Are you really fasting?

The following is the excerpt from a khutbah delivered by Mohamed Suleman on the first Friday of Ramadan 1444 at Coffee Hall Islamic Centre.

All Praise is due to Allah who allowed us to reach this blessed and fragrant month.  A month which cannot be compared to any other month.  Those who choose to leave the blessings of this month are truly deprived and those who choose to take the blessings on offer are those who have truly arrived.

We ask Allah to make us of those who truly benefit from this month.

We know that this is a month within which Allah can forgive yours past sins, we know that in this month Allah can reward all your actions as if you had been doing them for 1000 months and we know that you can be rewarded in this month even by sleeping, if you are observing the fast.

This month is a high stakes games, have you come ready to play?

Ramadan can be the great disruptor.  Throughout the year we get into bad habits and Ramadan can be that opportunity which you need to get closer to Allah.  The purpose of fasting is to increase in your level of taqwa (awareness of God).

عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ مَنْ لَمْ يَدَعْ قَوْلَ الزُّورِ وَالْعَمَلَ بِهِ فَلَيْسَ لِلَّهِ حَاجَةٌ فِي أَنْ يَدَعَ طَعَامَهُ وَشَرَابَهُ

Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Whoever does not leave evil words and deeds while fasting, Allah does not need him to leave food and drink.”

This is a very important, authentic, hadith which we have to focus on.  Merely by leaving food and drink, we are not getting closer to Allah – there is something more.

Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī 1903

Fasting is abstinence, it is giving something up.  Think, at the time of the Prophet (SAW) they did not eat much. There are narrations regarding the sahabah only eating twice a day and when we say eating, this could sometimes be dates and water or some bread and sauce.  Very very simple meals 0 in fact you wouldn’t consider that a meal today.  Imagine if someone invited you for iftar and offered you dates and water – even if just to break your fast you would expect more.  Samosa, sherbet, sweet fruits etc, imagine after the dates and water they sent you on your way.  You would not just be offended, you would be beelining to one of the many halal fastfood joints to order a burger, chicken etc and eat till you can’t move.

For them fasting wasn’t about food.  One of my teachers recently said that we have made Ramadan ALL about food.  Before Ramadan starts we focus on buying food, during the month we are focussed on what to eat for iftar and we have already planned what we will eat on Eid.

The focus is on how to draw nearer to God.  Yes fasting from food can do that, why, because even food in limited quantities can restrict the nafs by weakening your desires.

A hadith which we should bear in mind is:

‘Urwah reported: Aisha, may Allah be pleased with her, said, “Verily, the first trial to occur in this nation after the passing of its Prophet, peace and blessings be upon him, was people eating to their fill. For when people fill their stomachs, their bodies are fattened, their hearts are hardened, and their desires are uncontrollable.”

al-Jū’ li-Ibn Abī Dunyā 22

If the way of gaining a greater awareness of God i.e. Taqwa is in fasting i.e. controlling the desires then we are in trouble! We are living in a time of obscene desire fulfilment that physically fasting from food just isn’t enough.

To quote Dr Anna Lembke in her amazing book, Dopamine Nation, finding balance in the age of indulgence she says,

“We’ve transformed the world from a place of scarcity to a place of overwhelming abundance: Drugs, food, news, gambling, shopping, gaming, texting, sexting, Facebooking, Instagramming, YouTubing, tweeting…the increased numbers, variety, and potency of highly rewarding stimuli today is staggering. The smartphone is the modern-day hypodermic needle, delivery digital dopamine 24/7 for a wired generation.

Dopamine Nation p1

Remember that the Prophet (SAW) was fasting in a time of scarcity!

Now when we get tired from not eating what do we do? Sit down watch tv, phone, message, shop, game…all the things mentioned above…yet the minutes of this blessed month trickle by.

Technology use is way out of sync all year round and is literally dumbing us down.  Neil Postman in his book, Amusing ourselves to death says:

“As a culture moves from orality to writing to print to televising, its ideas of truth move with it”…he wrote this in 1985 before the great explosion we see today, he continues, “Intelligence is primarily defined as one’s capacity to grasp the truth of things”.

Amusing Ourselves to Death – Neil Postman p28

The problem is that we are so glued to our devices that we no longer have the intelligence to discern truth falsehood.
That is why the dua of our time should be:

اللهم ارنا الحق حقاً وارزقنا اتباعه وارنا الباطل باطلا وارزقنا اجتنابه

O Allah! show us the truth as true, and inspire us to follow it. Show us falsehood as falsehood, and inspire us to abstain from it.

Sharḥ al-Muntahá al-Irādāt 3/497

But what does this have to do with Ramadan?
We have to be intelligent people as we are from the ummah of the Prophet (SAW), the most intelligent of Allah’s creation. We have to know that during this month the sacrifices we make are not just food, drink and conjugal relations. You are being blindsided by technology, you are but a pawn in an algorithm which Lanier, the “sage of all things web” says:

“the primary use of AI algorithms has been to choose what videos we would like to see on YouTube, or whose posts we’ll see on social media platforms. Lanier believes it has made us lazy and incurious [lacking curiosity]. Beforehand, we would sift through stacks in a record shop or browse in bookshops. “We were directly connected to a choice base that was actually larger instead of being fed this thing through this funnel that somebody else controls.”

We need to take back control of our Ramadan by putting the devices down.

As I said at the beginning, the stakes are high.  Just yesterday we heard of a brother passing away, no more Ramadans for him.  How many have we wasted?  How many more can we afford to waste?

As one of our teachers said recently, “don’t check out of Ramadan before it begins.

People are already deciding what to do after Ramadan, what to watch, what to buy.  We have a post-Ramadan plan – where brothers and sisters in Islam is our Ramadan plan?  Where have we written down what we want to achieve this Ramadan?  We are all excited by the notions of forgiveness and protection from the fire etc but what are we truly abstaining from?  Allah facilitates us to come to the masjid for taraweeh – it is so important that you make the intention to go to the masjid for Salatul Isha and salatul taraweeh.  Brothers and sisters who come for just taraweeh are really doing themselves a dis-service.

We need to be serious, we need to write down what we want to achieve, how we want to get closer to Allah.  Someone who tries to prove a business with merely ideas in his head is considered a fool.  No one will take you seriously until you have a business plan.  It may be that nothing goes to your plan but at least you had one.  I wrote the initial business plan for this Islamic centre and the reality is for far from what I wrote, but we started with a plan.

We are so hooked on consumption of every type that to abstain seems impossible.  I am no ignoramus, I know people need to use computer, phones, tablets etc for work and communication.  Remember when phones were just that, a means of communication? Now what have they become?  The great distractor.

I said earlier that Ramadan is the great disruptor, its purpose is to disrupt our distraction from God.  In doing so we automatically become more aware of God.  The minute we resolve to put the phone down, when we make that choice and instead we pray 2 rakaat, we pick up a book, we read from the mushaf (not your phone, but a physical mushaf), we make tasbeeh, we send salutations upon the Prophet, we stare at a tree (rather than our phone), we take a walk outside, we engage with our children or our parents rather than all sitting in the same room each glued to a different device, when we make that choice, we will truly see the fruits and benefits of Ramadan.

I ask Allah to make us from those whose month of Ramadan is accepted by you, I ask you oh Allah to make us from those who gain greater awareness of you during the month of Ramadan, I ask you oh Allah to allow this Ramadan to be our best Ramadan every and I ask you oh Allah to allow us to see more Ramadans and allow each Ramadan to eclipse the previous one.

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