Dr Mohammad Manzoor Alam
As I write this, it is the second day of the blessed month of Ramadhan in a large part of the world. The Ramadhan moon was sighted last evening in an unusually large swath of the globe. Thus a preponderant majority of the world’s Muslims have begun fasting together and will offer Eid al-fitr prayers together. Allah Subhanhutaa’la be thanked for that.
I am returning to this favourite column of mine, Heart-to-Heart, in a long while. For doing that it is an opportune moment. As you know, this column is mainly addressed to the Muslim youth, who are the heart and hope of the Ummah.
Youth, particularly early youth, is the time of learning life skills, acquiring a sound educational base and training oneself mentally and physically to play a larger role in years ahead. Looking from that perspective, this holy month comes to train all of us in self-control, God-consciousness, prayers and bearing a certain measure of physical hardship through denial of food as well as sexual need from dawn to dusk.
The Arabic word for what we call fasting in English and rozah in Urdu is sawm. Sawm is different from starvation and the ascetics’ self-denial of water and sexual intimacy as an act of self-mortification. Sawm is observed for obtaining Allah’s pleasure, Who has ordained it so that we learn to live a regulated life.
The training dimension of sawm is also reflected in the root word from which it is derived. The root word means training of race horses, thoroughbreds, for whom “there is a time to fast and a time to feast.” These horses, which sell for millions of dollars each, are fed according to strict time table and are denied food in between meals. Besides that, they are given rigorous training punctually. Any laxity in feeding and training destroys their form and drastically reduces their worth and price.
Our youth (and the rest of us) must remember that the month of Ramadhan provides a small window of opportunity, quickly fleeting moments of bliss, that have the habit of running out before we even notice their ephemeral nature. Times of great joy do not seem to last. Times of sorrow never seem to end. We must grab these moments to earn Allah’s pleasure through our fasts and prayers as well as train ourselves in self-discipline. It is the rigorous food and training regime of the race horse that makes it several hundred times costlier than the load-carrying horse, the beast of burden, or the cart-pulling horse.
There is no comparison between the educated and highly trained youth and the uneducated, untrained youth; or the poorly educated, poorly-trained youth. As the holy Quran puts it aptly: Can the blind and those who can see be equal? So, don’t let this opportunity go, and take full advantage of it before it slips away.
The days and nights of Ramadhan are absolutely different from the days and nights of any other month. The Prophet (PBUH) used to train himself especially for it during the entire month preceding it, the month of Shaba’n. He wanted to welcome this month fully prepared for ceaseless prayer and fast. Through most of the day and night of Ramadhan he prayed according to the schedule that he had been following since Shaba’n.
Because of this he used to say, “Shaba’n is my month and Ramadhan is Allah’s”. He did mean that Ramadhan is Allah’s favourite month, but Shaba’n is his (the Prophet’s) month, only because he used it to prepare for Ramadhan. Otherwise, Shaba’n is Allah’s month as any other month of the year.
Giving in charity, zakat, hadiya, atia and all such payments to the poor and near and dear ones in this month carry 70 times more merit before Allah than in any other month. The Prophet (PBUH) used to spend in God’s way all through the year, but in Shaba’n and Ramadhan the giving used to look like a “torrential, endless rain,” according to Mother Aisha, the Prophet’s (PBUH) wife.
The crux of the month’s efforts is obtaining Allah’s pleasure through fast prayers, dhikr, giving away in God’s way, empathising with others and not criticising somebody behind their back. All this entails relatively rigorous physical and mental training. Because of all this we emerge as better human beings at the end of the month and learn to live the rest 11 months according to discipline and in God-consciousness.
One of the many advantages of Ramadhan is that it makes us sensitive to other people’s distress and deprivation. The word sympathy means “feeling with.” That is, we feel the distress of an unhappy person by feeling with him or her their distress. However, what Ramadhan teaches us is empathy, which means “feeling into,” which is a higher degree of sorrow-sharing.
We feel into the feeling of an unhappy person because Ramadhan trains us with our fast what somebody denied food would be feeling. We must not allow anyone to go hungry outside Ramadhan days. The sick, children and travelers need not fast even during the Ramadhan days. Sharing other people’s sorrow and deprivation is a great human quality and Ramadhan trains us to do that, Alhamdulillah.
I hope to return to this column during Ramadhan. Till then, this much should suffice. However, don’t relax your guard, because this month of Allah’s Bounties passes quickly, and before we notice it, it is gone.
Salam and best of wishes