Attaining “Taqwa” is the purpose given in the Qur’an for fasting the month of Ramadan. The Arabic term “Taqwa” or the root basis of it, is very difficult to translate into a single word in English but among the possibilities are: Protection, Shield, Fear of God and Consciousness of God. In this essay, I will use “Taqwa” to mean attaining God Consciousness and extrapolate from it the need to examine one’s life in relations to Divine purpose to bring about a spiritual and worldly renewal.
I believe that the Month of Ramadan is a divinely mandated purposeful examination of one’s life, to shed light on what ought to be the priorities in our lives versus the illusionary and vainly pursuits that are dominating in the world today. The consciousness of God can’t be approached if one exists in the world without purpose, contemplation or reflection. Increasingly, religion and spiritual pursuits have so much become divorced of inner meanings and have been transformed into normal and habitual acts lacking in consciousness of God and being present for every moment. Fasting is a tested and well-established instrument to bring about a transformation in the human being from habitual existence into a purposeful and contemplative life.
Ramadan is a break away from the habitual un-contemplative “norms” into a purposeful living, spiritual grounding and renewal. While abstaining from eating, drinking and other permissible worldly pleasures during the day time is legally mandated, the deeper meanings behind restraining the self is of great importance and is at the core of fasting. Fasting, in more than one way, is a process of renewal of body and spirit on an individual level, which has a collective impact on the society, locally and globally. What do we mean by renewal and how it affects the world are important questions to explore and to reflect upon before we begin the Month of Ramadan.
Certainly, the human being is a creature of habit were eating, drinking and excessive consumption of worldly delights constitute a paradigmatic norm for most men and women. Daily ebbs and flows of life become so habitual that the sense of being alive is transformed into a set of repeated tasks, body shifts and stops for refuel, both biologically and for the toys we hold dear, the car, which is the worldly status symbol and for some constitute the only meaning in life itself.
Reflect for a moment on your own daily schedule from waking up in the morning, where and when you get your coffee, what you have for breakfast, lunch, the place you possibly park your car and every detail of your habitual day: why do you do it, how much thinking and reflections goes into it? What happens when you are confronted with something outside the norm? How do you react and why do you get angry at some inconsequential changes? I see some people get angry for no other reason than having their “parking spot” taken despite the fact it does not belong to them nor does it have their name inscribed on the ground but because they habitually got accustomed to it then become ready to confront another person over it.
A consequence of the habitual human being is the setting in of a mode of an outward and inward state of stagnation and laziness that if not addressed leads to a slow erasure of the purpose of life itself. The habitual human is the unthinking person that is more robot and material than the ennobled representative of the Divine on earth. Many verses in the Qur’an directed the human being to reflect and contemplate the creation as the signpost for the Creator, which is only a possible undertaken if we are always present and conscious. However, the habitual self-loses is that ability to be present and conscious; thus reflection and contemplation become reduced to an angry reaction to momentary changes to the accustomed order.
Fasting the Month of Ramadan is a renewal process if done correctly and purposefully, which leads to a rediscovery of a thoughtful and reflective human self that has become encrusted by the habitual. Here, so as not to over-generalize, the habitual is defined to be those attributes that produce negative consequences and are harmful to the self and society in general. Disrupting the habitual human pattern brings about a state of thinking that impacts every element of one’s daily routine. In Ramadan, the daily sleeping, eating, drinking and rest pattern totally change and a new mode of existence is introduced. Pattern disruption is purposeful, and the design is to break back habits and embellish oneself with praiseworthy characteristics. Central to the habitual disruption, is a spiritual journey to the inward to contemplate what was normally being done, why and the need for a change to re-align oneself with Divine purpose.
Ramadan is a renewal of the meaning and purpose of the human being, which is the Divine appointment of humankind as a Custodian over the created world. If the habitual human finds comfort in the appetitive and consumptive self, then renewal through fasting transforms it into a deeper reflection on the meaning and responsibilities of the office of Custodianship. In numerous verses, the Qur’an exhorts the reader to abandon wastefulness, to live as a conscious human being and to tread lightly upon the earth. Likewise, the Qur’an calls the human being to resist living a life of wantonness that is harmful to one’s self and others in society. Purposefully withholding of consumption from what is usually permissible and training the person to make due with less, if done correctly, will translate to a manifestation of a right Custodianship in the world.
The statement: “Live simply so others can simply live” can be understood as one of the secrets behind God’s mandate of a month for fasting that can assist in breaking the habitual, appetitive and consumptive self that in the big picture have an impact on others. Today’s worldly crisis of poverty, hunger, and environmental destruction are all outward manifestation of an inward spiritual emptiness that causes and leads to a distortion of the meaning of Custodianship over the world. Devouring the world becomes a way to fill a void as well as wrongly ascribe divine purpose for it by the mischaracterization of the Custodianship responsibilities.
Fasting becomes an individual commitment to reduce our excessive impact on the world and to lighten the burden on others. Rather than the habitual undertaking of undertaking a fast to feast approach, which only complicates and intensifies the crisis, Ramadan ought to be a road map to turning away from material and physical indulgence and into a spiritual journey that is rooted in letting go and thinking and acting for others over the needs of self. “The best of you, is the best, in service, to creation” is an authenticated prophetic statement, which should be at the center of all actions and contemplation in Ramadan. Devouring the world can’t fill the emptiness of the human being, only perfecting the art of letting go can bring about contentment, which is more fulfilling than any material possession.