Fasting New Muslims

Ramadan and Breaking the Two Desires

To the unacquainted, fasting for a month every year may seem like an odd and painful thing to do in the name of religion. Is there a rationale behind fasting Ramadan? What are the benefits?

The Rationale of Islamic Law

Most scholars agree that the Islamic law is based on a rationale which we can understand because there is a wisdom and reason behind legal rulings. Scholars also agree that every single legal ruling of Shari`ah (Islamic law) either brings some kind of benefit (maslahah) or wards off some kind of harm (mafsadah). In Madkhal ila Maqasid Ash-Shari`ah by Dr. Ahmad Ar-Raysuni, he explains how Ibn `Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) advised Muslims to listen intently whenever they hear Allah (Exalted be He) calling “O You who believe,” as He is either directing them to a benefit or warning them of a harm.

Muslim scholars recognized this underlying rationale and thus summed up the goal of Islamic Shari`ah in one condensed sentence: ‘The attainment of benefit and prevention of harm’.

Some of them reduced it even further: ‘The attainment of benefit’.

Ibn Al-Qayyim points to this fact: “The Qur’an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace be upon him) are full of rationale for legal rulings.” He further affirms, “These rationales are to be found in over a thousand places (in the texts of the Qur’an and Sunnah) expressed through various means.” (Madkhal ila Maqasid Ash-Shari`ah)

Definitions of Maslahah and Mafsadah

What is exactly meant by maslahah and mafsadah? Imam Ar-Razi in Al-Mahsul succinctly defined maslahah as nothing but pleasure or that which leads to it, and mafsadah as pain or that which leads to it.

Imam `Izz Ad-Deen ibn Abd As-Salam in Al-Qawa`id Al-Kubra further defines maslahah as

1- Pleasure and its causes and

2- Happiness and its causes.

He defines mafsadah as

1- Pain and its causes and

2- Sadness and its causes.

Pleasure and its opposite, pain, allude to physical realities, whilst happiness and sadness allude to emotional or psychological realities. He further divided each of the above categories into those related to this life and those related to the hereafter.

The Rationale of Fasting in Ramadan

So what has this to do with Ramadan?

Fasting in Ramadan is also an Islamic legal command and therefore it has associated benefits, and aims at preventing some harm. One of the purposes of fasting in Ramadan according to the Qur’an is to gain taqwah (piousness) by training the nafs (self) in self-control.

Imam Al-Ghazali called it ‘breaking the two desires’:

1- The desire for food and drink and

2- The desire for sexual relations

Although these desires are not actually intended to be broken literally or eliminated completely, as they are inextricable parts of human nature and we depend on these basic appetites for survival. However, they can be tamed, regulated and controlled so that one can escape from being a slave to these two desires, and protect oneself from both temporal and eternal harm, i.e. pain and sadness, whilst striving to acquire both temporal and eternal benefit, i.e. pleasure and happiness.

Amazingly, that is what the root word of taqwah literally means: to protect and save oneself from harm. The word to save/protect (waqa) is used in the Qur’anic verse: “Save yourselves and your families from the hellfire…” (At-Tahrim 66:6)

The fact that a whole month is dedicated to taming and controlling these two desires indicates to us their significance to the spiritual well-being of man. These two desires are the most pleasurable and at the same time potentially the most destructive. They appear to offer the greatest immediate pleasure or happiness, but they can also lead to greatest pain and sadness, both temporally and in the hereafter.

This is illustrated in the following hadith:

“Paradise is surrounded by difficulties and the fire is surrounded by pleasures.”

But the “difficulties” surrounding Paradise only appear as harmful (mafsada) in the sense that they incur hardship and pain; however they ultimately lead to a greater benefit (maslahah). Whereas the “pleasures” surrounding the fire are beneficial (maslahah) in the sense that they are enjoyable and desired; however, ultimately they lead to a much greater pain and harm (mafsadah).

One of the major challenges of living in Western societies is the relentless all pervasive appeal made to these two desires. Food and drink is everywhere, in limitless varieties and consumed in fatal quantities. We are literally eating ourselves to death, and in the process starving other parts of the world. Healthy sexual desires are aggressively being targeted and distorted by internet porn, films, fashion and media advertising that is available everywhere to everyone.

Most people on a daily basis are in pursuit of fulfilling these two basic desires either through permitted means (halal), or through illegal means (haram). Islamic law distinguishes for us which is beneficial and which is harmful.

Fasting and its Rewards

Fasting is the ultimate training in strengthening our ability to control our most powerful desires. The ability to control and regulate these desires and the nafs is the essence of the test of life, in which Allah wants us to attain servitude to Him Alone, as opposed to servitude to these desires. Fasting trains us not only to keep within the permitted means, but it teaches us that even moderation within the initially halal means can lead to our harm and destruction.

Fasting is one of the greatest acts of worship, and one of the most highly rewarded acts because it addresses the very thing that will determine our eternal success or failure: self-control in accordance to Islamic law. The promise of high reward, or pleasure and happiness, motivates all sane human beings to strive for its attainment.

The month of Ramadan, amongst many other immense blessings, grants us the best opportunity to strive for attaining the self-control that will lead to eternal pleasure and felicity. Allah (Exalted be He), guarantees paradise as a reward for the one who resists his/her desires.

But as for he who feared the position of his Lord and prevented the soul from (unlawful) inclination, then indeed, Paradise will be (his) refuge. (An-Nazi`at 79:40-41)

How Merciful is Allah who not only rewards us when we control our nafs, but He also rewards us immensely whilst we are learning how to control our nafs in fasting.

May Allah grant us all the ability to earn His pleasure and not waste this magnificent opportunity! As Ibn Rajab said, “For every month that passes, you may hope to find a substitute; but alas, for the month of Ramadan, from where do you hope to replace it?”




Fasting New Muslims

Ramadan Daily: Get Closer to the Qur’an

How can we build and strengthen our relationship with the Qur’an during Ramadan?

How can we get closer to the Book of God, why?


Fasting New Muslims

Worship in Islam: True Purpose and Motives


What does make a Muslim say their prayers at places where there is no one to ask them to offer them or even to see them offering them?  Isn’t it so because of their belief that God is ever looking at you?  What does make them leave their important business and other occupations and rush towards the mosque for Prayers?

What does make them terminate your sweet sleep in the early hours of the morning, go to the mosque in the heat of the noon, and  leave their evening entertainments for the sake of prayers?

Is it anything other than sense of duty; their realization that they must fulfill your responsibility to the Lord, come what may?  And why are they afraid of any mistake in prayer?

Congregational prayer arouses in Muslims the sense of their collective unity and fosters among them national fraternity.

Because their heart is filled with the fear of God and they know that they have to appear before Him on the Day of Judgment and give an account of their entire life.

Now look!  Can there be a better course of moral and spiritual training than Prayer?  It is this training which makes a man a perfect Muslim.  It reminds him of his covenant with God, refreshes his faith in Him, and keeps the belief in the Day of Judgment alive and ever present before his mind’s eye.  It makes him follow the Prophet (peace and blessings of God be upon him) and trains him in the observance of his duties.

This is indeed a strict training for conforming one’s practice to one’s ideals.  Obviously if a man’s consciousness of his duties towards his Creator is so acute that he prizes it above all worldly gains and keeps refreshing it through prayers, he would certainly not be inviting the displeasure of God that he all along has striven to avoid.

He will abide by the law of God in the entire gamut of life in the same way as he follows it in the five prayers every day.  This man can be relied upon in other fields of activity as well, for if the shadows of sin or deceit approach him, he will try to avoid them for fear of the Lord that would be ever present in his heart.  And if even after such a vital training a man misbehaves himself in other fields of life and disobeys the law of God, it can only be because of some intrinsic depravity of his self.

Then again, a Muslim should say their prayers in congregation and especially so the Friday Prayer.  This creates among the Muslims a bond of love and mutual understanding.  This arouses in them the sense of their collective unity and fosters among them national fraternity.  All of them say their prayers in one congregation and this inculcates in them a deep feeling of brotherhood.

Prayers are also a symbol of equality, for the poor and the rich, the low and the high, the rulers and the ruled, the educated and the unlettered, the black and the white all stand in one row and prostrate before their Lord.  Prayers also inculcate in Muslims a strong sense of discipline and obedience to the elected leader.

In short, prayers train them in all those virtues that make possible the development of a rich individual and collective life.

These are a few of the myriad of benefits Muslims derive from the daily Prayers.  If we refuse to avail ourselves of them we, and only we, are the losers.

If you see that some Muslims shirk the prayers, this can only mean one of two things: Either they do not recognize Prayers as our duty or they recognize them.  In the first case, their claim to faith shall be a shameless lie, for if they refuse to take orders from Allah they no longer acknowledge His authority.

In the second case, if they recognize Allah’s authority and still flout His commands, then they are the most unreliable of creatures that ever trod the earth.  For if they can do this to the highest authority in the universe, what guarantee is there that they shall not do the same in their dealings with other human beings?  And if duplicity overwhelms a society, what a hell of discord it is bound to become!


What the prayers seek to serve five times a day, fasting in the month of Ramadan (ninth month of the lunar year) does once a year.  During this period from dawn to dusk, Muslims eat not a grain of food nor drink a drop of water, no matter how delicious the dish or how hungry or thirsty they feel.  What is it that makes them voluntarily undergo such rigors?  It is nothing but faith in God and the fear of Him and of the Day of Judgment.

Each and every moment during the fast, Muslims suppress their passions and desires, and proclaim by their doing so the supremacy of the Law of God.  This consciousness of duty and the spirit of patience that incessant fasting for full one month inculcates in Muslims help them to strengthen their faith.


fasting has an immense impact on society, for all Muslims, irrespective of their status, must observe fasting during the same month.

Rigor and discipline during this month bring us face to face with the realities of life, and help them make their life during the rest of the year a life of true subservience to His will.

From yet another point of view, fasting has an immense impact on society, for all Muslims, irrespective of their status, must observe fasting during the same month.  This brings to prominence the essential equality of men, and thus goes a long way towards creating in them sentiments of love and brotherhood.

During Ramadan evil conceals itself while good comes to the fore, and the whole atmosphere is filled with piety and purity.  This discipline has been imposed on Muslims to their own advantage.  Those who do not fulfill this cannot be relied upon in the discharge of their duties.

But the worst are those who, during this holy month, do not hesitate to eat or drink in public.  They are the people who by their conduct show that they care not a trifle for the commands of Allah, in Whom they profess their belief as their Creator and Sustainer.

Not only this, they also show that they are not loyal members of the Muslim community; rather, they have nothing to do with it.  It is evident that in so far as obedience to law and regard for a trust reposed in them goes, only the worst could be expected of such hypocrites.


Fasting New Muslims

A New Muslim’s Life-changing Ramadan

This is Tracy Charles’s first Ramadan, a holy month of dawn-to-dusk fasting and good deeds, and it hasn’t been easy.

She only converted to Islam last August, walking into the Hamilton Mountain Mosque with little experience with the religion. So she has no history of skipping multiple meals or pushing through sweltering temperatures without having a glass of water.

“I was so worried about going without food or water,” she said during a multi-faith event at the mosque.

“But every time you get the hunger pain, you think about why you are doing this. It makes you very aware.”

Awareness is the goal for Charles, a former Catholic who learned about Islam from a friend last May. When she was growing up in St. Catharines, her family didn’t go to church much, and she wasn’t religious as an adult either.

That began to change in January 2011, when her husband Rick died of brain cancer. For 18 months, she had been absorbed with taking care of him. With him gone, she was in emotional turmoil.

So she traveled, heading to Morocco to visit a friend. She made a new Muslim friend there, and the friend advised her to read the Qur’an.

‘It Just Hits You in the Heart’

When Charles came home, she found chapters on the Internet, printing them off one by one and reading them in the backyard of her Mountain home. She found the text to be readable and relatable.

“As many times as I have tried to read the Bible in my life, I could never get through it,” she said.

With the Qur’an, “something just clicked,” she said. “It just hits you in the heart.”

Charles, 47, first walked into the mosque last summer. She wasn’t wearing a hijab, a Muslim headscarf,  and “stuck out like a sore thumb.” But people approached her, she said, and they welcomed her.

Charles hasn’t told many people about her conversion. A couple of family members aren’t happy about it influenced, Charles believes, by the negative portrayals of Muslims in the media.

But Charles is determined. She was a long-time pack-a-day smoker and has now quit. She doesn’t drink or eat pork anymore. She has also stopped gossiping, which she admits is “brutal” to attempt in an office environment.

Emotional Month

Ramadan has brought unexpected hardship. Her mother died July 10 from c. difficile after being hospitalized with pneumonia. She was 84.

Charles’s voice breaks when she talks about it. But her newfound religion has helped, she said.

“It helps me not to do the hysterical screaming and crying and head banging,” she said. “It definitely keeps you calmer.”

She plans to stick with Islam. She is learning more prayers and living by the five pillars, and has adjusted to the fasting. She’s doing good deeds for Ramadan too. Most recently, she said, “I cut my neighbor’s grass.”

“It can be overwhelming, so what I do is take it a little bit at a time,” she said. “I’m not going to become the best Muslim overnight. I’ve learned so much in the past year and I have so much more to learn, but it’s addicting. The more I learn, the more I want to learn.”

The mosque held Monday’s multi-faith event as Muslims there broke the fast for the day. About 50 guests attended.

Number of Muslims Has Doubled

The number of Muslims in Hamilton is increasing. In 2001, Statistics Canada data shows 11,335 Muslims in Hamilton, of which 5,905 were male and 5,430 were female.

Data from 2011 shows 22,520 Muslims in Hamilton, of which 11,645 were male and 10,875 were female.

“From month to month, we see the number of people growing,” said Ali Ghouse, spokesperson for the Muslim Association of Hamilton.

“A lot of them are born to Canadian parents. There are some who are immigrants, but most of them are kids who were born here and go to school here.”




Fasting New Muslims

What Do You Know about Ramadan?

Fasting the lunar month of Ramadan is such an important Pillar of Islam that Muslims believe that if one dies without having made up the missed fasts, the guardian (or heir) must make them up, for they are a debt owed to Allah.

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.” (Al-Bukhari)

Muslims believe that the influence of the devils on the believers who obey Allah is diminished. Prophet Muhammad said, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the Heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.” (Al-Bukhari)

Month of the Qur’an

Muslims believe that the first verses of the Qur’an (Surat Al-`Alaq 96:1-5) were revealed in the month of Ramadan while Muhammad was in spiritual retreat in the cave of Hira’ outside of Makkah. Years later when the fast of Ramadan was made compulsory, the Angel Jibreel used to sit with Muhammad every day during Ramadan so that the latter could recite all that had been revealed so far of the Qur’an. In his final year, the Prophet recited the entire Qur’an twice in Ramadan.

Muslims continue the tradition of reading the entire Qur’an at least once during Ramadan. In Muslim countries, it is not at all unusual in this month to see many people reading the Qur’an while riding the bus or metro to and from work. Others find time early in the morning, late at night, or at intervals throughout the day.

Many others read or recite the Qur’an during Tarawih Prayers, which are held only during Ramadan, or in private late night prayers called Tahajjud.

Muslims who cannot yet read Arabic well, spend some time each day listening to a tape or CD of the Qur’an being recited. Muslims consider Ramadan to be a good time to get into the habit of reading at least some of the Qur’an or its translation every day, and if they haven’t read either of them cover to cover, Ramadan is the time to do it.

Other Acts of Worship

In addition to reading the Qur’an, Muslims try to spend more time in dhikr (remembrance of Allah) during this month and make an effort to perform Tarawih Prayer, preferably in congregation. Muslims also sometimes perform the late night Prayer called Tahajjud. They may do this before or after eating the pre-dawn meal, just before the Fajr (Dawn) Prayer.

Ramadan is also a favourite time for `Umrah – a visit to the Ka`bah in Makkah. When performed in Ramadan, `Umrah takes the same reward as Hajj (but it does not replace the obligatory Hajj).

How Muslims Fast

According to Muslims, fasting means abstaining not only from food and drink, but also from sexual intercourse, lying, arguing, and back-biting. While fasting, Muslims must be careful to restrain their tongues, temper, and even their gaze. Ramadan is the time for Muslims to learn to control themselves and to develop their spiritual side.

Basically, Muslims try to have a pre-dawn meal, known as sahur, before they begin fasting. The fast lasts from dawn to sunset. As soon as the sun has set, Muslims break their fast without delay. Generally, Muslims may break their fast with a small amount of food – the sunnah is to do so with an odd number of dates – and then perform the Maghrib (Sunset) Prayer before eating a full meal.

Charity in Ramadan

Ramadan is also the month of charity. Prophet Muhammad said, “…Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in (this month), shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time; and whoever performs an obligatory deed in (this month), shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Paradise.


It is the month of charity, and a month in which a believer’s sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the Hell-Fire, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without his reward being diminished at all.” (Ibn Khuzaymah)

Ibn `Abbas, one of the Prophet’s Companions, narrated: “The Prophet was the most generous amongst the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan when Jibreel visited him, and Jibreel used to meet him on every night of Ramadan till the end of the month. The Prophet used to recite the Qur’an to Jibreel, and when Jibreel met him, he used to be more generous than a fast wind (which causes rain and welfare).” (Al-Bukhari)

Thus Muslims should try to give generously in Ramadan, both sadaqah (optional charity) and zakat al-mal (obligatory charity). Sadaqah does not only have to be money. It can also be a good deed—such as helping another person – done for the sake of Allah and without expecting any reward from the person. Most Muslims pay their zakah during Ramadan because the reward is so much greater in that month.

It is obligatory for every Muslim to pay a small amount of zakat al-fitr before the end of Ramadan. This money is collected and given to the poorest of the poor so that they may also enjoy the festivities on `Eid Al-Fitr.

And because of the great reward for feeding a fasting person, in many places iftar (the break-fast meal at sunset) is served in mosques, with the food donated or brought by individuals to share pot-luck style. In some Muslim countries, tables are set up on the sidewalks or outside of mosques to serve iftar to the poor and others. Such traditions also build a sense of brotherhood and community.

Families and friends also like to share iftar. However, sometimes this generosity is exaggerated so that Ramadan becomes a month of lavish tables and overeating. This goes against the spirit of Ramadan and should be avoided.

The Last Third

Muslims also believe that the last ten days of Ramadan are the holiest of all, and try to make even greater efforts at that time to increase their worship. The holiest night of all, Laylat Al-Qadr, falls on one of the odd numbered nights of the last ten days.

`Eid Al-Fitr

The public celebration at the end of Ramadan, on the first day of the month of Shawwal, is called `Eid Al-Fitr. After sunset on the 29th of Ramadan, Muslims wait for the announcement of whether the new moon has been sighted, which means that Ramadan is finished and the next day is `Eid. In that case, there are no Tarawih Prayers that night. If the moon has not been sighted, then there is one more day of fasting and the Tarawih Prayers are performed.

The `Eid is celebrated with public Prayers and a sermon, often followed by some form of halal (lawful) celebration such as games for the children or sweets shared by everyone. It is a happy day for all. Although `Eid Al-Fitr lasts only one day, in Muslim countries, schools, offices, and shops are often closed for two or three days.

It’s Not Over Till It’s Over

If any of the days of fasting were missed, they must be made up before the next Ramadan. Muslims generally should try to make them up as soon as possible because any days that are missed are considered as a debt to Allah. Muslims believe that if someone dies without having made up the fasts, the guardian or heir should fast the remaining days.

For Muslims, it is a sunnah to fast six days during the month of Shawwal, the lunar month immediately following Ramadan. Muslims believe that if a Muslim fasts all of Ramadan and then fasts any six days in Shawwal, the reward will be as if he or she has fasted the whole year. Many Muslims do take advantage of this mercy from Allah.


Taken with slight modifications form



Fasting New Muslims

Ramadan: A Time to Know Your Inner Self

What’s happening to our inner self in Ramadan? How does Ramadan curb its cravings and desires? From what are we fasting? How does Ramadan liberate man from what holds them back or down?

The body is ordered to fast from what it needs

Let the nafs know that there is a truer aspect of yourself.

Fasting (sawm) carries a two-fold meaning; two seemingly opposing definitions combined into a single word. Sawm, as described in the Qur’an and the hadith, simultaneously fulfills both of these definitions. The primary meaning is to hold back, to refrain from and to abstain. The further meaning is to rise beyond and to move past former limits.

The month of Ramadan is a time in which we hold our bodily compulsions and instincts under strict control, together with our thoughts and mental states, our moods and desires. We submit ourselves and our accustomed patterns of life to a higher template, one that fosters a regimen of self-restraint within the body and mind and correspondingly seeks an intensification of the life of the spirit.

The body is ordered to fast from what it needs, from what is normally allowed to it, from what it desires, from what it craves, from what it may seek on a whim, and from what it habitually seeks; from all that leads to an intensification of the activities of the nafs (oneself).

Struggling with the Self

During the interval of daylight, halal (the allowed) becomes haram (forbidden) and whatever nourishes the physical body turns into haram. As for the nafs, it undertakes a psychic fast from anger, backbiting, gossip, harshness towards others and from reaching in any manner through any of the senses towards that which is disallowed. All those inclinations that strengthen the self, that allow it to inject itself with vigor and attachment into the flux of worldly life, are proscribed and denied expression.

The nafs continuously asserts itself through its ties with the body and according to a complex and ever-shifting world of attraction and desire, knowledge and ignorance that endlessly churns within it. Through its movements and motions, it seeks what it needs and wants, and can become, depending on circumstances, complacent or cavalier, disdainful or self-assured, arrogant or fearful, callous or ambitious, lethargic or craving, endlessly acting and reacting within the confines of its limited knowledge.

What it does not know it is ignorant of, and what it does not know is infinitely vaster in extent than what it knows. So, its knowledge is forever outweighed by its ignorance and its pursuits and actions are indicators of which of these (knowledge or ignorance) it acts upon.

The nafs is in continuous restless motion, but it is a motion that circumambulates around a center of manifold physical and chemical interactions that give rise to needs, wants, pleasures, habits, moods, impulsions, compulsions and desires.

The complex system of body and mind are in an incessant state of movement (that ceases only with death), switching continually from one mode to the other, pouring forth a torrent of thoughts and internal impulses that turn the mind’s focus endlessly from one locus to another. There is perpetual movement and motion but within tightly constrained boundaries -pivoting around the locus of the nafs and what it seeks.

And so the Qur’anic command is issued:

…fast until the night…. (Al-Baqarah 2:187)

Fast from what the nafs needs and desires. Let the nafs know that there is a truer aspect of yourself, a center capable of overseeing and stabilizing all the intersecting mental systems of the mind and all the material, chemical, habitual and hormonal systems of the body. Proclaim to it that there is a guardian and ruler over the self and over the physical form with which it is integrally co-mingled.

Let it know that the form and the stirrings of need and desire within the nafs have to submit to this guardian in seeking their satisfaction. The wants, needs, and desires that spring from the material form must submit to the governance and tutelage of a higher form -to the spiritual form indicated by the hadith that states: “God created Adam in His own form….” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

This is not the material form driven by chemical interactions but the spiritual substance which is the subtle, essential form of a human being; one that is masked by the ceaseless activity of an unconstrained nafs (an-nafs al-ammara).

The material form and its impulses (manifested through the nafs) are reigned in during fasting. All the things that give strength, vigor and life to the body and inner self are terminated, the attachment is reduced, denuded and weakened.

We cease to consume and are no longer able to enjoy what feeds our physical form and with that cessation we begin to unhook the clamps that bind us to the most basic goods of this world. We undo the shackles that tie us through our physicality to the world. By penetrating to the very root of our attachment, to the most fundamental layer, to the very seat of our creaturely connection to the world, food, water, sex (the three cardinal symbols of life), we overturn their dominion and arrive at a position where we, for a time, subdue them.

We deny creaturely externals, we let the creaturely demands and impulses remain unanswered; over the course of the days of fasting we let them subside and wane. We let them grow silent so we have a chance to hear what we otherwise would not hear, to perceive what we otherwise could not perceive. We subdue our physical form and when its clamoring grows silent we perhaps become aware of a spiritual form that resides subtly within us.

The vigil of denial and regulation of the physical form and the nafs is maintained until the spirit and mind’s ascendancy becomes clear:

Fast until the night…. (Al-Baqarah 2:187)

The night approaches and the day’s fast ends with the former hierarchy reversed that what was first (physically  and psychically generated needs, wants, and desires) comes last and what was last comes first, and with this new ordering of spirit and body in place, the fast is completed.

Seize the Opportunity

Over the course of the month of Ramadan, as the days merge into the nights, this drama of reversal is repeated and intensified till the person’s fasting (the person who undertakes the fast with complete sincerity and profound intensity) approaches a state of spiritual readiness.

Until in the watch (the vigil) of the last ten nights of the month of Ramadan, there arrives the possibility of a profound inner remaking, an unfolding of the potential to witness the Laylat Al-Qadr.

And what can convey to you what Laylat Al-Qadr is? That night is better than a thousand months…. (Al-Qadr 97:2, 3)

During the day we break ourselves down, we fast from what sustains our existence; we submit our clay form to be unmade, to be kneaded and worked over; we remove ourselves from our material subsistence and turn to prayer and spiritual subsistence from Allah and we prepare ourselves to be reshaped.

The onset of the darkness of night is representative of pure potential waiting to emerge into existence; waiting for the command and decree which will give it form.

The angels and the Spirit (ruh) descend in it, by the command of their Lord with every decree…. (Al-Qadr 97:4)

We turn ourselves into malleable clay awaiting the shaping command of that night, anticipating the profound and weighty descents that accompany Laylat Al-Qadr.

(That night is) peace till the breaking of the dawn. (Al-Qadr 97:5)

So, sawm (fasting) fulfills its meanings; to hold back from and to abstain -pertain to the restraint engendered through the fast, to rise beyond -pertains to the results that Allah bestows upon those who seek the fast with sincerity and knowledge.

So, the fast is at once a holding back and a lifting up. The body and it’s appetites are held back and through this holding back an elusive and subtle but profound awakening begins. We are provided the means by which we alter our reality and shape what we ourselves are.

By holding back the nafs from its activity and sustenance, moments of stillness and silence are obtained; moments in which self-perception sharpens and deepens, spirit awakens and the (spiritual) form with which Allah created man begins to unfold itself.

And in yourselves; what, do you not see? (Adh-Dhariyat 51:21)




Fasting New Muslims

Sha`ban: A Special Month with a Special Night

The month of Sha`ban is the eighth month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which has a special significance and a special night as well.

The Messenger in Sha`ban

Our Mother `Aishah (may Allah be pleased with her) narrated that:

“The Messenger of Allah did not fast in any month of the year more than he did in Shaban. He used to fast all of Shaban.” (Al-Bukhari, Muslim, At-Tirmidhi, Ahmad, Abu Dawud, Nasa’i)

Anas (may Allah be pleased with him) reports that Prophet (peace be upon him) was asked:

“Which fast is the most meritorious after the fasts of Ramadan?”

He replied:

“Fasts of Sha`ban in honor of Ramadan.” (At-Tirmidhi)

So, what is special about this month? And what is significant about its 15th night?

Watch the video below to learn more from Sheikh Assim Al Hakeem about the virtues and significance of the precious month, the month before Ramadan,  and the 15th night of this month…




Fasting New Muslims

Merits and the Virtues of Sha`ban

Sha`ban is a month of good that introduces the great month of Ramadan. The Prophet (peace be upon him) used to fast voluntarily during this month more so than in any other month.

One of the motivations for that, as we will mention below, is that Sha`ban is the month during which the deeds performed by the servant ascend to God. What follows is a discussion around fasting during the month of Sha`ban.

Usamah  ibn Zayd relates:  “The Prophet used to fast so many days in succession that we said, ‘He will never break his fast.’ At other times he would go without fasting for so long until we said, ‘He will never again fast;’ except for two days, which he would fast even if they occurred during the times he was not fasting consecutive days. Furthermore, he would not fast in any month as many days as he fasted during Sha`ban.

I said: ‘O Messenger of God! Sometimes you fast so much it is as if you will never break your fast, at other times you leave fasting for such a long stint it is as if you will never again fast (voluntarily); except for two days that you always fast.’ He asked: ‘Which two days are those?’ I replied: ‘Monday and Thursday.’ The Prophet said: ‘Those are two days in which the deeds are presented to the Lord of the Worlds. I love that my deeds are presented while I am fasting.’ I said: ‘I do not see you fasting in any month like you fast during Sha`ban.’ The Prophet said: “That is a month occurring between Rajab and Ramadan that many people neglect. It is a month in which the deeds ascend to the Lord of the worlds, be He Mighty and Majesty, and I love for my deeds to ascend while I am fasting.” (Ahmad and An-Nasa’i)

The narrations conveying this meaning are numerous. Among the important points conveyed by the tradition narrated by Usamah (may God be pleased with him) is that the Prophet frequently fasted during Sha`ban, as is supported by a tradition mentioned by `A’ishah (may God be pleased with her). She said: “I did not see the Messenger of God fast any month in its entirety except Ramadan, and I did not see him fast as frequently in any other month as he did during Sha’ban.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Among the reasons for that, as mentioned in the initial tradition, is that Sha`ban is the month in which the deeds done throughout the year ascend to God. The Prophet (peace upon him) wished for his deeds to ascend while he was fasting. This should be sufficient motivation for all of us to fast some days of this month.

Fasting purifies us of the physical dross that collects in our system and makes our spiritual faculties sharper. What could be a better state could we be in as our deeds are ascending to our Lord? However, there are other reasons to fast during this month, which we will present shortly.

Islam & Moderation

Another very important point that we can gain from these narrations is that the Prophet did not fast perpetually, even though it would not have weakened him to do so. In this is an important lesson for us. We should balance between the days that we fast and the days that we refrain from fasting. Ibn Rajab mentions many reasons for this. Among them are the following:

1- For many people, excessive fasting leads to languidness that in turn makes it difficult for them to supplicate or invoke God or to undertake intense study. All four of the Sunni Imams mention that studying sacred knowledge is better than supererogatory prayers, and that supererogatory prayers are better than voluntary fasting. Hence, pursuing sacred knowledge is naturally better than voluntary fasting.

2- Just as fasting may make some people languid and hence affect their worship, it may weaken them and thereby compromise their ability to provide for their families or jeopardize their ability to fully satisfy their wives. This latter meaning is implied in the saying of the Prophet: “Surely your wife has a right over you.”

3- Similarly, a person’s body has a right over him, as indicated by the Prophet’s saying: “Indeed your body has a right over you. Be sure to give everyone so deserving his right.”

4- Finally, a person’s life might be long, as indicated by the Prophet’s saying to `Abdullah ibn `Amr ibn Al-`Aas when the latter committed himself to fast every other day: “Perhaps you will live a long life”.

This means whoever commits to an overly strenuous regimen of worship during his youth might not be able to maintain that regimen during his old age. If he tries his utmost to do so he might exhaust his body.

On the other hand, if he abandons it he has left the best form of worship, that done most consistently. For this reason, the Prophet mentioned: “Undertake religious practices you can bear. I swear by God, God does not become bored with you, rather you bring boredom upon yourself”.

The important issue here is to understand that Islam does not demand that we torture our selves, and it places no virtue in doing so. When a desert Arab who had accepted Islam returned after a year’s absence to see the Prophet his entire appearance had changed to such an extent that the Prophet did not recognize him. When he finally realized who he was, the man said to him: “I have not eaten during the daytime since I entered Islam!” The Prophet asked him: “Who ordered you to torture yourself!?”  (Abu Dawud)

Another point mentioned by many of the scholars in that regard is that by fasting sometimes and then going some days without fasting, we never reach a state where we totally lose our appetite for food and thereby lose the physical challenge of fasting. For this reason the Fast of David, where the worshipper fasts every other day, is considered more virtuous than the fast of the individual who fasts perpetually, as the latter eventually feels no longing to eat during the day of his fast—he might even become sick were he to eat.

Sha`ban & Good Deeds

Sha`ban is the month in which the deeds done throughout the year ascend to God.

Therefore, the Prophet wished for his deeds to ascend while he was fasting.

The tradition of Usamah mentions that people’s deeds are presented to God on Mondays and Thursdays, and the Prophet loved to have his deeds presented while he was fasting. There are many narrations that affirm this reality.

Ibn Majah relates a tradition from the narrations of Abu Hurairah, where he mentions the Prophet saying: “God forgives every Muslim on Monday and Thursday, except those who have broken relations with each other. He says, ‘Leave them until they reconcile’.”

Imam Muslim mentions a similar narration from Abu Hurairah in which he mentions that the Prophet said: “The gates of Heaven are flung open on Monday and Thursday and every servant who has not ascribed partners to God is forgiven, except a man who harbors enmity against his brother. He (God) says, ’Leave these two until they makeup’”. A different version of this tradition mentions at the end of the narration: ”…and people who despise each other are left harboring their spite”.

These narrations emphasize the importance of maintaining good relations. There are other religiously significant actions where a reward is withheld from those who harbor enmity or have bad relations with their peers.

Therefore, it is extremely important that we work to maintain good relations with each other, and avoid petty bickering. The opportunity to do much good for our souls is missed when we fail to maintain good relations with each other.

The presentation of people’s deeds mentioned in these narrations is a specific one that occurs on these particular days. It does not contradict the general presentation that occurs on a daily basis, as related in the following tradition: “By night and by day the angels follow each other in visiting you. They gather (before God) at the time of the morning and evening prayers. God asks those who spent the night among you, and He knows best the answer, ‘In what state did you leave my servants?’ They say, ‘We came to them while they were praying, and we departed from them while they were praying.” (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

There are other reasons we are encouraged to fast in Sha`ban, Ibn Rajab mentions a few. Among them, in summary:

1- People tend to neglect Sha`ban as it occurs between Rajab, one of the sacred months, and Ramadan, the great month of fasting and Qur’an. Therefore, we are encouraged to fast it by way of reviving it and not neglecting it.

2- Fasting during it is easier to hide. All observant Muslims are fasting in Ramadan, and many place great emphasis on fasting during Rajab. Therefore, those who fast Sha`ban are doing so against the expectations of most people and can therefore more easily hide the fact that they are fasting.

There is great virtue, under normal circumstances in hiding our voluntary acts. One anecdote in this regard mentions a man who fasted voluntarily for forty years without anyone knowing it, even his family. Every morning he would leave home with two loaves of bread in his hand. He would give them away in charity. His family thought that he was eating them, and the people in the marketplace where he worked thought that he was selling them.

3- A third reason is related to the previous one. Because many people are fasting during Ramadan and Rajab, it is easier to fast then as large groups engaging in a particular act of worship make it easier for an individual to undertake that act. Hence, the increased difficulty of fasting during Sha`ban led the Prophet to place great emphasis on it.

In conclusion, we encourage everyone able to do so to fast as much as possible during this month. By so doing we will revive the Sunnah of our Prophet and bring much good to our souls and to our communities.

May everyone be blessed to use these days as a preparation for the great month of Ramadan, and may our deeds ascend to God while we are in the very best spiritual state.




Acts of Worship New Muslims

Ramadan: Reshape Your Life with the Qur’an

The month of Ramadan is a time when we, despite the struggle, keep ourselves away from that which is otherwise permissible and a necessity in our life. For the past eleven months, at some level we have given preference to our physical self, in terms of nourishment, than our soul. We’ve done things we shouldn’t have, we’ve probably neglected some duties towards Allah (Exalted is He) that we shouldn’t have. Maybe we haven’t been reciting much of the Qur’an or maybe we’ve been neglecting some of the prayers.

This month is a time when Allah commands us to limit our physical nourishment and instead focus on the spiritual – in order to give life to our hearts and fix and improve our spiritual state. This is the time to rise up and acknowledge our deficiencies during the past months and resolve to move ahead with the aim to improve our relationship with Allah, with His Book, and with His Messenger (peace be upon him).

Ramadan, as an institution, is designed as a whole to bring our hearts back to life, thus allowing the light of taqwa (God-consciousness) to illuminate itself within us. The fasting during the day reminds us that our purpose in life isn’t merely to satisfy the desires of our self (nafs) and this reminder leads us to focus instead on feeding our soul. We are taught during the day to empty our hearts from the desires of our nafs so that at night we can fill it up instead with the light of the Qur’an.

Therefore, we find the next logical step is the Taraweeh (the night prayer offered in Ramadan) where we stand after a long day listening to the Qur’an being recited in prayer in order to give our soul its much required nourishment. As we get in tune with this during the early phases of the month and our hearts are revived and rejuvenated, the bar is raised and during the final ten nights we stand even longer and even later in prayer in the Tahajjud (late night prayer) seeking the rewards of the Laylat Al-Qadr, reciting Qur’an and engaging in `ibadah (worship) so as to fill our hearts with the sweetness of worship.

Allah says:

The month of Ramadan (is that) in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion… (Al-Baqarah 2:185)

The interesting thing to note about this ayah (verse) here is that Allah at the mention of Ramadan didn’t talk about fasting first. When we think about Ramadan, what comes to our mind immediately? Usually, our first thought is fasting right? But we find that Allah instead couples Ramadan firstly with the Qur’an as if to say that Ramadan’s first and foremost role in our lives should be to increase our relationship with the Qur’an and only then does He follow it with the command to fast in the month.

The goal of fasting is taqwa, but what actually allows us to establish taqwa in our lives if not the Qur’an? So the logical step for us is that we need to try and prepare ourselves towards establishing a relationship with the Book of Allah. As mentioned earlier, fasting trains us to empty our hearts from desires and aspires towards a loftier goal and that goal can only be achieved with the soul food that the Qur’an provides.

Allah says in the Qur’an:

And We made firm their hearts when they stood up and said, “Our Lord is the Lord of the heavens and the earth. Never will we invoke besides Him any deity. We would have certainly spoken, then, an excessive transgression. (Al-Kahf 18:14)

This verse is talking about the story of the Youth of the Cave when they stood up and said to the people in their vicinity that they only worshipped Allah. They were able to do that only because Allah strengthened their hearts. However, the interesting thing to notice here is that they made the first move to get closer to Allah – Allah only strengthened their hearts when they stood up. Meaning, they had to commit to following the truth and when this commitment was proven by their action, Allah made their efforts easy for them.

Likewise, in Ramadan, we need to make sure to put in the effort to establish that bond with the Qur’an. Once we start making the effort, Allah will make it easier for us and we will start tasting the sweetness of servitude. We need to go into this month not just with the intention of improving ourselves, but with actual preparation by increasing in good so that our good actions are a reason by which Allah gives us the ability to come out of Ramadan improved and forgiven. As the Messenger told us, ”Whoever fasts Ramadan out of iman (faith) and seeking Allah’s reward then his past and future sins are forgiven.” (Ahmad)

Let’s try and set some goals for ourselves with regards to the Qur’an. If we don’t know how to read it correctly, let’s try to learn. If we don’t recite it often, let us take the time out every day to recite. If we are already reciting, then we can try and add some more or increase the frequency. If we listen to music in our iPods, in our cars and on the way to school or work, then let’s empty our hearts and devices from music and instead try and fill it up with the Qur’an for this month.

Let’s begin to reflect upon the guidance in the Qur’an and try to internalize the lessons therein. Let’s aim to set a powerful foundation for the Qur’an in our lives by which we can establish routines that will allows us to begin a functional relationship with the Qur’an in Ramadan and continue it thereafter so that once the devils are let out, we have a solid defense mechanism, taqwa, within our hearts to help us.

After all, this is the month of the Qur’an and that necessitates that we give special attention to this Book during the month. Our aim should be to build this relationship, not just for the 30 days of Ramadan but rather setting a strong, deep, unshakeable foundation for a relationship that will flourish for the next eleven months.