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Friday, October 15, 2004

Virtues of Ramadhaan (part 2)

Ibn Umar (Radhi Allaho anho) relates: Rasulullah (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) said: 'Verily Allah and His Malaa'ikah send Mercy upon those who eat 'Sehri' (sower-Suhoor)."

How great is Allah's favour upon us that even the partaking of food before dawn for fasting is so greatly rewarded. There are many Ahaadith in which the virtues of "Sehri" are expounded and the rewards mentioned. Allaamah Ain - Commentator on Bukhari - has quoted the virtues of "Sehri" from seventeen different 'Sahaabah' and all the "Ulama" are agreed on its being "Mustahab" (desirable). Many people are deprived of this great reward because of their own laziness. Some even go so far as to finish 'Taraweeh', eat (what they suppose to be "Sehri'!) and go to bed. What great blessings do they lose! "Sehri" actually means partaking of food shortly before dawn. Some authorities say that the time for "Sehri" commences after half the night has passed (Mirquat). The author of Kash-shaff (Zamakhshari) divided the night into six portions, stating that the last one of these is the time of "Sehri"; so that, when the night (from sunset till dawn) extends over twelve hours, the last two hours would be the correct time for "Sehri". Then it must also be remembered that to eat at the latest possible time is better and greater in reward than eating earlier, subject to the condition that no doubt remains as to whether "Sehri" had been eaten before the time of dawn. The Ahaadith are full of virtues of "Sehri".

Rasulullah (Sallallahu alaihe wasallam) said: 'The difference between our fasting and that of the Ahlul-Kitaab (Jews and Christians) lies in our partaking of food at "Sehri" which they do not." The Prophet has said, "Eat Sehri, because in it lie great blessings; and again. "In three things, are the great blessings: in "Jama'ah" (company), in eating "Thareed" and in "Sehri". In this Hadith, the use of the word "Jama'ah" is general, wherefrom we deduce that it includes "Salaat" with "Jamaa'ah" and all those righteous deeds done in company, as thus Allah's help comes to them. "Thareed" is a tasty preparation, in which baked bread is cooked with meat. The third thing mentioned in this Hadith is "Sehri". When Rasulullah (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) used to invite any of the companions to eat "Sehri" with him, he used to say: "Come and partake of blessed food with me." One Hadith says: "Eat 'Sehri' and strengthen yourself for the fast. And sleep in the afternoon (Siesta), so as to gain assistance in waking up in the latter portion of the night (for "Ibaadah")." Abdullah bin Haarith (Radhiallahu Anhu) reports that one of the Sahaaba said: "I once visited Rasulullah (Sallallaho alaihi wasallam) at a time when he was busy in partaking of 'Sehri'. Rasulullah then said: "This is a thing full of blessings, which Allah has granted you. Do not give it up." Rasulullah (Sallallaho alaihe wasallam) in urging us repeatedly for 'Sehri' has said: "Even though there be no food, then one date should be eaten or a drink of water taken." Thus, when there are definitely great advantages and reward in 'Sehri', Muslims should endeavour to observe this practice as much as possible. However, in all things moderation is important, and going beyond the bounds of moderation is harmful: neither should so little be eaten that one feels weak throughout the period of fasting, nor should so much be eaten that it causes discomfort. Repeatedly, we have been prohibited from filling the stomach excessively.

In his commentary on "Sahih Bukhari", Ibne Hajar has mentioned various reasons for the blessedness of "Sehri":

Because in it, the 'Sunnah' is followed. Through "Sehri", we differentiate ourselves from the ways of Ahlul-Kitaab, which we are at all times called upon to do.
It provides strength for "Ibaadah"
It promotes greater sincerity in "Ibaadah"
It aids in elimination of bad temper, which normally comes about as result of hunger.
'Sehri' is the time when prayers are accepted.
At the time of 'Sehri', one gets the opportunity to remember Allah, makes Dhikr and lifts up the hand to Him in prayer.

These are a few of the major reasons; there are many others as well. Some 'Sufis' are in doubt as to whether the eating of 'Sehri' conflicts with the object of fasting or not. They maintain that the object of fasting is to stay away from food, drink and sexual desires, therefore 'Sehri' is against the object of fasting. In my opinion the amount to be eaten varies according to different persons and their activities. Foe example, for those students who are busy seeking knowledge of 'Deen', too little food at 'Sehri' as well as 'Iftaar' will be harmful; for them it is better not to have too little, because they seek 'Deeni' knowledge, which is very important (for the preservation and spread of Islam). similar is the case of those who are busy with 'Dhikr' and other 'Deeni' activities. Other people who have no such hard work to do should eat little at 'Sehri'.

Once Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) announced to those proceeding for 'Jihaad': 'There is no virtue in fasting while travelling.' That was in the month of Ramadhaan, when some Sahaaba were fasting. Allamah Sha'raani mentions in Sharh Iqna: 'A covenant was made with us that we shall not fill our stomachs (completely) when eating, especially in the nights of Ramadhaan.' It is better that one should eat less in the nights of Ramadhaan than on other nights. After all, what is the utility of fasting after having filled oneself at 'Sehri' and 'Iftaar'? the religious divines have said, 'Whoever remains hungry in Ramadhaan shall remain safe from the evil of 'Shaytaan' throughout the year, until the next Ramadhaan.'

Sharah Ihya Ulumuddin mentions the experiences of some saints, such as Sahl bin Abdullah Tastari, who used to eat only once every fifteen days, while in Ramadhaan he ate only one morsel; but in order to follow the Sunnah, he used to have a drink of water daily for 'Sehri' and 'Iftaar'. Shaykh Junayd always used to fast throughout the year. However, when his noble friends would visit him occasionally, he used to break his fast and eat with them, saying, 'The virtue of breaking fast and eating with (such noble) friends is not less than that of 'Nafl' fasting.

Similarly, we can mention the experiences of numerous saints who through eating less used to discipline their inner-selves, but let us bear in mind that it should not be carried to such extremes that the'religious' activities and responsibilities are neglected, as a result of weakness of the body.

Abu,Hurayra (Radhiallaahu anhu) relates that Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said: "Many of those who fast obtain nothing through such fasting except hunger, and many a one performs "Salaat" by' night but obtains nothing by it, except the discomfort of staying awake."

With regard to this Hadith, the "Ulama" have mentioned three different interpretations: First, this Hadith may refer to those who fast during the day and then for "Iftaar" eat food that is "Haraam"; all the reward for fasting is lost because of the greater sin of eating 'Haraam' and nothing is gained except remaining hungry. Secondly, it may mean those who fast duly but, during fasting, engage themselves in backbiting and slandering others (see later). Thirdly, the person referred to may be one who, while fasting, did not stay away from evil and sin. In this Hadith all such possibilities are included. Similar is the case of the person performing 'Salaat' all night voluntarily; because of backbiting or any other sinful act (e.g. missing, Fajr salaat or keeping Awake for show), his night of devotion goes unrewarded.

Abu Ubaidah (Radhiallaahu ?nhu) reports: "I have heard RasuluLlah (Sallallaahu ?layhi Wasallam) saying: "Fasting is a protective Shield for Man, as long as he does not tear up that protection'

"Protective shield" here means just as a man protects himself with a shield, similarly fasting protects him from his well-known enemy - 'Shataan'. In other Ahaadith, we are told that fasting saves one from Allah's punishment and Hellfire in the Hereafter. Once somebody inquired from Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam), "What causes the fast to be rent?" He replied: 'Telling lies and backbiting.'

This Hadith, when read in conjunction with so many others, actually tells us to avoid such actions which cause fasting to be wasted. In our times, we are fond of whiling away the time with unnecessary conversations. Some "Ulema" are of the opinion that lies, backbiting, slander, etc., actually undo the fast just like eating and drinking, but the great majority of "Ulama" believes that the fast is not totally undone, but loses its blessings. The "Ulama" of Islam have mentioned six things, about which care should be taken in fasting:- First, one should keep the eyes away from any place where one should not look; some go so far as to prohibit looking at one's own wife with desire, let alone another woman. Similarly, looking at any evil action or where evil is committed should be avoided.

Rasulullah(Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said: 'The glance is like an arrow from 'Shataan' Whosoever, out of fear for Allah, prevents himself from lookig at evil, Allah shall grant him such light of faith, the taste and ecstacy of which he will feel in the heart." The 'Sufis' interpret the above saying to mean that those sights which should be avoided include all such places and things that distract the mind from the remembrance of Allah.

Secondly, one should guard the tongue against lies, unnecessary conversation, backbiting, arguments, swearing, etc. In Bukhari, we read that fasting is a shield for the fasting person; for this reason, those who fast should avoid all useless talk, joking, argument, etc. Should anyone pick an argument, then say: "I am fasting." In other words, one should not start an argument and if someone else starts it, then too, one should avoid taking it up. When the person who starts an argument is not an understanding person, then at least one should remind oneself that: "I am fasting." During the time of our Nabi (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam), two women were fasting and suffered the pangs of hunger to such an extent that the fast became unbearable and both were on the point of death. The "Sahaaba" brought this to the notice of our Nabi (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam), who sent a bowl commanding them to vomit into it. When they both vomitted in the bowl, pieces of meat and fresh blood were found in it. The "Sahaaba" were greatly surprised, upon which our Nabi (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said: "They fasted with 'Halaal' food from Allah, but partook of 'Haraam' food by backbiting other people." From the above, it also becomes clear that, by backbiting during fasting, the fast becomes so much more harder; for this reason, both women were near death. Similar is the case with other sinful acts, and experience shows that for the faithful, Godfearing persons, fasting is no hardship, whereas the sinful find it too hard to bear. One should therefore stay away from sins and especially from major sins, like backbiting and slander, which are often indulged in to while away the time. Allah says in the Qur'aan that backbiting is tantamount to the (actual) eating of the flesh of one's dead brother. We find this also narrated in various Ahadith. Once the Prophet, (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam), on seeing some people, asked them to pick their teeth. They said that they had not tasted any meat that day, on which the Prophet (Sallallaahu ?layhi Wasallam) said, "So and so's flesh is sticking to your teeth." It transpired that they had been backbiting. May Allah keep us safe from this evil, because we are very neglectful of this warning. All are guilty of this; not to speak of the common man, even the people of importance indulge in it, even the religious people in their gatherings do not avoid backbiting. Worst of all is the fact that we do not even realize what backbiting is; even when we suspect ourselves of this, we try to cover it up as narration of some event. One of the 'Sahaaba' inquired from Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) "What is backbiting?" Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) replied: "To mention something about your brother behind his back, which he would resent." The 'Sahaabi' then said: "And is it still backbiting if the thing mentioned about him is really true?" Our Nabi (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said: 'In that case (if that which was mentioned is really true) it is precisely backbiting; but if what is mentioned is false, then you have in fact slandered him." Once our Nabi (Sallallaahu ?layhi Wasallam) passed by two graves. He said: "On both the inmates of these graves, punishment is being inflicted in the grave. One is being punished because of backbiting, the other because of not having taken precautions (to stay clean) when passing urine. Rasulullah ((Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) also said: "There are more than seventy degrees of evil in (Usury) interest. The lowest form of it is comparable to committing incest with own mother; and taking one 'Dirham' of interest is a worse evil than having fornicated thirty five times. The worst and most evil degree of taking interest is the slandering of a Muslim." In various Ahaadith we are strongly warned against backbiting and slandering a Muslim. I very much wanted to write down here a number of such Ahaadith, because all our gatherings and conversations are generally filled with these evils (backbiting and slander). However I finally decided not to do so, because the topic under discussion here is something else - not actually backbiting. So I once again pray that Allah may keep us safe from this evil. And I beg of my friends and brothers to pray for me too; we are full of inner faults.

'What ailment is there O Allah that is not in me,
Heal me from every illness and grant me my needs
Verily I have a heart that is sick
Verily you are the Healer of the sick'

Thirdly, we should be careful that the ears are kept away from listening to anything undesirable (Makrooh). It is equally unlawful to listen to anything that should not be said. Rasulullah (Sallallaahu ?layhi Wasallam) has said, 'In backbiting, both the bickbiter and the one who listens to it are equal partners in sin.'

Fourthly, the rest of the body should be kept away from sin and unlawful things. Neither should the hands touch it, nor the feet walk towards it. With the stomach, special care should be taken, especially at the time of "Iftaar", that no such thing enters it about which there is any doubt of it being "Halaal". When a person fasts and, at."Iftaar" time, breaks his fast with "Haraam" food, he is like a sick person who takes medicine as a cure, but also adds a little poison, which destroys him.

Fifthly, after having fasted, it is not advisable to fill the stomach completely even with "Halaal" food at "Iftaar", because then the purpose of fasting is defeated. Fasting seeks to diminish one's carnal desires and increase one's faith and spiritual powers. For eleven months, we eat and drink freely enough, in Ramadhan this should be cut down to a minimum. We have a bad habit of filling our bellies at "Iftaar" to make up for what was lost, and again at "Sahi" in preparation for the day, thus actually increasing our average consumption. Ramadhan for such people gives an edge to their appetite. Many such items of food are eaten that we normally do not eat at other times. This type of eating habit is completely against the spirit of Ramadhan and the true spirit of fasting.

Imaam Ghazaali asks the same question: "When the object of fasting is to conquer our carnal passions in opposition to 'Iblees' (Satan), how can this possibly be done by eating excessively at "Iftaar"? Actually in that case we have only altered the times of eating, and not really fasted. In fact by having various types of delicacies, we consume even more than in normal times. The result is that, instead of lessening the carnal desires, these are considerably increased. The real benefit of fasting comes as a result of actual hunger in the 'true sense. Our Nabi (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said: 'Shataan" flows through the body of man like blood; so, close up his path by remaining hunqry," i.e. when the body is hungry, the spirit receives strength.

Apart from hunger, fasting gives us an opportunity to appreciate the condition of the poor and destitute, and thus engenders sympathetic feelings towards them. This too can be attained by remaining hungry and not by filling the stomach with delicious foods at 'Sehri", so that one does not feel hungry until "Iftaar". Once a person went to Bishr Haafi, whom he found shivering in the cold, in spite of having warm clothes lying at his side. That person inquired: "Is this a time for taking off the clothes?" Bishr replied: "There are numerous poor and needy ones; I am unable to sympathise with them; the least I could do is to be in their condition." The 'Sufis' plead for the same attitude in fasting and so do the "Fuqahaa" (Jurists).

In Maraqiul Falaah, it is written. "Do not eat excessively at "Sehri", as this is a way to lose the object of fasting." Allama Tahtaawi writes: "When hunger is really felt, the reward for fasting becomes definitely more. Similarly, a feeling is developed for the poor and hungry ones". Our Nabi (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) himself said: 'Allah does not dislike the filling of anything to the brim more than He dislikes the filling of the stomach. On another occasion, the Prophet ((Sallallaahu ?layhi Wasallam) said, "A few morsels should suffice which can keep back straight." The best way for man is that one third should be filled with food, one third with drink while the other third remains empty." Rasulullah (Sallallaahu ?layhi Wasallam) himself used to fast for days on end, without eating in between.

I have seen my ustaaz (teacher) Maulana Khalil Ahmad eating only slightly more than one thin (hand-made) bread (roti) at 'Iftaar' and 'Sehri', during the whole month of Ramadhan. When any of his near ones used to urge him to eat more, he would reply: "I am not hungry.

I merely sat down to eat because of my friends." About Maulana Shah Abdurraheem Rajpuri, I have heard that in Ramadhan, for days on end, he used to fast, drinking at 'Iftaar' and 'Sehri' only a few cups of tea without milk and nothing else. Once his most trusted follower (and Khalifa) Maulana Shah Abdulqaadir remarked with anxiety: "Hazrat, you will become very weak if you do not eat anything." To this, Maulana Shah Rajpuri replied: "Praise be to Allah, I am experiencing something of the ecstasy of Jannah.'May Allah grant us all the ability to follow those Pious souls.Aameen'.

The sixth point is that, after fasting, one should always have some anxiety as to whether one's fast had been accepted by Allah or not. This should be the case with all forms of 'Ibaadah' (worship). One never knows whether some important part may have been left out, of which no notice was taken. One should always fear that Allah may reject one's deeds. Rasulullah (Sallallaahu ?layhi Wasallam) said: 'Many reciters of the Qur'an are being cursed by the Qur'an.' He also said: 'On the day of 'Qiyaamah', (judgement) one of those with whom Allah shall reckon first shall be a "Shaheed" (martyr in the path of Allah). Allah shall call him and remind him of all His favours to him, which he shall admit.

He shall then be asked: "What have you done by way of expressing gratitude for these favours?" The 'Shaheed' shall reply: 'I fought in Your cause till I became a 'Shaheed". Allah shall reply:"It is not so; you fought so that you can be called a brave man; and so it has been said" Thereafter, it shall be commanded that he be dragged face on the ground and cast into "Jahannam." Thereafter, an 'Aalim' (Scholar) shall be called. He too shall be reminded of Allah's favours and asked the same question. He shall reply: "O Lord! I sought to acquire knowledge, taught others and for Your sake recited the Qur'aan." Allah shall say: "This is not true.

You did all that, merely so that, it may be said that you are learned; and so, it has been said.' Then it shall be commanded that he too be dragged, face on the ground, and cast into "Jahannam." Thereafter a rirh man shall be called. After being reminded of Allah's favours, and admitting them, in reply to Allah's question as to what he did fo express His gratitude, he shall reply: "There was no worthycause wherein I did not spend in charity for Your sake." Allah's reply shall be: 'Not true. You did all that, so that it may be said that you are very generous. And so it has been said." Then it shall be commanded that he too be dragged, face on the ground, and cast into "Jahannam". Many such incidents are related in Ahaadith. So, a fasting person should not only be sincere but also hope that Allah will accept it.

These above mentioned six things are compulsory for all truly righteous persons. As for the exceptionally pious ones, a seventh point is added. That is, during fasting, the heart should not be turned towards anyone except Allah, so much so that during the course of the fast there should be no worry as to whether there shall be something to eat for 'Iftaar'.

Some Shaikhs even consider it a fault to think about food for 'Iftaar', or that one should endeavour to acquire something, because this shows lack of faith in Allah's promise of being responsible for the granting of "Rizq". In the commentary of 'Ihya Ulumid Deen, the author goes so far as to relate that, should something for "Iftaar" arrive from somewhere before the time of 'Iftaar', the "Mashaikh" would give it to somebody else, for fear that for the rest of that day the heart may be distracted from Allah by keeping it. This can of course, only be carried out by the exceptionally pious ones. We cannot even imagine having such strong faith. Should we try to follow without it, we may destroy ourselves.

The Qur'aan commands: "Fasting has been prescribed for you." The commentators of the Qur'aan say that from this verse it is deduced that fasting is made compulsory for every part of the body. Thus, fasting of the tongue means to avoid falsehood, etc. fasting of the ears means not listening to evil, fasting of the eyes means not to look at any form of evil and sirl. Similarly, fasting of the self means to be free from all carnal desires. Fasting of the heart means casting out from it the love of worldly things. Fasting of the mind means avoiding thoughts about anything other than Allah.

Source: Virtues of Ramadhaan by Sheikhul Hadith Maulana Muhammad Zakariyya
Courtesy: www.everymuslim.com


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