By Anuradha Azeemi
It is one thing to empathize and imagine being in another’s shoe; but it is altogether another thing to actually wear and live in another’s shoe. The former makes you an empathizer, but the latter, makes you experienced. The rules of empathy may fluctuate through one’s lifetime, but experience is a permanent impact, which cannot be erased.
When you live in an Islamic country, Ramadan is a month that holds your complete attention. The hustle bustle of a fast paced life slows down in this month, and lets you experience life one moment at a time. Offices and businesses shut operations down mid-day. People deal with each other with a lot of consideration. There is no honking and bullying on the streets by speeding cars. Life seems to be on ‘Let’s be kind & united’ mode. There is more silence than sound everywhere around you.
Fasting is not an unknown concept for varied cultures and religion around the world. While, ‘Ramadan’ is the holy month for the Muslims, the month of ‘Lent’ is sacred for the Christians, as the month of ‘Shraavan’ is important for the Hindus. The Jains choose the month of ‘monsoon’ for fasting, while the Buddhists refrain from eating food after noon everyday. All organized religions in the world, aim only at one thing through fasting, appeasing God, building a deep friendship with HIM and becoming God conscious.
Being accepted into the Silsila Azeemia as a spiritual student under the able guidance of our beloved and benevolent Master Khwaja Shamsuddin Azeemi, has exposed me to a side of life that I had never experienced before. Fasting in the Holy month of Ramadan was surely one of them. My first experience of Ramadan was destined to be in a week’s time of receiving my acceptance (Bayt) letter. From then on each year, the practice of fasting during the holy month has kept evolving my experiences and self-awareness.
God consciousness, the daily reward.
The beloved Prophet (PBUH) said, “(God Almighty says about the fasting person), He has left his food, drink and desires for MY sake. The fast is for ME. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times” (Bukhari).
This declaration of God Almighty, knocked me off my feet and made me kneel down in absolute gratitude and humility before HIS kindness and mercy on a sinner like me. HE made HIMSELF the reward for our fasting. HE, the most precious, the most powerful, for the union with whom, hundreds and thousands of men of God have shed tears of blood, is actually making our access to HIM so easy! What a priced offer to bail our souls out of our misery and sins each year!
The twilight zone.
Abu Hurairah (Raa) Narrated:
The Prophet (PBUH) of God said, “No prayer is harder for the hypocrites than the Fajr and the Isha prayers, and if they knew the reward for these prayers at their respective times, they would certainly present themselves (in the mosques) even if they had to crawl.” (Sahih Bukhari Volume 1, Book 11, Number 626)
`Uthman bin `Affan reported: I heard the Messenger of God saying: “One who performs Isha prayer in congregation, is as if he has performed Salat for half of the night. And one who performs the Fajr prayer in congregation, is as if he has performed Salat the whole night.”
Every religion unanimously agrees that the twilight zone is the most important part of the day for the seekers on the spiritual path. The veil between the conscious and subconscious mind is so thin during this time, that with slightest effort one could access the hidden power within us and enter our 60,000 times more powerful mind and witness the unseen world. The fasting inevitably keeps us awake through the most precious times of the day which otherwise is spent in deep slumber. I have witnessed highest levels of concentration and the most influential thoughts being generated during this time.
The real beauty is in being able to live in your skin.
The Holy Prophet (PBUH) said, “By HIM in WHOSE hands my soul is, the unpleasant smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of God than the smell of musk. There are two pleasures for the fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord; then he will be pleased because of his fasting.” (Bukhari).
The period of fasting is not related only to the fasting of the body through food, it is also a process of fasting the ego through the stoppage of use of extravagance. When one is focused on hygiene but devoid of artificial enhancers of beauty, one is finally able to give up the pressures of body shaming and live comfortable in one’s skin. The month of fasting becomes the month of self-acceptance and we go on to experience the beautiful work of artistry done on us by God HIMSELF.
“He makes you in the wombs of your mothers in stages, one after another, in three veils of darkness.” (Quran: Surah Az-zumar, 39:Ayah 6).
Cutting off emotional dependency on food.
The Prophet (PBUH) says, “O you who believe (in the Oneness of God)! Eat of the lawful things that we have provided you with, and be grateful to God, if it is indeed HE Whom you worship” (172: Al Baqara).
Most of mankind has developed an emotional bond with food. One has stopped eating for the sake of hunger and replaced many an emotional void in their lives with the ritual of eating unhealthy spreads. This has led to obesity and many diseases prevalent in the modern day. Food has replaced meaningful relationships. Exercise as stress buster has been replaced with mindless munching of snacks. Entertainment is reduced to get together for over eating. Joy and success is shared over, overloaded tables of food. Result is more unhappiness and sickness. The month of fasting helps us carefully choose what we eat. Over eating, choice of greasy and spicy foods, sugar loaded treats lead to discomfort during the fast times through the day, thereby automating one to make right choices of food during Suhur and Iftar. One then notices that the thoughts and words that flow through a person, exactly match the type of your daily food intake. Lawful food leads to, lawful words and deeds.
Minimalistic living kicks in.
The Holy Quran says, “And they ask you (O messenger!), what to give in charity? Tell them (give) that is in excess of your need”
“You cannot attain righteousness until you give to charity from the possessions you love. Whatever you give to charity, GOD is fully aware thereof.” (3:92)
As the clutter in the mind and gut is reduced, the clutter around us reduces too. When one fasts the mind by refraining from emotions and negative thoughts and also fasts the body, everything seems excess in the environment. One begins to redefine the absolute essential and luxury categories in every sphere of life. As we clean the mind and gut, we begin to give off what is in excess in our homes as objects too. The minimalistic living happens inside out. The process of minimal thinking, minimal eating, minimal sleeping leads to minimalistic living.
Reinstating proportions of healthy living – 10% food + 20% water + 70% energy.
Limited access to everything brings back balance. As one is not allowed to drink water through the day, one drinks ample water at Suhur and Iftar. It is observed that when man is given the freedom of access, he does not initiate the intake of required proportions of food and water that his body requires. As the fasting period leaves the body and mind free from food and drink for over 14-15 hours, it is forced to thrive on energy. The most important feed for the mind and body is energy, which is freely available around us. Our body only requires 10% of intake as food, 20% as water and the rest 70% as energy. The period of Ramadan, brings our bodies back to its original calibration.
So what is this energy upon which our survival is dependent on? It is that energy that sustains all. The Divine light of God – Noor! In short, the period of fasting aligns us to God. And God is the ‘only’ that we need for our existence.
“God Almighty is the Light of the heavens and the earth. The parable of His Light is as (if there were) a niche and within it a lamp, the lamp is in glass, the glass as it were a brilliant star, lit from a blessed tree, an olive, neither of the east (i.e., it neither gets sun‐rays only in the morning) nor of the west (i.e., nor does it get sun‐rays only in the afternoon – but it is exposed to the sun all day long), whose oil would almost glow forth (of itself), though no fire touched it. Light upon Light! God Almighty, guides to HIS Light whom HE wills. And God Almighty sets forth parables for mankind, and God Almighty is All‐Knower of everything.” (al‐Nur 24:35)
The month of fasting is the best blessing and mercy on mankind, if ever they contemplated on why it was ordained. Fasting is a gateway to God.
“In Paradise there are eight gates, among which is a gate called al-Rayyaan, which none will enter but those who fast.” (Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 3017).