“Read not the Times. Read the Eternities.”
Henry David Thoreau
We’re in the first week of Ramadan! And you’re currently reading the first article in the series of Ramadan Reminders, of which I hope to write one article a week for the rest of these 30 days.
Let us start by bringing up the most obvious facet of Ramadan, which is fasting (or abstaining from food and drink, among other normally permissible things) from dawn to dusk.
It’s easy to take the act of fasting for granted, as we tend to see no further than our present hunger and tiredness throughout the day. But there are reasons why fasting is a huge part of not only Ramadan and Islamic culture, but of others as well, including Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity, albeit in their own different ways.
In a world that rapaciously vies for space in our minds and hearts, fasting helps us cultivate mindfulness, especially in the following ways.
Number one, fasting prompts us to be more rational, instead of resorting to our mindless impulses. As things that were permissible are now not allowed during the time of fasting, it trains us to be intentional and deliberate in our actions — so that we are presented with the split-second chance to think, “Is this really necessary?” — a chance which otherwise doesn’t normally come by as easily.
Number two, fasting reminds us of what it’s like to be poor. While being in this state of hunger and exhaustion might just be “a Ramadan thing” for us, it is an everyday thing for millions of other less fortunate people in the world. Fasting reminds us to count our blessings, always.
Number three, and most importantly, fasting helps us to be in a constant state of remembrance of Allah. As we become more intentional in our actions and grateful for our blessings, we would definitely be closer to our Creator.
I’d like to especially elaborate on this point, because I believe it’s the glue that binds everything together, and the greatest benefit that fasting could imprint on us.
Just to share where I’m at during this time of writing, I’m currently working at a fintech company. Being in the marketing department, my morning routine involves combing through the news so that I could find trends to hop on and create resonating social media posts for the company every single day. This has come with a cost, of course. I started feeling more anxious and agitated, and it became easier for the Black Dog to creep up. That’s what the news does anyway. It’s designed to break your heart, rile you up and make you focus on everything that’s wrong and butt-ugly in the world.
I have since remembered though, that according to the Qur’an, the heart is created vulnerable to anxiety and agitation (70:19). And that it is surely in the remembrance of Allah that our hearts find rest (13:28).
With Allah constantly in mind, it’s easier to put some distance between you and this temporary world, so that it doesn’t break your heart. You’d remember that everything, good and bad comes from Allah — and while bad things happen, good things are just on the horizon. You’d remember that He oversees everything, and that He takes such loving care of you. Everything happens for us, rather than to us. It might take some strength to remember when times are hardest, but we truly are in good hands.
In the Qur’an, the Day of Judgment is described as “a day in which neither wealth nor children shall be of any benefit to anyone, except one who comes to Allah with a sound heart” (26:88-89). To be exact, the words used in the Qur’an are Qalbun Saleem, which means a heart that is undamaged, unbroken, and healthy. And this heart belongs to one who remembered Allah.
In a similar vein, the Prophet (pbuh) said in a hadith verified by Bukhari and Muslim, that “the difference between one who remembers Allah and one who does not is like the difference between the living and the dead.”
And as Syeikh Hamza Yusuf elaborated in his book Purification of the Heart, “Cells require oxygen, so we breathe. If we stop breathing, we die. The heart also needs to breathe, and the breath of the heart is none other than the remembrance of God.”
So, in this month where our deeds are multiplied between 10 to 70,000 times (hadith verified by Muslim), let’s use this opportunity to be more mindful, and to truly be closer to Allah.
Henry David Thoreau brilliantly advised us to “read not the Times, but the Eternities”. And for us as Muslims, our Eternities is our Qur’an. Let’s work at reading it more often, at least during this great month.
Even a little bit of effort is a lot in Allah’s view.