Imbibing the spirit of Ramadan

A person who submits to hunger and thirst but does not behave righteously misses the whole point of the fasting month.

MUSLIMS around the world are submitting themselves with reverence to the mandatory fasts of Ramadan. It is appropriate, therefore, to reflect on the spirit of this holy month.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Its sanctity is derived from the fact that this is the month when the first revelation of the Holy Quran was sent down to Prophet Muhammad in the Hira cave on the Jabal an-Nour mountain, three miles north of Mecca, around the year 610.

Self-restraint: Ramadan is a month of fasting, prayer, devotion, reflection and expiation. Muslims are commanded to fast so that they may “learn self-restraint” (Holy Quran 2:183). During Ramadan, the faithful are required to abstain from worldly desires, strengthen self-control and achieve self-improvement.

Ramadan reminds us of the myriad blessings of life which we take for granted. It teaches us to empathise with the hunger and deprivation of the less fortunate. It reminds us of our duty to alleviate their suffering. Charity and generosity are urged during Ramadan.

Soul-cleansing: The fast is not merely to detoxify the body but also the soul. The physical fast is an outward expression of the more significant spiritual cleansing and the bringing of solace to the soul. It is about refraining not only from food and drink but also from evil actions, thoughts and words. It addresses the whole domain of human nature and its ultimate aim is to promote piety, honesty, peace and justice.

Pursuing righteousness is the real purpose of fasting. A person who submits to hunger and thirst but does not behave righteously misses the whole point of Ramadan. A Hadith (saying of the Holy Prophet) narrated by Imam Jafar As-Sadiq states: “When you fast, all your senses, eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet must fast with you.”

The implication is that during fasting, we must abstain from all sinful acts, including gossip, slander and sinful thoughts. Patience, peace and tranquillity must be cultivated.

This brings me to the deeply distressing news that in this holy month of Ramadan, scores of Malaysian Muslims are finding religious fulfilment by joining the internecine dispute between Shi’ites and Sunnis in war-torn Iraq and Syria.

Who is financing their expedition is not known. What motivates them to dedicate their lives to such militancy is not clear. I wonder whether our periodic outbursts against the “threat from Shi’ites” may have fed the reservoirs of hatred that these “jihadists” are drinking from?

Jihad: This concept is wrongly interpreted to refer exclusively to a “holy war” even though it refers to any struggle, whether with a sword or a pen. The Holy Quran calls all Muslims to “invite all to the way of Allah with wisdom and beautiful preaching and argue with them in ways that are best and most gracious” (16:125).

Jihad includes a struggle with oneself. According to a famous saying, the best jihad is by the one who strives against his own self for Allah.

Peace: The Quran emphasises that normal relations between people, nations and states, whether Muslim or not, should be peaceful (49:13). Maximum effort must be applied to advance the cause of peace (10:25). “If they incline to peace, you also incline to it.” (8:61) Whatever means are undertaken to work for peace during a conflict must be attempted over and over again. It is a blessing to transform fear into a sense of safety (24:55). Paradise is the perfect and absolute Land of Peace (6:127).

Sanctity of life: The Holy Quran in Surah 5:32 lays down that “anyone who saves one life, it is as if he has saved the whole of mankind and anyone who has killed another person (except in lieu of murder or mischief on earth), it is as if he has killed the whole of mankind”.

War: The Holy Quran repeatedly emphasises that war is hateful (2:216). War must be defensive to be legitimate. Use of force should be the last resort (2:190-192, 4:90).

Terrorism: Even in times of war, Allah forbids extremism and the transgression of limits (2:190). The Sri Lankan jurist, C.G. Weeramantry, points out that long before the Geneva Conventions, Islamic international law had built protection for civilians, non-combatants, prisoners of war, women and children. Even the mutilation of beasts and the destruction of harvests and cutting down of trees were forbidden.

Terrorism in all its forms, whether by inciting terror in the hearts of defenceless citizens, destroying civilian properties or maiming innocent people, is forbidden in Islam.

Suicide bombing: The Holy Quran in 4:29-30 forbids suicide.

In light of the above, it should be obvious that the “freelance jihadists” are motivated by a false sense of religiosity and are misusing Islam to express their own primordial feelings of hatred for “the other”.

They seem to “have just enough religion to make (them) hate, but not enough to make (them) love one another” (Jonathan Swift).

May the spirit of Ramadan enter their hearts and souls. We hope that they can return to their homeland to fulfil their duties to their country, community and family.

There is no dearth of mountains to climb and trails to blaze here. It is a form of escapism to dedicate oneself to an amorphous (and in this case, a questionable) cause abroad at the cost of one’s undoubted religious and civic duties back at home.

For the beleaguered citizens of Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, Libya and Eqypt, where Western intervention is fuelling civil wars, we pray for the realisation that in wars there are no victories, only varying degrees of defeat. May Allah guide all parties towards self-restraint, restore peace and prosperity and bring them all closer to Him and to each other.

Shad Faruqi is Emeritus Professor of Law at UiTM. The views expressed are entirely the writer’s own.

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