Reflections on Ramadan, Fasting and Seclusion
As Ramadan has come to a close I wanted to post my thoughts and reflections on the month that has now left us, and particularly use my experience in having had the opportunity to perform ‘itikaf this year to enhance my feelings on fasting and the blessed month.
Surat al-Muzzamil, (73, 8): “So remember the name of thy Lord, and devote thyself to Him with full devotion.”
Allama Abu Sa’ad in his commentary on the explanation of the Qur’an by Fakhr ad-Din ar-Razi, volume 8, p. 338, says, “The meaning of this verse is to keep secluding yourself from anyone other than Allah, Almighty and Exalted, remembering Him day and night, by tasbih, tahmid and tahlil, and to disconnect yourself, by all the power you have, and approach Him through the meditative stations such that you will not see anyone except Him, and be away from connections to other than Him through that meditation.” Source
The heart of the true believer is never truly satisfied with this world. A believer is one whose heart yearns for The Eternal. In drawing close to Allah (SWT) the human condition reaches a level of satisfaction that cannot be manifested into words. For one who tastes the true bounties of worship, the words of Imam Abu Hanifa ring with a true resilience:
“If the kings knew of the pleasure we were in [from worshiping Allah], they would send their armies with swords to take it from us”.
Greater than any drug or intoxicant, the poets of old had to use connotations of the impermissible to be able to describe the feeling that arises when one worships his Lord through full conviction and gratitude. Ask one who has traveled to The Noble Sanctuary of Mecca to describe his experience, he may begin to try, but eventually his words will fail him, and his heart will succumb to remembrance of when he was there in the Noble Presence of His House, and he will simply say that words cannot describe it. And so it is with seclusion and the dhikr of Allah.
Being alone with my Lord in the dark of night leaving behind the necessities of the world, gave me a feeling that I could not describe. As though my soul was revived from within my abdomen and was trying to escape. Temporarily free from the desires and needs of this dunya, despite remaining His slave, I felt like I was liberated.
Khalwa and seclusion are ancient practices that existed before and during Islam, although unfortunately it has lost much of its practitioners and importance in today’s modern world. Some individuals even making strange claims that the practice (other than itikaf) is no longer required and was abrogated after revelation. I beg to differ. The Prophet’s (SAWS) heart was never truly in the world, it was veiled from the worthlessness of the dunya, completely embraced in the worship of its Lord, albeit not being in an entirely physical seclusion of the body, but of the heart and soul, a level which an ordinary human being would struggle to achieve without first going through an actual physical seclusion just as the Prophet (SAWS) did in the cave.
If we then use this point as reference and continue to look at the confirmed sunnah of itikaf. That is for an individual to seclude oneself in the local Mosque starting from the 21st night of Ramadan until the sighting of the new moon of Shawwal. The Hanafi school regards this practice as being an obligation on a community, that is, if a single person in a locality performs the full 9/10 days, the obligation has been fulfilled. This practice was an obligation on the Prophet (SAWS). In the one year he did not perform it, the following Ramadan he stayed in the Mosque for the last 20 days. The last 10 days of Ramadan are when the believers have the chance to gain freedom from hellfire, and it is within one of the odd numbered nights the Qur’an was first revealed to the chosen one (SAWS). It is interesting to note that the Prophet (SAWS) was in a state of seclusion for the last 10 days in which the Qur’an was revealed, and the practice of seclusion was left behind for us in the last 10 days, and on top of that fasting was prescribed on all able bodied Muslims for the entire month. Why? Well in the time I had for reflection and with the limited knowledge I have, it seems to be that for the eternal, uncreated, incorruptible book of Allah to be made truly manifest to a finite human being, he must first exclude himself for the temporal things of this world. In fasting, we remove ourselves from our most basic of requirements, that of food and water, and if we are married then relations with our spouses. This in itself is a type of seclusion. In the month the Qur’an was revealed to us, and to remind us of its true nature and power, we must first be taken away from that which is temporary, to truly experience that which is forever. And in the last 10 days in which the actual night of power resides Allah (SWT) and His messenger (SAWS) have given us ‘itikaf so that we may add to this. On top of our fasting, we leave behind our families, our jobs, and the simple little things we desire so that our spiritual level may increase.
One may ask, the Qur’an has all been revealed, and the doors of revelation are now closed. What is the basis for this idea that seclusion has been given to us as a reflection of the Prophet (SAWS) in his state, when we cannot receive any divine text. My response would be, how many of us have read the entirety of the Qur’an in our native tongues? How many us have bothered to learn the translation of the short verses we have memorised? How many of us feel nothing when we hear the Qur’an being recited? The Qur’an has been revealed to our ears, but our hearts are deaf. The month of Ramadan is the month of the Qur’an. Allah has blessed us with this time by chaining the devil and giving us the fast so that our lower selves, our nafs may also be chained, and that we may finally have the sight and hearing of our hearts opened, and our soul, our ruh, may finally be set free.
All that have said that is incorrect is from me, all that is good and beneficial is from Allah. And to Him is our return.