Updated: May 4, 2021
written by Lamisa. H
When we explain to younger children or people who are not Muslim, our first go to explanation as to why we fast is - to be able to empathise with the needy or people who do not have food to eat. To make us more aware and more grateful of the blessings that we have. But it actually doesn’t have much to do with that, and although it is a byproduct of fasting, it is definitely not the main reason why we were asked to fast.
Taqwa - The Reason We Fast
The main reason for fasting can be found in the Quran: “... fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to to those before you, so perhaps you *become mindful of Allah” (2:183)
Taqwa is the word used in this verse and it means to have consciousness of Allah and to practice self-restraint in any thoughts, words and actions that may displease Him. It is the discipline in mindset that we practice for a month long with the intention that it will last throughout the year. So, when we control our desire for food, we also practice the very simple but powerful act of sabr (patience).
Fasting is not just about the food, it is not just about not eating and drinking, it requires that we practice a very specific lifestyle in order to please Allah (swt), and in order to build habits that are good for ourselves and each other. Some simple examples include using less foul language, gossiping less and consuming more clean media. It is so much easier to practice taqwa for a novice Muslim (such as myself) when I am fasting. No matter how much we talk about the benefits fasting brings you, Taqwa should be the most important one to cultivate (this is a reminder for myself).
Making Ourselves Fit the Mould
We have been nurtured in a society that values material, tangible gain over internal improvement and spiritual growth. Last week, Tahmina reflected on the “Arabisation of Islam” and the reaction we had from fellow Muslims was quite visceral. Everyone had an experience to share, where they felt that they had to adopt Arab culture in some form in order to be or appear more Muslim. This is the product of us still viewing ourselves through a “Western” dominant lens, subconsciously internalising modernity- rationalisation, secularisation, industrialisation and capitalism. I have to remind myself that we may be a minority here in Australia (or whatever other Western country), but there are roughly 1.8 billion of us in the world - 24% of world population. We are by no means, a minority.
The reason I am bringing this up, that for me, living in a space where remembrance of God is not widely accepted or prioritised has deeply injured the way I practice Islam. No matter how much I talk, learn and write about the process of “decolonisation”, the concept seems to slip away from actually being practiced in meaningful ways. But Ramadan offers an olive branch to us if we choose to take it. If as Muslims we have centred Western knowledge structures all our lives, then Ramadan would be a time where we have the opportunity to re-centre Islam.
What it Actually Means to Let Go of Dunya
Western knowledge structures have defined religion for us to be only a part in our lives, separating our body and soul. I have been so conditioned to believe that these two things are separate, but this duality does not exist in Islamic worldview: there is no such thing as separating your religion and your life. This is only an overwhelming concept because we are conditioned to be so enamoured with this dunya, that we place its importance over everything that is seemingly intangible. There is nothing on this Earth that you can label the Western dichotomous, dualist perspective as ‘material’: everything has a spiritual reality.
So, I’m sure many of us could agree that Ramadan is a reset. Every day starts with the intention and awareness that I will be fasting as an act of ibaadat and this God-consciousness translates throughout the day into the way we spend our time, the things we choose to say/ do (or rather, not say/ do) and our commitment to the other pillars of our faith. Ramadan re-aligns our purpose and corrects our attachment to this dunya.
Keeping the Balance
I realised I had been theorising my faith instead of practising it, hoping that that would somehow increase my imaan. I was looking to find spirituality through spending my time listening to lectures, reading books, looking into the politics to do with faith and all the while: ignoring the space where I should’ve started in the first place - myself and my prayer mat. For me, theory should not have come before my acts of worship. Rationalising my religion does not substitute my practice, it is only an addition to it.
I was really lucky this year that I got a break from work this Ramadan so that I can place a lot more time and energy into my imaan (faith) and it's paying off. Many of us don't have that luxury, and fasting can quickly become extremely draining, in a society where spirituality isn’t prioritised in any sense. May Allah (swt) reward everyone in this position who perseveres in some way to make taraweeh prayer, or read Quran, learn a new surah or just get through their daily prayers on time. We are performing radical acts of love, belief and optimism when we do so.
Editor: Tahmina. R