No doubt, we are about to live truly special days… the days of Ramadhan! They are but a few days indeed, a Muslim always feeling that Ramadhan comes and goes too fast, and leaves one with the feeling that « I should have made even a better usage of Ramadhan time». Allaah says: “O you who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard (against evil). For a certain number of days…” Qur’an (2:183-184)
Ramadhan is a blessing upon mankind! Just reading the following verses about Ramadhan, a Muslim cannot but be captured by the beautiful meanings that are conveyed and the soft melody that one produces reading these verses (in Arabic):
“The month of Ramadhan is that in which the Quran was revealed, a guidance to mankind and clear proofs of guidance and judgment (between right and wrong); therefore whoever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein, and whoever is sick or upon a journey, then (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days; Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire for you difficulty, and (He desires) that you should complete the prescribed period and that you should exalt the greatness of Allah for His having guided you; and perchance you shall be grateful. And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me. So let them hear My call and believe in Me, in order that they may be led aright. Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts… ” Qur’an (2:185-187):
Reading these verses, the reader will undoubtedly feel a breeze of Mercy from the Merciful who cares about His servants! Allaah first tells us that fasting is just “For a certain number of days”. He then reminds us that the greatest gift to humankind, the Qur’an, started being revealed during the month of Ramadhan. This revelation contains all the guidance and values that would make individuals and societies happy and at peace, internally and with others. Before continuing with His Mercy during the month of Ramadhan, namely all that is permitted to do during the nights of Ramadhan (highlighting once more Allaah’s Mercy), an amazing verse comes in between the two sequences of verse statements; it says:
“And when My servants ask you concerning Me, then surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me. So let them hear My call and believe in Me, in order that they may be led aright”.
What better blessing can a man/woman want more than feeling The Creator close to him/her, answering the prayers that come from a purified heart, especially during a month of devotion and return to the fold of Allaah?!
The reward a Muslim gets from fasting Ramadhan and reading the Qur’an, which is also associated (though not exclusively) with the month of Ramadhan, is beautifully stated in the following Hadith in which the Messenger of Allah (Peace Be Upon Him) said: “Fasting and Qur’an intercede for the believer the Day of Resurrection; the fasting says: ‘My Lord, I have denied him food and desires during the day, so let me intercede for him’, and the Qur’an says: ‘I have prevented him sleep at night, so let me intercede for him’ ” (Narrated by Ahmad)
Ramadhan is meant to be a training on several fronts. It is of course a month during which a Muslim is supposed to detach himself/herself from the worldly desires of food and spouses and reach up to the higher values of self-denial, physical patience, and spiritual development. It is also a station for a Muslim to be more health-conscious, the medical benefits of fasting having been proven by Muslims and non-Muslims alike.
Ramadhan is an exercise of compassion towards the poor and needy people who endure hardship on a daily basis to get their sustenance, if they can manage to! The companions of the prophet reported that: “The Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) was the most generous of the people and he was most generous in the month of Ramadan” (Narrated by Bukhari, Muslim, and others). It is moreover an exercise of social improvement whereby a Muslim tries to enhance his relationship with others through patience and positive interaction. The prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) has given us beautiful teachings concerning the proper social behaviour in Ramadhan; he said: “Allaah Almighty said: Every deed of the son of Adam is for him except fasting; it is for Me and I shall reward for it. Fasting is a shield; when one of you fasts, let him not be obscene nor shout; and if someone insults him or fights against him, let him say, ‘I am fasting’” (Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim).
Ramadhan can thus be seen as a retreat from our daily involvements, especially in these busy modern societies where one barely finds time to put the life priorities right. It is a multi-purpose retreat: one in which we work on our health as well as on the spiritual, social, and economic dimensions.
The ship is going astray!
In theory, Ramadhan is all goodness for Muslims… but it turns out that the reality of our fellows is far from being this shiny! We have unfortunately reached a point where it is widely understood that from the start of Ramadhan, a large section of the population “turns on” a weird behavioural mode. From the very first hours of the first day of Ramadhan, unfortunately, people become very irritable and aggressive, on the road while driving their cars, in marketplaces and administrations, etc. Instead of reminding oneself to be patient and say “I am fasting” as the prophet (PBUH) directed
us to do, many of us would turn into wolves ready to shout, insult, fight, and bite!
In terms of consumption, it increases drastically during the month of Ramadhan. We consume much more in terms of meat, sweets, and all kinds of food. We fill our stomachs with that which is good and that which is not (such as the “sweetened-coloured water” that is sold on the street in large quantities and without the least health checks!!). Instead of giving our stomachs and other parts of our bodies some rest, we overstress them to the point where we can hardly move after breaking the fast at dusk, let alone go to the night prayers in a comfortable shape that allows us to fully benefit spiritually… and physically.
With the start of Ramadhan, prices go sky-rocketing and this has unfortunately become the norm! Using the fact that the demand on food and other products increases (as explained above), some parasites hold the population hostage of their evil strife for quick gains. As a result, the common person economically suffers during the month of Ramadhan and can hardly make ends meet. It is unfortunate that due to the greediness of some money-minded parasites, Ramadhan is being perceived as a burden on the purses, especially of the lower economic strata of the society.
Unfortunately, these odd behaviours that are contrary to the very spirit of Ramadhan have gone into the mosque itself! Instead of ensuring that mosques remain places of reverence and humility, it has become way too frequent to see people behaving in a mosque as they would do in a marketplace. Instead of joining into the congregational prayers, some would sit in the back of the mosque chatting at will or would leave the mosque, not caring the least to do it in a quiet, respectful way. What is also appalling is to see that so many people, instead of filling the first prayer rows first as we have been taught by the prophet, they rather create new rows here and there at the back of the prayer hall. This gives a horrible sense of disunity among Muslims, which is diametrically opposed to the prayer organisation and its spirit! Some others, and they are unfortunately numerous, sit back during the first rak’ah of each pair during the taraweeh prayers, and wait until the Imam is about to prostrate and rush to get into the prayer, in what looks to be more of a disrespect to the very spirit of the prayer than any other thing.
Too many people unfortunately spend many hours each night watching silly programmes on TV; others spend their nights singing and dancing, under the title of “making the nights of Ramadhan lively” (!!!). Yet others, spend their nights playing cards, dominos, etc.
These are but a few observations on what one can unfortunately see in Ramadhan! This clearly shows that our society is seriously going astray since the very illustrations we make of the principles we uphold of Islam appear to be far from what we are supposed to do and display. This raises very deep and serious questions about this state of affairs in our society, of what has gone wrong, how to get things right and where to start and with whom.
Ramadhan… the Awakening
Surely Ramadhan is MEANT TO BE a great month as explained at the beginning of this article. Nevertheless, and given what we have made of it, it is high time that every one of us seriously rethink his/her way of living Ramadhan. There is no point indeed to keep blaming others for the state of decadence we have reached; each one of us should question himself/herself and renew his/her covenant with Allaah and make this coming Ramadhan a point of re-awakening and of a new departure. Let us make this Ramadhan a month of piety first and foremost. Let us make our fasting an excellent training that improves our fear of Allaah through patience, perseverance on good deeds, generosity towards the poor and needy, and proper social behaviour. Let it be for us a station for health rejuvenation and restraint on economic practices.
Not only should Ramadhan be peace and mercy individually and among Muslims, but it should be towards all of humankind. This, and only this, would be the true spirit of Islam!
Ahmed Guessoum is a Professor of Computer Science at the University of Science and Technology Houari Boumediene (USTHB) in Algiers. (www.usthb.dz )