Bismillahi ir-Rahman ir-Raheem.
In the Name of God, the Universally Merciful, the Singularly Compassionate.
The spiritual discipline that often characterizes Ramadan is the fast (sawm), which is prescribed for believers by Allah s.w.t. in the Holy Qur’an, as He had prescribed it for others who came before. It has been reported by Abu Hurairah r.a. that the Prophet Muhammad ﷺ reported that Allah s.w.t. said in a Hadith Qudsi, “All the deeds of the son of Adam are for him, except fasting, which belongs to Me, and I will reward him for it… ”
Fasting is an obligatory act of worship (fard) that is owed by believers. It belongs to Allah s.w.t., and yet the Almighty does not need our fast, as He is free from all need. Even what is owed to our Creator is itself a Divine Mercy for us. While the spiritual benefits of fasting for the sake of Allah s.w.t. are many, they all trace back to our relationship with our Lord.
When the physical body is deprived of food and water, it gets uncomfortable. For those who are fasting for the first time, or who are challenged by a particularly long fast, they can even be quite concerned, if not downright terrified. Through the initial physical challenge of the fast, the soul is agitated and its level of maturity is tested. In this way, the physical fast is a means to an inner, spiritual fast. The fast ultimately reveals to you everything that comes between you and Allah s.w.t., every tendency to break down and lapse out of trust in Allah s.w.t. when placed under pressure. How you respond to this discomfort determines the degree of success of your spiritual fast.
Success begins with your intention and is sustained by mindfulness of Allah s.w.t. The next question is what you actually do with the negativity that arises. We are challenged to hold fast to Allah s.w.t. through mindfulness; this is the basis for the practice of restraint and patience. We fast from negativity in all of its forms, especially the tendency to fixate or grasp on to negative thoughts so that we don’t listen to them, believe them, and finally act on them. In this way, we are protected from the negativity that arises from within our own selves.
In the laboratory of spiritual practice, negativity should be welcomed as any other guest, reminding us of our place in the cosmic scheme (i.e. we are not perfect, we have a lot to learn, and life is a work in progress). We have no strength or power to accomplish the task of purification except that Allah s.w.t. empowers us to be successful in this great work — to the extent that we humble ourselves and turn our hearts sincerely towards Him. Negativity is finally transmuted in the golden moment of recognizing how we turned away from Allah s.w.t. while asking to be received once again into His Presence. This is the tawba or re-turning of the soul to Allah s.w.t. W’Allahu ‘alam.
©2012 Ilyas al Kashani