It is that time of the year again. Everybody is excited and ready for Ramadan! In this month, Muslims all the world fast and pray. Unfortunately, due to lack of knowledge, many of us have ritualized this religion and do not attain maximum benefit from it. In this short piece, I want to list some of the reasons why Ramadan and fasting are prescribed then highlightsome common cultural mistakes we often make.
The wisdoms behind Ramadan:
There are many lectures and books available online mentioning the benefits of fasting and Ramadan with all their evidences. I will just mention some in point form. You may listen to those lectures or read those books for more details.
1. The Qur'an clearly states that fasting is prescribed to assist us in attaining Taqwa (God Consiousness). This Taqwa is attained when we fast for the pleasure of Allah, and realize that if we can stay away from basic necessities like food and drink to please Allah, then we have the ability to stay away from sin to please Allah.
2. Self-Control: The hadeeth makes it clear that if you sin while fasting then you attain no reward for that fast. With this in mind, when we fast to pelase Allah, we are careful not to do or say anything Haraam. This is training so that we may learn to control our tongues outside of Ramadan
3. Growing close to the Qur'an: Ramadan is the month of the Qur'an, the purpose behind taraweh and recitation is to expose people to the message of the Qur'an so that we may benefit and grow closer to Allah through it. Of course, this means one must recite the Qu'an with understanding during Ramadan.
4. Reflection and Repentance: Through fasting, staying away from sins and useless deeds, we have more time to reflect on our own lives, especially if one sits for Itikaaf. This reflection should lead to repentance and a positive change in our lives.
Cultural issues that clash with the above:
1. Overeating: If one overeats for Iftaar or Suhoor, you have defeated the purpose of fasting. The Sunnah is to have a light meal for both Suhoor and Iftaar. By overeating, we are damaging our bodies and in the case of Suhoor, we do not feel our fast (what then is the point of fasting), and in the case of Iftaar, we are too tired and full during Taraweh which leads to mass burping competitions in the back rows.
2. Wasting time: Three hours left till Iftaar? Lets watch the Lord of the Rings so we don't feel it. Once again we are trying to avoid feeling the fast, so our fast passes like any other day without any spiritual benefit. Even if something is Halal, if it is not beneficial, try to stay away from it in Ramadan and focus on more important things like studying Islam, reciting Qur'an and helping others.
3. Missing our prayers: I have observed people skipping Maghrib while enjoying Iftaar. This is a futile exercise which shows lack of understanding or priorities. Salah is the second pillar of Islam and even more important than fasting. We nullify the reward of our fasts if we sleep through Asr or skip Maghrib because we are eating.
4. Ritualized Taraweh: It is your choice if you want to pray eight or twenty Rakah Taraweh but pray it properly. I firmly believe that praying eight rakah slowly with concentration and understanding is far more rewarding and beneficial than rushing through twenty rakah at superspeed. As Dr Bilal Philips once told us, "the way we pray Taraweh today (ritualized and superspeed) is bidah and might not be accepted by Allah,"
5. Khataming Qur'ans: We grew up with the idea that in Ramadan, we should finsih the Qur'an as many times as possible since Abu Hanifa use to recite it 60 times every Ramadan. We forget that Abu Hanifa had already studied and mastered the knowledge of the Qur'an before doing so. Instead of speed reading the Qur'an so that we can boast how many times we completed it. Read it just once or twice with understanding and resolve to practice and follow it.
6. Counting down the days to Eid: Some people can't wait for Ramadan to end and count down the dyas till Eid. You can not benefit from Ramadan if you do not appreciate it and are waiting for it to end. Change your mindset and appreciate each and every one of these blessed days as they come.
7. Cigarette Iftaar: Instead of using Ramadan to give up their sinful habits, many Muslims stand outside teh Masjid waiting for the Adhaan so that they can make Iftaar by polluting the air and their lungs with this evil substance. You don't see alcoholics waiting outside with bottles in their hands or drug addicts waiting with their shots, so why do smokers do so? If you can stay away from it all day in Ramadan, you can stay away from it permenantly. Just make the effort and resolve to do so.
May Allah make this Ramadan beneficial and spiritually uplifting for us all.