With time, we have become more and more immune to inhumanity. We are becoming indifferent to injustice, corruption, and un-brotherly behavior. Thousands of our innocent brothers and sisters are dying in different parts of the world due to injustice or oppression. Corruption is the root of the suffering for many people around us. Terrorism is oppressing and spreading fear amongst the human kind. These are some of the worst happenings around the world. But what we see within our little communities is no better. We witness destructive behavior that is tearing brotherhood apart. Brothers are found backbiting about other brothers. Sisters are taking oaths of silence against other sisters. We are fighting amongst each other and destroying our unity for worldly and meaningless reasons. Why? What is wrong with humanity?
Is it because the human mind is losing its spiritual side? Are we losing touch with the connection we have with the Almighty? Are we overlooking the teachings of our Holy Prophet and his Pure Progeny (peace be upon them all)? In times where materialism and injustice is undeniable, we are losing the wisdom of our religion. We are in a serious need of self-reflection and spiritual reform. And when better to start than the holy month of Ramadan?
The month of Ramadan offers a great opportunity for us to reform and refine our spirituality. Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, and to millions of Muslims, it is a sacred period dedicated to fasting, intensive prayer, sacrifice, worship, supplication, repentance, self-purification, and spiritual attainment. Every year, Muslims redesign their lives to focus on the goals of Ramadan: "A whole body awareness of God and a humble thankfulness for whatever blessings He has granted." Where there is awareness of God, there is spirituality. Once we attain spirituality, we are bound to attain self-righteousness, which is the key to success in this world and in the hereafter.
Now, the question is: how do we attain spirituality through the month of Ramadan? What exactly does Ramadan teach us? Is fasting just one of those things that we've seen our elderly do and we follow out of habit? Is it all about starving ourselves to lose a bit of weight so we can show off our new clothes on Eid?
Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking. While we fast, we are required to restrain ourselves from a lot of the things that are permissible for us at all other times, such as eating and drinking. By restraining ourselves for most of our day, we teach ourselves discipline and the ability to do anything if we put our minds to it. This helps us fight ourselves when it comes to controlling our desires and being strict with ourselves. For a man to be in the presence of his beautiful wife, within the privacy of his home, and in a very romantic environment, and still control his permitted desire just out of obedience of Allah does wonders for his self-discipline, self-control, and sacrifice. It enhances the ability to control our nafs when need be. We move one step closer to gaining God-consciousness.
The beginning of success comes from faith and its completion comes from God-consciousness. The Holy Qur'an has encouraged believers to develop God-consciousness, as without it, faith is meaningless. God has said: "O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for people before you so that you may be God-conscious." (2:183) Fasting makes us God-conscious, and by restraining ourselves while in the state of fasting for the pleasure of Allah, we feel the desire to obey Allah intensify and moves us closer to his love.
The Holy Prophet has said: "The blessed month has come to you. Allah has opened the gates of paradise and closed the gates of hellfire, and the devils are chained. There is a night [during this month] which is better than a thousand months. Whoever is deprived of its good is really deprived [of something great]."
Our souls go through a spiritual journey throughout the 30 days of Ramadan. As humans, it is easy for us to fall into habits. Ramadan leads us to the habits that we should be falling in to. It teaches us discipline in matters of eating habits, time management, relationships with family and friends, and refraining from bad deeds.
In this day and age, most of us find ourselves over-eating just for the sake of it. Restraining from food, having strict times to consume it, and the consequences of eating while in the state of fasting demonstrates the importance of eating right. Putting ourselves in to these eating habits often leaves us thinking twice before we eat on Eid, just in the fear of accidentally breaking our fasts. It is this caution and consciousness that is recommended in Islam, even when consuming food.
Time management is also another one of those things that many of us struggle with. Prayer has set timings in which it needs to be offered. However, the offering of prayer is flexible as there is a span of many hours in which it can be offered, whereas, for example, the start of a fast cannot be moved forward. If one is to do anything that is prohibited a second after the start of a fast, the fast becomes invalid instantly. This teaches the importance of time and time management. Additionally, we all rock up to congregational prayers once a year if we're forced by our parents, and we all meet up once in a while at some random person's wedding. But the special acts of Ramadan and the concept of Iftaar brings the community together which betters unity and brotherhood amongst the human kind and strengthens relationships. It is this reformation that we need regularly for our souls to survive spiritually in this world.
This holy month is dedicated to a purification of both body and mind. There are many other benefits of fasting as well, in this world and in the hereafter. Pleasure of God is obviously the greatest one. Forgiveness of sins is also another benefit we gain from fasting. The Prophet has said: "Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan, obeying all of its limitations and guarding himself against what is forbidden, has in fact atoned for any sins he committed before it."
There are many health benefits of fasting as well. While we fast, our entire digestive system is at rest and gives our organs time to repair and rejuvenate it before we bombard it with lots of food to digest without enough time to get its job done. This enables better functioning of the systems and prevents many illnesses. Similarly, we intake some toxic by-products when we consume food, which is usually taken care of by the liver in the detoxification process. In Ramadan, the liver has proper time to undertake the detoxification process without having more and more thrown at it continuously. Apart from these, fasting also improves mental acuity and physical and mental stamina, as the body gets trained to survive without continuous and instant gratification provided by food and drink.
Ramadan is an opportunity for us to abandon our normal habits and attempt at reaching a higher degree of moderation and spirituality in order to become closer to Allah and away from the negativity of the world. We must reflect and contemplate on our lives in order to view this world and the purpose of our existence with more penetrating insight. We must remember to retain what we have struggled to attain during the holy month of Ramadan, which is the ability to moderate, discipline, and practice our self-control. Habits such as the Night Prayer, recitation of the Holy Qur'an, repentance, supplication, and getting together with others for meals should be retained even after Ramadan. If we are able to achieve that, then we have really benefited from the Holy Month and are one step closer to gaining God-consciousness.