Muslim individuals, families, community and Ummah (nation) at large, living in this very fast changing world, are facing enormous internal and external challenges. Part of the internal challenges is how to maintain equilibrium between the four dimensions of man, which are the physical, intellectual, spiritual and moral. Looking at Muslims’ reality it is obvious that the balance between the four dimensions is not there, even though Islam places great value on it. Unfortunately, many Muslims are too preoccupied with pursuing material fortune and political supremacy and forget or marginalize the spiritual and moral values and virtues. This article is an attempt to explore some important aspects of how Ramadan is an excellent opportunity for the Muslim individual and the community to enhance the spiritual and moral dimensions (the 2D). It is hoped that this humble endeavor contributes to the prosperity and development of the community.
Enhancing the spiritual dimensions
Ramadan offers many methods and techniques to uplift the believers’ spirituality and heal their spiritual weaknesses and ills. These techniques are meant to help the human being to improve his/her relationship with Allah (swt) and become a perfect servant (abd).
Sawm (fasting) in Ramadan is an obligatory Ibada (act of worship), which has many positive impacts on both the individual and the community. It contributes to building a strong and prosperous community if it is done as described in the Qur’an and hadith and practiced by Prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h). When Allah (swt) legislated fasting He addressed the community of the believers and asserted that the main purpose of fasting is to attain taqwa (piety and God consciousness). He made it for a fixed number of days, intending yusr (ease) for the believers, not hardship. Allah (swt) said: “O you who believe fasting was prescribed for you as it was prescribed for people before you that you may become pious…for a fixed number of days…Allah intends for you ease and not hardship and He does not want to make things difficult for you..” (Qur’an, 2:183-185). Taqwa (piety) is the only criteria upon which people will be ranked. Allah (swt) said, “…verily the most honored by Allah amongst you are those best in taqwa” (Qur’an, 49:13). It is understood from these verses of the Qur’an that Allah (the All-Knowing) chose fasting as the best and most effective method for his servants to attain taqwa. In modern terms, fasting Ramadan could best be described as a school that offers an intensive training program for Muslims to practically learn how to become prosperous, revive the good values they share, strengthen their identity and enhance their community well-being.
Fasting means abstaining from food and drink and all other desires and actions that invalidate our fasting from dawn to sunset. It should not be treated as a tradition done once a year in Ramadan but rather a sincere act of worship made for the sake of Allah. It is indeed a practical method to show humbleness to Allah (swt) and total obedience and submission to His commandment. The spiritual significance of fasting is the struggle to abstain from all desires. This struggle is in fact a noble effort to free one’s self from being the slave of selfishness and vain desires and thus restores man’s nature (fitra) in the position it deserves with a constant wariness and mindfulness of Allah. This spiritual struggle is motivated by the great reward that Allah (swt) promised for those who fast for a sole purpose which is to please Him. In a hadith Qudusi Allah said: “Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed is multiplied ten times, up to seven hundred times except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will reward for it, he leaves off his desires and his food for Me. For the fasting person there are two times of joy; a time when he breaks his fast and a time of joy when he meets his Lord…” (al-Bukhari). He also said: “... whoever fasts during Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah's rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven” (al-Bukhari).
Ramadan is the month of Qur’an par excellence. Allah (swt) said: “Ramadan is the (month) in which the Quran was sent down, as a guide to mankind and a clear guidance and judgment (so that mankind will distinguish from right and wrong)…” (Qur’an, 2:185). Reciting or listening and deliberating on the different verses and chapters of the Qur’an is one of the greatest ibada and the highest level of remembrance that calm the heart (Qur’an, 13:28). They bring Muslims closer to Allah, enhancing their love and relationship with Him. Ramadan is a good time for Muslims to put extra effort into changing the habit of forsaking the Qur’an. It is incumbent upon the Muslim individual and the Muslim community to get back to the Qur’an and increase their direct communications with Allah (swt). Reciting the words of Allah and pondering upon their meanings and teachings will certainly purify the soul, soften and clean the heart from all worldly and materialistic temptations. Allah (swt) said: “Do they not then think deeply in the Qur'an, or are their hearts locked up (from understanding it)” (Qur’an, 47:24). This exercise is also a method for Muslims to glorify their Lord, increase their full somberness (khushu’) to him and appreciate His great favor of revealing the Qur’an, preserving it from all types of corruption, making it as guide to the straight path and granting lots of rewards for each letter they recite. Allah (swt) said: “ Had We sent down this Qur'an on a mountain, you would surely have seen it humbling itself and rending asunder by the fear of Allah. Such are the parables which We put forward to mankind that they may reflect upon ” (Qur’an, 59:21).
Ramadan is the best time to restore the robust system of prayers. It is learned from the Qur’an and Sunnah that prayer is a holistic system of purification, the pillar of the religion, and the best deed in the sight of Allah if it is performed exactly on time. Allah (swt) said: “So woe unto those performers of Salat (prayers), who delay their Salat (prayer) from their stated fixed times and those who do good deeds only to be seen (of men)” (Qur’an, 107:4-6). Thus, “..set up regular prayers: for such prayers are enjoined on believers at stated times” (Qur’an, 4:103). Prayers are meetings with Allah (swt) and are meant for Muslims to show submission to their Lord who commanded them to worship Him alone. The impact of the five daily obligatory prayers on the heart and soul have eloquently been described by prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) as a cleanser from all kinds of spiritual and moral obscenities and impurities - like taking bath five times a day so the body will be extra clean and beautiful. In Ramadan, Muslims will normally be more committed to performing obligatory as well as night and pre-dawn prayers (tarawih and tahajjud) in a congregation. This practice will advance their spiritual and inner being because they will increase their opportunities to meet Allah more frequently and further develop their relationship with Him. Muslims should take advantage of the devils (Satans) being chained and perform prayers with Khushu’ which is concentration, soberness. Prayers are not only physical movements but also spiritual and mental presence. Allah (swt) said: “Successful indeed are the believers who offer their Salat (prayers) with all solemnity and full submissiveness” (Qur’an, 23:1-2). In a famous hadith of prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) angel Jibril (Gabriel) came to Prophet Mohamed and asked him about Islam and Ehsan and taught him that Ehsan is to worship Allah as if you see Him and if you do not see Him, He is watching you. Ehsan relates to the goodness and perfection in doing things right and acting beautifully. It also refers to offering more volunteer actions and deeds than the obligatory. Perfection of the obligatory prayers and offering extra prayers will certainly strengthen the faith, enhance the inner being and make the believer a more conscious and God fearing person in all contexts of life.
It is not in vain that Allah (swt) concluded the legislation of fasting by emphasizing on Dua’ (supplication) and enjoined His servants to do as asked, promising to respond positively. Allah (swt) said: “And when My slaves ask you (O Mohamed) concerning Me, then (answer them), I am indeed near (to them by My Knowledge). I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me (without any mediator or intercessor). So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright” (Qur’an, 2:186). In the Sunnah tradition of prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) dua’ is the essence of worship because it shows the humility and humbleness of the believer before Allah and the need for His help, sustenance and guidance. For He is the ‘Samad’ whom people always turn to when they need help for anything (Qur’an, 112:2). Dua’ is one of the most effective techniques used to elevate the spirit of a believer because it allows direct contact with his/her Lord. It is obvious in the Sunnah that one of the best times for dua’ to be accepted is while fasting and on breaking the fast. Prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) said: “There are in the month of Ramadan in every day and night those to whom Allah grants freedom from the Fire, and there is for every Muslim a supplication which he can make and will be granted" (Ahmad and al-Bazzaz). Those Muslims who have time and can make I’tikaf (retreat) in the mosque during the last ten days of Ramadan will have a golden opportunity to enhance their spirituality and exercise lots of reflections. Seeking laylatu al-Qadr in those days is one of the most important times for reaching the highest level of spirituality by putting upmost efforts to offer extra prayers and staying in touch with Allah with constant and sincere dua’ for forgiveness and pardon. Allah (swt) said, “The night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein descends the Angels and the Spirit (Jibreel) by Allah's permission, on every errand: (they say) "Peace" (continuously) till the rise of Morning!” (Qur’an, 97:3-5). In line with this Qur’anic statement, prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) said: “Whoever established prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven..” (al-Bukhari).
Enhancing the moral dimensions
Husnu al-khuluq (good character) is the essence of the Islamic faith. Prophet Mohamed was reported to have said in an authentic Hadith “I was sent to accomplish good character” (al-Bukhari). Prophet (p.b.u.h) was a model of all that he called for in all spheres of life. The moral dimension of man includes many aspects that go beyond discussing them in this article. Therefore, I will shed some light on the moral values and social ethics that are critical to a Muslims life and how Ramadan is a good time to enhance them.
Abstaining from food and drink and all other Muftirat (all that invalidates the fasting) from dawn to sunset for the sake of Allah will definitely make the community enhance the value of equality. In Ramadan, those who are rich and well-fed will experience the sufferings of those who are hungry, thirsty and poor who cannot afford a proper meal. They will also develop positive empathy towards them and be more keen to support their fellow Muslims in the local community and beyond. For example, there are millions of Muslims who are victims of war and have been displaced or forced to migrate and live in refugee camps and struggle to find some food and water to survive. Prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) commands that: “whomsoever sleeps well-fed and knows that his neighbor besides him/her is hungry is an imperfect Muslim” (al-Tabarani).
In Ramadan, the routines of daily life do not stop but they will be changed. People will still be engaged in many social interactions and business transactions at work, study and family. In these activities there are always risks of disagreement, anger, verbal and physical violence that can lead to hatred, disunity and damaged the social relations. These detract from the fasting. In the face of such problems, Muslims are commanded to be patient, to exercise self-restrain and to maintain peace at all times, particularly in Ramadan. As Prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) said: “..when Ramadan starts the Shayatin (devils) are chained” (al-Bukhari). He also said: “When any one of you is fasting, he should neither use obscene language nor do any act of ignorance and if anyone slanders him or quarrels with him, he should say: “I am fasting, I am fasting”. Muslims are required to be careful with what they say and avoid such things as false witnessing, backbiting, slandering and lying for these negatively affect the social fabric of the community. Prophet (p.b.u.h) said: “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)” (al-Bukhari). This is consistent with the teachings of the Qur’an whereby Allah (swt) says: “Successful indeed are the believers….And those who turn away from Al-Laghw (dirty, false, evil vain talk, falsehood, and all that Allah has forbidden)” (Qur’an, 23:1,3). Unfortunately, some Muslims although alert to avoid material substances are less vigilant in avoiding bad actions that invalidate the fasting, making it imperfect.
The teachings of Ramadan place more value in abstaining from immoral actions than abstaining from material substances such as food and water. Prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) said: “Perhaps a person fasting will receive nothing from his fasting except hunger and thirst” (Ibn Majah, ad-Darimee, Ahmad, al-Baihaqi). “When any one of you is fasting, he should neither use obscene language nor do any act of ignorance. And if anyone slanders him or quarrels with him, he should say: “I am fasting, I am fasting” (Muslim). In this context the following verses of the Qur’an show those deeds as forbidden and enjoin Muslims to avoid them. Allah (swt) said: “O you who believe! Let not a group scoff at another group, it may be that the latter are better than the former; nor let (some) women scoff at other women, it may be that the latter are better than the former, nor defame one another, nor insult one another by nicknames. How bad is it, to insult one's brother after having Faith [i.e. to call your Muslim brother (a faithful believer) as: "O sinner", or "O wicked", etc.]. And whosoever does not repent, then such are indeed Zalimun (wrong-doers, etc.). O you who believe! Avoid much suspicions, indeed some suspicions are sins. And spy not, neither backbite one another. Would one of you like to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it (so hate backbiting). And fear Allah. Verily, Allah is the One Who accepts repentance, Most Merciful” (Qur’an, 49:11-12).
Ramadan is a special time for Muslims to get together and strengthen their brotherhood, love and be more companionate. As Allah said: “The believers are nothing else than brothers (in Islamic religion). So make reconciliation between your brothers, and fear Allah, that you may receive mercy” (Qur’an, 49:10). Sharing meals in Ramadan should not be restricted to relatives, friends, colleagues and those from one’s own country, but most importantly extended to the less fortunate fellow humans such as the poor and needy, migrant workers and international students. This good practice takes many forms among which breaking their fast together at home or in a restaurant, exchanging food, offering open buffet for anyone who can attend and distributing food parcels. In all cases this practice is centered on one idea which is Iftar al-Saem (providing food for the fasting people) to attain the reward from Allah. Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) said: “He who gives food for a fasting person to break his fast, he will receive the same reward as him, except that nothing will be reduced from the fasting persons reward” (Ahmad, at-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban). Sharing meals is one aspect of generosity that has lots of benefits for both the individuals and community. Nevertheless, it should not be limited to providing meals but rather includes giving all sorts of charities to those who merit them. Al-Bukhari narrated that prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) was “the most generous amongst the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan …he used to be more generous than a fast wind (which causes rain and welfare)” (al-Bukhari). Many majority Muslim societies have a large percentage of poor and hungry people who need support from their fellow Muslims. One of the significant commandments of prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) in this regard is that a person is not a good Muslim if he/she sleeps well-fed while a neighbor is hungry. Offering food to people whether for Iftar (breaking the fast) or in general have many positive impacts on people and make them happy. In a sacred Hadith reported by al-Bukhari, Allah said “..for the fasting person there are two times of joy; a time when he breaks his fast and a time of joy when he meets his Lord”.
In the Sunnah, it is said that Zakat al-Fitr (the due charity of fasting) has to be paid to the needy and poor and others, as per the eight categories described in the Qur’an (Qur’an, 9:60) before the Eid prayers (al-Bukhari, Muslim ..). This reflects the value Islam places to caring for the poor and needy in the community. The payment time and method are perfectly designed to preserve the dignity of the poor and needy from begging on the day of Eid and gives them ample time to prepare themselves and their family, particularly children, to celebrate the Eid and share their happiness with everyone else in the community. Besides, Ibn Abbas reported from Prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h) that Zakat al-Fitr plays the role of cleansing some of the moral pitfalls and imperfections of fasting during Ramadan.
Finally, the safety valve for enhancing the spiritual and moral dimensions to become prosperous, strong and improve the individual and community in Ramadan is to work very hard to be close to Allah and take advantage of any opportunity to achieve the level of Ehsan in everything you do. This is not difficult especially that the atmosphere in Ramadan is very convenient and we have the model of the Prophet Mohamed to follow. A blessed Ramadan can bring about significant changes to our individual and social character and could provide the best remedy to our community’s spiritual and moral ills. Therefore, let us take the opportunity to become better individuals, family members, neighbors and members of the community. The best conclusion is a quote from the sayings of Prophet Mohamed (p.b.u.h): “Ramadan has come to you. (It is) a month of blessing, in which Allah covers you with blessing, for He sends down Mercy, decreases sins and answers prayers. In it, Allah looks at your competition (in good deeds), and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allah goodness from yourselves, for the unfortunate one is he who is deprived in (this month) of the mercy of Allah, the Mighty, the Exalted” (at-Tabarani).
Ramadan kareem and may Allah, the Almighty, accept all our good deeds, forgive us our sins and guide us to the straight path.
Dr. Fethi Ahmed, Research Coordinator at CILE. His main research interests include contemporary issues in Sociology and Muslim societies, Applied Ethics, and Islamic Thought and Civilization. Dr Ahmed holds a PhD in Political Sociology, an MA in Islamic Studies and a BA in Applied Sociology and Statistics.