Published On:21 July 2012
Posted by Indian Muslim Observer

Ramadan conversations with the self

By Mahmood Sanglay

The next five years will see a migration of Ramadan in the northern hemisphere towards the Summer solstice, which coincides with 21 June. This means that for the next five years Asian in this part of the continent can anticipate Ramadan coinciding with longer hours of daylight and shorter nights.

This will be increasingly difficult for those seeking dealing with the extended hours without food, because sunset will be later. It will also be more challenging for those seeking a fast with sufficient time for longer hours of devotion and meditation.

But Ramadan is best for those seeking meaningful conversations with the self. Of course, we can engage in this exercise at any time. It is not exclusive to Ramadan, but the month of fasting is a time that really lends itself to Allah-consciousness.

And being conscious of Allah is closely connected with being conscious of the world and of the self. Allah-consciousness does not happen in a vacuum or in a space distant from the world, or from other people. Consciousness of Allah does not require detachment from the self or neglect of the self.

According to Imam Al Ghazali the alchemy of happiness consists of four levels of knowledge: of the self, of the world, of the akhira (the next world) and, ultimately, of Allah.
The connections that Al Ghazali makes are vital. It implies that a meaningful existence cannot be one that is disconnected from the self, from this world, from the akhira and from Allah.

In essence, this is what a meaningful fast in Ramadan should be about. It is about disavowing disconnection and affirming a close connection between these aspects of worship. Being connected in these different ways to the self, the world, the akhira and Allah whilst fasting is the way of attaining the highest level of the fast.

Again, Al Ghazali’s model of happiness is useful in experiencing the highest level of the fast.
At this level the believer exercises discipline over his or her self by keeping lust and anger in check, whilst focusing on the development of angelic qualities and virtue. This inward- looking exercise is then connected to worldly matters like unemployment, poverty and inequality, which plague many parts of the world.

The true believer experiences the hunger of the fast empathically. The joy of the fast is a joy of understanding that the inner development of the self is closely connected to the outer striving to address unemployment, poverty and hunger.

This, in turn, is connected to a striving for an ultimate state in the akhira where unemployment, poverty and inequality are no more; where all suffering and joy, and all punishment and reward are apportioned in just measure.

And ultimately, all this is connected to, and motivated by a desire to draw closer to Allah.
There is no such thing as drawing closer to Allah whilst disconnected from the realities of this world and from the reckoning of the akhira. There are no shortcuts to the pleasure of Allah.
And that striving for good and against evil cannot occur by turning one’s back to this world and living only for the akhira to attain the pleasure of Allah. This kind of abdication of worldly striving does not please Allah. It pleases Allah when we confront this world, but our hearts are not committed to this world. Our hearts are committed to the akhira, and to Allah.

This world, as transitory as it may be, is an important means to attain to the rewards of the akhira and the pleasure of Allah.

It is the pleasures and distractions of this world that give us purpose for striving for Allah’s pleasure. Again, Imam Ghazali teaches us an important lesson that should be the grand axiom for life in this world: “Those things we take most delight in are often the most injurious to us, and those things which benefit us are not to be obtained without toil and trouble.”

Every prophet and saint, every true leader and worshipper attained the pleasure of Allah through toil and trouble. We should we be exempt? It is a striving for goodness in this world to attain the goodness of the akhira. It is a striving against evil in this world to attain freedom from the fruits of evil in the akhira.

Some of the social ills with us now in the world are unemployment, poverty and inequality.
A demonic state of lust, passion and anger from within our selves is eager to consume us. A blessed angelic state to confront all of these is awaiting within our souls.

And Ramadan is upon us. Are we fools who fast each year and know not what to do? Are we oblivious to the opportunity invested in this great month to transform our selves and contribute to the transformation of local communities and the broader society?

Ramadan affords us the opportunity to micro-inspect our physical selves that feel hunger, that desire food, that succumb to extreme cold and heat and that grow weary with labour.
These wonderful bodies of ours that Allah created are also among His signs that we are of His image. We realise at once the great potential, beauty and power Allah has invested in us, as well as how fragile, weak and utterly dependant we are on His grace and mercy.

And this is not really a paradox. These are complementary sides of the same truth. Both greatness and our weakness stem from the greatness of Allah. We are connected to Him in sublime ways. It our project to discover these ways. Ramadan is one way, and a marvelous opportunity to grow from within and make a positive change from without.

The worshipper who is fixated on the hours of fasting and worshipping without relating the fast to the local context is not deriving the true benefit of Ramadan. Even the worshipper who exults in the longer hours dedicated to prayer, but fails to consider the significance of the fast in a poverty-stricken countries defeats the purpose.

Ramadan is not a pie in the sky opportunity for ringing up rewards through worship in isolation of the grim social realities in this country. In the next five years Ramadan will be migrating closer to the Summer solstice. The heat and humidity of Summer will incrementally be conflated with Ramadan.

As fasting Muslims, let’s ask ourselves a simple question: “What is the value of our fast if we do not reflect on and do something about the misery of poverty around us?”

[Mahmood Sanglay is a media activist residing in Cape Town. He is Fulbright fellow in journalism, a postgraduate researcher in Narrative Journalism and he campaigns for the interests of small, independent and grassroots media in South Africa. He is also President of the Association of Independent Publishers (AIP), which is a grassroots newspaper industry association. He may be contacted at mahmood@mviews.co.za]

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Posted by Indian Muslim Observer on July 21, 2012. Filed under , , , . You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. Feel free to leave a response

By Indian Muslim Observer on July 21, 2012. Filed under , , , . Follow any responses to the RSS 2.0. Leave a response

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