Fasting and purification of soul
April 22 2021 08:57 PM
Makkah Masjid

O you who believe! Observing Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become the pious. (Surah Al-Baqarah 2:183)
The goal of fasting is to attain Taqwa or God-consciousness and fear of Allah. The ability to tame the unruly tendencies of one’s inner self on one hand, and the cultivation of one’s will power, on the other, are very important in the process of purification of the soul. This is because during fasting in Ramadan, there are many opportunities, blessings and means that one can avail and utilise so that one’s soul is purified.
First, forgiveness of sins has a very positive result in purifying the soul. The accumulation of sins for the whole year produces in the conscience a sense of endless guilt and the feeling of one’s sins are being forgiven is a relief in one’s weary heart. Have you ever wondered how people cannot sleep at night because they have wronged someone or quarrelled with someone? This heavy burden upon a believer’s soul is relieved once reconciliation takes place. Similarly, Allah, subhanahu wa taala, in His mercy forgives the fasting people whereby relieving him of the guilt of his past sins against Allah. The Prophet Muhammad, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said:
Whoever fasts in Ramadan having Iman and Ihtisab, his past sins will be forgiven for him. (Agreed upon by Bukhari and Muslim)
This hadith stipulates two conditions in order for the sins to be forgiven. The fasting person must of course be a Mu’min. Al Ihtisab carries with it three meanings: having firm resolve, hoping for the reward, and being pleased with the act not considering it a heavy burden.
Secondly, one should feel that he is doing a deed that is very dear and special to Allah. Every deed of son of Adam has an equivalent reward of 10 to 700 times, except fasting which will be rewarded by Allah Al Kareem, the Most Generous.
Third, fasting purifies the soul by cultivating the much needed virtue of patience. There are three categories or facets of patience: Being patient in performing the obligations, being patient in avoiding the prohibitions and being patient in times of calamity. All of these three are trained in the fasting person by performing the obligatory act of fasting, avoiding vile, filthy, senseless, sinful actions and being patient in difficulties that might happen while fasting.
Fourth, fasting reminds him the true purpose of his creation and the meaning of Islam. That to worship Allah, one must inevitably submit to His will first; that Allah comes first before one’s own desires. Especially for those who are living in non-Muslim countries experience the temptation where everyone is eating and drinking while you are holding yourself because you want to follow what Allah wants.
Fifth, everything seems to slow down during Ramadan (especially in Muslim countries), and one doesn’t have the usual energy to do the fruitless things. Hence one is left with more free time to think and ponder. This leaves a person with more time to ponder over his life and possibly the wrong things he have done.
Sixth, feeling and doing the act yields more certainty that witnessing it. How many times we have seen pictures of  malnourished children in Africa and felt pity for them, yet one still cannot feel how is it to starved and taste the pangs of hunger in one’s stomach. This in turn should turn on the switch of gratefulness in us for the blessings of Allah.
Seventh, fasting makes us realise our potential as human beings. Some of us think that the obligations and prohibitions of Islam are overwhelming or inapplicable especially in non-Muslim societies so we involve ourselves in haram activities thinking that we cannot do anything about it. But in Ramadan, we only haven’t abstained from the haram but from the halal as well. If we have the strength to abstain from the halal then all the more so we have the will power to abstain from the haram? Allah is not unjust that He would prohibit things from us that we cannot avoid. This is especially true for the smokers! In fact fasting is a sort of training for the gradual weaning from the addictive effects of smoking. 
Eighth, turning to Allah and realising one’s need for Him. If Allah takes away our most fundamental needs as human beings then who is there to help us. Imagine if Allah takes away our sense of taste or sense of satiety. Having been born with all the complete senses and limbs makes us forget that ultimately these are not really ours. This reality is vividly demonstrated in people with illness such as stroke patients with hemiplegia or paralysis of one’s side of the body. His left hand is there still connected to his body, he can see it, yet he cannot move it on his own and sometimes might not even feel that it is there. Subhanallah!
Ninth, we have heard the hadith of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam: Whoever guarantees me what is between his jaws/beard [the tongue] and what is between his legs [sexual organs] I guarantee him Paradise [Bukhari]. Don’t you see? Being fasting makes us more conscious of what we say and more careful in our interactions with the opposite sex.  
Tenth, fasting again makes us remember that we are not here just to eat and drink; that our existence is not just mere fulfilment and gratification of our basic desires; that we are here for a more sublime purpose, which is to worship Allah. In other words we eat not just to live but to worship the Creator. This is what separates us from the modern, secular materialistic people where they eat to live or even worst, some of them actually live to eat. For the first time in human history, there are more obese people in the world than those who are starving.
Eleventh, fasting is a chance to demonstrate sincerity to Allah. All types of worship are visible to others even giving charity secretly whereby the receiver knew that somebody gave him secretly. However in fasting nobody knows if you really fasted or secretly ingested food to your mouth except Allah. Sincerity in actions is a fundamental prerequisite in the acceptance of deeds and consequently success.
Twelfth, fasting helps to cure the disease of the ‘desire for more’. When one thinks that he is able to survive with only one and half meal a day and this is his real needs. Some of us has this self-made needs, a make believe that we ourselves concocted. How many of us say things like “I can’t live without smart phone or a V8 engine powered vehicle or a three-storey villa”?  We misallocate our resources at the expense of other more important things.
Ultimately, Taqwa have a big role in all of this. This will power to do the things that Allah has ordered us to do, this self-restraint that bridles us to avoid what Allah has prohibited for us, and this love for Allah, doing what is beyond the obligatory. Fasting in Ramadan and its Taraweeh incorporates all of these aspects, purifying our souls and making us closer and closer to Allah. “Allah the Almighty has said: For whoever has mutual animosity with a friend (wali) of Mine, I declare war upon him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more beloved more to Me than the religious duties that I have imposed upon him; and My servant continues to draw near to Me with supererogatory works such that I love him. And when I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which strikes, and his leg with which he walks. Were he to ask of me, I would surely give him; and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it. (Bukhari).
(This article is adapted from the Book Purification of the Soul by Jamaluddin Zarabozo.)

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Ramadan’s 3D training
Before a marathon runner competes in the Olympics, he undergoes years of intense training – both physical and mental [2D – two-dimensional]. He must maintain a healthy diet and exercise to make sure his body is fit. He must also become mentally prepared to ward off all sense of fatigue and failure during the race. After every practice, his sport becomes easier to him until he is ready to compete. Then after he competes, he trains for years again, preparing for the next Olympics.
Similarly, our Lord, The Most Exalted, has given us the Holy Month of Ramadan as a month of training. Unlike the runner, our training is three-fold: physical, mental, and spiritual [3D – three-dimensional]. Ramadan trains us for life, which is our means to Paradise. In Arabic, the word “Ramadan” means “scorching and burning”. The name highlights the intensity of the training since, according to scholars; we physically and mentally scorch and burn our sins and faults. By the month’s end, if our intentions were pure, we have bathed ourselves in a pool of spirituality.
Most people think first of the physical aspect of fasting, which for Muslims is a foundation for the mental and spiritual benefits. Hunger and thirst physically remind us of Allah’s blessings, which before the fast we had a tendency to take for granted. Fasting also provides us with numerous health benefits. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said: “The son of Aadam never fills a container worse than his stomach.” [Ahmad and others]
When we deprive the stomach of food and drink from dawn till dusk, we improve our digestion and blood pressure, to name a few of the many physical benefits. The acts of physical restraint during Ramadan improve our self-control for the rest of the year. We must not resume eating gluttonously and wastefully. We must maintain physical consciousness to appreciate Allah’s favours and make acts of worship easier for us.
Ramadan’s mental aspect is more difficult, but the strong physical foundation also helps to sharpen our focus and strengthen our will. This training is an example of striving with one’s inner desires. It exposes our flaws and can help eliminate or reduce them.
Mental restraint is especially important now, when Islam is being maligned and we must respond with that which is better. Patience and mercy are among the virtues we strengthen during Ramadan. With the combined physical and mental training we get in Ramadan, we can improve our relations with Muslims and non-Muslims as we strive for perfection.
A three-dimensional consciousness: physical, mental, and spiritual that Muslims throughout history attest it enhances one’s relationship with Allah, wipes clean our slate of sins and allows us to reap great reward. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, stated that Allah declared: “All deeds of the son of Aadam are for him except for fasting, it is for Me. And I will reward him for it.” [Muslim] But we need to remember again the concept of training. 
The heightened spiritual consciousness that we gain during Ramadan ameliorates our life to a three dimensional level: every action we make transforms from being a habit (physical and mental components of what we do) to becoming an act of worship when under the umbrella of spirituality. It is true, some may say, that spirituality always has that effect – Ramadan or not. But in Ramadan, this spirituality is more conscious, deliberate and intense.
A time for spiritual nourishment and self-introspection, Ramadan heralds a classic opportunity to draw closer to Allah and to bask in the many blessings that accompany the month. Commitments ranging from the recitation and study of the Qur’an to increased charity to regular Taraweeh attendance are commonly made to reap the rewards of the fasting month.
To this effect, the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, once said: “By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a person observing fast is better with Allah Almighty than the smell of musk. (Allah says about the fasting person): ‘He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.’” [Al-Bukhari]
Further, with Satan chained and the gates of Paradise thrown open, the race for good deeds begins in every Ramadan. Yet, as people dive into the anxiously awaited month of spiritual gains, they realise that it comes with its own set of challenges. Indeed, just as our everyday test is to practice Islam while living in the world, this annual retreat-of-sorts is all about maximising our worship while juggling the demands of our daily lives.
So, along with the fasting and all the plans, chores need to be taken care of, work must be attended to, and children’s needs have to be fulfilled. In order to avoid frustration due to neglecting one’s Ramadan goals or hardship caused by abandoning certain tasks and routines, a happy medium must be strived for. Striking this balance will not always be easy since it entails rescheduled days, little sleep, and a shift in priorities.
However, the results far outweigh the struggle, a feeling of contentment that we made our very best effort to capture the true essence of Ramadan. Allah Almighty says (what means): “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” [Qur’an 2:183]

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Ramadan and mercy
The blessed month of Ramadan is a Muslim’s recurring opportunity for spiritual enhancement and soul redemption. It is also an annual exercise in self-control and self-restraint, but above all, it is a physical manifestation of our total submission and obedience to Allah. Because of this submission and obeying of His order, the Muslim fasts, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual intercourse during the days of Ramadan, this is the physical aspect of fasting. By nightfall, the spiritual aspects take over, because while eating, drinking, and sex are permitted during nighttime, the Muslim then engages in prayers that take him/her deep into the night. It is a well-balanced programme that lifts the spirit, strengthens the resolve, and asserts Tawheed as no other act of worship can.
The conduct of our Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, and his companions may Allah be pleased with them in Ramadan differs a lot from the way Muslims do today. They dedicated their days and nights for worship. Their lives revolved completely around the book of Allah, the Qur’an. Reciting it in and out of prayers. The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, used to review the whole Qur’an with Jibreel (Angel Gabriel) once every Ramadan. Imaam Al-Bukhari, may Allah have mercy upon him, narrated: “Jibreel used to repeat the recitation of the Qur’an with the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, once a year (in Ramadan) but he repeated it with him twice in the year he died.” The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, used to stay in I’tikaaf (seclusion in the Masjid for the purpose of worship) for ten days every year (during Ramadan) but in the year of his death, he stayed in I’tikaaf for 20 days.”

Manisfestation of Mercy
Ramadan is the month of mercy. This is manifested in the revelation of the Qur’an and the commission of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, to the Prophethood during this blessed month, as Mercy from Allah. Allah, The Most Exalted, asserts this in numerous verses of the Qur’an; such as (what means):
“And We have sent down to you the Book (i.e. the Qur’an) as clarification for all things and as guidance and mercy and good tidings for the Muslims.” [Qur’an 16:89]
And (what means):
“So there has [now] come to you clear evidence from your Lord and a guidance and mercy.” [Qur’an 6:157] 
 And (what means): 
 “And We had certainly brought them a Book which We detailed by knowledge — as guidance and mercy to a people who believe.” [Qur’an 7:52]
 And (what means): 
 “And We send down of the Qur’an, that which is healing and mercy for the believers, but it does not increase the wrongdoers except in loss.” [Qur’an 17:82]
And when Allah Almighty referred to the commission of our beloved Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, He said (what means): “And We have not sent you, [O Muhammad], except as a mercy to the worlds.” [Qur’an 21:107]. 
Moreover, when the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, said describing himself and listing his attributes: “I am the Prophet of mercy.” [Al-Bukhari]
There is no question that our beloved Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, possessed the highest forms of moral and human attributes. Among human beings, he, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, was the most generous, the most merciful, the most courageous, the ‘most’ and the ‘best’ of everything good in Islam, and as described by his wife ‘Aa’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, his morals were the Qur’an. 
The question is: where does this leave us? Some people dismiss their shortcomings by saying: “I am not the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam”, but where does it say that you have to be a prophet to be merciful, or to be generous, or to be anything for that matter? Granted, that no one can be compared to the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, or even hope to partially attain his high levels and standards, but that should not be an excuse for not following his example and striving to be the best Muslims that we can be.
There are many Prophetic narrations that refer to the deprivation of an individual from the very thing he deprives others from, or the rewards, in multiples, of that which he provides. Among these narrations are:
1. “Allah will not be Merciful to those who are not merciful to mankind.” [Al-Bukhari] 
2. “Allah does not bestow His mercy except on the merciful among His slaves.” [Al-Bukhari] 
3. “Every good deed will be rewarded tenfold, up to seven hundred times, and Allah multiplies to whomever he wills.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]  
4. “Allah Says: Spend, o son of Aadam and I shall spend upon you.” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] 
There is no better time to start making positive changes in our lives than this blessed month. In Ramadan, many good things occur: the rewards are multiplied, the devils are chained, the gates of Hellfire are closed, and the gates of Paradise are opened. Every night of Ramadan, Allah redeems believers from the pains of Hellfire. It is the month of mercy, repentance, and charity. Use it or lose it!

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Number of rak’ahs in Taraweeh prayer
Question: On what basis do the leaders of Masjid Al-Haram (in Makkah) and Masjid An-Nabawi (in Madinah) offer 20 rak’ahs for Taraweeh prayer when there is clear hadith of A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, that says that the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, never offered more than eight rak’ahs, regardless of the month? 
Fatwa: All perfect praise be to Allah, the Lord of the worlds. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allah and that Muhammad is His slave and Messenger, may Allah exalt his mention as well as that of his family and all his companions.
The Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, did not pray 20 rak’ahs during the Taraweeh prayers; rather, he only prayed 11 rak’ahs, as was narrated by ‘A’ishah, may Allah be pleased with her, who said that the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, never prayed more than 11 rak’ahs, neither in Ramadan nor otherwise. [Al-Bukhari and Muslim] This narration, however, does not mean that it is not permissible to pray more than 11 rak’ahs, and for many reasons:
First, this is a report about an act of the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, and this does not mean that the matter is restricted to that number. Indeed the Prophet, sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam, specified the number of rak’ahs prayed by night, saying: “The prayers of the night are in twos (two rak’ahs followed by two rak’ahs and so on).” [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Secondly, it is confirmed that the companions, may Allah be pleased with them, used to pray 20 rak’ahs of Taraweeh prayer during the Caliphate of ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him. This is the evidence of the scholars who hold this opinion, and this is the opinion of Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal, Ash-Shafi’i, Ath-Thawri, and Ibn Al-Mubarak, may Allah have mercy on them, and this is the famous opinion of the Maliki School. As-Sa’ib Ibn Yazeed, may Allah have mercy on him, said: “They used to pray 20 rak’ahs during the reign of ‘Umar, may Allah be pleased with him, in Ramadan.” [Malik]
Thirdly, no scholar of the nation has stated that it is an innovation or not permissible to pray more than 11 rak’ahs. If any scholar said so in this century, then that would be the first time that it was said, and his statement would be rejected. May Allah have mercy on all of us.  
Allah knows best.

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