If you want to feel gratitude, look again at yourself!

It is very interesting to see the following verse 31 times in the compassionate chapter of The Quran:

So which of the favors of your Sustainer do you deny?

And between these verses, pictures are brought to us of creation. “So, look at that picture, look at that creation…”

So which of the favors of your Sustainer do you deny?

Continue reading “If you want to feel gratitude, look again at yourself!”

If you want to thank God, just change the way you see!

What is gratitude?

When we look at the dictionary definition, gratitude…    This is in the dictionary…   “a feeling of being thankful to somebody for doing something”  So, it is a feeling; that feeling is a result. You can not just feel gratitude; what needs to happen is, somebody needs to do something for you and you need to witness and be aware of it. When you are aware of it, then that feeling comes anyways and then you say thank you. When we say thank you to someone, normally, it should be the outcome of our feelings, and these feelings come out of… recognizing that somebody has done something for us.

Continue reading “If you want to thank God, just change the way you see!”

Marriage in Islam

Alhamdulillah, allazhi la ilaha siwah, assalatu wassalam ala sayyidina Muhammadin wa ala alihi wa sahbihi wasallem.

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar… God is Great… God is Great…

Today we are celebrating the wedding of two wonderful people… But through this event, we are celebrating God’s glory… When you see around you, you will see smiling faces and warm hearts… Who is the source of all this happiness that is reflected upon us? Glory be to Him; the Loving Compassionate that has put this happiness in our hearts in this very special day…

The prophet Muhammad (p) is reported to have said that “Whoever marries has achieved one half of belief.” But, why is marriage so important? And what should we do to cherish this gift?

A good starting point to understand the significance of marriage in our spiritual journey is remembering why we are here on earth. When we look at our surroundings with an open mind, we realize that what is happening cannot be the result of mere chance. The entire universe is full of art and purpose, and everything points to the Artist. Indeed, the perfection in everything testifies that they are created by the All-Knowing, All-Wise, and All-Loving Creator.

We did not choose to be created, but the Divine has chosen this for us, and has created us in the best of forms. He has given us the ability to think, to love, to experience life in its fullest. From this we can be sure that God cares for us and loves us… Everything we have is a gift from Him.

And why did He create us? To know, to love, and to adore/worship Him. Everything around us serves that very purpose.

Now, the One who creates everything out of His love has given us a precious gift: marriage. And he has given the gift of marriage as one of the major ways to realize and to fulfill our purpose of creation.

God says in the Quran:

“And among His wonders is this: He creates for you spouses among yourselves so that you may dwell in tranquility with them (you may become home to each other), and He engenders love and tenderness between you: in this, behold, there are messages indeed for people who think!” (Quran 30:21)

Marriage in Islam
Marriage in Islam

Marriage is about finding our true home. Not the material home; since we are not material beings. We are spiritual beings, and love in marriage is our spiritual home. It is a home where we receive God’s love and tenderness through our spouse.

Our spouse acts as a most tender gift box from our Loving Creator, and each time we receive compassion, we are reminded of the One who has given us this most precious gift. We are reminded of the unending love that is pouring from the One who has created us because of His love.

The Quran uses the word ‘Rahmah’ in the verse I just mentioned, which means much more than mercy and compassion. The word ‘Rahmah’ is derived from the root ‘Rhm’ which means womb. So, spouses can act like wombs to each other, and heal their pains, take care of their deficiencies, and support each other until they are born into the real life, the everlasting life…

Marriage is a gift for us to observe and to feel the reflections of God’s Attributes. We begin to get a glimpse of what God’s love means by feeling love towards each other. Through the feelings He gives us, we experience the meanings of love, mercy, compassion, patience, perseverance… And through these, we come to know God and love Him more!

God also says in the Quran regarding spouses:

“… they are a garment for you and you are a garment to them …” (Quran 2:187)

Spouses are garments to each other. What are garments for? Garments protect us and comfort us. If we are garments to each other, it means we are created to merge, to become one through marriage… Marriage is an opportunity to recognize the beauty of oneness.

But, this means that we have to get rid of our egos, which like to be independent. We need to kick our egos out of our spiritual homes.

Struggles in marriage are opportunities to do house cleaning… Marriage is like a mirror, which reflects everything about us. Guess what, sometime we won’t like what we see. In marriage, we will notice lots of our shortcomings that we haven’t seen before. The spiritual home of marriage is a place where we can be healed of these shortcomings.

Sometimes, we might not be able to feel gratitude to our Lord for the gift of marriage. In fact, we may start to blame our spouse, blame destiny, and blame God… But we need to open our minds and hearts and realize that these internal struggles are for our own benefit. Through this wonderful spiritual school of marriage, God is giving us the opportunity to grow, an opportunity to learn and come closer to Him.

We do so by mirroring the Beautiful Attributes of God in our relationship with our spouses. As prophet Muhammad (p) said: “The best of you are those that treat their spouses best….”

We receive the most effective spiritual and character training through marriage and parenting. Family is a 24/7 school with no spring breaks! We are to melt our egos and submit to God’s will in every aspect of our family lives. Or else, marriage becomes nothing but a pointless war between two egos.

Let’s say we like the idea of becoming more fit and exercising to be healthier. No matter how many books we read about how to exercise, no matter how much we talk about the benefits of exercising, the only way we will benefit from working-out is actually sweating in the gym!

Similarly, no matter how much we talk about the virtues of being a forgiving, loving, and giving person in theory, we cannot become more mature, more understanding, and more giving without going through the actual training.

No matter how much we talk about God’s forgiveness, patience, compassion, and love, we won’t know and appreciate Him experientially unless we practice these virtues in our lives.

For instance, when I show compassion towards my spouse, I can begin to understand how God shows His compassion to all creation.  As a result I would feel and say the following: Thank you God for showing me your Compassion through letting me show compassion towards my family!

Even though every human relation, like friendship for instance, is a school to train us in these virtues, none is as effective as family. Because we only spend a limited amount of time with friends, and can easily walk away at the slightest disagreement. Yet relationships in the family may expose all our faults and shortcomings that we did not even know we had.

God says in the Quran:

“It is He who created you from a single soul, and made its mate of like nature in order that you might dwell with her in love….” (Quran 7:189)

Today is a very big day…

Today, we are witnessing two servants of God, choosing to become one…

You are choosing to forget about “I”, and say “we” instead… Because love means dissolving in the other…

You are choosing to build a paradise like family, where angels will dwell…

You are choosing to be helpers and protectors of one another…

You are choosing to be a refuge and a comfort to one another…

You are choosing to be beautiful garments for one another… To cover the deficiencies of each other, and to cherish your strengths… to forgive one another, and to hold hands when it is needed the most…

You are choosing to receive God’s precious gift, so never forget God, in your ease or difficulties… Never mistreat God’s trust to you.. Never look down to God’s great gift to you… He entrusted each of you to the other, so be truthful to your trust.

You are choosing to hold your hands in the journey or love and melt in your love…

You are choosing to be blind to others and just look at each other…

You are choosing to be together forever, here, and in the hereafter…

Today is a very big day… Today God has invited us to witness His love, so that we can all take our shares from it… Glory be to God! God, let us feel your Love…

بارك الله لكما، وبارك عليكما، وجمع بينكما في خير

“May God bless you and shower His blessings on you and place goodness between both of you”

Amen.

Please feel free to use this talk in wedding ceremonies… Our gift to all couples!

By Dr. Omar and Dr. Eren Tatari

And here is a beautiful song for your marraige from Maher Zain: Barakallah

A Talk on Ramadan and Eid

The month of Ramadan, also known as the month of Qur’an, is truly an amazing month. It is a month of worship where gratitude is expressed for the blessings that have been bestowed. During this month, those celebrating are more able to genuinely feel and take part in the compassionate teachings of the Qur’an. Those partaking do not experience it as a month of hunger and thirst, but instead as a month of blessings. The blessings experienced transcend the physical blessings experienced at iftar time, extending to charity, friendship, caring for the needy, as well as greater reverence in our prayers and supplications. In experiencing the blessings of charity, those partaking in Ramadan ask about the community’s more destitute members and extend their own blessings of charity to those less fortunate. Along with these blessings, Ramadan places much importance on the iftar meals and prayers, rejoicing over the food and prayers shared with friends and family, as well as solitary worship.

It was this dual nature of Ramadan, the personal and communal, that drew my attention this year. In essence, keeping with Ramadan is a very spiritual and personal occasion; at the same time, it is also very social and it is this careful balance between the social and spiritual aspects that makes Ramadan very fascinating. As far as my own experiences of Ramadan are concerned, a significant portion of the time is dedicated to individual fasting, contemplating and meditating. The social aspect of Ramadan emphasizes factors such as the food, people and the community, and the greater world that we live in.

Another of the personal aspects that is characteristic of Ramadan is fasting. Fasting is not about doing something, but rather about abstaining from doing something, more specifically abstaining from eating and drinking. The act of abstaining is a conscious choice that results from one’s own perceptions of themselves, the world, and objects existing in the world such as food and drink. When we fast our connection to God strengthens and we realize that, while I am connected to food, I am not at its mercy. I can choose whether or not to eat, and what, when and how to eat. This is different from an animal the eats when hungry and simply enjoys the food; a Muslim eats in the Name of God and also shares the blessings that they have been provided by God with others.

The relationship between choices and world perceptions are more greatly defined during Ramadan: not eating the accessible and available food despite hunger is a choice that creates a favorable time for self-reflection. Many questions arise as a result of this reflection: Who am I? What is food to me? How significant is it? What place does it have in my life, in my heart? What is it that binds me to food? What is hunger? Is it the need for food? Consciously abstaining from eating and drinking interrupts our daily routine, but increases our awareness of who we are in relation to God and the rest of the world. This awareness is the highest and sweetest blessing that we can obtain as the honored guests of the Compassionate Lord. It is so meaningful, that even if you are not united anywhere and eating alone, during Ramadan there is the feeling that you are a guest in your own home and are no longer alone. Awareness increases during Ramadan because we know that Muslims worldwide are fasting and that we all share the perception of the world as a guesthouse.

From my own experiences, once the time comes to break the fast at the end of the day, food no longer has the same appeal. I drink a glass of water, eat a little food and that is enough to pacify me. The water and food I ingest represent more than just a means of satisfying my hunger. Water and food are gifts from the Provider and are signs of the compassionate host. The hunger we feel is equivalent to our neediness and thus binds us to food, making it more meaningful than it actually is. Due to this assigned meaning, tastier foods are found more pleasurable when one is hungry. The pleasure experienced is in itself a sign that food is not the source of pleasure but is instead a gift. The pleasure experienced is increased once one realizes that it is a gift of love and compassion. The pleasure, while being physical, is also spiritual; pleasure and awareness are simultaneously achieved at being the guest of such a generous Provider/Host which results in gratitude and worship.

The more I realize myself as a guest of the Compassionate Host, the more I empathize with other guests (that is, others celebrating Ramadan) and the easier it is to share the blessings with others who are able to appreciate it. My experience of Ramadan is made more meaningful and enjoyable knowing that there is a community of appreciators becoming aware in much the same way as I am. In this way, Ramadan is so personal while also being related to the rest of the world. It is about worship and prayer and also about the food and the many different blessings, both physical and spiritual, experienced at this time.

In talking about the physical and spiritual experience, it is important to mention that there is no separation between them as they both exist on one continuum. The physical being is a mirror of the spiritual. As such, matter embodies meaning just as a book or food holds significance or meaning. This connection with the divine is very spiritual. It happens through the prayers and supplications and also through eating, making every aspect of Ramadan a month of spirituality. As a result, my relationship with the rest of the world as God’s creation is transformed; I am able to view it as God’s gift to me, opportunities to see ‘the face of God’.

Eid is the day when we remember all these blessings and celebrate them fully.

The Meaning of Eid al-Adha

There are two main feasts in Islam[1]: Eid al-Fitr, the feast of the breaking of the fast at the end of Ramadan, and then Eid al-adha (also called the Feast of Sacrifice), which is the commemoration of the prophet Abraham, and is celebrated about two months after the end of Ramadan. The order of these feasts is significant. First fasting, then the Feast of Sacrifice.

First let us remember that fasting is one of the pillars of Islam (by Islam, I literally mean “surrendering to the will of God”). We have often heard that fasting brings spiritual fulfillment and that the month of Ramadan is a month of blessings. But what happens when we fast? What is so special about fasting? People often say that when you fast, you remember the hungry and share what God has given you with those in need. But I think if we don’t understand the meaning of fasting, we tend to think about food all day; and we may become even more self-centered and forget about the needy.

When Muslims (literally meaning those who strive to surrender to the will of God) fast, they realize how weak they are, how fragile the human body is. We realize that we are so needy and are dependent on so many things that we take granted for, like water and air. It is a situation that makes us wonder who we really are.

We often say that we are created beings but we are seldom aware of what that means. To be created means to be needy: we are in need of being created continuously, hence we are not self-sufficient. Our needs are countless but because we are usually unaware of our need for things like air, we take them for granted. Also, if I am created, if I am needy then everyone, everything else is like me. Everything is created with all of their qualities. Everything and the attributes/qualities of everything, belongs to their Maker alone. This is the beginning of the process of tawheed which is an ongoing process of unifying God and realizing that absolutely everything belongs to Him alone.

Tawheed is not only to believe in one god as opposed to two or three. It is to realize that all lovable attributes of perfection belong to their Maker alone and not to the things themselves. The Qur’an teaches tawheed in this way: “there is no deity (anything worth of being loved and worshipped) save He, to Him alone belong the attributes of perfection” (Qur’an, 20:8).

So if we reflect on the meaning of fasting, it helps us experience tawheed. When we fast, we are hungry and the food tastes good. We appreciate the value of food and we realize how precious a gift it is and we are filled with gratitude. This makes us reflect on the countless gifts of mercy that we have been given, like  health, sight, and so on…and everything becomes valuable; everything is a blessing and we realize how great a mercy air and water are.

Everything becomes a sign speaking of God’s mercy and generosity and other attributes of perfection. Food becomes a token of love, a sign of divine favor; a sign that turns our attention from food itself to the bestower of the favor. We also understand that hunger has not been given to us just to fill our stomach and derive temporary pleasure from eating, but to make that pleasure a sign, a means to recognize the giver of the pleasure and thus be grateful to Him alone.

When the food is perceived as a divine favor, the pleasure it gives is far greater than the pleasure obtained from its perishable matter.  It gives a lasting delight: the pleasure of feeling in the presence of God’s everlasting care and love. This pleasure is the essence of worship; it is the seed of the pleasures of paradise. That is why every time we break the fast, we experience the good news of everlasting pleasure and we rejoice.

Every evening in the month of fasting is a feast. And at the end of the month, the whole community celebrates the feast of the breaking of the fast. Feasting is centered on worship rather than food. The feast is celebrated with communal prayers and glorification of God that lasts 3 days.  People visit and offer presents to each other to express their gratitude to God and reflect His attributes of bestower and compassionate in their own life. Feasting is basically rejoicing at being the honored guest of the merciful creator, a state that we realize best when we fast with the intention of achieving tawheed. Indeed, the more we realize how needy we are, the more we feel showered by blessings (ni’ma), and our whole being is filled with gratitude for the compassionate creator. Those who surrender to this reality say: Praise be to God, lord of all the worlds i.e. Lord of all gifts, the Lord of everything. Praising the merciful creator is the gist of worship.

Fasting reminds us of our needs. And our needs are the means to taste all things, to feel empathy for the needy (and everything is needy). Through our needs we communicate with the rest of the world in the name of God. We realize that we are not alien to other people or to other beings. Then the spirit rejoices to these good news even if the stomach yells. God says in the Qur’an:

 

For them there is the glad-tidings of happiness in the life of this world and in the life to come” (Qur’an, 10:64).

 

Then we can share everything with everybody because we are not anxious about providing for our needs as the Merciful Creator has already taken care of them.  It is the end of egotism. We are liberated from the illusory world of the ego. Giving and sharing with others is not a sacrifice anymore because nothing is ours anyway, everything is continuously given to us and as we share with others we remember and affirm this reality of given-ness; that is why sharing is a source of joy and a source of realizing our position as the honored guests of the Lord of this world.

So if we fast with this awareness, we remember the true owner of bounties and lovable things. Food is not mere food but a gift from God that is to be eaten and used in the name of God. We then love food in the name of its Creator who made it lovable and offered it to us as a gift of love and friendship.

If we love things for themselves, if we imagine that the qualities that make them lovable are inherent to them, then we are making them into idols. For love is worship. And the love (i.e. worship) of idols is just the opposite of tawheed. The Qur’an teaches that to ascribe partners to God is to ascribe qualities manifested on objects and in ourselves to the things themselves rather than to their Maker.

Things are not beautiful. They are made beautifully! We love beauty but beauty belongs only to the Creator. Thus things should be loved in the name of their Maker, and that is what bismillah – In the Name of God- is supposed to remind us of. In other words, in order to submit to the cosmic reality of tawheed,  we need to break our idols, we need to ‘slaughter’/or kill our illusion that things are  good/lovable in themselves and from themselves as though they were independent of their Creator.

This is what is symbolized by the sacrifice of a sheep at Eid al-Adha. This feast of sacrifice is the most important feast of the Muslim calendar. It is about two months after the feast of the breaking of the fast and it concludes the Hajj, the Pilgrimage to Mecca. It lasts for four days and commemorates Abraham’s surrendering to the will of God. The feast re-enacts Abraham’s faithfulness by sacrificing an animal. The family donates 2/3 of the meat to the poor and the neighbors. In Islam, Abraham is known as the father of tawheed; the Qur’an says that he is the model of taslim (surrendering to God’s will):

“Surely Abraham was a man who combined within himself all virtues, devoutly obedient to God’s will, turning away from all that is false, and ,not being of those who ascribe divinity to anyone but God .  He was grateful for the blessings granted by Him who had elected him and guided him unto a straight path.  We gave him good in this world, and in the next he will most surely be among the righteous” (Qur’an, 16:120-121).

 

“And We made him [Abraham] pure in this world and in the hereafter; he is most surely among the righteous.  When his Lord said to him, ‘Surrender yourself unto me [aslim],’ he said, ‘I surrender myself to the Lord of the Worlds’” (Qur’an, 2:130-131).

Abraham destroyed all the idols that his people worshipped; i.e. he destroyed idols in the outer world. He knew that none besides God was worthy of being worshipped. Ultimately, he had to destroy all idols in his inner heart so that all love will be for the sake of God alone. But how? Not by renouncing the world physically as he first thought. The Qur’an says that God accepted his intention but God also taught him that the renunciation is only metaphorical. The world is not an obstacle to the love and worship of God; everything is in fact an ayah making God known. The problem is not with the world but with our vision of the world and thus with our relationship with the world. In the same way, the problem was not with Abraham’s child but with the nature of Abraham’s love for his child.

God taught Abraham that the solution was not to kill his son but to love him in the name of his Creator. Abraham surrendered to God’s will because he knew that God made him love his son, and he trusted God’s infinite mercy and wisdom. And God taught him that in order to confirm the reality of tawheed in his life he didn’t need to leave the world and renounce/kill his son, but rather he had to love his son in the name of God.  He didn’t have to renounce the world physically. For why was the world created then? And how are we going to know God then? Not by imagining Him. Only by witnessing God’s works of mercy can we know and become friends with Him. That is in Islam, asceticism is only metaphorical; the world is not an obstacle to our relationship with God, on the contrary everything in the world is a form of speech, explaining us God’s Divine Attributes and making Him known to us.

This revelation is also the occasion of a great feast, where prayers and worship are at the center. At the eve of this great feast, it is the tradition to recite the chapter of ikhlas (the declaration of tawheed) a thousand times as a reminder of the essence of the story of Abraham and his son. Muslims are asked to repeat the words Allahu akbar (God is the Greatest), for a few days after all their daily prayers. So in this sense, fasting from idolatry is feasting and rejoicing at God’s friendship and love. This is what tawheed is about. Let us not forget that tawheed is also the main purpose in the teachings of the Qur’an. Tawheed is the gist of Islam and the gist of worship; it the gist of fasting and the gist of feasting.

 


[1] I would like to thank Dr. Yamina Mermer for allowing me to use an edited version of this text.

A Talk on Fasting and Ramadan

Good evening,

It is a pleasure to be here with such good company and spiritual atmosphere. We are in the month of Ramadan, which is the 9th month of the lunar calendar; hence its dates change approximately 11 days every year. In the Qur’an, all healthy, adult believers are asked to fast from dawn to sunset for the duration of this month. At the end of this month there is a 3 day EID/celebration.

For Muslims, Ramadan entails getting up prior to sunrise to have an early breakfast and not eating or drinking anything till sunset. They frequently share the fast-breaking dinner with friends, family, and those in need.

It is important to note here though that fasting also involves all of our faculties. For example, our tongue fasts by not getting angry, lying, breaking someone’s heart, being mean and so on. Our eyes fast by not looking at unlawful things, and by looking at God’s creation to contemplate the manifestations of His attributes. Our body fasts when we use it in acts that would please God, like helping those in need.

Fasting helps discipline our ego, whose job is to claim ownership and independence. It helps us to realize our weakness and neediness, which in turn renders us more humble. It helps make us more thankful for all the gifts we receive from God. It helps us understand what hunger is and thus help those in need. And finally, it is not only healthy for the soul but also for our body. Those who are into detox fasting…etc. know what I am talking about J

Hence, spiritually, Ramadan is like an intensive course when we try to get and stay closer to God, and increase our awareness that He is the sole Creator and Sustainer of everything and us at all times.

Like Ramadan, Eid celebration is also centered on worship rather than food. Although food is always present; since in Islam the world is sacred as everything is a sign pointing to its Maker. The feast is celebrated with communal prayers and glorification of God that lasts 3 days. People visit each other and offer presents to each other to express their gratitude to God. Feasting is basically rejoicing at being the honored guest of the compassionate creator, the Divine host….. We rejoice at God’s love and care for us as His guests here on earth.

Now, I would like to concentrate more deeply on the meaning of fasting. Fasting was prescribed in the Quran, not as a new practice, but as the continuation of the way of the prophets. God says in the Quran:

O you who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might become God-conscious” (Qur’an, 2: 183).

In a sense, we fast to imitate Moses and his 40 day fast before talking to God; Jesus and his 40 day fast; and Muhammad and his fast before he received the first revelation.

There is one main purpose in fasting: to become God-conscious. To become more transparent, and with this transparency to experience our life and the world with more clarity. To see things as they really are, rather than to see them as we like to see them.

Fasting forces us to feel our vulnerability. We become hungry, thirsty, and weak. If fasting is accompanied with deep reflection, then through fasting, we start feeling the presence of Infinite Love and Compassion that is flowing from the Infinite Source, which we call God.

In popular culture, feeling our weakness is not seen as desirable. However, in Islamic spirituality, feeling our weakness and vulnerability is the fastest way to reach God…

When we feel our weakness, we start to realize who we are dependent on. When we stop eating and drinking, we recognize who gives us life… every moment… who gives us the ability to talk, see, hear… every moment… We recognize that we are weak, but we are dependent on an Infinite Source.

When we recognize our dependence and surrender to the Infinite Source, we feel empowered. We actually become much more peaceful, strong, and content. Because it is not my weak ego that I depend on any more. I realize that I am dependent on the Infinite Source that creates and fashions everything every moment.

In the Qur’anic verse, fasting was mentioned as a way to be more God-conscious, to be in close unity with Him. To see His attributes and actions in every moment, in every human, in every flower, in every tree… Since when we recognize our dependence on Him, we also recognize the dependence of everything on Him. Every human is also weak, and dependent on Him. Every tree, every animal, the sun, the moon, is also dependent on Him. The Infinite One is taking care of everything with Its Infinite Love and Compassion…

This way fasting allows us to see all human beings as brothers and sisters. Not only that, it also helps us to see the whole creation as brothers and sisters… the family of creation.

With that absolute dependence on the Infinite Source, we start recognizing that all the beautiful attributes we are attached to, are in fact coming from the Source. The Source of beauty, love, and compassion is Him. In this respect, everything becomes a mirror to the Infinite One. In this regard, Mother Teresa’s words speak to the heart: “I see God in every human being.” Likewise, Yunus Emre, a Muslim poet and mystic said “I love all the created because of the Creator.”

I want to mention another verse from the Quran, where it mentions the conversation between Zachariah and Mary. God says in the Quran:

“Whenever Zachariah visited her in the sanctuary, he found her provided with food. He would ask: “O Mary, whence came this unto thee?” She would answer: “It is from God; behold, God grants sustenance unto whom He wills, beyond all reckoning” (Qur’an, 3:37).

Similar to Mary who was in complete consciousness of her Lord, the more we enter to the sanctuary of God consciousness through fasting, the more we are to receive such spiritual sustenance.

That is why we rejoice at the month of Ramadan even if the stomach yells. And maybe that’s why it is said that fasting brings about spiritual fulfillment and that in the month of fasting, goods are multiplied manifolds.  Ramadan is also often called the month of blessings.

It is a month of worship and contemplation on who we are, why we are here and where we are off to…

Thank you for being here and sharing this meaningful fast-breaking dinner with us.

Fasting

Fasting[1]

By Dr. Eren Tatari[2]

“The month of Ramadan (is the month) in which the Qur’an was sent down as guidance for people, and as clear truths of the guidance and the Criterion (between truth and falsehood). Therefore, whoever of you is present this month must fast it…” (Qur’an, 2:185).

Fasting is a type of worship that is shared among the three Abrahamic traditions, though in unique forms. God prescribes healthy adult believers to fast from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month in the lunar calendar. Indeed, we are encouraged to fast throughout the year, and some believers follow the tradition of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) to fast Mondays and Thursdays. One of the significances of the month of Ramadan is the fact that the Qur’an was first revealed in this month.

Fasting means not eating or drinking; no water, no smoking, no gum… Yet, it also entails much more than that. All other faculties fast as well. For instance, our tongue fasts by not getting angry, lying, breaking someone’s heart, being mean, etc. Our eyes fast by not looking at unlawful things. Our entire body fasts by using it in acts that would please God, like helping others. Moreover, fasting is to be accompanied by heightened spiritually; trying to get closer to God, increasing our awareness that He is the sole Creator and Sustainer of everything. The Ramadan fast is an intensive course of focusing on worship, contemplation, and social service, such as helping the needy and feeding the poor.

Why was fasting prescribed? What is the wisdom in it? For one, it helps us to see the bigger picture, to see order, the Orderer, and Wisdom and Mercy in everything through contemplation. The Creator knows us better than us. Religion is His guidance and our manual. So we choose to follow this guidance to fulfill the purpose of our creation and to find inner peace. It is healthy for our body and soul, and it disciplines our ego. It helps us to realize our weakness and neediness, which makes us more humble and modest. Fasting teaches us to be more thankful for all blessings. We need to understand hunger and help others. Experience equals confirmation.

If a person goes to a friend’s house, the feast might be ready, but the guest won’t start eating until his host invites him. Why does he wait? Out of respect and to show that he acknowledges and cares for his host. During the month of Ramadan, the month of fasting, it’s very much like that:  We wait all day, from sunrise to sunset, for our divine host to invite us to eat and drink when the call to prayer is recited.

This is an extraordinary experience. Although it’s not easy to fast, when it’s time to break the fast at sunset, there is that wonderful feeling of belonging, of being the guest of the Divine, the guest of the compassionate Creator and Provider. And we rejoice not only at satisfying our hunger but more so at being the guest of the Lord.

Ramadan is a time to refresh the way we look at the world.  It makes us reflect on the “simple” things that are in fact amazing.  Even a cup of tea is not as cheap as it seems to be.  For a tea leaf to grow, the existence of the whole universe is required: the sun, the rotation of the earth, the rain, soil, bacteria, and so on.  Have you ever tried to count the kinds of fruits, vegetables, plants that “come out” of the soil? Is it a simple process?

The Creator has made the whole world like a feast, showing His generosity and compassion. Yet, in daily life we often forget to respond appropriately to these glorious acts of the Creator. And in order to be thankful to God we need to remember that we are given all these gifts, but we also need to recognize the value of the gifts. We quite often underestimate the value of a glass of water or a piece of bread until we give up the daytime meals and snacks in the month of Ramadan. This makes fasting during Ramadan a powerful means of recovering our gratitude to our Merciful Sustainer. When we fast, we are hungry and we appreciate the value of food; we realize what a precious gift it is and we are filled with gratitude. This makes us reflect on the countless gifts and blessings that we have been given; not only  food and  drink, but also health, sight, friendship, air, water, etc. Everything is valuable; everything is a blessing.

Fasting allows us to become more conscious of the compassionate sustainer of the world, and so we turn to our Lord to acknowledge our gratitude. We remember once more that we are guests of God on earth. In Ramadan, we become like an assembly of divine guests waiting the invitation of our host to start enjoying the feast. We respectfully wait in front of the dinner table for the Glorious Host’s invitation to start eating.  The fast of Ramadan helps us remember that we are being taken care of with compassion and generosity.

Everything becomes a sign that speaks of God’s generosity and compassion. Food becomes a token of love, a sign of divine favor; a sign that turns our attention from the food itself to the bestower of the food. We also understand that hunger has not been given to us only to fill our stomachs and derive temporary pleasure from it, but to make that pleasure itself a sign, a means to recognize the giver of the pleasure and turn to Him. And when the food is perceived as a divine favor, the pleasure it gives is far greater than the pleasure obtained from its perishable matter. It gives a lasting delight: the pleasure of feeling in the presence of God’s everlasting compassion and love. That is why every time we break the fast, we experience the good news of everlasting pleasure and we rejoice. Every evening in the month of fasting is a feast. And at the end of the month, the whole community celebrates the feast of the breaking of the fast.

Like Ramadan, Eid or feasting is centered on worship rather than food. However, food is always present during Eid too, because in Islam, everything in the world is sacred;, every event is a sign pointing to its Maker. The feast is celebrated with communal prayers and glorification of God that lasts three days. People visit each other and offer presents to each other to express their gratitude to God.

Feasting is basically rejoicing at being the honored guest of the compassionate Creator, the host. We rejoice at God’s love and care for us as His guests here on earth. Fasting during Ramadan is the opportunity to remember God’s loving presence and to hold our hearts open to receive His compassionate guidance and help.

Technically speaking, the fast of Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam.  Like other pillars of Islam, it has personal, social and ethical implications. It refreshes our relationship to our Merciful Creator as well as our relations with other human beings. It is basically a month of thanksgiving at various personal and social levels. When we fast, we realize how weak we are; how fragile the human body is; how dependent we are on so many things we take for granted. It’s a situation that makes us wonder who we really are. Our needs are countless, but usually we are not even aware of them because we take them for granted. The more we realize how needy we are, the more we feel that we are bombarded with blessings, and our whole being is filled with gratitude for the compassionate Creator, and when we surrender to this reality, we say, “Praise be to God, Lord of all the Worlds,” which means the Lord of all gifts, the Lord of everything. And praising the merciful Creator is the essence of worship.

Therefore, fasting reminds us of our needs, and our needs are the means to taste all gifts and enjoy them. Without hunger, food would not provide pleasure. Our needs are also the means to feel empathy for the needy; through our needs we communicate with the rest of the world in the name of God, the provider of all. This makes us realize that we are not alien to other people or to other beings. That is why we rejoice at the month of Ramadan even if our stomachs cry out. And maybe that’s why it is said that fasting brings about spiritual fulfillment and that in the month of fasting, rewards are multiplied manifold. Ramadan is also often called the month of blessings.

When we empathize with others, and feel that we are not alien to them, then we can share everything with everybody because we are not anxious about providing for our needs. The Merciful Creator has already taken care of them. We are liberated from the illusory world of the ego that thinks that it provides for itself. Giving and sharing with others does not feel like a sacrifice anymore because nothing is ours anyway; everything is given to us. Sharing with others is an opportunity for us to remember and affirm this reality. Sharing becomes a source of joy, a source of realizing our position as honored guests of our Lord.

When we fast with this awareness, we remember the true owner of blessings and lovable things. Food becomes not mere perishable food, but a gift from God that is to be eaten in the name of God. We then love food in the name of its Maker who made it lovable and offered it to us as a gift of love and friendship. So Ramadan is a month of worship, a time to draw closer to God. It is a special time God chooses to open His extra doors of mercy.

What are the wisdoms of the Ramadan fast? The fast of Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam.  Like others pillars of Islam, it is a multifaceted act, with profound implications for all aspects of our lives, personal, social and ethical.  It rejuvenates our relationship to our Merciful Creator, as well as our relations with other human beings.  It helps us to be witnesses to God’s glory, be mindful of and thankful for bounties of God, as well as to discipline our ego. In what follows, we will explore some of these aspects of Ramadan fast.

Ramadan fast is a witness to Our Sustainer. It is a time to refresh the way we view the world.  It makes us reflect on the “simple” things that are in fact awesome.  Even an apple is not as cheap as we regard it to be.  For the growth of a single apple, the existence of whole universe is required:  sun, the ordered rotation of earth, rain, soil, bacteria and so on.  Let us just try to count the kinds of fruits, vegetables, plants that “come out” of soil, is it a simple process at all? Indeed, Glorious Creator has made the whole world like a feast table; showing His perfect art, generosity and mercy.  Yet, in daily life we often forget to respond appropriately to these glorious acts of the Creator.

It is in Ramadan that we wake up to a greater consciousness of this merciful and magnificent sustaining of the world.  And, we turn all together, as a unified body of hundreds of millions –even more- believers on the globe, to acknowledge our gratitude to our Lord.  We remember once more that we are guests of God on earth, and we show a palpable sign of this by actually participating in the fast of Ramadan.  Indeed, in Ramadan, we become like a great assembly of royal guests waiting the command of their host in the dining hall to start enjoying the royal feast.  All the Muslims over the globe become one united body, respectfully waiting in front of the dinner tables, for the Glorious Host’s invitation to start eating.  The fast of Ramadan helps us to remember our relationship to the Glorious Creator, as servants in awe and with gratitude.

Ramadan fast enhances our gratitude to our Creator. More specifically, Ramadan is a time to recover our gratitude to God.  If a dear friend of yours sent you precious gifts in mail, would you contend by thanking the mailperson?  Would it be fair for you to forget to thank the sender, while thanking and tipping the deliverer?  Yet, we frequently behave like this, when we receive gifts from God, such as life, health, food, drink or love, we contend ourselves by thanking only (or mainly) the ‘deliverers’ of these gifts—parents, friends, or nature, forgetting the Real Giver of these gifts.  We may buy some bananas or a box of strawberries from the grocery store. As long as we pay several dollars for it, we think we really paid for these.  While, in fact, we are only paying for the cultivation and transportation of these fruits.  We are not paying for its amazing creation from a mixture of mud, or our capacity to taste, enjoy and digest these fruits.  Do any of us, for instance, pay for the sun to shine or for the taste buds in our tongue to work?

Indeed, we need some boost in our recognition of the real Sender. One of the wisdoms in Ramadan fast is to get this boost.   By being barred from eating till the time determined by the Creator (we may not start eating even a minute before the sunset call), we realize that what we thought as ours is not really ours.   This discipline helps us to tell ourself: “here it is, the vegetables I bought with my money and cooked with my own hands in my own oven heat. Yet, this food is really not mine, for I cannot eat it whenever I want. I have to wait for the permission of their Real Owner in the sunset.”   This concrete realization that all that we take for granted are gifts from God encourages us to be more thankful to Him.  By the way, while doing this we need not decrease our thanks to the ‘deliverers’ (so do not give up paying for the grocery bills!)

In order to be thankful to God we need not only remember that all are gifts from Him, but we also need to recognize the value of what is given.  We quite often underestimate the value of a glass of water or a piece of bread- until we give up the daytime meals and snacks in the month of Ramadan.  Thus, Ramadan becomes a powerful way of recovering our gratitude to our Merciful Sustainer.

Ramadan fast is a means of getting to know who we are. God says in the Qur’an, “Be not like those who are forgetful of God, and whom therefore [God] causes to forget themselves” (Qur’an 59:19). He reminds us of our reality:

 

“O humankind! You are all poor before God and in absolute need of Him, whereas He is the All-Wealthy and Self-Sufficient (absolutely independent of creation), the All-Praiseworthy (as your Lord, Who provides for you and all other beings, supplying all your needs)” (Qur’an 35:15).

 

Our ego wants to pretend as if it is independent of God; it does not want to admit its full dependence on its Creator, and wants to ignore the fact that it is a recipient and not the owner of the bounties of God.  In short, we have a part in us that simply does not want to be grateful and humble before the Creator. Add economic affluence and worldly power to this innate inclination of our ego, we may easily end up with a life based on forgetfulness of God, living like a thief of God’s bounties, devouring the bounties without acknowledging the Real Owner!

The good news is that this ego is not what we are all about; it is just a part in us, it is not our real identity.  The ego’s innate duty is to encourage us to forget God, and our innate duty is to say “no” to it (i.e. to strengthen our muscles we have to lift weight).  Ramadan fast is a time for us to do our job of honesty, when it palpably manifests that we are all needy recipients of God’s sustenance.  We realize in Ramadan more profoundly that we are neither self-sufficient nor immortal as our ego falsely claims.  Our ego wants to overlook the fact that we are indeed weak, perishable mortals on earth.  Our ego often wants to pretend that we are immortal, it wants to overlook the fact that we are only transient passengers on this world, destined for an eternal life in the hereafter (and therefore need to prepare for it.)  Fasting becomes a good discipline for our ego’s illusions, by showing how our batteries fall low and our bodies become weak after hours of no ingestion.  In Ramadan, the ego’s tendency to play God like a Pharaoh vanishes and our human reality becomes manifest: we are all poor creatures before God, with perishable bodies, and we are better off by admitting this before our Creator.

Ramadan is also a time to draw closer to Our Creator, for it is a special time He chooses to open His extra doors of mercy.  Moreover, Ramadan has social implications; it reminds us that an important component of being grateful for what God gave is to share it with our fellow human beings.  Ramadan fast also helps spiritual growth by disciplining the “stomach,” and enabling an environment in which we can listen to the message of the Qur’an more attentively.

 


[1] In preparing this section, I have benefitted from Nursi’s “Treatise on Ramadan” (Twenty-Ninth Letter). I also thank Dr. Isra Yazicioglu for sharing her reflections on this chapter.

[2] Dr. Eren Tatari is the author of Surrendering to God: Understanding Islam in the Modern Age  (Tughra Publications, December 2012).  She is an Assistant Professor at Rollins College, FL focusing on Islam and Muslims in the West.