May 4, 2014 By Interactive scholars

Ramadan and the Vulgar Profligacy

iftarfood_innerbigI am a Muslim who does not fast. An oxymoron? Not at all. I am no more an oxymoron than some scrupulous Muslims who fast and have sumptuous iftars, eat from dusk to dawn. I have simple breakfast, a very simple lunch and a glass of juice at night. My intake of food is far less than that of many (most) believers who fast. I was told that fasting is legalised in Islam so that those who have know the sufferings of have-nots from hunger. When my fellow believers stop eating too much and the spirit of fasting exists, I will start fasting, too. What we have is just an outward form of fasting, which is not the sawm Islam means by the word. – Amjad Ali, Kerala, India

Dear friend,

Thank you for posing a debatable question. Jazakallah. First, we would like to correct your false impression that ‘fasting was legalised in Islam so that those who have know the suffering of the have-nots from hunger. This is one of the reasons built in the law a posteriori (based on the interaction of the Muslim community with the Tradition of the Prophet). We have many traditions of the Prophet instructing the believers to practice continence while fasting. But this has not crept into the legal content. But it is something that should come from within and law can’t be expected to fulfil the task. Prophet’s enactment of a legal content gives it its spiritual aura which is ironically absent in the outward form of that content.

But, there is a foundation set up a priori in the Quran. See how the Quran describes fasting: ‘You who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may be mindful of God (2:183).’ Then the Quran defines the raison d’etre of fasting: It was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed as guidance for mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong. So any one of you who is present that month should fast.’ (2:185)

It has been established that the every year during Ramadan the Prophet would read out from his memory the verses of the Quran revealed so far. Angel Gabriel who would listen to him would correct him, if necessary. So the month of Ramadan was when the Quran was being edited, codified and compiled under the supervision of God. That is why Muslims complete reading of the holy text once or several times during the month. To belittle this historical significance is doing injustice to the spirit of the holy month that the questioner espouses. Any form of continence will not stand in the stead of abstinence from food from dawn to dusk, which historically celebrates and re-enacts the revelation of the Quran.

But if the questioner’s abstinence from fasting is due to his illness, travelling or any such reasons (if one of you is ill, or on a journey on other days later…Quran 2: 184) (Sentence incomplete?)  So, a Muslim who does not fast is not an oxymoron.

Second, it is true and extremely important to note that the profligacy which has become part of the upper/middle class Muslim life has done damage to the intent of fasting. For, every practice in the religion has a socio-political significance, which the author has posed. To each much and conduct sumptuous iftar party at a time when people are suffering from hunger all around will, undoubtedly damage the spirit of the holy month. But this socio-political consciousness can’t be legally imposed on people. Leaders of the community should impart its message to people and make them awake. And it’s great struggle from people all around to bring to effect the content of Islam not in letter alone but in its true spirit.

We would like to bring your mind that In the history of Islam, there has been a synthesis between law (fikh)and spirituality (tasawwuf). Law, unless legal scholars and jurists understand and ameliorate the mental backdrop and spiritual essence of individuals to whom legal pronouncements are applied, is dead. The synthesis of jurisprudence and mysticism was made on many occasions possible in the history of Islam. One of the noted scholars worth mentioning in this regard is Imam Ghazali. In his ‘Al-Munqidhu Mina-Dhalal‘ (Deliverance from Error) and Bidayathul hidhyaya(The Beginning of Guidance)-Montgomery Watt’s translation of the two titles was brought out as a compendium by the Islamic Book Trust, Kuala Lumpur- I read the following extract on the taste (hulwun) of fasting:

Then endeavour to break your fast with lawful food, and not to take an excessive amount. The aim of fasting is to oppose your appetites and to double your capacity for works of piety. If you eat at night more than you do normally because you are fasting by day, there is no difference between eating it at one meal at night and at two meals (one during daytime, one at night).

Third, your statement ‘when my fellow believers stop eating too much and the spirit of fasting exists, I will start fasting, too’ is, we think, a timid response and an escapism. It is tantamount to saying, ‘I will stop stealing when equitable distribution of wealth comes about.’ To wait for change rather than attempting to change is an un-Quranic approach (God will not change a community until it amend its own ways). Society will not change automatically and the spirit of fasting will not come about automatically.

Why can’t you organise a simple iftar for people from all communities in your locality or think of other strategies to make people think it’s not the way they should fast?

Posted in: Q&A