Some people have butterflies in their stomach when Ramadan draws near. We usually become more alert and extremely careful as Ramadan gets closer and closer. Why do we have this anxiety? What is it and what is really happening to us? Is this a positive feeling? Are we betraying our faithfulness to Almighty Allah when we experience such strange feelings? We experience this even though we know this is Ramadan; a month of mercy and worship.
There is a sense of concern and restlessness filling our minds and hearts whenever we think of the commencement of Ramadan. This is not because we are anticipating the moon-sighting, but for another fundamental reason – the reason why fasting Ramadan was prescribed to us in the first place.
We are probably experiencing the ‘Ramadan syndrome’ or the essence of fasting Ramadan, taqwa (piety and fearing Allah).
We can say with confidence that this is the main objective of fasting in general which we are all required to observe throughout the entire blessed month of Ramadan.
Allah the Almighty says:
[O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may become righteous] (achieve Taqwa). (Al-Baqarah 2: 183)
Taqwa is also one of the main objectives of the revelation of the Qur’an. Allah the Almighty says:
[(It is) a Qur’an in Arabic, without any crookedness (therein): in order that they may become righteous (achieve Taqwa)] (Az-Zumar 39:28)
And here we see that the Qur’an was revealed in Ramadan:
[Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and a criterion (between right and wrong…] (Al-Baqarah 2:185)
The observation of taqwa is also a method of acquiring this criterion. Allah the Almighty says:
[O you who believe! if you fear Allah, He will grant you a Criterion (to judge between right and wrong)…] (Al-Anfal 8:29)
Fasting Ramadan, the observation of taqwa (piety and fear of Allah) in Ramadan, and the revelation of the Qur’an in Ramadan all together form a coherent link. They all happen to be in Ramadan. The three form a triangle of virtue; and hence the aspiration to obtain one cannot happen perfectly without the other two.
Ramadan cannot be successful without fasting, and fasting cannot be perfect without reciting the Qur’an. Taqwa is also hard to attain if we set the Qur’an or fasting aside. It is a very powerful relationship.
To clarify this we shall discuss these relationships independently, starting with the main objective of fasting the month of Ramadan, taqwa.
Soundness of Heart – Soundness of Taqwa
Ramadan comes every year and everyone knows that. Ironically, regardless of how much time they spend preparing for it, it is never enough and they get the same nervous feeling as if they are fasting Ramadan for the first time in their life. Once Ramadan begins, they feel more relaxed.
Allah the Almighty says:
[But remind (them), for indeed the reminder benefits the believer] (Adh-Dhariyat 51:55)
Some people are always alert and fully conscious of their sense of servitude to Almighty Allah. Therefore, they regularly maintain the five daily prayers. Some, however, need a weekly reminder and therefore feel their sense of servitude every Friday. Many unfortunately forget a lot, and an annual reminder is what is needed to bring them back to their sense of servitude to Almighty Allah. Other people however, take this reminder once in their life time. They only remember when they grow old enough to start thinking about performing Hajj as a declaration of repentance.
Ramadan is the blessed month, the annual reminder, the time for many people to reconcile with their Lord, and for people to learn how to act like Muslims should. They always try their best to do well and hope to continue in that way. It is a subtle inner struggle with our unsatisfactory self-worth in terms of the status of our faith and the level of our worship. Therefore, during the month of Ramadan the feeling of guilt increases, the spiritual drive heightens, and the need for commitment and a devotional lifestyle become more demanding and more appealing than ever.
People in Ramadan are preoccupied with all aspects of worship; physical, spiritual, financial, and social, in a manner that is not like any other season of the year. Ramadan creates a festivity of worship, where people enjoy giving, sacrificing, and devoting their time, day and night, for the sole purpose of worship.
This sudden change in attitude and course of conduct comes from within. Something affects the heart that may even make the most notorious people feel compelled to slow down on their evil and reflect as if they had been spiritually touched.
Surely, this spiritual touch that changed their hearts, is the compelling feeling of taqwa; the sincere fear of Almighty Allah and the desire to humble themselves to their Lord, which comes with this blessed month of fasting.
When the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings be upon him) located the place of taqwa he pointed to his heart, and said: “Taqwa is over here” thrice, as in the hadith of Abu Hurairah that is reported in Sahih Muslim.
He (peace and blessings be upon him) further clarified in a Hadith from Al-Nu`man ibn Bashir: “Indeed there is in the body a piece of flesh which if it is sound then the whole body is sound and if it is corrupt then the whole body is corrupt. Indeed it is the heart” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
From this we understand that soundness of the heart means the soundness of taqwa; the true experience of fearing Allah the Almighty. As a result of this there is soundness of deeds that should be reflected on the actions and conduct of the individual.
When people start feeling humble during the month of Ramadan it is because the elements of taqwa are creeping into their hearts secretly. That is why Ramadan was named the month of taqwa, and that is why achieving taqwa was made one of the main objectives of the fasting Ramadan. In another verse within the context of fasting the month of Ramadan we read:
[Thus doth Allah make clear His Signs to men: that they may learn Taqwa (become righteous]. (Al-Baqarah 2:187)
What do we need taqwa for? We all need taqwa to guarantee that our deeds will be accepted. Allah the Almighty says:
[Allah doth only accept from those who are righteous (Muttaqeen)] (Al-Ma’idah 5:27)
We need taqwa because the good end in the Hereafter is again for those who humble themselves in this world and those who are righteous. Allah the Almighty says:
[That home of the Hereafter we shall give to those who intend not high- handedness or mischief on earth: and the end is (best) for the Righteous (Muttaqeen).] ( (Al-Qasas 28:83)
We need Taqwa because we are all travelers, on our way to the Hereafter and we need the provision to help us reach our destination safely. The best provision a person can carry on this journey to the Hereafter is Taqwa.
[…and take a provision (with you) for the journey, but the best of provisions is Taqwa (righteousness). So fear me, O ye that are wise.] (Al-Baqarah 2:197)
If you have taqwa you will never feel lonely, because Almighty Allah is with you. Ibn `Awn (may Allah be pleased with him) escorted a man on a long journey and told him: “Adhere to taqwa (fearing) of Allah. For the person who has taqwa (the righteous one) is never alone.)
The definition of taqwa is: When Ali bin Abi Talib (may Allah be pleased with him) was asked to define taqwa, he said: “Taqwa is to fear the Most Exalted One, work upon His revelation, become content and ascetic and always prepare for the departure from this life.”
`Umar ibn Al-Khattab once asked `Ubay ibn Ka`b: How would you describe taqwa? In reply `Ubay asked, “Have you ever had to traverse a thorny path?” `Umar replied in the affirmative and `Ubay then continued, “How do you do so?” `Umar said that he would walk carefully through after first having collected his loose and flowing clothing in his hands so nothing gets caught in the thorns. `Ubay said: “`Umar, this is the taqwa.”
Taqwa is all about being careful and being conscious of our actions, to make sure they are sound and right. Taqwa is about being conscious of Almighty Allah at all times; the area where people vary and are distinguished. Allah the Almighty:
[…Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he/she who is) the most righteous of you…] (Al-Hujurat 49:13)
Now, if Ramadan is all about taqwa, and taqwa is located in the heart, then indeed the true and most successful fasting would be that of the heart; no more, no less.
Fasting means abstinence, and in the physical realm it is abstinence from eating, drinking, and sexual relations from dawn until sunset. The limit has been set for that, however, true abstinence is the one that has no limits; the abstinence of the heart from all that which might inflict and reflect wrong in our actions, words and deeds.
Ibn Al-Qayyim (may Allah have mercy upon him) reflects on this notion saying: “The example of the heart is the example of the king and the limbs are the recruited army. Hence they all go by the orders of their king. If the king was righteous he would order righteousness and if he was corrupt he would order corruption.”
Indeed, taqwa is a degree of sincerity one cannot claim easily. It cannot simply be obtained by the mere presence of Ramadan; a lot needs to be done on the part of every individual to get to that degree. Nevertheless, at least Ramadan provides and facilitates a tremendous opportunity to arrive at such a level, if the rules of Ramadan were observed righteously.
By Yaser Birjas