Thursday, 12 July 2012

The Reality of Fasting in Ramadhan & Beyond

بِسۡمِ ٱللهِ ٱلرَّحۡمَـٰنِ ٱلرَّحِيمِ

The author of the article this is on, is unknown.  The month of fasting, Ramadhan, is often greeted by the Sufis as a good friend, as a welcome and honoured guest.  They love to see this guest come, but also to see him go.  The implication of the first is clear, but perhaps not of the second.  The end of the month of fasting is followed by a feast.  In ordinary terms, it means that you can eat and drink.  In Sufi terms, the feast implies the meeting with the Beloved.  The Beloved is then the Cupbearer Who Pours Out the wine of gnosis and love.  Shaykh Nur ad-Din Jami’ (q.s.) wrote:

“The search of the crescent of the feast,
Is the work of the common people.
The crescent of the feast,
Is for the elite the circling movement of the goblet.”

That is why a Jisti shaykh said, “May every day be a day of festival to you!”

Shaykh Imami (q.s.) wrote a pretty poem about the “day of festival” being in the Presence of the Beloved, which started thus:

“We celebrate the day of festival but once a year,
A constant feast day is the seeing of You, dear!”

This is one way of defining the goal of the month of fasting.  Shaykh Kalimi (q.s.) made it clear that lust is subdued in Ramadhan:

“Thanks to fasting,
The children lust and sensual passion were in school.
Now the feast has come,
And the children are free from school!”

Shaykh Nizham ad-Din Awliya’ (q.s.) told the following story from “Morals for the Heart”: “Once a dervish arrived at the hospice of Shaykh Junayd al-Baghdadi (q.s.) just as the new moon was due to appear that signalled the beginning of the blessed month of Ramadhan.  That dervish requested the Shaykh to permit him to lead the tarawih prayer.  The Shaykh granted his request.  Every evening thereafter he recited the entire Qur’an.

‘Each night,' said the Shaykh, ‘take one loaf of bread and one jug of water to the cell of that dervish'.

As the Shaykh had commanded, they took a loaf of bread and a jug of water to his cell every night.  After he had recited the tarawih prayer for thirty evenings, the time of celebration arrived, and the day after ‘Iyd the Shaykh bid that dervish farewell.  He left.  After his departure they searched his cell, and found all thirty loaves of bread untouched.  Each night he had consumed one jug of water and nothing more.”

Little eating is, next to silence, solitude and vigils, of great importance on the Sufi path.  Little eating is connected to little sleeping, just like little meeting with people is connected to little talking.  Hunger can be self-chosen: it is the hunger of the travellers on the Sufi path.  It can also be given and then it is, according to Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.) the hunger of the verifiers, those with self-realisation.  In this case they do not impose on themselves a regime of hunger, but their nutrition diminishes in a natural way.  Hunger has a spiritual state, hal and a spiritual station, maqam.

According to Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.) in his Hilyat al-Abdal, hal belonging to hunger of the travellers on the Sufi path is characterised by humility, submission, modesty, softness, the spirit of poverty, the absence of vanity, calm behaviour, and absence of ignoble thoughts.

The spiritual state belonging to hunger of the verifiers on the Sufi path is characterised by caution, purity, affability, distancing from the world, and transcendence in regard to the ordinary human qualities by means of the Divine and Lordly Power.

The spiritual station belonging to hunger is maqam as-swamadani.  The ordinary meaning of Swamad is next to “Lord” and “Eternal” and also, “the One Who Offers Support in regard to hunger and thirst”.  Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.) defined it as “Allah (s.w.t.) seen as the One Who Keeps with Him the treasures of everything”.  It is an elevated spiritual station, which is characterised by secrets, Divine Manifestations and spiritual states.

This is the use of hunger in regard to the obtaining of spiritual energy.  It has nothing to do with ordinary hunger.  The practice dealing with ordinary hunger has the reestablishment of the organic balance in view as well as physical well-being and nothing else.  According to Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.), hunger produces knowledge of Satan.  Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.) wrote these lines in his book about the abdal, the changed ones:

“O, you who aspire to the degrees of the abdal,
But who does not care to perform the required practices,
Do not envy them,
Do not be vain
You will only be worthy of them,
If you compete with them by ascetic states. |

Let your heart be silent and live in retirement,
Stay away from all, which keeps you at a distance
From the Beloved Lord.
Stay awake in the night, endure hunger,
Thus you will attain your dignity.
And you will be like them,
At times staying at home,
At times leaving for faraway lands.

The House of the Friendship with God,
Has well-established corners.
Our masters who stay in it are the abdal
Between silence, solitude, hunger and vigil
Can be seen the summit of the pure transcendent.”

Shaykh Sharaf ad-Din Ahmad Yahya al-Maniri (q.s.) is known as Makhdum al-Mulk, “Spiritual Master of the Realm”.  When we read his teachings, we immediately notice that he wrote with authority, based on his personal experience.  This Sufi from India had written a letter to his disciple Qadhi Shams ad-Din (q.s.) about fasting, his “The Hundred Letters”:

“In the name of Allah, the Merciful, the Compassionate!

Brother Shams ad-Din, masters of Truth and Sincerity have said, ‘Bodily strength depends on food and drink, whereas spiritual strength depends on going hungry and thirsty.  In Allah’s (s.w.t.) Domain, hunger is a Divine Food’.  It has been said that one of the qualities of the Almighty is this:

“… And He is that Feedeth but is not fed.” … (Surah al-An’am:14)

If a servant becomes distinguished in this practice, then according to the consensus of the wise, he progresses on the carpet of proximity to Allah (s.w.t.).  He becomes far removed from the human condition.  When somebody fasts in accordance with the order “Make your actions like those of Allah (s.w.t.),” then he or she, too is able to feed others.  In this manner, he or she will approximate the Qualities of the Beloved.  He or she will dissociate himself or herself from human qualities and become Honoured and Greatly Enriched in Him, just as the Lord of the worlds has said, ‘The one who fasts experiences a twofold joy: the breaking of the fast and the seeing of Allah (s.w.t.).’

What is the delight of breaking the fast?  This body of ours is composed of many dispositions.  The seeker is like a mounted gentleman who is travelling along the road that leads to the Friend.  ‘In order to see Him, fast!’ is the Command that gives the seeker his cue as to how to reach his Lord.  So he fasts from food and drink, while traversing the distance of:

That to thy Lord is the final Goal; (Surah an-Najm:42)

At the end of the day’s journey, when the time for the evening prayer arrives, the horse is brought to a standstill.  When it receives some alfalfa and water with which to break its fast, then it becomes for the rider the source of his strength.  Such delight is suffused throughout his being that, in comparison to it, all other joys become grief and trouble.

The second delight will never be grasped through explanations.  It is something that has to be experienced: ‘Whoever does not taste something understands nothing about it!’  ‘There are 70,000 curtains that Veil Allah (s.w.t.).  If even one of them is lifted, the rays of His face would consume the intruder.  No eye can see Him!’  In the stage of the veil of light, everything is consumed.  Who can describe it all?  This is the meaning of, ‘It is frivolous to talk about what is obvious!’

A certain Sufi shaykh saw Khwaja Ma’ruf Karkhi (q.s.) engrossed in contemplation.  He was standing beneath the Divine Throne, singing Allah’s (s.w.t.) praise in the abundance of his gratitude.

A Query came from the Lord of the angels, ‘Who is this?’ though He Knew him very well.

One of the angels said, ‘O Allah, this is Your distinguished servant!’

Allah (s.w.t.) Said, ‘My servant, Ma’ruf Karkhi is intoxicated with the wine of My Love.  No one can recuperate from love of Me except by seeing Me!’

This was also the meaning of what the Lord of the Law said, ‘Make your bellies hungry, your livers thirsty and your bodies hungry, that perhaps you might see Allah (s.w.t.) in this world.’

It is said, ‘He who has seen, has arrived.’  And whosoever has arrived at Allah (s.w.t.) Himself has passed beyond the stage of transience of things and even beyond that of permanence.  He has been consumed in adoration of the Divine Face.

… “Truth has (now) arrived, and Falsehood perished ...” (Surah al-Isra’:81)

Every person who has attained this stage and attempts to describe it says, ‘I am simply one of those who have lost their way!’  Whoever in this state casts his glance towards Him will simply be called ‘one of the blind.’  A respected poet has said:

‘A lover disclosed the secret of the Absolute …
And quivered as he proclaimed: ‘I am the Truth.’’

It has been written in the Kashf al-Mahjub, “The Unveiling of the Veiled”, that hunger afflicts the body, purifies the heart, inflames the soul with love, and leads the mind to meet Allah (s.w.t.).  Since:

‘The heart finds purity
The soul love
And the mind meeting.’

What harm is there if the body must suffer?  The Prophet (s.a.w.) also hinted at this when he said, ‘Every work of man will receive a Reward that gradually increases, until it is seventy fold.  But a fast that is undertaken for the sake of Allah (s.w.t.) will be Rewarded by Him.’  It has been said that the people of Arabia describe virtues and desire to be possessed of them.  Imagine that someone was told that a dog could not approach the door of this Wealth, let alone be with the King of the world!  The one who fasts, is Promised, ‘You are Mine!’ and, ‘I Am your Reward!’  And again, ‘Your Reward is to see My Face!’  Those slain by love are Promised, ‘Whoever My Love kills, is Ransomed by a Vision of Me!’

O brother, know the value of what happens when the heart is purified from its murky state and transported from brutish darkness to the seven heavens where the secret meeting is effected by means of fasting!

The practice of fasting is highly esteemed by the Sufis.  Whenever they wish to hear the Word of Allah (s.w.t.) in their hearts, they go hungry for forty days.  After thirty days have passed, they clean their teeth.  It is necessary for them to go hungry for ten more days.  Assuredly, the Lord will Speak to them in their hearts, because whatever may be Revealed openly to the prophets can only be Hinted at secretly to the friends of Allah (s.w.t.).

A shaykh has said, ‘A disciple should have three qualities: unless you are overcome by drowsiness, you should not sleep, unless urged by necessity, you should refrain from speaking, and unless you are starving, you should not eat.’  For some, two days and nights are enough; for still others, a week; and some may need a full forty days.

O brother, when you are Filled with His Bounty and a table is laid out with His Grace, then abstention from eating is not to prolong the Pleasure of His Grace, but to find Him in His Treasury, as the Beloved.  The cycle of eating requires preoccupation with the self and anyone who is preoccupied with himself or herself becomes hidden from the Beloved.  Refraining from eating while sitting on the Carpet of the Lord is better than eating in a palace with Him absent or hidden.  In short, a human being should do as much as he or she can.

One Sufi observed, ‘This world is but a day in duration, and what is difficult about fasting for one day?’

Someone else has said, ‘Make a fast from this world and break it with death!’

A human being is the purest of all creatures.  His works are full of secrets.  They cannot be considered trivial.  Heaven and earth, Throne and Footstool, Paradise and Hell, are simply like uninvited guests accompanying him or her to a feast.  This is their very purpose!  Yet in accordance with the Divine Command, a person should proceed beyond these stages.  When His Glance Falls upon these occurrences, then one will encounter, at each stage, a Gift from His Bounty so that, when the friends arrive, they can take possession of their own good fortune and the share allotted to them.  They say, ‘Stretch out your hand towards the Favour we enjoyed from eternity and towards the Bliss we knew before the time of dust and clay.’

‘O dust and clay!  O casket of profound secrets!  O unclean dust!  O friend and servant, do not imagine that My Saying concerning you is simply for the present moment.  Before the world existed, before even Adam appeared, My Saying Concerning you Existed; it Existed even when you did not!  My link with man is through an ancient Favour I Bestowed upon him.’

One day a man came to the caliph, but the caliph did not recognise him.  He asked, ‘Who are you?’

The man replied, ‘I am the man you honoured in such and such a year.’

The caliph replied, ‘I welcome you, for you have made my favour a link between you and I.’  He commanded that a robe of honour be brought out and presented to that man.

‘If You Water, it is Your own plant that is Nourished!
If You Crush, it is the work of Your Own Hand that Suffers!
I am a servant of the type that You Know Well:
Do not Throw me away, for it is You Who have Sustained me!


Now that the letter of Shaykh Sharaf ad-Din Maniri (q.s.) has been finished, let us continue with what Shaykh Najm ad-Din Kubra’ (q.s.) said about fasting.  He wrote a booklet, which is called “The Treatise of the Bewildered, Ecstatic Traveller.”  It is a short Sufi text on spiritual practice of which the part dealing with fasting will be shown.  The shaykh made it clear that fasting has 22 benefits.

It is resemblance to spiritual beings, because they eat nothing of what we eat.  It is the restraining of the ego, which incites towards evil, being thus the enemy of Allah (s.w.t.).  It is the obtaining of a distinction as, “The fasting is for My Sake and I Reward it.”  It is the receipt of a Recompense without end as:

… “Those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure!” (Surah az-Zumar:10)

It is the purification of the sins of the ego.  It is the washing away of the dust of the ego from the tablet of the spirit, so that the inscriptions of the inner sciences may appear, as:

Truly he succeeds that purifies it, and he fails that corrupts it! (Surah ash-Shams:9-10)

It is the ability of no longer seeing by means of the eyes of the heart of roads which imply a detour, because when we get hungry the arrogance, which can be found in the eye of our heart may take a leave.  When we are fasting, we close off the roads to Satan.  These roads are the veins in our body and the demon moves about in the veins and skin.  It provides a shield against the demon and against hell as “fasting is a shield.”  Our name gets inscribed in the list of the sincere ones, as fasting is an act of devotion in which hypocrisy and showing off have no place.  It gives us an understanding of the suffering of the hungry and thus being able to treat them with compassion and mercy.

It gives us two joys, as “the one who is fasting has two joys: one when breaking the fast and the other when meeting with one's Lord.”  This means there is one joy when we break the fast, not because of the prospect of eating bread, but because of having fasted for a day for the sake of the Satisfaction of Allah (s.w.t.) so that on the Day of Resurrection He will Offer Provision.  The other joy is the Vision of Allah (s.w.t.) on the Day of Resurrection.  It gives you a healthy body.  It empties the worst of containers, because “there is no worse container than your belly.”  It has to do with deserving of trust, because fasting is the Trust of Allah (s.w.t.) as no one is Aware of the faster except Allah (s.w.t.).  It has to do with keeping our promise, because when we express our intention to fast, then this is a promise we make to Allah (s.w.t.).  It will give us the rank of trust, because if “you do a voluntary fast, then you are in command of your soul.”

It will give us something good in our account: if we complete the fast then 100 percent good is written in our account and if it is not completed, we still can add 10 percent.  It has been promised by the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) that “the intention of the believer is more perfect than his acts”.  If the action is so excellent that when we complete it with sincerity, then we can write 100 percent, nevertheless there is still the danger that when hypocrisy and showing off enter, our fasting will just be in vain.  But with a pure intention, this is not the case, because our intention is an act of our heart.  Angels are unaware hereof.  Other human beings are also unable to perceive our intention.  Thus there is no room for hypocrisy and showing off.

It helps you to avoid silly and foolish speech.  “A futility is not counted against a faster after his next prayer” is a promise of the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.).  No matter what, if we are fasting, we receive the Help of Allah (s.w.t.), because:

Nay seek (Allah’s) help with patient perseverance and prayer ... (Surah al-Baqarah:45)


O ye who believe!  Seek help with patient perseverance and prayer: for Allah is with those who patiently persevere. (Surah al-Baqarah:153)

That is by the fast and by the prayer.  Fasting is at times quite difficult, but a Jisti pir made it clear that it is supposed to be difficult.  This poem may however offer some consolation:

“I asked the true God to Guide me,
Because of His Knowledge of me and of Himself,
So once again He Gave me life.
When I am hungry, God Feeds me
And when I am thirsty, He Pours for me
And when I am weak, He Helps me
And when I am ill, He Cures me.”

Imam Abu al-Layts as-Samarqandi (r.a.) told a story about Jesus (a.s.) and his voluntary type of fasts: “if you want to fast like Jesus (a.s.), then know that he would fast all the time and lived on nothing but barley.”  He continued, “If, however you want to fast as his mother Mary did, then know that she used to fast for two days at a time and then eat for two days.”

The fast of David (a.s.) consisted of fasting one day for 24 hours and breaking it the next day by a day in which he took food and drank.

There is a special night in Ramadhan, a night which is blessed as it is the night of the descending of the Qur’an.  It is called the “Night of Power”.  There are different opinions about the exact date of the Night of Power.  Some people point to the 27th of Ramadhan.  Imam Abu Hanifah (r.a.) also referred to a tradition that the Night moves through the year.

The Prophet (s.a.w.) wanted to tell the community about the exact day of the Night of Power, but as he was disturbed this knowledge was taken away.  According to the collector of traditions. Imam al-Bukhari (r.a.), the Messenger of Allah (s.a.w.) has said, “Seek it on the odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadhan.”

So, it is hidden, like the friend of Allah (s.w.t.) is hidden in order that we respect all people.  So it is up to the aspirant to be alert and awake to its coming.  According to Shaykh Sulayman ‘Atha’ (q.s.), a murid of Shaykh Ahmad al-Yasawi (q.s.), you should, “treat everyone you meet as Khidhr (a.s.) and every night as the Night of Power.”

Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.) wrote a curious booklet about the Night of Power.  He stated about this Night that, “If the first of Ramadhan falls on a Monday, then it may be expected on either the 23rd night or the 19th.”  Likewise, he said thus:

1st Ramadhan = Tuesday: 29th or 25th.
1st Ramadhan = Wednesday: 21st or 17th.
1st Ramadhan = Thursday: 27th or 23rd.
1st Ramadhan = Friday: if the first day of any month other than Ramadhan falls on a Friday, then the blessed night will be either the 15th night or the 19th of that month.
1st Ramadhan = Saturday: 25th or 21st.
1st Ramadhan = Sunday: if the first day of any month other than Ramadhan falls on a Sunday, then the blessed night will be either the 17th night or the 13th of that month.

The father of Shaykh ibn al-‘Arabi (q.s.) informed him about special signs by means of which one could recognise the blessed night.  One of these signs is mentioned in the Futuhat al-Makkiyyah: “The dawn at the end of the Night of Power is not from the light of the sun.  It is the light of the Night of Power itself, which manifests in the body of the sun, just as with the light of the moon.”  He continued, “Thus, as the Night of Power effaces the rays of the sun, the sun remains like the moon, shining on things and giving light without rays.”

The shaykh wrote this poem:

“Each moment I behold You is my Night of Power,
While that which for mankind in the month of Ramadhan
Is better than a thousand months.
Verily I, I am better than that without any time!
Its graciousness depends on me, while my own grace
Belongs to Him Who Made me in His Image.”

Shaykh al-Ishraq (q.s.) wrote, “The visionary will understand the implication completely, learning much from a few hints.  He will have patience to be resolute in all matters, the secret of this patience being entrusted to the one who holds the authority to teach the book.  He will be characterised by Nearness to Allah (s.w.t.), a spare diet and little sleep, supplication to Allah (s.w.t.) to Ease the Path for him and a heart made refined by refined thoughts.”

The real fast, according to the Jistiyyah, is the renunciation of all religious and worldly desires.  The desire of paradise, and of worldly wealth and position should be avoided.  The love of anyone else except Allah (s.w.t.) and the desire for paradise are the things, which break the fast.  The people who keep the fast abstain from eating and drinking.  But this is not the real fast.  It is an unreal fast.  Such a fast does not imply the renunciation of things other than Allah (s.w.t.).  The idea of self continues to dominate.  Such a fast has this much of utility that an individual comes to realise the pangs of hunger and thirst of other people, thus enabling him to extend his sympathy to the sufferers.

Shah Wali’ullah (q.s.) of Delhi discussed the inner dimensions of the fast.  He told us, “When a person tries to subjugate the lower soul and eliminate its bad qualities, his act will take on a sanctified form in the World of Images.  Among the purest of the gnostics is the one who concentrates on this form, for he is furnished with knowledge from the unseen world and achieves union with the Divine Essence because of transcendence and sanctification.  This is the meaning of ‘Fasting is done for My Sake and I Reward it.’”

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