1. The Holy Prophet (peace be upon him and his progeny) tells us that Satan is locked during the holy month of Ramadan. In his well-known sermon before the holy month, he is reported to have said: “O People….and the Satans are chained, and hence ask Your Lord not to allow him overpower you.” (Al-Amaali)
What is the actual meaning of this? Does it resemble a material scenario where Satan and his army have been chained and thus cannot attack the fasting ones, or does it have another implication? Having studied the traditions on this subject, scholars of authority say that it is the hunger of fasting in the Holy month of Ramadan that hampers Satan from penetrating into the human being. Imam Ali (peace be upon him) is reported to have said: “Surely Satan flows in the son of Adam the way the blood flows. Therefore block his channels through hunger.” (‘Awaali al-La’aali)
The Evil-inviting self of the human being (al-nafs al-ammara bi al-soo’), which is other than Satan, is also hampered through hunger. Imam ‘Ali is reported to have also said: “The best helper in taking the soul as captive and breaking its habit is hunger.” (‘Uyun al-Hikam wa al-Mawaa’iz)
It must be realized, however, that despite fasting, one may blemish his soul with sin and disobedience because of having developed traits in the past that act as generators of sin. If these traits are not effaced from one’s being, the danger of sin is always there. Perhaps the phrase in the first quotation “…and hence ask Your Lord not to allow him overpower you” is a hint towards this reality.
In conclusion, fasting is an element that facilitates one to easily disobey Satan and the Evil-inviting self, but it cannot immediately uproot the traits that one has developed over time. Therefore, despite fasting, we must desperately seek Divine help to be emancipated from the evil traits that we have developed over the years.
The insightful scholars believe that fasting detaches one from the realm of matter and attaches one to the realm of spirit. If our dining tables encourage variety of foods when breaking our fasts, we would always remain distant from the aspired aim of “detachment from the material world”. However, it should be remembered that between detachment (Zuhd) and abandonment (Tark), there is a great difference. Whereas the former does not encourage one to abandon food but to regulate one’s intake, the latter encourages one to refrain from food.
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) is reported to have said: “The fasting one has two moments of happiness: When breaking his fast, and when meeting his Lord.” (Al-Kafi)
We must try to analyze our situation: Do we experience both these moments? When we break our fast, are we happy because Allah enabled us to fast that day or due to relief from the distress of hunger through the tasty food that we have prepared for ourselves? And principally, does our fasting enable us tear the veils and meet our Lord, and thereby attain happiness? If not, then we should revisit the method of our fasting.
2. If we analyze the various supplications of the holy month of Ramadan, we would realize that one of the most fundamental things we ask from Allah is “freedom of my neck from the Hell-Fire” (fikaaki raqabati min al-naar).
In the daily supplication of Ramadan, we recite: “O the Benefactor upon Whom favor is not bestowed, favor me by releasing my neck from the Hell-Fire…” (Mafatih al-Jinan)
And during the nights of Qadr, we recite the following famous supplication when we open the Holy Qur’an: “…that you make me from among those whom you have freed from Hell-Fire.” (Mafatih al-Jinan)
In supplication 44 of Sahifa Sajjadiyya, Imam Zainul Abideen (peace be upon him) says: “O Allah, bless Muhammad and his Household, and when in every night of this month’s nights You have necks which Your pardon will release and Your forgiveness disregard, place our necks among those necks and place us among the best folk and companions of this our month!”
In the well-known supplication of Jawshan al-Kabir, we cry: “Free from imperfections are You, O One other than Whom there is no God, help us, help us, and free us from the Hell-Fire O Lord.”
Imam as-Sadiq is reported to have said: “Indeed Allah, the Invincible and Majestic has liberated and freed slaves from Hell-Fire, save one who breaks his fast with an intoxicant. And on the last night of the month, Allah frees equal to the number of those whom he freed during the entire month.” (Al-Kafi)
In these supplications, we do not ask for emancipation from Hell-Fire when the Day of Judgment is realized; rather, we ask for immediate emancipation. This is because in reality, according to Divine Revelation, traditions of the Ahl al-Bayt and the inner visions of the insightful scholars, the sinful are entangled in Hell-Fire while they still reside in the material realm. The Day of Judgment is a higher plane of their lower existence. The material cover of their body hampers them from beholding this reality. Therefore it is correct to say “Munna ‘alayya bi fikaaki raqabati min al-naar (favor me by releasing my neck from the Hell-Fire).”
So important is this particular need that both Sayyid al-Shuhadaa (peace be upon him) as well as Sayyid al-Saajidin (peace be upon him) express the following in their supplications of ‘Arafa: “O my Master, my need which if You bestow on me, whatever You deprive me would not harm me, and if You deprive me, whatever You give me would not benefit me, is liberation of my neck from the Hell-Fire.” (Sahifa Sajjadiyya)
Some concerned people ask: How can we decipher that our wish has been fulfilled and we are free from Hell-Fire? There are two yardsticks that can relatively unravel one’s state:
- We must observe whether after seeking forgiveness from Allah, we are still inclined to our previous sins and misdeeds or not. If we tangibly experience that we despise them and even refrain from imagining them, we must understand that we have attained a particular station of emancipation and freedom.
- We must observe whether we still experience attachment to the material pleasures of the world. If we employ the material necessities merely as means to achieve the fundamental goal of Allah’s proximity then we should give glad tidings of emancipation to ourselves. If not, then we must understand that we still are suffering in the higher plane of existence.
3. Many of us struggle to complete reading the entire Holy Book in this month of the Qur’an. This endeavor is undoubtedly laudable, and must never be discouraged. However, completing only a part of it with understanding and contemplation is a step towards the fundamental aim behind its revelation, which is guidance. Hence, we must struggle to read the Qur’an with translation and commentary, individually or in groups, so that we can really benefit from the banquet of the Qur’an.
4. The relation between matter and spirit, body and soul, and the corporeal and the celestial realms is not easy to understand for all. However, the Imams of the Ahlul Bayt (peace be upon them), had in-depth knowledge of the relation and hence were able to advise their followers what is good or evil for them at different occasions. According to a tradition, if a person breaks his fast with warm water, his sins would be erased. Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) is reported to have said: “When a person breaks his fast with lukewarm water, it cleans his liver, washes away his sins from the heart, and strengthens one’s eyesight and eye-pupil.” (Al-Kafi)
Since in this month we struggle for our sins to be erased, we should grab such an opportunity instead of asking the relation between the warm water and the forgiveness of sins. The authorities who know the secrets do not utter anything in futile. There must be a secret which we are oblivious of. Unless, however, the words dhunoob and qalb are translated as their physical extensions, it would mean a kind of cleansing of the physical heart; and Allah is All-Knowing.
5. Scholars of insight inform us that Ramadan is a month of attaining Allah’s Attributes (al-Asmaa al-Ilaahiyya). One of the supplications in which we constantly ask Allah to enable us to attain His beautiful Attributes is Du’a Bahaa’, which is also called Du’a Sahar. This supplication is recited at Suhur time each morning of Ramadan. It begins with Allahumma inni as’aluka min bahaa’ika bi abhaahu (“O Allah, indeed I ask you for the most effulgent of Your Effulgence”). Those who understand how important this supplication is, should never even think of missing it. Despite its brevity, it contains a world of meaning. The late mystic scholar Imam Khomeini has written an in-depth exegesis of the supplication, but due to its technical notes it is difficult for those who are not familiar with theoretical gnosis to understand it.
6. Do not afford to allow yourself to sleep in the well-known three nights of destiny and greatness (the 19th, 21st, and 23rd nights). Scholars inform us that even if one does not engage in supplication in these nights, just being awake also has its secret advantage. This emphasis is augmented for the 23rd night, and hence one must struggle to be awake the whole night. As well, since seeking knowledge this night is highly recommended, a lesson or study circle of one hour pertaining to any important subject of religion is essential. If one is deprived of that, listening to a cassette or reading a book would also be a laudable step. Hence we must make a point to learn something that night. Secondly, we observe that there are some specific needs that the Ahlul Bayt have taught us to seek in these nights. We must make a point that we ask for these needs. One of the most important needs that we should ask for is that Allah enables us employ the world as a means for the Hereafter, and not as a goal in itself. If this is realized then the human being would undoubtedly begin his spiritual journey towards Divine proximity.
7. There is a well-known tradition that says “Irham turham” (have mercy, and you be enveloped with Divine Mercy). In this holy month we should forgive and forget. Instead of maintaining one’s rancor against another due to the latter’s dealings, one must clear his account with him by forgiving him totally and by also praying for his spiritual upliftment. The advantage is with the forgiver. This is because:
- Having even a speck of rancor and hatred for another will not permit one to enter the Heavens.
- If one forgives his/her believing brother or sister, Allah would not overlook this. In moments of desperation and help, (s)he would be respectfully assisted by the Merciful.
8. Struggle as much as you can to invite, and think very less of being invited in this holy month. The effects of inviting your near ones, friends, as well as the poor or middle class are extremely tremendous. We must not take this lightly at all. In addition, our emphasis must be that they should break their fast at the host’s place. It should not be that they break their fasts with some snack at home and then they eat dinner at the host’s place. All these have secrets which the likes of me and you are oblivious of, but the guardians of religion have assisted us by their directions of light.
9. In our traditions, the two fundamental actions of Ramadan is Siyaam (fasting) and Qiyaam (standing in prayer). Many of us stress on Siyaam, but very less think about Qiyaam. We think that Qiyaam is restricted to Laylatul Qadr. This is incorrect. Every night of the Holy Month is a night of Qiyaam. Hence those who have to meet responsibilities the next day should plan to wake up at Suhur time, perform the Night Prayer (which is an extension of Qiyaam) and then take a light Suhur and get ready for their day. One of the ways of getting rid of the accursed Satan according to Imam Zainul Abideen is by engaging in abundant worship. However, abundance without knowledge would not reap the desired reward. One must at least know the meaning of what one is reciting. The more the knowledge and understanding of one’s worship, the better one’s worship will be.
10. Remember that that which is important after Ramadan is to retain what one has struggled to attain. Habits such as the Night Prayer, recitation and study of the Holy Qur’an, inviting others to a banquet and being open-handed should be retained even after Ramadan. If one is able to achieve that, then one has really benefitted from the Holy Month.
11. We must struggle to get more close and intimate with our Twelfth Holy Imam (may Allah hasten his reappearance). Reciting Du’a Iftitaah with its meaning can surely make us attain this intimacy. We should realize that whatever benefit – whether physical or spiritual – that we receive during the day and night, is through His light, which is united with the Muhammadan light. Some scholars advise that one must struggle to be in the state of prayer at the real time of Suhur before Fajr, because the Twelfth Imam stands in prayer at the same time. And certainly, his prayers envelop the praying ones.
12. Imam al-Hussain (peace be upon him) has a unique station near Allah. His Ziyarat is highly recommended in Laylatul Qadr. We should be extremely greedy in reciting his Ziyarat, thinking over it, and trying to change ourselves. We must understand that his Ziyara teaches us to be a selfless and burning spirit that yearns to meet the Beloved. It is a school of individual and social reform. Hence, when we address Imam Hussain we should express our loyalty to him and seek unity with his thoughts, actions, and goals. Perhaps the reason why Hussain has painted the moments of entire our lives, is to remind us that our goal is to be like “al-Hussain”. Hence our Ziyarat should resemble raging fires that burn us away or dissolve us into the Essence of al-Hussain.
13. Many of us have never read or even looked at the two excellent supplications of Imam Zainul Abideen: (a) Supplication number 44 of Sahifa Sajjadiyya which welcomes the holy month of Ramadan and (b) Supplication number 45 of Sahifa Sajjadiyya which bids farewell to the holy month of Ramadan. If we would like to organize ourselves this month, then these two supplications have tremendous information. Hence overlooking them would be truly reprehensible on the part of one who aspires to progress during this month.
14. Have we ever spoken to Allah for Allah? Do we really know how beautiful Allah is? Do we really know why only He can be the Beloved? Most of our supplications are mere transactions. We ask: O Allah, give me this and that, O Allah, by Your Mercy, solve this problem of mine; O Allah, by Your power, assist me to realize this and that. Have we ever asked Allah for Allah? Have we ever said, “O Allah, enable me to get close to you and increase the love that I have for you, and make me independent of other than You”? Imam al-Hussain is reported to have taught us this culture in his well-known supplication of ‘Arafa as follows: “What has he found who has lost You, and what he has lost, who has found You.” (Mafatih al-Jinan)
Let us train ourselves this month to ask Allah for Allah. Let us tell Him that we love Him, that we need Him, and that we want to witness Him. He is the Ultimate End!