Let us welcome the blessed month of Ramadan this time with a fresh commitment to our Merciful Creator and Sustainer to reorient our lives in His way. The most salient lesson of this month of divine training for the believers is self-restraint and abstinence. As we train ourselves in abstinence from the necessities of life for part of a day through the month, we consequently strengthen our physical as well as mental abilities to abstain from not only what is illicit (haram), but also from all that distracts us from the pursuit of Allah's pleasure. This mental and spiritual attitude –zuhd - is a necessary weapon for us to fight off the onslaughts of materialism and snares of Satan.
What is zuhud
Imam Ibn Qudamah Al-Maqdisi defines zuhd as: 'giving up' something for something better, while what is given up is itself of value in some way. In other words, zuhd means to give up B in return for A, either because one values A too much or values B too little in comparison. Commonly, zuhd means to refrain from an object of desire in the pursuit of a nobler objective, particularly refraining
Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim defines zuhd as: "An attitude that is the opposite of being eager and concerned about the life of this world. In the Arabic language, it means abandoning a matter while despising it and belittling its significance, so that one will exchange it for what is more significant."
He further says: "I heard Shaykh Al-Islam Ibn Taymiyyah say: 'Zuhd is abandoning what does not bring about benefit in the Hereafter. Wara' is abandoning what you fear will have consequences in the Hereafter.' This statement is one of the best and most comprehensive definitions of Az-Zuhd and Al-Wara'."
Sufyan ath-Thawry said: "Zuhd in this world means avoiding hopes of long life, not in wearing thick garments (unlike what some people with superficial understanding of zuhd think)."
Imam Hassan Al-Basri said: "Zuhd in this world is not achieved by prohibiting the permissible, nor by giving away all of one's wealth. Rather, it means being more certain in what Allah has in His hands than about what one has in his hands."
Enhancing Zuhd in Ramadan
The best of teachers of mankind said: "The worst cavity one fills is one's belly, if you must eat make sure you full one third of your stomach with food, one third with water and leave one third for air (i.e. leave it empty.)" [At-Tirmithi]
The beloved messenger would also encourage finishing our food so nothing is left in the plate to be thrown away, and he would encourage even licking the fingers (if one ate using hands), or giving your plate to someone else to do the same.
Another narration says that one should not leave even a morsel of food to be thrown away: "for you do not know where the blessing is." [Muslim]
Compare these standards to our way of eating, particularly during Ramadan. Every known recommendation of the beloved Messenger is flouted. Food is extravagant and everyone attempts to fill his or her stomach to the brim. It has become an ironical joke that people gain instead of losing weight during Ramadan. The discipline and self-restraint of the day is more than compensated for during the lavish dinners. Taraweeh prayer is difficult and often skipped as a result of extravagant engagement with food. Worse yet, the left over food is sometimes thrown away carelessly.
Ramadan is a month of zuhd, and this pattern must change if the Muslims are to ever earn zuhd and spiritual as well as physical benefit from this sacred month. Some practical tips:
Eat measured, moderate amount of healthy meals in Suhoor (pre-dawn meal) and Iftar (evening break-fast)
- When at some generous host's place or at a restaurant, do not feel obliged to finish it all, and have the packed for you to eat later. Don't be intimidated by un-Islamic pride - no morsel of food in your possession should be wasted. Food we eat is sacred in that it is given by Allah and is full of His blessings - this is our religious value.
- Invite poor people in your community to break their fast with you; their respect for food and Allah's provisions is often a good lesson.
- Remember the Prophet's advice on eating moderately - print it out and post it by your dining table if possible.
- Particularly while fasting, prevent your heart from getting engaged in something of this world - food, clothes, celebrities, buildings, or people. An excellent religious teaching of some of our scholars is to cast down our eyes and say 'Subhanallah' (perfection is for Allah) whenever something of this world catches our fancy to the point of making us forget Allah.
- Pick out audio lectures of scholars whose speech affects your heart, or recitation of the Quran by your favorite reciters, and make it a habit to listen to them attentively and regularly while driving or at home.
Remember the Saying of Allah (which means) "…the life of this world is but amusement and diversion and adornment and boasting to one another and competition in increase of wealth and children…." [Quran, 57: 20]