The throat is parched and the tummy is rumbling. It is just mid-afternoon and the sun is shining brightly, iftar still hours away. The dry mouth waters as thoughts of succulent dates, crispy gram flour fritters and chilled water flit through one’s mind. The eyes droop as lowered energy levels and fatigue beckon the afternoon siesta, and one longs to relax before ‘Asr prayer, even as one recites the Qur’an. There is no doubt about it: fasting during the long summer days can be a draining experience.
The word “Ramadhan” is derived from the Arabic root letters ra, meem, and dhad which give it the basic meaning of something being violently heated by the sun, or becoming intensely hot. When used in reference to a man, it implies that his feet got burnt by the ground or by stones heated by the sun.
As a noun, the word “ramadh” means the vehemence of the sun upon the sand, the burning of the intense heat of summer, or simply: heat.
Allah (SWT) says in the Qur’an:
“Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if anyone is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) by days later. Allah desires ease for you, and desires not hardship for you (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him in that He has guided you, and perchance you shall be grateful.” (Al-Baqarah:185)
This verse describes the direct relationship between the month of Ramadhan and the Qur’an and its revelation, describing the Qur’an as ‘huda’ (guidance for mankind), ‘bayyinaat’ (clear signs and proofs) and a ‘furqan’ (the criterion for distinguishing between right and wrong, and truth and falsehood).
Tafsir Ibn Kathir confirms that Allah I revealed all the previous Divine Books or scripture during the month of Ramadhan. This month of fasting was also prescribed in all previous divinely revealed religions:
Imam Ahmad reported from Wathilah bin Al-Asqa` that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) said, “The Suhuf (Pages) of Ibrahim were revealed during the first night of Ramadhan. The Torah was revealed during the sixth night of Ramadhan. The Injil was revealed during the thirteenth night of Ramadhan. Allah revealed the Qur’an on the twenty-fourth night of Ramadhan.”
The meaning of the Arabic word that Allah (SWT) uses to describe the fasting of Ramadhan – siyam – is based on the root letters saad, wow, meem, meaning abstinence. The prime purpose of siyam or abstinence from eating, drinking, sexual relations with one’s spouse, in addition to abhorrent and sinful actions during Ramadhan, is to achieve taqwa, or consciousness of Allah (SWT):
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain taqwa (remain conscious of Allah).” (Al-Baqarah:183)
What we can conclude is that fasting during the month of Ramadhan, as mentioned in the Qur’an, weaves several aspects of worship and spirituality together, namely: getting ‘heated up’ or tested in our willpower regarding abstaining from otherwise halal bodily desires; adopting taqwa by being more conscious of Allah (SWT) while fasting, and, finally, connecting more to the Qur’an whilst in this state of fasting. This can be understood in the following ways:
• Being commanded to observe abstinence from things that are otherwise halal, every day for thirty days, is akin to the intense heat of the sun bearing down upon stones or the earth, making them extremely hot. The fasting on thirty consecutive days tests a believer’s willpower, faith and belief, making him internally strong, rejuvenating his connection with Allah I, and ‘heating’ him up with a newly revived spirituality and a firmer faith.
‘No pain, no gain,’ as they say. Just as the vehement heat of the blazing furnace is necessary to produce pure gold, the ‘intense heat’ of the yearly Ramadhan ritual of fasting, night prayer and Qur’an recitation, is necessary to ‘burn off’ the impurities of a believer’s sins, and polish him in order to make him shine like pure gold again.
• By not eating or drinking during the days of Ramadhan even when no human being is around to see, a believer becomes much more conscious of Allah (SWT) than he is during the rest of the year, when he can eat and drink halal things without any obligatory limits. This extra-high consciousness raises his level of taqwa, which inevitably dwindles during the year.
• The revelation of all of Allah’s (SWT) Divine books of guidance during the month of Ramadhan, indicates the need for connecting to scripture during these thirty days. Reciting the Qur’an separately and in prayers throughout Ramadhan and endeavouring to understand it in order to act upon it is prescribed during this month. This is because the Qur’an can only be “huda” – a guidance for us – when it is understood with the intention of submitting to its commands.
Further, only with the understanding of its words do the instructions, narratives, parables and injunctions in it take on the form of ‘bayyinaat’ (clear proofs or signs), resulting in the development of a ‘furqan’ or criterion within us, which allows us to clearly distinguish between truth and falsehood.
Now when we employ this ‘furqan’, or criterion, in practical life and abstain from what Allah (SWT) has forbidden whilst simultaneously rushing forth in doing all the good that He has commanded, we are guided towards higher levels of taqwa, aware that Allah (SWT) is watching us all the time.
It is thus in Ramadhan that we come full circle, and emerge purified and exalted by its ‘furnace’ like pure gold, Allah (SWT) willing.
Sadaf Farooqi is immensely grateful to Allah (SWT) that He cleanses us from sins and revives our dwindling faith by bringing the heat of Ramadhan upon us every year.