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Is fasting really about feeling for the poor?

13 April 2023

Dr. Ali Al-Halawani :
When the rich suffer from hunger and thirst, they feel the agony of the poor and, thus, they rush to spend on them in charity.
In the same vein, when the poor see the rich suffering from hunger and thirst during their fast, they comfort themselves that they are equals in one way or another; a matter which gives the poor some sort of "psychological relief".
A superficial understanding of fasting
Indeed, this rudimentary understanding is very strange; it depicts the whole issue as if the poor gloat over the rich's grief and rejoice at their misfortune.
Or, it depicts it as if the poor have eventually found themselves as equal to the rich as regards one thing even if it were sharing hunger, thirst and suffering!
To me, this is both superficial and weird as all the above revolve only around "the stomach" be it full or empty! Hereby, I am not denying the possibility of such wisdom and/or benefits. However, I am only against the centrality of such limited interpretations and the widespread of such materialistic understanding of a super great act of worship such as fasting.
I believe that because Muslims have been tried by misunderstanding the wisdom behind the acts of worship, they have undergone many calamities and suffered from catastrophic disasters.
To understand this and to get an idea of what I am alluding to, let us take a glance at the position of Muslims in today's world.
An overall look reveals that Muslims are being humiliated by others in so many places on earth even within their own territories and borders at the hands of their own rulers.
The degree of enmity between some neighboring Muslim countries and vicinal peoples is beyond imagination.
The constant severe attacks against their intellect, dignity and even existence as well as being part of their enemies' plans made them subject to the will of their rulers who are mostly tyrants and oppressors. All they can do is to protest and raise their voices with objections to these injustices then they return back to the normal life they are leading.
Nothing is better to describe them than the saying of the great earlier historian Abu Shamah who said that such people are, "only keen on fulfilling the needs of their stomachs and sexual desires!"
All these made many Muslims as humiliated in every aspect of life. Were they to hang on to understanding the real essence of Islam and the real wisdom behind its prescribed acts of worship, certainly they would find their lost dignity, respect and victory in the present life as well as the Hereafter!
Why do we fast, then?
Verily, fasting was ordained on Muslims to save them from such afflictions and trials. But, many of us have forgotten the Covenant of Allah; therefore, He made us forget our own souls until we misinterpreted the meaning of one of the greatest acts of worship, namely fasting, and started to understand it to be only revolving around food and drink.
In so doing, we eat less to make our bodies healthier; we give in charity to support the poor; we eat together to be in tune with one another. Notwithstanding, we fast the whole month of Ramadan but our bodies get no healthier; the poor get no real support except for some food and the like; our hearts do not agree. Even in case any of these meanings are really fulfilled, as soon as the month elapses, they are gone as well leaving nothing of their traces in the soul, the body or the society.
If we do justice to fasting, we would view it - as it is ordained on Muslims - as a pure act of worship and obedience between the servant and his Lord practiced by both the destitute and the rich to gain the pleasure of Allah. They practice it together during the month of Ramadan and individually in other than Ramadan. They practice fasting not to live the meanings that revolve around food and drinking only, be it through giving out or abstention, but, to rid themselves together of the rein of what follows:
They rid themselves of the rein of food, drinking, lusts, and every drawback.
They rid themselves of the rein of fear from anyone or anything other than Allah, the Lord of the whole world.
They rid themselves of any form of hypocrisy as no one can be aware of the status of the fasting person except Allah the Almighty Who sees everyone and everything, Glory be His.
The real essence of fasting
Consequently, the essential meaning of fasting can be explained as follows. It is the emancipation of the human soul from all forms of slavery: from the slavery of life and its requirements; from the slavery of the body and its needs; from the slavery of the soul and its lusts; from the slavery of whims; from the slavery of fear with all its forms until the human soul finds perfect freedom, the freedom of existence, freedom of will, and freedom of action.
To me, emancipation of the Muslim soul is the objective of fasting which is ordained by Allah the Almighty be it obligatory or voluntary. Through experiencing these meanings of fasting, a Muslim should realize that Allah made him successor upon the earth to establish the right, to judge between people with justice and to refrain from being humiliated by anyone or for anything whatsoever as Allah honored him by declaring him a vicegerent to steward the earth.
Allah the Almighty guided us to an aspect of this meaning as He made fasting equal to the emancipation of slaves in three of His Ordainments in the Ever-Glorious Qur'an.
First, He, Glory be His, ordained that anyone who kills a faithful person by mistake should set a believing human being free and should hand the blood money to the victim's family. If one cannot afford of freeing a slave, {then he shall instead fast two consecutive months as a repentance ordained by God!} (An-Nisa' 4:92)
Second, He, Glory be His, made those who sinfully estrange themselves from their wives with the mere pronouncement: "You are prohibited to me for marital relations as is my own mother's backside," then they retreat what they have said, they must free a bondservant before they and their wives touch each other in intimacy,
{But for one who [commits this offense] yet cannot find such means of atonement, then he shall instead fast two consecutive months, before they touch each other in intimacy…} (Al-Mujadilah 58:4)
Third, He, Glory be His, made the expiation for one's oath setting a slave free, {But if one of you does not find the means to make an offering, then fasting three days…} (Al-Baqarah 2:196)

(Dr. Ali Al-Halawani is an Assistant Professor of Linguistics and Translation Studies. He is an author, translator, and writer based in Canada).

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