Ramadan is the Arabic name for the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. During the month of Ramadan, Muslim believers fast, not eating or drinking during the hours of daylight. Professor Muhammad A S Abdel Haleem, Director of the Centre of Islamic Studies at SOAS, shares some thoughts on the month ahead.
Once again Ramadan is here to uplift believing Muslims spiritually and give us the unique experience of the first day sitting at home, different from the day before, as we read God’s call in the Qur’an:
‘You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God. (Q: 2:183)’
This connects Muslims with fasting people of other religions, and to other Muslims who have fasted from the time of the Prophet and now from all over the world. The Qur’an reminds us:
‘It was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was revealed as guidance for people, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong. So any one of you who sees in that month should fast, and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up for the lost days by fasting on other days later. God wants ease for you not hardship.’
Fasting removes some of the distractions from remembering God. In a Ḥadīth Qudsi, God says: Fasting is for Me and I myself will give the reward for it. The fasting person, leaves their food and drink for My sake.’
The Prophet is addressed, in the midst of the verses dealing with the fast: ‘If my servants ask you about Me, I am near. I respond to those who call Me, so let them respond to Me and believe in Me, so that they may be rightly guided.’
Ramadan gives the believer more chance to read the Qur’an, reflect about God, give in charity and do the special night prayers, tarāwīḥ. Now for us, as students in Ramadan, it should also give us more time, determination and strength to study and prepare ourselves for exams, essays and so on.
My experience is that Ramadan gives us clarity of mind and better perception that helps us with our studies. If anyone feels ill, they will still be obeying God by not fasting. If you feel very weak during the day, don’t rush to decide that it is too hard, because half an hour later you may feel fine again, just take a rest. You are fasting for God, and it is your consciousness of God that helps you decide whether it is really too hard to fast on that day, while preparing for an exam, in which case you could make up the fast later on. If you feel that it is your final exam and it is going to affect your future, significantly, remember that, if God gives you the strength you should thank him by fasting. At my age, I thank God that He has made me strong enough to fast.
Togetherness is normally an essential part of Ramadan: togetherness within the family, in the local mosque and preparing the food and inviting people to share in iftar. If you give iftar to even one person you share in the reward for their fast.
Covid 19 has drastically affected the way we feel and experience Ramadan. No gatherings, even in mosques, no great feasts or visits at the end of the day with other people to share iftar. However online conferencing is helping to bring people together into some sense of community and shared learning.
Remember that, even before obeying government restrictions, you are obeying God Himself, who said, ‘Do not contribute to your own destruction with your own hands but do good, for God loves those who do good’ (Q. 2:195), and obeying His Prophet who said: ‘If an epidemic strikes in one place do not go into it and if you are already there, do not come out of it.’
Muslims are responsible for their own safety and the safety of others. This is not a political cause; we are all part of it. Just as fasting connects believers to those of other religions everywhere, it should connect everyone into protecting each other. As just cited, ‘Do good’!
I wish you a blissful Ramadan and good results for your studies.
Salam to all,
Muhammad Abdel Haleem