Our Lord endowed the calendar of life with certain periods of spiritual gain. During those times, benevolence, forgiveness, and mercy increase. The most fruitful of such periods is the holy month of Ramadan.
The Holy Qur’an, which is a guide for the mindful, was revealed in this month.
The obligatory worship of fasting, which nurtures spiritual maturity, is performed in this month.
The Night of Power, specified in the Qur’an as better than a thousand months, is commemorated in this month.
The nights of this month are blessed with fast-breaking, with special prayers, and with special meals.
The stricken hearts of the needy and deprived rejoice most in this month, because religious obligations of charity are performed in Ramadan. Obligatory or non-obligatory gifts made in this month console the poor the most.
The doors of heaven are opened in this month.
The doors of hell are closed because of refraining from sin.
The devils are bound by the chains of mindfulness of Allah, taqwa, which is the commitment of conscious Muslims.
So the month of Ramadan not only opens up doors of eternal happiness for individual believers, but also for the whole of the Muslim world.
Qur’an and Ramadan
Allah the Almighty says:
The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was revealed, a guidance to humanity and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion; therefore whoever of you is present in the month shall fast in it… (Baqarah, 2/185).
It is clear from this verse that the Qur’an was revealed in Ramadan, that it is a guide for the mindful, that it presents clear proofs of the guidance for distinguishing between good and evil, and that it is incumbent on believers to fast in this month.
Thus, believers should note very well the close relation between the Qur’an and Ramadan.
Abdullah ibn `Abbas related, “The Prophet (pbuh) was the most generous among us, and he was the most generous of all when he met the Angel Gabriel in Ramadan. Gabriel, aside from bringing revelation, used to visit the Prophet (pbuh) every night in Ramadan; they would recite the Qur’an together. He was even more generous than the wind of mercy [that brings rain]” (Bukhari, al-Ba`d ul-Wahy 5, 6; Sawm 7; Muslim, al-Fada’il, 48, 50).
We should properly observe the spiritual instruction given in the above narration and particularly occupy ourselves with the Noble Qur’an during Ramadan, so that we might benefit from the blessings of the time.
In fact, every day we should set aside time for the reading of the Qur’an, which is meant to orient our daily life. But we should read more during this month. We should be occupied with the Qur’an’s spiritual atmosphere, act according to its instructions, and make amends for our shortcomings.
A sound personality and a sane society can be established only through following the spiritual guidance of the Qur’an. It is a divine light enlightening the inner and outer world of believers. It is guidance for happiness, bringing us closer to Allah through its wisdom and the exemplary stories of the prophets.
The guiding power of the Qur’an can bring peace and tranquility to people who are depressed by the uncertainties of the present and the worries of the future, as well as by the complicated philosophies of modern times. Only the breadth of the Qur’an can console those depressed and confused ones, opening the ups and downs of their daily life onto a vista of eternal peace and happiness.
Ramadan as a life opportunity
Allah the Almighty swears by time in the Qur’an. He reminds us that our worldly existence lasts but an instant, and will end before the commencement of real life in the Hereafter. He thereby reminds us not to waste time. Consequently a Muslim should appreciate the blessing of time and use it efficiently for sublime goals. We should perceive the necessity of spending our lives on doing good deeds.We should hasten to worship, and ask Allah for forgiveness well before approaching the end of life.
As the whole of life is limited to certain days, so also is Ramadan. Its days, too, are numbered. So it is wise to make use of the distinctive spiritual atmosphere of Ramadan during those few days, to collect all the eternal bliss we can.
Hadrat A’ishah related: “The Prophet (pbuh) used to make extra effort in worship in Ramadan, to an extent we did not observe in other months. He would commit himself to even deeper worship in the last ten days of the month. He would spend whole nights praying. and would wake his family up to pray.” (Bukhari, al-Fadl al-Laylat al-Qadr, 5; Muslim, al-Itiqaf, 8).
Those who make the most of Ramadan are endowed with many blessings. Those who are careless of Ramadan face great deprivation. The Prophet (pbuh) warned, “Angel Gabriel came to me saying: ‘May the blessing of Allah avoids the one who avoids the opportunity for forgiveness in Ramadan!’ And I replied saying ‘Amin’…”(Hakim, IV, 170/7256; Tirmidhi, Da`awat, 100/3545).
Hold tight to fasting
Fasting is the prime concern for Muslims who wish to fulfill Ramadan. Fasting reminds us that we are, as humans, travelers heading for the Hereafter, who will be left with no earthly possession or enjoyment at the end of the journey.
Giving up worldly pleasures and thereby training one’s lower self in the light of the spirit of the Qur’an is nothing but good news regarding the pleasures of heaven.
Abu `Umamah, a Companion to the Prophet, came to the Prophet one day saying, “O Prophet! Please tell me about a kind of worship for which Allah will reward me.”
The Prophet (pbuh) answered: “Embrace fasting! It is an unequalled worship.”(Nasai, al-Siyam 43).
The Prophet (pbuh) also spoke of the virtues of the pre-dawn meal: “Observe the pre-dawn meal, even if only by drinking a sip of water”(Abd al-Razzaq, al-Musannaf, IV, 227/7599); and “Observe the pre-dawn meal, as it contains blessing.”(Bukhari,as-Sawm, 20).
Fasting in Ramadan trains us to exercise even our legitimate rights minimally As a holy month, it reminds us how careful we should be about refraining from illegitimate and dubious acts.
Abdullah Ibn `Omar said, “Allah does not accept your worship unless you refrain from illegitimate and dubious acts, even if you pray until you grow bent as a bow and fast until you grow thin as a nail.”
Hadrat Mawlana says about this point of spiritual training in fasting: “Fasting declares: ‘O Allah! This person does not eat even lawful food nor drink even lawful drink, following your commandment. How should he then extend his hands to violate your commandments?’”
Fasting is a spiritual discipline for controlling the raw ego. It also paves the way for improving our innate feelings of compassion and mercy.
True fasting provides us with a condition of consciousness that makes us aware of blessings and thankful for them. It leads us to sympathize with the underprivileged and to value compassion and mercy over all worldly emotions. It is a school of training that decreases greed and increases patience.
The most important lessons in our training are, of course, the tests we face in daily life. The more easily we pass such exams, the more we approach the true goal of fasting.
One of the examinations in patience we are supposed to pass during fasting is transmitted in a saying of the Prophet (pbuh) : “Let none of you say bad words or quarrel while fasting. If someone swears at you or tries to quarrel with you, say, ‘I am fasting’”. (Bukhari, as-Sawm, 9).
Quarrelling with people is not a praiseworthy act. If a fasting person quarrels, it takes away the spiritual benefit of fasting. Allah the Almighty specifies how we should act when provoked:
And the servants of the All-Compassionate are those who walk on the earth in humility, and when the ignorant address them, they say, “Peace.”(Furqan, 25/63).
So fasting should be performed in a peaceful, spiritual, and sensitive way. One should refrain from indecent and even unnecessary acts. One cannot fast properly by merely giving up eating and drinking. An acceptable fasting is performed by restraining the lower self; the lower self is restrained by keeping all parts of one’s body away from illicit and dubious acts.
`Ubayd, the freed slave of the Prophet (pbuh), related, “Two women were fasting. Someone came to the Prophet (pbuh) at noon to report, ‘O Prophet! There are two women who are fasting and are almost dead of thirst. (Please ask them to stop fasting).’
The Prophet (pbuh) turned his face away and did not answer. The one who made the request repeated his words. ‘O Messenger! They are about to die!’
“This time the Prophet (pbuh) answered, ‘Ask them to come here!’ When the two women arrived, the Prophet (pbuh) gave one of them a bowl, and said, ‘You had better vomit!’ The woman vomited up blood, meat, and pus to the extent of half a bowl. Then the other woman did the same.
“The Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘These women fasted by abstaining from legitimate acts, but then broke their fast by committing illegitimate acts. They sat together and indulged in malicious talk [eating human flesh].’”(Ahmad, V, 431, al-Haythami, III, 171).
So we should not only refrain from eating and drinking, but also watch our speech. Our tongues should not be thorns stabbing at hearts, but transmitters of mercy. We need soft hearts adorned with the wisdom of the Qur’an and smiling faces reflecting the smiling face of Islam.
Being a sincere servant
The spiritual training of Ramadan is also intended to make us better servants. Those who cannot be sincere servants to Allah are bound, in the end, to become servants to other creatures. Such a condition does not befit the honor of being human. Muhammad Iqbal speaks of the misery of those who move away from Allah to become slaves to other people: “I have not seen even a dog bowing down to another dog.”
So we need full consciousness of being sincere servants of Allah alone in order to have full spiritual satisfaction in Ramadan. We should therefore, improve the level of our spirituality in the month of spiritual benevolence.
The only acceptable value in this regard is sincerity. Our prayers are made most valuable by our pure hearts, good intentions, and sincerity. Any prayer devoted to egoistic aims and goals other than Allah’s acceptance receive no answer. Thus, the Prophet (pbuh) says, “There are many who fast and only stay hungry: they get no spiritual benefit. There are many who pray at night but only lose sleep: they get no spiritual benefit.” (Ibn Maja, as-Siyam 21).
Any act that that does not lead to Allah’s acceptance and does not bring profit in the Hereafter endangers one’s eternal life. Making no provision for the eternal life leads to disappointment. Any prayer that is not performed in sincerity and commitment only guarantees that one will be empty-handed in the Hereafter.
Prayers performed in Ramadan should not be done in a habitual or merely traditional way, but undertaken so as to seek Allah’s acceptance in sincerity. Otherwise prayers cannot bring spiritual benefit, and fasting cannot transcend being a sort of diet, and late night vigils cannot go beyond being a kind of digestive exercise.
In the great days and nights of Ramadan we should be more vigilant in our prayers. We should perform our daily prayers as if we were talking with Allah. Our prayers should become an opportunity for us to confess our failures and shortcomings and to present all our needs, both worldly and spiritual, before Allah the Almighty. Then they will be true prayers.
The Prophet (pbuh) recommends that we pray in congregation. Coming together increases the value of prayer, because the congregation offers each believer spiritual depth in understanding. In every prayer we repeat the supplication,
It is You we serve and it is You we ask for help(Fatihah, 1/4).
The words inspire believers with the spirit of congregation, since the pronoun “we” indicates a group of people doing the same thing.
Prayer of supplication, or du`a, is the nucleus of all prayers because it allows the servant to take refuge in the Lord. It establishes our spiritual connection with Allah. Whoever breaks that connection loses his or her position in the presence of Allah. It is said in the Qur’an:
Say: My Lord would not care for you were it not for your prayer…(Furqan, 25/77).
Waking up in the middle of the night for the pre-dawn meal is also a time for spiritual training, when we benefit from the blessing of the earliest hours. At such times Allah the Almighty invites us into His presence. Believers should welcome such an invitation, and thank Allah for it. The Qur’an praises:
…the patient, and the truthful, and the obedient, and those who spend (in charity), and those who ask forgiveness in the early morning.(Al `Imran, 3/17).
The Friends of Allah regard the pre-dawn hour as a treasure. Muhammad Iqbal remarked in this regard, “I found a way of passing beyond the dome of the planet. I saw that at the pre-dawn hour, human supplications travel with greater speed than the mind can reach toward Allah, to union with Him.”
To vigilantly engage in prayer before dawn lets one travel to the horizons of wisdom. Hadrat Mawlana said, “Wake up at night and walk to the Lord! Night takes you to the land of guidance. The secrets of divine love and the spiritual pleasures pour into your heart while others sleep. The windows of the heart open widest at night: then you can take you share from the worlds of spirit. Yet such events are hidden from the eyes of strangers!”
In the holy month of Ramadan, let us remember Allah and purify ourselves spiritually with every breath we take. Let us make good use of a month whose first third promises mercy, whose middle third promises forgiveness, and whose final third promises salvation. As far as we can, let us meet that generous offer with sincerity. Prayers in such a season of benefits are no doubt the most useful supplies we can lay up for our journey to the Hereafter, for the Prophet (pbuh) says that our worship will accompany us in the grave. “When a believer dies he will find his daily prayers beside his head, his almsgiving on his right, and his fasting on his left.” (Haythami, III, 51).
`Umar ibn `Abdul-`Aziz said, “Make your preparations in this world based on what sort of journey you want in the grave and the Hereafter!”
The Night of Power
The Night of Power, or Destiny, is one of the treasures given to the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) as a special spiritual gift for his community. The good news of the grandeur and value of this night is announced in a Qur’anic chapter named after it, and in many sayings of the Prophet (pbuh). Here is what our Lord says about the glory of the night in Surah Qadr:
Surely We sent it down on the Night of Power. So what will make you comprehend the Night of Power? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descend in it, by the permission of their Lord, upon every affair. Peace! So it is until the break of day(Qadr, 97/1-5).
The Night of Power is said to be glorified not only because the Qur’an was revealed in it, but also because a countless number of angels including the Archangel Gabriel (sometimes referred to as “the Spirit”) descend in it as well. It is better than a thousand months because it is a night of blessing and benevolence in which repentant worshippers are greeted by unseen angels and forgiven by Allah.
Since it is a privileged and special night, the Prophet (pbuh) sought for it among the nights of Ramadan, and asked his community to do the same. Its exact time is not specified. According to a saying of the Prophet (pbuh), it should be looked for during the eves of the odd-numbered days during the last third of the month, and on the eve of the 27th of Ramadan in particular. Yet this does not guarantee that the Night of Power will definitely fall among those days. Imam al-A`zam Abu Hanifah and ash-Shaykh al-Akbar Ibn `Arabi both argued that the Night of Power is not necessarily found in the month of Ramadan only, but might occur on any night of the year.
Imam Sha`rani’s comment on the matter is very important: “For me, the Night of Power changes from year to year. I have witnessed it at various times in Sha`ban, Rabi`, and Ramadan, but I have witnessed it most often in Ramadan, and in the last days of Ramadan in particular.”
There is a reason why the date of the Night of Power, which is worth more than eighty-three years (one thousand months) of ordinary human life, is not specified. There is wisdom behind it. Because it is hidden, the Friends of Allah advise that one should watch for it throughout the year. Ibn Mas`ud said, “Whoever spends the whole year in vigilance is bound to discover the Night of Power.” Thus the following advice has become proverbial for the faithful: “Any night could be the Night of Power; any person could be the Hidden Guide (Khidr, the guide of Moses (pbuh) in the Qur’an).”
Eid: The Festival
Days and nights of religious festivals are full of divine blessings that only committed and sensitive hearts can perceive. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Some spend the nights of the two Festivals (Fastbreak and Sacrifice), praying for reward from Allah Alone. Their hearts will not die on the day when all hearts must die.” (Ibn Maja, as-Siyam, 68).
Ramadan is a school of commitment; the festival that follows it is its spiritual diploma. On the festival day, the faithful enjoy having passed the great examination of Ramadan. They have a brief taste of union with their Lord in this world. They will rejoice again on the Day of Judgment.
Our Lord’s contentment with us is the true festival. We can claim our share of divine mercy and benevolence if we make the poor and needy happy on festival days. The Prophet (pbuh) says in this regard: “Show mercy to those on earth so that those in the heavens may show mercy to you.”(Abu Dawud, al-Adab, 58).
It is good to keep in mind that festival days are neither days of individual celebration nor days of rest. As one cannot perform festival prayers individually, so one cannot celebrate the Festival alone or merely among one’s closest family. These days are days to visit parents, relatives, and one’s place of birth, and also to remember ancestors. They exist to make community stronger.
Islam is not a religion of ceremonies practised only in the month of Ramadan or other holy times. It is a religion for all moments of life.
Imam Sha`rani says, “Ramadan is given more holiness than any other month. And Allah the Almighty placed Ramadan among the months of the year so that the blessing of Ramadan could spread throughout the whole year.
As Allah the Almighty gave the month of Ramadan to the whole year, so we should let the blessing and discipline we gain in Ramadan spread into the rest of our lives. And we should always remember the spiritual pleasures we taste in Ramadan, because no matter how long we live, our life is shorter than the month of Ramadan compared to our eternity in the Hereafter.
May Allah accept our prayers for the sake of Ramadan, the blessed month! May Allah help us to live in the atmosphere of Ramadan all the time. May the months of the year form a chain from one Ramadan to the next, binding us together with sincerity and commitment. And finally, may Allah make Ramadan an agent to bring peace and happiness to our country, our nation, and all Muslims throughout the world.
. Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha`rani, al-Kibrit al-Ahmar, s. 110.
. `Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha`rani, al-Kibrit al-Ahmar, p. 98, Izmir Ilahiyat Vakfi, 2006.