mt961013 (mt961013) wrote,

The divine dimension of fasting

The Arabic terms for fasting – sawm or siyam – basically means self-restraint (kaff or imsak), involving at its most rudimentary level the restraining of oneself from eating, drinking, and sexual congress with one’s spouse, the three essentials of the worldly life.

THE blessed month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar, has been more than a week already.

And Muslims worldwide are observing one of the five pillars of Islam, the obligatory fasting throughout the days of this month.

The Arabic terms for fasting – sawm or siyam – basically means self-restraint (kaff or imsak), involving at its most rudimentary level the restraining of oneself from eating, drinking, and sexual congress with one’s spouse, the three essentials of the worldly life.

Apart from positive health factors for one who is fasting, fasting first and foremost pertains to the spiritual and moral uplift of oneself.

This self-improvement, as observ­ed by a number of prominent Muslim scholars, is in turn intimately related to the theological and metaphysical dimension of fasting.

Such a relation actually stems from an established moral teaching in Islam, grounded in a number of Quranic verses and numerous sayings of the Prophet, that man has to emulate such Divine Names and Attributes as befit man according to his real ability.

For in truth, the names and attributes of Allah constitute the benchmark of good character and praiseworthy deeds for Muslims.

And in attempting to fast sincerely and correctly, a Muslim is actually trying to emulate an important Name and Attribute of Allah, al-Samad.

According to voluminous, authoritative Arabic lexicons such as al-Qamus al-Muhit, Lisan al-Arab and Taj al-Arus, the term al-samad means among others “the one who does not eat”.

The term is thus employed at times to signify an individual who neither thirsts nor starves in a battle.

It also signifies “an obeyed master without whom none shall be executed (al-sayyid al-muta’ alladhi la yuqda dunahu amr); the one a person will walk up to when the person is in need (alladhi yuqsad ilayhi fi al-hawa’ij); one who prevails, staying through it all (al-da’im)”; as well as “the lofty and sublime one (al-rafi)”.

It is perfectly logical and in line with valid inference from human experience that one who does not eat, yet being neither thirsty nor hungry, is better qualified to be the one who can last out forever and, thus, become a Lord who rules over us, mortals, and everything evanescent and to whom we turn whenever we are in need.

In truth, the aforementioned significations as a whole and in an absolute sense apply solely to Allah.

Imam Abu Hamid Muhammad al-Ghazzali (d. 505AH/1111CE), in his famous work on the Divine Names and Attributes, Al-Maqsad al-Asna fiSharh Asma’ Allah al-Husna, clarified that al-Samad essentially means “the one to whom one turns in need and the one who is intended in our desires” and, as such, ultimate dominion culminates in him.

And Allah, being the absolutely eternal, is indeed the only one to whom one turns in every need.

In this respect, Imam Abdul Wahhab al-Sharani (d. 973AH) had made an interesting observation in his work, Al-Fath al-Mubin fi Jumlah min Asrar al-Din.

“Fasting (al-sawm) is an attribute from among the Divine Attributes which none is entirely possessed of except Allah who nourishes but is Himself not fed (alladhi yut im wa la yat am).

“For He said in a Hadith Qudsi ‘FASTING BELONGS TO ME AND I WILL REWARD FOR IT,’ attributing it to Himself, hence meaning that none is characterised by it save Allah since

“He is from eternity not in need of nourishment (al-akl) while other than He, whether angel or not, has to depend on nourishment and daily stuff ... God has called on His servants to emulate His Attributes and devote themselves to His service by means of such Attributes as far as possible and in accordance with their capacity.

“Fasting is among His Attributes and is among the hardest acts on the human selves because it is against their nature.

“For they cannot continue surviving in this world except by things material in utter contrast to God whose existence is absolutely independent of everything.”

(Note: Hadith Qudsi is a special category of the Prophetic sayings in which the Prophet Muhammad related what Allah the Almighty said in the form of the first person.)

Similarly, yet earlier than al-Sharani, al-Ghazzali commented in the Chapter on Fasting of his famous Ihya’ Ulum al-Din, “... the aim of fasting is to mould oneself into one of the Divine Qualities ... that is, al-samadiyyah ... as well as to emulate the Angels in restraining from the carnal desires in as much as possible.

For they are creatures unblemished by such desires.

Man’s rank is above that of beasts because of his ability, by the light of his intelligence, to control his passion and, yet, is below that of Angels because he can be overwhelmed by passions and is afflicted with the continuous struggle to overcome them.

Such has been the case that were he to be completely taken up by lust, he would then sink to the lowest of the low and soon join the animals at large; nonetheless, should he manage to subdue his appetite, he would then ascend to the loftiest of the high and soon reach the angelic horizon.

The Angels are indeed intimate to Allah – Most High and Exalted is He- – and just as they are so, that which emulates and character-wise resembles them shall then be nigh unto Him as well.

For the one approximating to the intimate becomes itself proximate.

And proximity here is not by locus but rather by character.”


Source: The STAR Online Home News Opinion Tuesday 31 July 2012
Tags: fasting, puasa, ramadhan

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