glowing eyes, as if
elevated to holy regions. In the thirty nights, you heard cannon fire, singing and
cries of joy, while all the mosques glowed with light until day break.

Twofold, I learned, is the purpose of this month of fasting.

One has to abstain from food and drink in order to feel in one's own body what
the poor and hungry feel: thus, social responsibility is being hammered into
human consciousness as a religious postulate.

The other purpose of fasting during Ramadan is self-discipline -an aspect of


individual morality, strongly accentuated in all Islamic teachings (as, for instance,
in the total prohibition of all intoxicants, which Islam regards as too easy an
avenue of escape from consciousness and responsibility).

In these two elements - the brotherhood of man and individual self-discipline I


began, to discern the outlines of Islam's ethical outlook. [Asad, Muhammad,
(2004). The Road To Mecca, p. 187-189].

May Allah help us to remember Him, thank Him and worship Him properly, and to end our
Ramadan with forgiveness, mercy, and compassion.

I also ask Allah to help us--Jews, Christians, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and all concerned
people -in uniting and responding to the challenges besetting humanity and to be a beacon
for the sick, needy, poor, and oppressed.

Ramadan Kareem!

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