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Fasting & Ramadan

The Darkest Hour and the Coming of the Dawn

4128397948_d4fb7e6893_zAccording to a well-stated proverb, the darkest hour is just before the dawn.  And although astronomically the darkest point is much earlier, the truth of this proverb is metaphoric—but in no way less real.

So often we find that the darkest times in our lives are followed by the most precious.  Often, it is at the moment when everything looks broken that something least expected lifts us and carries us through.  Did not Prophet Ayoub lose everything one by one, before it was all given back and more?

Yes.  For Prophet Ayoub, the night was real.  And for many of us, it seems to last forever.  But Allah does not allow an endless night.  In His mercy, he gives us the sun.  Yet there are times when we feel our hardships won’t cease.  And maybe some of us have fallen to such a spiritual low in our deen (religion) that we feel disconnected from our Creator.  And maybe for some of us, it’s so dark, we don’t even notice.

But like the sun that rises at the end of the night, our dawn has come.  In His infinite mercy, Allah has sent the light of Ramadan to erase the night.  He has sent the month of the Qur’an so that He might elevate us and bring us from our isolation to His nearness.  He has given us this blessed month to fill our emptiness, cure our loneliness, and end our soul’s poverty.  He has sent us the dawn that we might find from darkness – light. Allah says,

33:43

“He it is Who sends blessings on you, as do His angels, that He may bring you out from the depths of Darkness into Light: and He is Full of Mercy to the Believers” (Qur’an, 33:43).

And this mercy extends to all who seek it.  Even the most hardened sinner is told to never lose hope in God’s infinite mercy.  God says in the Qur’an:

39:53“Say: “O my Servants who have transgressed against their souls! Despair not of the Mercy of Allah. For Allah forgives all sins: for He is Oft-Forgiving, Most Merciful” (Qur’an, 39:53).

Allah is the Owner of mercy, and there is no time when that mercy is showered more upon us than in the blessed month of Ramadan.  The Prophet ﷺ has said regarding Ramadan: “Its beginning is mercy, its middle is forgiveness, and its ending is liberation from the Hellfire.” (Ibn Khuzaymah, al-Sahih)

Every moment of Ramadan is a chance to come back to Allah.  Whatever we are now going through in our lives is often a direct result of our own actions.  If we are humiliated, or feel low, it is our own sins which have lowered us.  It is only by Allah that we can ever hope to be elevated.  If we are consistently unable to wake up for Fajr, or if we find it increasingly difficult to stay away from haram (the forbidden), we must examine our relationship with Allah.  Most of all, we must never be deceived.  We must never allow ourselves to think that anything in this world succeeds, fails, is given, taken, done, or undone without Allah.  It is only by our connection to our Creator that we rise or fall in life, in our relationship with our world—and with all of humanity.

But unlike humanity, our Creator doesn’t hold grudges.  Imagine receiving a clean slate.  Imagine having everything you ever regret doing erased completely.  Ramadan is that chance.  The Prophet ﷺ told us:  “Whoever fasts during Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven” (Bukhari).

So given this unparalleled opportunity, how can we best take advantage of it?   Two often overlooked issues to keep in mind are:

Know why you’re fasting.

Many people fast as a ritual, without truly understanding its meaning.  Others reduce it to a simple exercise in empathy with the poor.  While this is a beautiful consequence of fasting, it is not the main purpose defined by Allah.  Allah says in the Qur’an: “Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain taqwa (God-consciousness).” (Qur’an, 2:183)  By controlling and restraining our physical needs, we gain strength for the greater battle:  controlling and restraining our nafs (our soul’s desire).  When fasting, every hunger pang reminds us of God—the one for whom we have made this sacrifice.  By constantly remembering Allah and sacrificing for Him, we are made more aware of His presence, and in that way we increase our taqwa (fear and consciousness of Him).  The same thing that prevents us from the sin of sneaking in food while no one else is watching trains us to avoid other sins while no one else is watching.  That is taqwa.

Don’t make fasting just hunger and thirst.

The Prophet ﷺ has said, “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.” (Al-Bukhari) The Prophet ﷺ also warns us: “Many people who fast get nothing from their fast except hunger and thirst, and many people who pray at night get nothing from it except wakefulness.” (Darimi)  While fasting, understand the whole picture.  Remember that fasting is not just about staying away from food.  It is about striving to become a better person.

And in so striving, we are given a chance to escape the darkness of our own isolation from God.  But like the sun that sets at the end of the day, so too will Ramadan come and go, leaving only its mark on our heart’s sky.

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