Character building during Ramadan

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Iftar Practices
“Maximizing the Last Ten Days of Ramadan: Guidance and Suggestions”

“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may have Taqwa” (2:183)

Allah has ordained Muslims to observe fasting during the blessed month of Ramadhan because fasting purifies the souls and cleanses them from the evil that might mix with them and their ill behaviour. (Tafseer Ibn Katheer) As Allah tells us in Quran, the objective of fasting is to develop Taqwa, i.e., being conscious of Allah at all points of time. Taqwa is to be observant of the commandments of Allah and His prohibitions so that one does only what is permissible in the sight of Allah and abstains from all that He has forbidden. This perspective of Taqwa should not be limited only to those acts of ritual worship in Islam. Rather, this should encompass all activities of our day-to-day life, which is what perfecting our character is all about. While most of us are conscious of our efforts in Ramadan to execute acts of worship through optional prayers, recitation of the Holy Quran, being charitable, etc., we do not pay the same attention concerning moulding our character during Ramadan.

Our Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), who was sent to perfect our morals, attached a lot of importance to character building, especially during the days of fasting. By limiting the definition of Taqwa to mean merely acts of rites and rituals, one hijacks the universality of his blessed teachings. This is why we find that our Prophet (pbuh) not only was the best version of himself during the blessed days of Ramadan but also encouraged us to train our body and soul to imbibe such values during the month of Ramadan to lead the rest of our lives by perfecting our character. Although fasting from dawn to dusk during Ramadan means abstinence from food, drink, and sexual act, he (pbuh) also warned us that the rewards of Ramadan fasts will be nullified if one does not take care of his/her character during that time.

He (pbuh) said: “Whoever does not give up evil and ignorant speech and acting in accordance with it, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and his drink (Ibn Majah).” The word used in this hadith to denote evil speech, Qawlaz Zoor, also appears in the Quran thus: “Avoid false statement”. (22:30). According to Tafseer Ma’ariful Quran, the phrase Qawlaz Zoor means lies. Anything contrary to truth is a lie and false, whether it is corrupt beliefs and practices or false evidence. This hadith clearly warns about the non-acceptance of the virtuous deed of fasting because of indulging in sayings and actions of evil, even though one would have abstained from food and drink during fasting. Merely depriving oneself of food and drink without paying heed to the spirit of the command of fasting would only result in hunger and thirst. Another similar hadith goes, thus: “There are people who fast and get nothing from their fast except hunger, and there are those who pray during the night get nothing from their prayer but a sleepless night. (Ibn Majah)” Allah’s protection is sought from such an ignominy!

Exercising caution while uttering words truly reflects our level of Eeman, as the Prophet (pbuh) said: He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must either speak good or remain silent (Bukhari)”. Cursing others and usage of obscene, vulgar and abusive language are not something that is befitting a Muslim. Allah commands that people speak good words with politeness when He states: “And say to My servants that they should say those best words.(17:53)” If this is the general precept, then what about the days of fasting? Another hadith that not only underlines the importance of tongue-control during fasting but also teaches us how to react to such a behaviour goes thus: Abu Hurairah (radiyallahu anhu) narrated that the Messenger of Allah (swt) said: “When any one of you is fasting, let him not utter evil or ignorant speech. If anyone speaks to him in an ignorant manner, let him say: I am fasting.” (Ibn Majah). Yet another authentic hadith states: The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said: “Fast is a shield. When one of you is fasting, he should neither behave in an obscene manner nor foolishly. If a man fights or abuses him, he should say: I am fasting, I am fasting”. (Abu Dawood).

If these narrations depict the gravity of the sin of misuse of tongue, then what about indulging in quarrelsome behaviour? This evil trait made this Ummah pay a heavy price by losing out on the knowledge of the exact night of Lailathul Qadr. Right from the local or global sighting of the moon to the number of raka’ah of Taraweeh prayers, this nation cannot stop quarreling, bickering, and being at each others’ throats even during Ramadan. At the same time, these matters are given to valid differences of opinion among the scholars. Allah’s help is sought! We need to realize that these are issues over which the Ummah has had intellectual differences in the interpretation of the texts and, hence, is bound to have had differences of opinion in the past and will continue to do so in the future. These differences should never give rise to divisions within the Ummah.

What can be more devastating than having observed fasting during Ramadan only to find it being nullified of its rewards in the Hereafter on not paying attention to its character-molding aspect? This is why the past scholars used to be concerned about their fasts and asked Allah for the acceptance of their fasts of Ramadan for about six months after Ramadan, despite taking meticulous care not to indulge in any such act that will nullify its rewards. May Allah bless us all with witnessing the beautiful month of Ramadan and ensuring that we do not nullify its rewards by our ignorant and foolish behaviour. May He bless each of us to spend every split-second of it in a manner worthy of His Grace and Forgiveness. Ameen.