Thursday, 30 August 2007

Virtues of Ramadhan - Hadith 09

Abu Ubaidah Al-Jarrah RA reports:

"I have heard Rasulullah (SAW) saying - "Fasting is a protective Shield for Man, as long as he does not tear up that protection."


In the above narration, "protective shield" means - just as a man protects himself with a shield, similarly fasting protects him from his well-known enemy i.e. the Shaytaan. In other Ahadith, we are told that fasting saves one from Allah's punishment and the Hellfire in the Hereafter.

Once somebody inquired from Rasulullah SAW:

"What causes the fast to be rent?"

The Prophet Muhammad SAW responded:

"Telling lies and backbiting."

The aforementioned Hadith, when read in conjunction with so many others, actually tells us to avoid such actions which cause fasting to be wasted. In our times, we are fond of whiling away the time with unnecessary conversations. Some Ulama are of the opinion that lies, backbiting, slander, etc. actually nullifies the fast just like eating and drinking. However the great majority of the Ulama believes that such fast is not totally nullified, but loses its blessings and spiritual benefit.

The scholars of Islam have actually mentioned six things, about which care should be taken in fasting. They are as follows:

(1) First, one should keep the eyes away from any place where one should not look, and this includes looking at one's own wife with desire while fasting, let alone another woman. Similarly, looking at any evil action or where evil is committed should be avoided.

Rasulullah SAW said:

"The glance is like an arrow from Shaytaan. Whosoever, out of fear for Allah, prevents himself from lookig at evil, Allah shall grant him such light of faith, the taste and ecstacy of which he will feel in the heart."

The scholars specialising in the field of Tasawwuf interpret the above saying to mean that those sights which should be avoided include all such places and things that distract the mind from the remembrance of Allah. Such is the desirable standard of superior fasting.

(2) Secondly, one should guard the tongue against lies, unnecessary conversation, backbiting, arguments, swearing, and so on. In Sahih Bukhari, we read that fasting is a shield for the fasting person; for this reason, those who fast should avoid all useless talk, joking, argument, etc. Should anyone pick an argument, then one should respond and say: "I am fasting". In other words, one should not start an argument, and if someone else starts it, then too, one should avoid taking it up. When the person who starts an argument is not an understanding person, then at least one should remind oneself that: "I am fasting".

During the time of our Nabi Muhammad SAW, two women were fasting and suffered the pangs of hunger to such an extent that the fast became unbearable and both were at the point of death. The Sahabah RA brought this to the notice of the Prophet SAW who sent a bowl commanding them to vomit into it. When they both vomitted into the bowl, pieces of meat and fresh blood were found in it.

The Sahabah RA were greatly surprised, upon which our Nabi SAW said:

"They fasted with Halal food from Allah, but partook of Haraam food by backbiting other people."

From the above, it also becomes clear that, by backbiting during fasting, the fast becomes so much more harder; and it was for this reason that both women in the above narration were near death. Similar is the case with other sinful acts, and experience shows that for the faithful, Allah-fearing persons, fasting is no hardship, whereas the sinful find it too hard to bear. One should therefore stay away from sins - especially major sins, like backbiting and slander, which are often indulged in to while away the time.

Let us take heed that Allah SWT actually says in the Qur'an that backbiting is tantamount to the actual eating of the flesh of one's dead brother. We find this also narrated in various Ahadith.

Once the Prophet Muhammad SAW, upon seeing some people, asked them to pick their teeth.

They said that they had not tasted any meat that day.

Nonetheless, the Prophet SAW said:

"So and so's flesh is sticking to your teeth."

It transpired that they had been backbiting. May Allah keep us safe from this evil, because we are very neglectful of this warning. All are guilty of this. Not to speak of the common man, even the people of importance indulge in it, and worse - even the religious people in their gatherings do not avoid backbiting. Worst of all is the fact that we do not even realise what backbiting is; even when we suspect ourselves of this, we try to cover it up 'camouflaged' by narration of some event.

One of the Sahabah RA inquired from Rasulullah SAW:

"What is backbiting?"

Rasulullah SAW replied:

"To mention something about your brother behind his back, which he would resent."

The Sahabi RA then said:

"And is it still backbiting if the thing mentioned about him is really true?"

Our dear Nabi SAW said:

"In that case (i.e. if that which was mentioned is really true) - then it is precisely backbiting; but if what is mentioned is false, then you have in fact slandered him."

We should know that the sin of backbiting is worse than fornication, while the sin of slander is worse than killing another Muslim.

Once the Prophet Muhammad SAW passed by two graves.

Nabi SAW said:

"On both the inmates of these graves, punishment is being inflicted in the grave. One is being punished because of backbiting, the other because of not having taken precautions (to stay clean) when passing urine."

Rasulullah SAW also said:

"There are more than seventy degrees of evil in Riba (usury/interest). The lowest form of it is comparable to committing incest with one's own mother; and taking one Dirham of interest is an evil worse than having fornicated thirty five times. The worst and most evil degree of taking interest is the slandering of a Muslim."

(3) Thirdly, we should be careful that the ears are kept away from listening to anything Makruh (undesirable). It is equally Haraam to listen to anything that should not be said.

Rasulullah SAW has said:

"In backbiting, both the backbiter and the one who listens to it are equal partners in sin."

(4) Fourthly, the rest of the body should be kept away from sin and unlawful things. Neither should the hands touch it, nor the feet walk towards it. With the stomach, special care should be taken, especially at the time of Iftaar, that no such thing enters it about which there is any doubt of it being Halaal. When a person fasts and, at Iftaar time, breaks his fast with Haraam food, he is like a sick person who takes medicine as a cure, but also adds a little poison, which destroys him.

(5) Fifthly, after having fasted, it is not advisable to fill the stomach completely even with Halaal food at Iftaar, because then the purpose of fasting is defeated. Fasting seeks to diminish one's carnal desires and increase one's faith and spiritual powers. For eleven months, we eat and drink freely enough, in Ramadhan this should be cut down to a minimum. We have a bad habit of filling our bellies at Iftaar to make up for what was lost, and again at Sahur in preparation for the day, thus actually increasing our average consumption. Ramadhan for such people gives an edge to their appetite. Many such items of food are eaten that we normally do not eat at other times. This type of eating habit is completely against the spirit of Ramadhan and the true spirit of fasting.

Imam Ghazali RA has asked the same question:

"When the object of fasting is to conquer our carnal passions in opposition to Iblis (Shaytaan), how can this possibly be done by eating excessively at Iftaar?"

Actually in that case we have only altered the times of eating, and not really fasted. In fact by having various types of delicacies, we consume even more than in normal times. The result is that, instead of lessening the carnal desires, these are considerably increased. The real benefit of fasting comes as a result of actual hunger in the true sense.

Our Nabi SAW said:

Shaytaan flows through the body of man like blood; so, close up his path by remaining hungry." ( i.e. when the body is hungry, the spirit receives strength.)

Apart from hunger, fasting gives us an opportunity to appreciate the condition of the poor and destitute, and thus engenders sympathetic feelings towards them. This too can be attained by remaining hungry and not by filling the stomach with delicious foods at Sahur, so that one does not feel hungry until Iftaar.

Once a person went to Bishr Haafi RA, whom he found shivering in the cold, in spite of having warm clothes lying at his side.

That person inquired:

"Is this a time for taking off the clothes?"

Bishr RA replied:

"There are numerous poor and needy ones; I am unable to sympathise with them; the least I could do is to be in their condition."

At this juncture it is important to understand that the Fuqaha and the Ulama of Tasawwuf both plead for the same attitude in fasting. Thus the technicalities of fasting has its spiritual significance and vice versa.

In the kitab entitled Maraqi-ul-Falaah, it is written:

"Do not eat excessively at Sahur, as this is a way to lose the object of fasting."

Sheikh Thanwi RA writes:

"When hunger is really felt, the reward for fasting becomes definitely more. Similarly, a feeling is developed for the poor and hungry ones."

The Prophet SAW himself said:

"Allah does not dislike the filling of anything to the brim more than He dislikes the filling of the stomach."

On another occasion, the Prophet SAW is reported to have said:

"A few morsels should suffice which can keep back straight."

"The best way for man is that one third should be filled with food, one third with drink while the other third remains empty."

Rasulullah SAW himself used to fast for days on end, without eating in between.

(6) The sixth point is that - after fasting, one should always have some anxiety as to whether one's fast had been accepted by Allah or not. This should be the case with all forms of our Ibadah (worship). The fact is, one never knows whether some important part may have been left out, of which no notice was taken. One should always fear that Allah may reject one's deeds.

Rasulullah SAW said:

"Many reciters of the Qur'an are being cursed by the Qur'an."

Rasulullah SAW also said:

"On the Day of Judgement one of those with whom Allah shall reckon first shall be a Shahid (a martyr in the path of Allah).

Allah shall call him and remind him of all His favours to him, which he shall admit.

He shall then be asked:

"What have you done by way of expressing gratitude for these favours?"

The Shahid shall reply:

"I fought in Your cause till I became a Shahid."

Allah shall reply:

"It is not so; you fought so that you can be called a brave man; and so it has been said."

Thereafter, it shall be commanded that he be dragged face on the ground and cast into Jahannam.

Thereafter, an 'Aalim (scholar) shall be called.

He too shall be reminded of Allah's favours and asked the same question.

He shall reply:

"O Lord! I sought to acquire knowledge, taught others and for Your sake recited the Qur'an."

Allah shall say:

"This is not true. You did all that, merely so that, it may be said that you are learned; and so, it has been said."

Then it shall be commanded that he too be dragged, face on the ground, and cast into Jahannam.

Thereafter a rich man shall be called.

After being reminded of Allah's favours, and admitting them, in reply to Allah's question as to what he did to express His gratitude, he shall reply:

"There was no worthy cause wherein I did not spend in charity for Your sake."

Allah's reply shall be:

"Not true. You did all that, so that it may be said that you are very generous. And so it has been said."

Then it shall be commanded that he too be dragged, face on the ground, and cast into Jahannam."

Many such incidents are related in Ahadith. Thus, a fasting person should not only be sincere but also hope that Allah will accept it.

To conclude, the above-mentioned six things are compulsory for all truly righteous persons.

As for the exceptionally pious ones, a seventh point is added.

(7) That is, during fasting, the heart should not be turned towards anyone except Allah, so much so that during the course of the fast there should be no worry as to whether there shall be something to eat for Iftaar.

Infact some Ulama even consider it a fault to think about food for Iftaar, or that one should endeavour to acquire something, because this shows lack of faith in Allah's promise of being responsible for the granting of Rizq (sustenance).

In the commentary of Ihya-Ulumuddin, the author goes so far as to relate that, should something for Iftaar arrive from somewhere before the time of Iftaar, the Mashaikh (spiritual guide) would give it to somebody else, for fear that for the rest of that day the heart may be distracted from Allah by keeping it. This can of course, only be carried out by the exceptionally pious ones. We cannot even imagine having such strong faith. Should we try to follow without it, we may destroy ourselves.

The Qur'an commands:

"Fasting has been prescribed for you."

The commentators of the Qur'an say that from the above verse, it is deduced that fasting is made compulsory for every part of the body.

Thus -

Fasting of the tongue means to avoid falsehood, etc.

Fasting of the ears means not listening to evil.

Fasting of the eyes means not to look at any form of evil and sirl.

Fasting of the self means to be free from all carnal desires.

Fasting of the heart means casting out from it the love of worldly things.

Fasting of the mind means avoiding thoughts about anything other than Allah.

The worthiness of knowledge is when it is practiced.

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