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In Ramadan: Becoming Spiritual

Every Ramadan we make enthusiastic and elaborate plans to become more pious and spiritual. Not everyone approaches this fond goal the same way though. 

For most it is a greater compliance to the daily routines of praying and fasting in the month. For many it is the longer time spent in the reading and recitation of the Quran. For some it is the determined commitment to stand night after night pursuing the rigorous and exhaustive schedule of taraweeh, the nightly prayers. For still others it is the memorization of a few surahs or all of the Quran. For yet a few more it is realized through the time spent in itekaaf, during the last ten days of the month.

Many of us do all this, but often ignore to measure ourselves at the end of the month on the scale of piety, how spiritual we really do become. 

If Ramadan is meant to increase our “taqwa” score, we must not only feel that transformative experience within us, but more importantly such a change should be obvious to others as well, perhaps more significantly reflect in our engagement with the issues of the society we live in.

So, we must take a moment to pause and reflect upon why we fast to begin with, to find answers to this riddle of spirituality called “taqwa”. The Quran says:

O’ you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous (thathaqoon/ from taqwa).

2:183  Al Baqara

At another place in the same Surah it goes deeper into the issue of righteousness.

It is not righteousness that you turn your faces towards the East and the West, but it is righteousness  to  believe in Allah, the Last Day, the angels, the Book, and the Messengers; to spend of your substance out of love for Him, for your kin, for the orphans, for the needy, for the travelers, for those who ask, for the ransom of slaves (liberation of those who are victims of exploitation); to be steadfast in prayer (establish salath) , and practice regular charity (pay zakat);  to  fulfill the contracts which you have made;  and to be firm and patient in pain (or suffering) and adversity, and throughout all periods of panic (and stress). Such are the people  who are the truthful (in faith, by their words and deeds) the righteous (muthaqoon).

2:177  Al Baqara

From these two verses we can easily surmise that :

1.    Fasting was prescribed as a means for individuals to become righteous and

2.    Righteousness is not achieved through simply praying (turning our faces to the East or the West) or through just fasting as well, but through a host of additional set of beliefs and practices as described in verse 177 above.

The Quran repeatedly reminds us on the issue of our “social responsibilities” and the importance of our understanding and belief in the accountability of our “actions”,  for receiving our promised tickets to heaven.

We tend to mock the enormous sacrifices that the earlier generations of Muslims made to receive His pleasure, when we reduce our quest for piety to the reclusive practices of fasting and praying, with a selective disregard of our social responsibilities, for improving the conditions of the societies we live in, or standing up for the rights of the weak and insecure among us.

There is a tendency among many of us to “cherry-pick” from the guidance, those directives which give us a sense of communal identity, with greater vigor and devotion. These generally fall within the circle of what have come to be identified as the “pillars” or those that inform us  of our food habits and our dress codes, that we see described in the Quran. But we sell Islam short in doing so, when we claim that Islam is a “way of life” yet pick and choose from the Quran some aspects of that way of life and ignore the rest, at our discretion. The Quran gives us no such permission. We are accountable for our behavior in all aspects of the Guidance. Sadly, we ignore it at our own peril.

The path to travel in our journey to God is of course meant to be a lot more demanding , “a steep path” in the language of the Divine.

It is the struggle to give not take, to fight not flee, to challenge a system that benefits the rich and powerful and deprives the poor and the marginalized, the rights that are rightfully theirs as ordained by their Creator. 

 …We have created man for toil and struggle.  

90: 4  Al Balad

And fight them on until there is no more tumult or oppression, and there prevails justice and faith in Allah (deen) altogether and everywhere; but if they cease, verily Allah doth see all that they do. 

 8:39 Al Anfal

But he hath made no haste on  the path that is steep. What will explain to you what the steep path is? It is to free a slave, to feed at a time of hunger an orphaned relative or a poor person in distress. Then will he be of those who believe and enjoin patience and enjoin deeds of kindness and compassion.  

90:11-17 Al Balad  

(From “The Meaning of the Holy Qur’an — `Abdullah Yusuf `Ali)

The annals of Muslim history are filled with examples from the lives of exceptional people who showed us the true meaning of being spiritual.

When the Prophet (pbuh) returned from Taif bloodied in body and wounded in spirit, he was not despairing but full of hope, that someday the promise of Allah will come true and his mission will succeed.

To believe in the ultimate success of a mission when hope cannot be seen on the horizon , that is spiritual.

When the woman who used to throw garbage in his way every day to show her hatred for him, falls sick, and he notices her absence, the prophet (pbuh) is concerned for her welfare and goes to visit her. 

To have compassion that transcends our sense of pain and hurt, for a person that chooses to abuse us and insult us, that is spiritual.

When barely in Medina as refugees for a year, battered and exhausted with little training or resources, three hundred new Muslims were asked to make their ultimate sacrifice and fight in the defense of their belief, they go out to the battlefield of Badr, in a state of fasting, and defeat an army one thousand strong. 

To be willing to bear arms in the defense of a cause, and be prepared to die fighting for a cause that is anchored in one’s beliefs, that is spiritual.

When after years of hostile treatment and brutal battles, the prophet (pbuh) returns to Mecca triumphant, his mortal enemies expect revenge, but he is not vengeful and forgives them all, unconditionally. 

Letting go of decades long, anger, bitterness and hate for an enemy that plotted to kill and maim you and tell them, “you are all forgiven”, that is spiritual.

During the famine of Arabia in Hazrat Umar’s caliphate when food was being brought in from Egypt and Syria to feed the locals, Hazrat Umar would not eat anything else but what was available to the poorest of Muslims. At night he would carry bags of grains on his back to give to those who could not come to pick the food from the state granary. 

When you have everything in your power to live in comfort and ease, yet refuse to rest till the needs of your neighbor remain unmet, that is spiritual.

When the vanquished warrior spat on Hazrat Ali’s face, when he was ready to kill him in the heat of battle, he put his sword back in its sheath and walked away, explaining that if he killed him then it would be from anger and not for the sake of Allah anymore. 

To know when submission to the Divine Will overrides the desires and appeals of our human intellect and passion, that is spiritual.

To be spiritual is ultimately an act of passionate love. It is the “Holy Grail” of all religious experiences. It is transformational for our lives when self-love gives way to selfless love.

Below are a few  verses from Allama Iqbal (with due apologies for the non Urdu reader here) which I believe, best express what it means to be spiritual:

Character/ Humility

Mera Tareeq Ameeri Nahin, Faqeeri Hai, 

Khudi Na Baich, Ghareebi Mein Naam Paida Kar

My way is to live humbly with gratitude for what I have and not crave for riches of the world

Sell not your soul but earn the respect and admiration of others even though your life is spent in poverty.

Passion & Commitment

Khirad Ne Keh Bhi Diya ‘La Ilaha’ To Kya Hasil 

Dil-o-Nigah Musalman Nahin To Kuch Bhi nahin

Our allegiance to our faith through verbal declarations, does it really matter? If our hearts are not committed to the practice of the faith nothing really matters.


“Mita de apni hasthy ko agar kuch marthaba chahe

Ke daana khak mein milkar gul o gulzaar hota hai”

Spend yourself in the service of others if you desire a high place in the eye of the Creator. Like the seed which loses itself in the lowly soil to become a beautiful garden above.

Submission to Divine Guidance

Ye Aik Sajda Jise Tu Garan Samajhta Hai 

Hazar Sajde Se Deta Hai Admi Ko Nijat !

Prostration before God you presume as irksome, tedious, burdensome  great; But mind, this homage sets you free from thousand other calls for submissions to men, and vain desires.

Belief Action and Love

Yaqeen Mohkam, Amal Peham, Mohabbat Faateh-E-Alam 

Jahad-E-Zindagani Mein Hain Ye Mardon Ki Shamsheerain”

Unwavering belief, constant action, boundless love that conquers the world— These are the swords of men in the battlefield of life.

Courage / Speaking for truth

Agarche buth hain jama’at ki astinoun mein 

Mujhe hai hukm e azan la ilaha illallah

Though many idols are still in the sleeves of the faithful, I have been ordained to announce with courage that there is no god but Allah (whose guidance only needs to be followed).

May Allah guide us to become spiritual this Ramadan.

Azher Quader is a writer, thinker and community worker. He is founder president of Community Builders Council (www.cbc7.org )  and Compassionate Care Network (www.ccnamerica.com). He can be reached at azherquader@yahoo.com

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