My Ramadan – An Article for ‘MDM – Many Different Muslims’

By Hamid Mahmood

Abridged article on MDM Website

نہیں تیرا نشیمن قصرِ سلطانی کے گنبد پر ۔ تو شاہیں ہے! بسیرا کر پہاڑوں کی چٹانوں پر
Your abode is not on the dome of a royal palace – You, a falcon, should live on a mountainous rock! (Iqbal)

I have never been fond of the idea of being labelled and stamped under a single monolithic crystallised title except for what God Himself chose for me – ‘… He has called you Muslims …’ (Qur’an 22:78). My thoughts and practises are influenced – just as almost every other Muslim – by experiences, learning and history. I was born into a Pakistani family, hence was taught the Hanafi fiqh, which I believe made its way to India following the collapse of the Abbasid Caliphate through Hanafi Sunni refugees fleeing Mongol tyranny. My late grandfather ‘Sayyid Masum Ali Shah’ was a graduate of Dar al-Ulum Deoband, an institute founded in colonial India following the 1857 Indian Rebellion. As a result of partition he was forced to migrate with my father, who at the time was only four. Early in my life I read books about the Prophet and Prophets penned by Maulana Abul Hasan Ali Nadwi, which triggered within me the desire to explore the history of Islam. This desire was to dictate the next nine years of my life; I studied ‘traditional Islam’ at the second oldest madrasa in the UK, founded by the Tablighi Jamat. Following madrasa and the Tablighi Jamat I went through a transition from ‘tradition’ to ‘modernity’ – I studied the Abrahamic religions at the University of London, after completing my B.A. (Hons) degree I am now studying the history of Islam and the West. My thoughts are influenced by all these factors. So moving to the request, ‘it is essential that you associate yourself with a Muslim school of thought or denomination’ I find it difficult to point to one and secondly how is denomination defined in the context of Islam? Is it school of fiqh, mission, politics, etc. Hence, I find myself following the Hanafi fiqh in general without the strict taqlidi approach to it; I am at times influenced by the Deobandi (Sufi and Matrudi in creed) thought and the Tablighi mission but do not see myself entrapped by the neo-Deobandi and neo-Tablighi thought and methodology prevalent today; I am spiritually in touch with Nadwa and fully recognise the gap that this institution filled, which Deoband had widened – that of tradition and modernity. So I leave the task of defining and categorising the above to the reader.

For me every Ramadan is unique, and in every Ramadan I hope to be a better individual than I was before Ramadan. When thinking about this holy month I feel the words of Allah within my heart and as though I am spoken to directly, ‘You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God … It was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was revealed as a guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong’. (Qur’an 2:183-185). Iqbal always said, “tere zamir pe jab tak na ho nuzul-i-kitab – gira kusha he na razi na sahib-i-kashaf”, ‘That until the Book is not revealed directly onto your heart, then all exegetes the likes of Razi and the author of Kashaaf (Zamakhshari) cannot be fully understood’. For indeed the heart of a believer is then at the epicentre: ‘true believers are those whose hearts tremble with awe when God is mentioned, whose faith increases when His revelations are recited’ (Qur’an 8:2).

The Prophet (PBUH) once said, ‘sawm (fasting) is half of sabr (patience)’ and on another occasion, ‘sabr is half of iman’ – hence fasting is considered an integral part of one’s faith. And Imam al-Ghazali (R.A) elaborates that fasting then becomes ‘nisf of the nisf of iman’ half of the half of iman, which makes it ¼ of iman. When I come across the word ‘sabr’ at once my attention is drawn towards the blessed words of the Messenger of Allah (PBUH),
((عجباً لامر المومن ان امرہ کلہ خیر، و لیس ذلک لاحد یلا للمومن: ان اصابتہ سرا شکر فکان خیراً لہ، و ان اصابتہ ضرا صبر فکان خیراً لہ ))
‘How wonderful is the case of a believer, there is good for him in every state and this applies only to a believer. If goodness and prosperity befall him, he expresses gratitude towards Allah and that is good for him. And if hardship and adversity befalls him he endures it with patience and this is good for him’. Fasting I believe transforms a believer into an individual who is then prepared to undergo hardships and still remain mindful of his Creator. The Arabs of the Jahiliyyah were not so familiar with fasting, but used the word ‘sawm’ when they trained their horses to go without food and keep the faces of their horses uncovered when facing scorching winds to prepare them for the heat of battle. Hence Jarir uses this word in this context:
ظللنا بمستن الحرور کأننا لدی فرس مستقبل الریح صائم
We stood our ground against the gusts of warm wind as if we were standing beside a horse which was fighting against a strong wind and was fasting.

But the question that troubles my mind is how abstinence from eating and drinking excels one spiritually and ultimately the attainment of taqwa as the Quranic verses promise. To find my answer I turn to the Ihya of Ghazali (R.A.) and discover that fasting is more than just what we think.

Imam Ghazali (R.A.) divides sawm (fasting) into three categories:
(1) Sawm of the ‘awam (Fast of the general Muslims): It is to restrain oneself from eating and drinking and from sexual passion. This is the lowest kind of fast.
(2) Sawm of the khawas (Fast of the few select Muslims): In this kind of fasting, besides the above things, one refrains from sins of the hands, feet, eyes and other limbs of the body.
~ To gain perfection in this level it requires six duties: (1) To restrain the eyes from what is evil and from things which divert attention from Allah’s remembrance. (2) To restrain the tongue from useless talk, false-speaking, back-biting, slander, abusive speech, obscenity, hypocrisy and enmity, to adopt silence and to keep the tongue busy with the remembrance of God and reciting the Quran. (3) To restrain the ears from hearing evil because what is unlawful to utter is also unlawful to hear. (4) To save the hands, feet and other organs from sin, from evil deeds and to save the belly from doubtful things at the time of breaking fast. (5) To eat even lawful food so much at the time of breaking fast that it fills up the belly. (6) To keep the mind of a fasting man between fear and hope, because he does not know whether his fast will be accepted or not, whether he will be near God or not. This should be the case for every divine service. Once Hasan Basri (R.A.) passed by a group of men who were playing. He said: God made this month of Ramadan for excelling in virtue and competing with one another. The object of fast is to anoint one with one of the divine attributes. That attribute is Samadiat meaning to be bereft of hunger and thirst and to follow the angels as far as possible being free from desire.
(3) Sawm of the akhas al-khawas (Fast of the highest class): Believers in this category keep fast of the mind. In other words, they do not think of anything but Allah and the hereafter. They think only of the world with the intention of the next world as it is the seed ground for the future. A certain sage said: One sin is written for one whose efforts during the day are made only to prepare for breaking fast. This highest class of people are the Prophets and the near ones of Allah. This kind of fast is kept after sacrificing oneself and his thoughts fully to Allah.

I desire to undergo this mujahada and sacrifice and reach the highest of stages in the sight of Allah. The companions of the Prophet (PBUH) were described as ‘ruhban bi al-layl wa fursanun bi an-nahar’ ‘monks at night and valiant horsemen by day’. Tariq Ramadan puts this in modern context: ‘This is spirituality – this spirituality is not only to pray during the night. As I always repeat: Pray during the night in order to serve the people during the day – this is the way you serve God and yourself’. And I believe fasting is the key and the month of Ramadan the door to attain this level of spirituality through suppressing the desires and abstaining from not merely eating and drinking but beyond.

نہیں تیرا نشیمن قصرِ سلطانی کے گنبد پر ۔ تو شاہیں ہے! بسیرا کر پہاڑوں کی چٹانوں پر
Your abode is not on the dome of a royal palace – You, a falcon, should live on a mountainous rock! (Iqbal)

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