Allahu Teala says in the Quran al-Karim "shahru Ramadan alladhiy unzila fiyhil Quran." The holy Quran, the true life for a Muslim, nay, for all humankind, was bestowed upon us in the month of Ramadan. Even the letters of this holy month which the beloved of Allah, s.a.s., says is the month of his ummah, have spiritual meaning. The Ra stands for the ridhah, the approval and pleasure of Allahu Teala upon mankind. Mim stands for muhabba, the love and care of Allahu Teala. Dad stands for the guidance. Alif; ulfa stands for the closeness and Nun stands for nur, the divine light which enters the hearts of the believers who honor the holy month of Ramadan.
In a hadith related by Hz. Salman Farsi, r.a., Rasullulah, s.a.s. gave a sermon on the last Friday of the month of Shaban and said:
"The holy month of Ramadan now is upon us. It is a blessed month. It is the month of my ummah. Amongst months, its honor is like mine compared to other men, like the heart in the body of humankind, like Harem al-Sharif compared to other places.
In this month there is a night which is worth more than a thousand months.
Allah orders us to fast the days and pray the nights in this month. For each of the obligatory worship you do with a pure body and soul you receive seventy rewards instead of one for worship as done in other months.
This month is the month of Sabr, patience. The reward of patience is jannah, the Paradise.
This month is the month of Baraka, of blessings when the Rizq, sustenance of the true servant of Allah will certainly increase.
If you give an iftar and feed a mu'min, a believer, you will be cleansed of your sins, and you will receive the benefit of the fast of your brother whom you fed, while his reward for fasting will not decrease. Even those who cannot afford a feast, a date, a glass of milk or a glass of water will do for you the same.
It is such a month during which you receive the Rahmah, the love and compassion of Allah at its beginning. In its middle, Allah forgives your sins, and at its end, you are totally saved from the punishment of hellfire.
During this month if you reduce the duties of the ones who work for you, Allah cleanses you of your sins.
During this month, make four things a habit for you during your daily lives. With the first two, you will receive Allah's ridha, his approval and pleasure. The last two you certainly need in this world and in the hereafter.
1. Remember Allah often by repeating and believing with all your heart that there is no God, there is nothing but Allah: La ilaha illallah.
2. Repent and beg Allah's forgiveness for your sins and your errors.
3. Beg Allah to let you enter paradise in this world and in the hereafter.
4. Take refuge in Allah from the hellfire.
When you feed the hungry and help the poor during Ramadan Allah promises to quench your thirst by giving you a drink from the fountain of Kawthar on the day of last judgement, and you will be quenched of thirst for all eternity."
Sadaqa Rasullalah sallallahu alayhi wa-sallam.
In this hadith the beloved of Allah, s.a.s., gives us all we need to do during the blessed month of Ramadan. But we must realize that there are some conditions, such as "with pure body and soul," "true mu'min", "with belief with all your heart." That is why some of us have tried to cleanse ourselves during the previous months of Rajab and Shaban. On the subject of being a true Muslim, pure at heart and soul and body, I would like to tell you the story of our imam, Hz. Abu Hanifa, k.s.
Hz. Thabit, k.s., the father of Hz. Abu Hanifa, k.s., when he was yet young and a bachelor, stopped at the banks of a river and took ablution. He saw a beautiful apple floating in front of him and without thinking, he picked it up and bit into it. He realized that the apple was not his and felt terribly guilty that he may have indulged in haram. He walked upstream seeking the orchard where that apple may have come from. Finally he found it. He looked for the owner and found Hz. Salih, k.s., and asked him if he may pay for an apple which he found down the stream and bit into, or may he please make it lawful to him. Hz. Salih wanted to test the young man, whether he was showing off to be so pure and so keen upon halal and haram, or whether he was sincere. He said "No. You have eaten something which did not belong to you and the price of that is very dear. You will have to work for me for a whole year to pay for it." Hz. Thabit accepted his condition and worked for him a whole year. At the end of that period Hz. Salih told him that he had one last condition which he had to fulfill to make this apple lawful. He would have to marry his daughter who was blind and deaf and dumb, whose hands could not hold, and whose feet could not walk. Hz. Thabit accepted that condition also. On the night of the wedding Hz. Thabit found in his room a most beautiful girl, who could see and hear and talk and walk. He immediately left the room and went to his father-in-law and said: "This marriage is not right. You did not tell me the truth about your daughter." Hz. Salih responded: "Indeed I told you the truth. Her eyes did not look at haram, her ears did not hear the haram, her tongue did not speak the haram, nor did she hold or go to anyplace where there was haram."
From this marriage Hz. Abu Hanifa was born. In his childhood he made a hatim (read the whole Quran) in three days and came to report to his mother, that pure woman who was called Abidatu al-Azhar and said, "Mother, I completed reading the thirty juz sections of the Quran by reading ten juz a day." She responded, "My child, you could have done it in one day if your father would not have bit into that apple."
May Allah have mercy upon us. We count only on His mercy and the shafaat of the one whom He has sent as His mercy upon the universe.
Subbana rabbika rabil izzeti ammah yasifun wa salamun alal mursalliyn wal hamdullilahi rabil alamin.
My dear companions on the path to truth: Know that every act of worship - in fact, any deed that Allah Most High has made obligatory for His servants - is filled with blessings and benefits. Allah's orders are also medication prepared in the pharmacy of the Holy Quran to cure our spiritual ills.
For instance the salat, the ritual prayer, is a preventative medication that protects one against acts unpleasing to Allah and men, and against other traps awaiting one in one's daily life. It is also a reminder, at least five times during the day, that one is a human being and a servant of the Beneficent Creator. This gives us the possibility of controlling our lives as well as controlling to some extent the dictates of our ego and the desires of our flesh.
When you pay the zakat, the poor rate, you are made aware that what you possess is not really yours, but is given to you for what you need. If you are blessed with the opportunity to give to others who are in need, you become an instrument of the beneficence and generosity of Allah. For those who are sick with the horrible sickness of stinginess, zakat is a medication to cure the hopelessness of the unfaithful, of the one who counts only on his miserable self instead of counting on Allah, the Satisfier of all needs.
When you fast, your heart is purified from the concerns of this world: ambition, envy, miserliness, and so forth. Fasting opens the door of heedfulness and contemplation, and cures the ills of impatience and unthankfulness. While fasting keeps your body hungry, it feeds your heart with the divine light of sacrifice and wipes the dirt from the mirror of your soul where the secrets of Allah reflect and are shared by you.
Allah orders the fast in Surah Baqarah. He addresses you, saying:
ya ayyuha lladhina amanu kutiba `alaykumus-siyamu kama kutiba `ala lladhina mm qablikum la `allakum tattakun.
"O faithful believers, it is an obligation for you to fast during the known month from pre-dawn to sunset with the intention of worship, to deny yourselves lawful food and drink and sexual intercourse. This was made an obligation to others before you. The blessing you will receive with this worship will protect you against evil and render you praiseworthy in the eye of your Lord."
Understand that every prescription of Islam has an outward meaning and a deeper inner meaning. The outer meaning of fasting is to give up eating, drinking and sexual intercourse between dawn and sunset. In reality, though, this abstention from lawful needs is not only limited to food and drink and sexual intercourse, but includes all of one's physical members. It is the sign of faith, the worship of the whole of the physical being.
For instance, the tongue should be kept from lying, gossiping, slander, et cetera. The eye should be kept from viewing the world in the usual heedless manner. The ear should be kept from listening to the usual noise that one takes for conversation, music, instruction, and so on. The ego should be kept from its usual ambition, lust and arrogance.
The inner meaning of fasting is meant for the heart, for the soul, for the essence. The fasting of the heart means raising that which is the house of Allah from its foundation of the four elements - earth, water, fire, and ether - and suspending it in the air so that it will be safer from the assaults of the armies of al-nafs al-ammara, the all-commanding ego, as well as being kept at a safe distance from the tentacles of the attractions of this world.
The fasting of the soul means denying oneself not only the gifts and tastes of this world, but abandoning even the desire for the gardens of Paradise, seeking not the benefit but the Benefactor.
The fasting of your secret essence means to deny it everything except the Truth.
For the one who knows that he has a heart and a soul and an essence and knows where they are, the one who is in communication with his inner self and has control over it, fasting indeed becomes a jewel in contrast to the rock of the everyday life.
To fast in the unconscious mechanical way that we lead most of our daily lives is not going to give the desired result. It must be practiced with awareness of its meaning and purpose, intended, and done heedfully, with realization of your effort and its effects. Then to be hungry will be more fulfilling than eating.
The whole effort is to transform, at least temporarily, the coarse into the fine. Allah Most High says, "My servant who fasts is like a brandished sword pulled out of its sheath, shimmering." What is the sheath of that sword? It is the sheath of worldliness. It is the sheath of the four elements. It is the sheath of unconsciousness, automatism. It is the sheath of coarseness, and when the sword is pulled out of that sheath it shines with life and heedfulness and faith.
Fasting is a declaration that all the physical members of your material existence are believers. It is not only to abstain from eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse, but the abstention from harmful actions of all the members of the body. Is one who enforces hunger and thirst upon himself but breaks the hearts of people with what he says, really fasting? The one who breaks hearts, who causes pain, who destroys is on the level of animals. Allah has rendered fasting obligatory for human beings, not for animals.
It is said that whoever fasts has the attributes of the Truth, so he becomes, not the breaker of hearts, but the maker of hearts, the beneficent, the compassionate, the forgiving, the loving, the fine, the light, the one whose coarseness has been transformed into fine matter, whose darkness has evolved into light.
When Allah says, "I like the smell of the breath of the one who fasts," it is not the odor of hunger, it is the perfume of the one who truly fasts, who assumes in himself the divine attributes, so each breath he inhales and exhales is with compassion for the creation of Allah. It is the perfume of the breath of the compassionate one that Allah loves.
When Allah says, "Fasting is for Me and it is only I Who will give its reward," is there any deed that does not come from Allah, or any misdeed whose punishment is not from Him? Then why has He mentioned fasting as a special worship with a special reward? On that final day of accounting, on the Day of Last Judgment, by Allah's power, all the good deeds and sins of everyone will materialize in heaps in front of them. In the measure of sins, the good deeds will be diminished, except the deed of fasting for Allah's sake. Allah will not permit that the rewards of fasting be reduced in payment for one's sins. He will assume the payment Himself.
All praise and thanks to Him.
Excerpts from the Risalah of Hadrat Qushayri
ON HUNGER AND THE ABANDONMENT OF NATURAL DESIRE
Allah Most High has said, "And We shall try them with something of fear and hunger" (Baqarah 155), and at the end of the verse. "and give good news to the patient." So He sent them good news of a beautiful reward following on patience in the endurance of hunger. And He has said, "And they prefer others over themselves even though they may be in need." (Hashr 9)
`Ali ibn Ahmad al-Ahwazi informed us...that Anas ibn Malik said:
Fatimah (r.a.a.) came to the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.s.) with a bit of bread. "What is this morsel, Fatimah?" he asked.
"A piece of flat bread I baked," said she. "I could not feel at ease in myself until I had brought it to you."
"It is the first food that has entered your father's mouth for three days," he told her.
(In another relation Fatimah (r.a.a.) came with a piece of barley bread.)
On this account hunger is one of the characteristics of the Sufis. It is the first pillar of spiritual struggle. Travelers on the Way are graded according to how habituated they have become to hunger and forsaking food. They have found springs of wisdom in hunger, and there are many stories told of them about this.
I heard Muhammad ibn Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Sufi say.. .Ibn Salim says:
The proper conduct with regard to hunger is for a person to diminish what he is accustomed to eating by an amount no larger than a cat's ear.
It is said that Sahl ibn `Abdullah ate food only once every twenty-five days. When the month of Ramadan came he did not eat until the next new moon, and broke his fast every evening only with water.
Yahya in Mu`adh said, "If hunger were a thing sold in the marketplace, it would not have been right for people who hope for the Hereafter to buy anything else there."
We have been told that Muhammad ibn `Abdullah ibn `Ubayd said...that Sahl ibn `Abdullah said:
When Allah Most High created the world he placed sin and ignorance in satiation and knowledge and wisdom in hunger.
Yahya ibn Mu`adh said, "For novices, hunger is an act of discipline. For the repentant it is an experiment. For ascetics it is a policy. For Knowers of Allah, it is a gift."
I heard Master Abu `Ali al-Daqqaq (ra.) say:
A Sufi visited a shaykh and found him crying. He asked, "What makes you weep?
The shaykh replied, ‘I am hungry."
How could someone like you cry out of hunger?" the dervish exclaimed.
"Be silent!" returned the shaykh. Don't you know that His object in my hunger is for me to cry?
I heard Abu Abdullah al-Shirazi (r.a.) say...Mukhallad said:
Hajjaj ibn Farafisah, who was with us in Damascus, would go fifty nights without drinking or satisfying his hunger with something to eat.
And I heard him say...Abu `Abdullah Ahmad ibn Yahya al-Jalla' said:
Abu Turab al-Nakhshabi left to go to Mecca through the desert. Afterwards we asked what he had eaten on the way. He answered, "When I left Basra I ate once at Nabaj and once in Dhat`Irq. From Dhat`Irq I came to you." He had crossed the desert eating only twice.
And I heard him say..`Abdul`Aziz ibn `Umayr said:
A certain type of bird would fly forty mornings without eating anything. When these birds came back after many days, the fragrance of musk would emanate from them.
SahI ibn `Abdullah used to gather strength when he was hungry and weaken when he ate.
Abu `Uthman al-Maghribi said, ‘The one who attaches himself to Divine Lordship will not eat for fortv days. The one who attaches himself to Absolute Plenitude will not eat for eighty days."
I heard Shaykh Abu `Abdul-Rahman al-Sulami, r. a., say ...`Abu Sulayman al-Darani says:
The key of this world is satiation, and the key of the next world is hunger.
I heard Muhammad ibn `Abdullah ibn `Ubaydullah say...Abu Muhammad al-Istikhari said:
Sahl ibn `Abdullah was asked the state of a man who eats one meal a day. ‘It is the meal of the sincere.' And two meals a day? "It is the meal of the believers." And three? "Tell your family to build a trough for you!" said he.
And I heard him say...Yahya ibn Mu`adh says:
Hunger is a light while satiation is a fire, and desire is like the firewood from which the conflagration is generated. Its flame will not be extinguished until it burns the one who keeps it.
I heard Abu Hatim al-Sijistani say: I heard Abu Nasr al-Sarraj al-Tusi say:
A Sufi once visited a shaykh, who presented him food and then asked him, "For how many days have you not eaten?"
"For five days," the man replied.
"Your hunger is the hunger of a miser." the shaykh told him. "You are wearing [decent] clothing while you go hungry? This is not the hunger of dervishes!"
I heard Muhammad ibn al-Husayn say...Abu Sulayman al-Darani said:
To give up one bite of my supper is dearer to me than to stand in prayer till the end of the night.
And I heard him say: I heard Abul-Qasim Ja`far ibn Ahmad al-Razi say:
For years Abul-Khayr al`Asqalani had a craving for fish. Then one day it appeared to him in a lawful context. When he stretched out his hand in order to eat it, the point of a fishbone caught his finger and entered that hand. He cried, "O Lord, this is what happens to someone who reaches for a desire that is lawful - what will happen to someone who reaches for an unlawful desire?"
I heard Master Abu Bakr ibn Furak say:
The result of following lawful desire is preoccupation with one's family. What do you suppose is the outcome of unlawful desire?
I heard Rustam al-Shirazi say:
Abu Abdullah ibn Khafif was at a banquet when one of his companions, because of the need he was in, reached for food before the shaykh did. Some of the shaykh's other companions wanted to reproach him for the fault thus displayed in his behavior, so one of them set just a bit of something to eat in front of that dervish. The dervish knew that he had been reproached for his bad conduct, so he resolved not to eat for fifteen days, as a punishment and discipline for his lower self and a manifestation of his repentance for his fault - and he had already been in need before that.
I heard Muhammad ibn `Abdullah al-Sufi say... Malik ibn Dinar says:
When someone conquers the desires of this world, the Devil is afraid of his shadow!
And I heard him say...Abu `Ali al-Rudhbari said:
When a Sufi said, after five days without food, "I am hungry" - they would send him to the marketplace and command him to earn!
I heard Master Abu `Ali al-Daqqaq tell of a shaykh who said that the lusts of the People of the Fire had overcome their honor, and that manifested itself [in their being assigned to the Fire]. And I heard him say:
Someone asked a dervish. "Do you desire nothing?"
He said, "I desire, but I abstain."
A Sufi was asked, "Aren't you hungry?"
He replied. "I hunger not to hunger.'
And it is just so.
I heard Shaykh Abu `Abdul-Rahman al-Sulami say...Abu Nasr al-Timar said:
One night Bishr al-Hafil came to see me, and I said, "Praise be to Allah Who has brought you to me! Cotton reached us from Khurasan, so I gave it to my daughter, and she sold it and bought us meat. So break your fast with us."
He said, "Were I to eat with anyone. I would eat with you." Then he said, "For years I have wished for eggplant, and it has never fallen to me to eat it!"
"Surely in all that time there must have been eggplant that was lawful," I objected.
"Not until the love of eggplant becomes pure for me," he replied.
I heard `Abdullah ibn Bakuyah al-Sufi (r.a.) say...I heard Abu Ahmad al-Saghir say:
Every night Abu `Abdullah ibn Khafif ordered me to set before him ten raisins with which he would break his fast. One night I worried for him and put out fifteen raisins. He looked at them and said, "Who ordered you to do this?" He ate ten of them and left the rest.
I heard Muhammad ibn `Abdullah ibn `Ubaydullah say...Abu Turab al-Nakhshabi said:
Only once did I grant my lower self its desires. It wanted bread and eggs. I was traveling, and I turned off toward a village. Someone stood up and grabbed me and said, "This one was with the thieves!" So they beat me, seventy blows. Then one of them recognized me, and cried, "This is Abu Turab al-Nakhshabi!" They apologized, and a man took me to his house out of hospitality and sympathy, and laid before me bread and eggs. So I said to my lower self, "Eat, after seventy blows!"
Other thoughts from the Risalah:
Junayd said: "We have not derived Sufism from idle chatter, but from hunger, and abandoning the world, and cutting off pleasant and familiar habits."
Muzaffar al-Qirmisini said, "Fasting has three aspects: the fast of the spirit is in the curtailment of expectations, the fast of the intellect is in the opposition of desires, and the fast of the animal self is in abstinence from food and forbidden things."
Muzaffar al-Qirmisini said, "Hunger supported by contentment is the meadow of reflection, the spring of wisdom, the life of intelligence, and the lamp of the heart."
When the month of Ramadan came. Shibli used to display a diligence in devotion beyond that of the others of his age. He used to say,
"This month has been declared great by my Lord, and I am the first of those who shall hold it great."
It is said that the servant may be given his book on the Resurrection Day and not see a good deed in it. He will ask, "Where is my prayer, my fasting, my obedience?" and will be told, "All of your work disappeared through your maligning of people."
The Sufis recite:
Generosity and hunger - better for a true man
Than a day of disgrace that brings cash!
Hadrat Qushayri says:
A monk was asked. "Do you fast?" He answered, "I fast by remembering Allah. When I remember something other than Him, I have broken my fast."
Sahl ibn `Abdullah ]al-Tustari] said, "Five things come from the essence of the self: a poor person who appears rich, a hungry person who appears satisfied, the sad who appear happy, a man who is at enmity with another man but shows him affection, and a man who fasts the day and prays the night without showing weakness!