Fasting is the intentional deprivation of some of the basic body needs: eating, drinking and having intimate relations from Fajr (dawn) till Sunset (Maghrib)
So fasting is limiting the intake to allow us to think about our relationship with our body, give the body time to rest; and also assess how much we are in control of our body or how much we are: it.
Limiting intimacy must facilitate developing another way to release the different pressures we can be submitted to, in a spiritual way.
In other words, Ramadan is a controlled abandoning of the body, to nourish the soul working on our relationship with Allah; aiming to realize our need of Allah in our lives. As with all acts of worship, it should be done with the correct intention. You should make the intention to fast the obligatory fast of Ramadan.
Suhoor and Iftar
Suhoor is the meal taken before the beginning of the fast in the morning before Fajr. This meal was emphasized by the Prophet e due to its blessings.
The quality of the suhoor will condition your day. It is well known today that food intake impacts on sleep, energy levels and even mood. Our body is a great reflection of the way we decide to treat it. Be healthy with your body to allow it to support your soul. On the contrary, filling our bodies with unhealthy food (fried, processed, junk food, fizzy, etc…) will make it a burden for the soul, then the spiritual purpose of Ramadan only becomes harder.
We can further feel the impact of food on our soul with iftar. Iftar is the breaking of the fast, which is done at the beginning of the time of Maghrib. It is strongly recommended to eat something as soon as the time for the prayer starts (at sunset). We all have experimented the heaviness and discomfort after the heavy Iftar when praying Taraweeh.
So when fasting is supposed to ease working on our soul, are not we missing the purpose of it, when being unhealthy?
Taraweeh is a prayer that is performed every Ramadan night after Isha prayer. It is prayed in slightly different ways than the five mandatory prayers: some pray 23 units; and others 11; the aim being to complete a recitation of the whole Qur’an by the end of Ramadan.
Indeed prayer is an obligation to help the Muslim to communicate with Allah at least five times a day, like a regular reminder to the reason of our existence. However we all experience difficulties when praying: difficulty to focus, to forget the daily life and our worries, to live our prayers as a proper communication with Allah, etc…
Prayer, as well as fasting Ramadan cannot be understood only in theory. In fact, prayer is an experience and like any experience, its point is to be lived. Studying and practicing prayers are complementary; as praying involves both the mind and the heart together, to communicate with Allah.
In that sense, the days of Ramadan are a great opportunity to study prayer, and the nights of Ramadan, with taraweeh are a great occasion to practice it. So, Ramadan is a perfect training to live prayer: to communicate with Allah.
Practicing in congregation makes it easier to concentrate in our prayers. Indeed, when we are distracted, feeling others beside, in front and behind us reminds us to pray. And from prayer in congregation emanates a special strength and spirituality, almost like a power.
However there is a condition to that. The condition is that we don’t get more distracted in our masajid than when we are alone. For that, the key is to stay focused on our own behaviour with a simple question: “am I disturbing anyone?” In fact, when putting our fellows’ peace before our own interest or will, we guarantee our masaajid to remain a room of peace to everyone.
The Night of Power
The Night of Power (Laylat-ul-Qadr in Arabic) is the night in which Allah sent down the Qur’an in its entirety to the lowest heaven. The night of power is one of the last ten nights of Ramadan. It is also the night when the first revelations were received by the Prophet e from the angel Jibreel u.
However, Allah U and the Prophet e didn’t give us much information about the exact date of that night, just a few hints; to make the search of that special a night a quest. And a quest can lead to a treasure…
This quest is obviously spiritual and the Prophet e, like always, has given us the keys. He recommended us to multiply prayers and other dhikr; and to observe the signs.
Here, there is a double dimension, as prayers and dhikr are related to our heart, via private communication with Allah, from the inside. Whilst observing the signs is turning to what is outside of us: the rest of Allah’s creation; that we can physically sense, seeing, hearing, smelling, tasting and touching the blessings Allah has granted us.
The Night of Power (Laylat-ul-Qadr) is such an experience of all our senses and our heart, to live the omnipresence of Allah and to understand our dependency on Him.
‘Itikaf (spiritual retreat)
‘Itikaf is performed by those who are able, in the last ten days of Ramadan. It was the practice of the Prophet e and his Companions y. Many masajid will provide facilities for ‘Itikaf. This entails staying in the masjid. Some stipulate there is no minimum, while others suggest a minimum of one full day. Some scholars allow women to do ‘Itikaf in their own homes.
Notice that the last ten days our bodies are usually used to the physical aspect of fasting. So naturally, it is the perfect time to focus more on the spiritual aspect of Ramadan.
‘Itikaf is a conscious isolation from people and from unproductive activities. It is a retreat, so it is like an assessment followed by resolutions to put into practice.
In fact, ‘Itikaf aims to assess our dependency to the material world (phone, computer, TV, News, money, shopping, etc…) and also to assess our natural tendency to remember Allah in a full day. Once the assessment is done, a plan can be made and put into action, step by step. The aim being to not allow any object or unproductive activity to take control of us, our moods and our priorities; to make sure we use them as tools and that we are not dependent: i.e. slaves of them.
There is also another aspect of ‘Itikaf which is time related. Indeed, it is certainly not a coincidence that the Prophet e and his companions y practiced ‘itikaf the last ten days of Ramadan, when the Night of Power is searched for. That emphasizes the need to detoxify ourselves from the material world (dunya). As from the practice of the Prophet e and his companions y, we can see that a dependency to the material world (including work) is a barrier to our spirituality; and thence to Allah I.
In other words, ‘itikaf is a great opportunity to look for a path to the Night of Power aiming a great experience of peace; which will run in our lives as long as we keep the material world away from our heart.
An article will be dedicated to Zakat-ul-Fitr, coming soon!