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Switch to Forum Live View How fasting expresses the ideals of Islam
10 years ago  ::  Oct 26, 2008 - 1:03PM #1
Posts: 227
How fasting expresses the ideals of Islam

Id-ul-Fitr Khutba, at Darus Salaam, London, 1st October 2008

by Zahid Aziz

“It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but righteous is the one who believes in Allah, and the Last Day, and the angels and the Book and the prophets, and gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the traveller and to those who ask and to set slaves free and keeps up prayer and gives the due charity; and the performers of their promise when they make a promise, and the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict. These are they who are truthful; and these are they who keep their duty.” — The Holy Quran, 2:177.

Ramadan has ended and fasting is over. For those for whom fasting was only the act of refraining from various bodily needs, there is no more fasting, and life is back to what it was a month ago.

But for those who learnt something from it, that is: refraining from bad habits, being charitable and generous, and reading the Holy Quran, they now have the responsibility of continuing the fasting in spirit.

Turning to the verse I just recited, it occurs only six verses before the verse commanding fasting. So, only very shortly before instructing us to fast, the Quran explains what a person should become through fasting. First it tells us here that righteousness is not attained by the physical, mechanical performance of acts of worship. This verse defines what righteousness is. To be righteous we are first required to have certain beliefs:

—In Allah, Who has the best qualities, so that we must model ourselves on those qualities. That our deeds will one day be judged and bear fruit, good or evil.

—In angels, who inspire noble thoughts in our hearts which we must put into action immediately.

—In the Book of God, which contains food for the soul.

—In the prophets of God, who, as human beings, have left practical examples for us to follow in life.

These beliefs must not merely be an acknowledgement, that yes, I believe this and this. They must create love for God in our hearts, so that out of that love we show love to our fellow beings. Therefore, immediately after listing the beliefs mentioned above that must be held, the verse says:

“…and [the righteous is the one who] gives away wealth out of love for Him to the near of kin and the orphans and the needy and the traveller and to those who ask and to set slaves free.”

The service of needy humanity is a display of one’s love for God and it in turn strengthens that love. The motive is not to make a name for yourself, nor to seek gratitude. Moreover it is not to buy forgiveness for sins, so that you may commit more sins and buy forgiveness again and again. It is not to lessen your guilt for having acquired wealth by illegitimate means. Your only return is greater love for God in your heart. The mention of this motive of love for God is also an answer to the objection that Islam does not have a concept of love for God.

Notice also here that keeping up prayer and paying the zakat are mentioned in this verse after the spending of wealth for the love of God. Hence the underlying spirit is placed before the formal aspects of the religious practice.

During fasting, the giving to others is encouraged even more than usual. Those who cannot fast must feed a poor person instead. As this is the alternative if you are unable to fast, it shows that one purpose of fasting must be to encourage us to give, out of the bounties that we have, to others who do not have them.

It is recorded in Sahih Bukhari, right at the beginning of this collection, in hadith number 6:

“The Messenger of Allah was the most generous of all people, and he was even more generous in Ramadan when Gabriel met him, and he met him every night of Ramadan and read with him the Quran. So the Messenger of Allah was more generous in doing good than the wind which is sent to blow on everyone.”

The air is not withheld from any human being, and so broad was the charity of the Holy Prophet Muhammad.

To spend your wealth out of love for God, as this verse requires of the righteous, is clearly impossible if that wealth has been earned falsely or by devouring the rights of others. This is why the section on fasting contains a verse saying:

“And do not swallow up your property among yourselves by false means, nor seek to gain access thereby to the judges, so that you may swallow up a part of the property of (other) people wrongfully while you know.” — 2:188

The love of God mentioned in this verse — although this verse is not about fasting — is related to fasting. When you love someone you want to be near that person, and to talk to them, and you want them to reply lovingly. One of the verses in connection with fasting says:

“And when My servants ask you concerning Me, surely I am near. I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.” — 2:186

So when a servant sets out through fasting to reach God, he is told that God is near, not that He is far and you are unlikely to get near him. And God will show you that He is nearby answering your prayer. But you must make the effort to address prayers to him. And as He answers our prayers, this imposes on us the duty to respond to His call. Note that God does not say here: first you answer My call and then I will answer your prayer. He says: I answer your prayer when you call on Me — that is His attribute and practice anyhow — then as a result it becomes your duty to follow My call. Again, the nearness of God mentioned here is an answer to the objection that the concept of God in Islam is that of a remote, stern figure.

Of course, it must be remembered here that acceptance of prayers by God takes place according to certain principles that are explained in the religion of Islam. It is not that if you pray for anything that you fancy, for some low, sordid motive, that God will grant your prayer. Prayers are granted for the purpose of developing our faith in God and motivating us to follow His guidance more than before. If these aims are achieved then the prayer is successful, even if you do not get what you want in exactly the form you wished.

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10 years ago  ::  Oct 26, 2008 - 1:06PM #2
Posts: 227
In the opening verse that I read, after mentioning the spending of wealth for the love of God for various purposes, and then adding prayer and zakat as essentials for the righteous, it goes on to mention the following quality required of the righteous:

“…and the performers of their promise when they make a promise…”

The Quran emphasises again and again with great force that if you commit yourself by a promise, an agreement, a contract, a treaty, etc. to do something, then you must fulfil your commitment. For example, “O you who believe, fulfil your obligations” is how chapter 5 begins. Elsewhere it says:

“And fulfil the promise; surely the promise will be enquired into.” — 17:34

Failure to fulfil an agreement can lead to an enquiry being held in this world as well. It will definitely lead to an enquiry before God.

Just following this one teaching would eliminate all dishonesty, mutual ill-will, crime, unhappiness and even war from the world. All these are caused by someone or other deliberately breaking some promise or obligation that they committed themselves to.

Through fasting we learn to keep our side of the agreements that we make, even when we have to suffer hardship to do it. During the fast, even those who merely fast in the bodily sense, they too at least fulfil their promise not to eat and drink till a certain time.

It is very painful to see that such a teaching of Islam is almost unknown to the Muslims or non-Muslims of today, while it is a fundamental duty in Islam that a Muslim should be true to his word.

The verse then goes on to mention the following qualities for those who wish to be righteous:

“…the patient in distress and affliction and in the time of conflict…”

Patience is clearly a quality connected with fasting, because that is exactly what you are doing: being patient in a state of hardship. Being patient does not mean merely waiting because there is no choice but to wait. It means not taking the wrong type of action to resolve your problem but waiting for results to appear from the right type of action, the legitimate action that you have taken. It means not taking unlawful shortcuts to circumvent your distress.

The verse we have been discussing, which is not specifically related to fasting, says at the end: “…these are they who keep their duty” or are the muttaqi. The command to fast also says the same: fast so that you may become muttaqi. Therefore the first verse throws full light on what a person has to do in his life in order to be a muttaqi, one who keeps his duty or guards against evil.

Lastly, I would like to point out the connection between fasting and revelation from God. The Quran itself tells us that the month of Ramadan has been chosen for fasting because the Quran was revealed in it. It means that its revelation began in this month. Also, as the above hadith shows, during every Ramadan the angel Gabriel went through the whole of the Quran (as it was up to that time) with the Holy Prophet.

Fasting is a preparation for opening the heart to receive the word of God. Moses fasted for forty days before he received the law from God on Mount Sinai (Deut. 9:9). Jesus fasted for forty days before he began his mission (Matthew 4:1–4), and he gave the reason for fasting as follows: “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”.

Revelation from God awakens a higher life in man, which he realises by giving up food and drink. Our Holy Prophet also exerted himself in solitude by prayer and meditation in the cave of Hira before he received his first revelation. The i’tikaf in Islam in the last ten days of Ramadan is a representation of that exertion.

For us, it is the understanding of the word of God for which fasting opens our hearts.

So I pray, and we all pray together, that we may continue to adhere to the lessons we learnt during Ramadan, and go on to display the qualities that we are meant to have developed in this month. May Allah enable us to rise one step higher in each Ramadan and to maintain our achievement when the fasting is over!
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