Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Preparation for Ramadan | the quintessential month of fasting

Ramadan
Ramadan (also pronounced as Ramzan) is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the blessed month in which the Quranic revelation started. This month is the hallmark of special blessing and a quintessential month of fasting (sawm). The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar, and months begin when the first crescent of a new moon is sighted. This year 2008 the start of Ramadan is expected to begin on 1st of September.

During this month it's recommended in Quranic principle to fast from all food and drink from sunrise till sunset for the whole lunar month uninterrupted. It is not just an Islamic practice but a universal spiritual practice that was recommended to all other communities in the past including the earlier Prophets and Apostles. The Final Testament testifies: "O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint."
- The Quran 2:183

Fasting is very much a spiritual reality in the Judeo-Christian tradition such as fasting of Yom Kippur and Lent. So is it present in Eastern tradition including Hinduism and other traditions. Gautama Buddha went through deep ascetic fasting before his enlightenment.

Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights while he was on the mountain with Divine Presence (Exodus 34:28). We read in the New Testament in the life of Jesus Christ how fasting was part of his inner practice as well: 'Jesus went into deep retreat and seclusion in the wilderness where he fasted for forty days and forty nights. And the tempter came and whispered to him: 'if you are elect one of God, command these stones to become bread.' But Jesus answered: 'It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone...' (Matthew, Luke 4:1-4)

WITHIN THIS BODY

Within this body
Are enchanted landscape and woods,
The seven seas and the innumerable stars.

Within this body
The Eternal keeps singing
And its spring goes on and on flowing.

- Kabir

The yogis, the wise ones who aspire union with Divine, in their timeless wisdom knew that hidden behind the veil of this body's mystery reside greater mystery. In Bhagavad Gita, Lord declares through the voice of Krisha: 'I Am you, more than you yourself are.' In Quran the same esoteric mystery is echoed when God says: 'The Divine is closer to you than your own life blood carrying jugular vein.'

The sufis says, the apparent (zahir) is the bridge to the real (haqq). Likewise this body of flesh and blood is the container of the spirit and soul. Just as abode needs cleaning for its residence, so is requirement for this body and its inhabitant soul. Fasting is spiritual practice that starts from the body but has deeper implication beyond the coarseness of this physical body alone.

In Quranic metaphor we find when God created Adam, He breathed His Divine breath into his body. Probably inspired from this, Rumi compares the human body with the reed flute which has nine holes skillfully arranged and are played by the mysterious flute player. We need to become hollow so that the divine breath can flow through us and make sweet music. Purification of the body through fasting is a step where our body become less dense but more receptive.

In Hindu tradition there is also a beautiful metaphor where this body is seen as the flute of Lord Krishna. Its said, if you can destroy your egoism and make total self-surrender, unreserved Atma-Nivedan to the Lord, He will play on this body-flute nicely and bring out melodious tunes. Your will become merged in His Will. He will work unhampered through your instruments, body, mind and Indriyas (faculties). (credit)

In Rumi's language again: "There is an unseen sweetness in the stomach's emptiness. We are flutes. When the soundbox is filled, no music can come forth. When the brain and the belly burn from fasting, every moment a new song rises out of the fire. The mists clear, and a new vitality makes you spring up the steps before you.

Be empty and cry as a reed instrument. Be empty and write secrets with a reed pen. When satiated by food and drink, an unsightly metal statue is seated where your spirit should be. When fasting, good habits gather like helpful friends. Fasting is Solomon's ring. But even when will and control have been lost, they will return when you fast, like soldiers appearing out of the ground, or pennants flying in the breeze."


THE INNER HEART BLOSSOMS

The spiritual wisdom of fasting is not limited to experiencing thirst and hunger, although experiencing thirst and hunger for God's sake alone is a worthy blessing and source of grace. Jesus Christ says in Beatitudes: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." - Matthew 5:6.

In the Prophetic tradition we find, God says, 'All the deeds of Adam's children are for them, except fasting which is for Me, and I will give the reward for it.'

In the Islamic wisdom tradition, though fasting's exterior is abstinence from food, drink, sex for a prescribed time, but its interior is fasting from everything that is a hindrance to be mindful of God and that is against the natural disposition of human ideal, virtue (fitrah). There is fasting of the tongue not to speak abusive language, unnecessary speech and similar for ears and all part of the body. These inner component of fasting is as important as the fasting from food and drink.

We find in the hadith: The Prophet said, "Whoever does not give up forged speech and negative actions, God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink" - Bukhari

"A keeper of fasts, who does not abandon lying and slandering, God cares not about his leaving off eating and drinking."

Sufi Master M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen said, "The real fast is the blossoming of the inner heart. Fragrance must emanate. The qualities, conduct, behavior, and disposition that accompany this blossoming make no sound. Light and fragrance must dawn in the inner heart. The one point which is God must resplend.

Do fast, but make sure the heart blossoms; make it fragrant. The flowering scent must emanate, and when that space is perceived, the One who inhales that perfume will come. The One who perceives that fragrance will come. He is the Lord." (credit)

FROM BODILY HUNGER, STEP UP IS SPIRITUAL HUNGER

This body is the mysterious vessel, a holy grail if you like for our spirit and soul, this body is the only place where the precious soul finds its abode in this very plane of existence. The hunger felt by the body in the practice of fasting is a stepping stone to the next goal, which is the spiritual hunger, the burning desire and longing for God Ideal.

Sufi Master Abu Said ibn Abil Khayr said, "Spiritual hunger is a living, radiant fire put by God into the hearts of His servants so that their ego can be burned; when it has been burned, this fire then becomes the fire of longing, which never dies, either in this world or the next.

There is no quick way to God than spiritual hunger; if it travels through solid rock, water gushes forth. Spiritual hunger is essential for the seekers of truth; it is the showering of God's mercy on them."

Muslims who understand the true meaning of fasting, strive to reach through the bodily hunger and thirst to another kind of hunger, another reality of thirst, about which Rumi said:
Jars of springwater are not enough
anymore. Take us down to the river!

May our entering into the holy month help us reach to the 'thirst' and 'hunger' that is an worthy invitation for the illumination to arrive. May our preparation for Ramadan be with the best of intention. May God grant us blessings of this month and accept our fasts. Amen.

[>] Darvish blog has posted a beautiful compilation of 30 daily Prayers for Ramadan. Also read Prophet's Ramadan Sermon that contains timeless spiritual wisdom and guidance.

# Further Resources and Related Posts:
. Meaning of Fast
. Ramadan Hadith
. Rumi on Fasting and Jesus on Spiritual Nourishment
. Science of Fasting - Medical benefits of fasting and beyond
. Essence and Symbology of Fasting and Sacrifice
. Jesus Christ bless those who fast
. Fasting as self discipline
. Spiritual Wisdom of Fasting
. Prayer for Ramadan
. Ramadan Prayer
. Wisdom of Confucius: Fasting of the Heart
. Come! let us fast today
. Symbolic Meaning of Sighting New Moon and Breaking Fast
. How to Prepare for Ramadan: Sr. Maryam

In this series of post next i would like to publish few reading recommendations / Books for Ramadan. Pin It Now!

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