Beyond standing as one of the five pillars of Islam and being an obligatory act of worship, the beautiful month of Ramadan is a unique opportunity for the faithful believers. An opportunity to cleanse and to recharge one’s soul. An opportunity to rise and to grow, both on the personal and spiritual level. And an opportunity to take a major step towards success, both ephemeral and eternal.
When it comes to taking advantage of this opportunity, people are not equal. Muslim scholars and mystics, amongst which Al-Ghalazi, mention that there are three levels of discipline through which the fast is manifested during the holy month of Ramadan.
1. The fast of the Commons
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلْقُرْءَانُ هُدًى لِلنَّاسِ وَبَي نََٰتٍ منَ ٱلْهُدَىَٰ وَٱلْفُرْقَانِِۚ فَمَن شَهِ دَ مِنكُمُ ٱلشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُُۖ
وَمَن كَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىَٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّة منْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرََۗ يُرِيدُ ٱللََُّّ بِكُمُ ٱلْيُسْرَ وَلََ يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ ٱلْعُسْرَ وَلِتُكْمِلُوا۟ ٱلْعِدَّةَ
وَلِتُكَب رُوا۟ ٱللََّّ عَلَىَٰ مَا هَدَىَٰكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
The month of Ramadhan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.
The first level is the fast of the stomach and sexual organs. Part of the wonders of Ramadan is the fact that most Muslims engage in that fast, even if they were not considering themselves to be practicing and disciplined Muslims before Ramadan.
This fast alone is already extremely valuable. Beyond the numerous benefits for the body and the psychic, it’s above all being engaged in the most noble of endeavours: obedience to the Most Glorious Master, Allah.
2. The fast of the specifics
The Prophet صلى الله عليه وسلم said “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink”
Sahih al-Bukhari 1903
As noble as the first fast is, it can be argued that one can and has to instill another level of discipline on one’s body to take advantage of the opportunity of this majestic month and conform to the order of Allah.
The second level is the fast of all the organs. This consists in guarding them from everything God forbids: guarding the eyes from what they should not look at, guarding the ears from what they should not hear, guarding the hands from what they should not accomplish, guarding the legs from where they should not lead and guarding the tongue from what it should not say.
If it is essential to guard oneself from sin, it is of utmost importance to not inflict any harm on others. As suggested in the Hadith quoted above, being harmful to others leads to no less than one’s fast being rejected by God.
3. The fast of the specifics of the specifics
إِلََّ مَنْ أَتَى ٱللََّّه بِقَلْبٍ سَلِيمٍ
But only one who comes to Allah with a sound heart.”
Having mastered and disciplined their bodies, the elites amongst us realise that in order to maintain and build upon the previous levels of fast, they ought to engage in the higher endeavour of disciplining their hearts and minds.
The third fast consists in guarding one’s mind and heart and dedicating them exclusively for Allah. Engaging in that higher fast requires disengaging from most lower endeavours and preoccupations, even though some of them might not be intrinsically reprehensible.
The fruits of Ramadan
هَل جَزا ءُ الإِحسانِ إِلَّ الإِحسا نُ
Is the reward for excellency but excellency ?
As God proclaims, Ramadan is all about ease. It is about endeavouring now to reap the benefits all year long and in the hereafter. Ultimately, it is about strengthening the connection with Allah and developing the most beautiful and the most fulfilling of all relationships: a sincere Love between a servant and His Lord. The path to this heavenly station is best covered with a ladder lent to us only for a month. The smart and ambitious faithful believer is the one who deploys every effort to climb its three rungs.