By Dr Asma Zehra
Holy Ramadan, the ninth month of Hijri calendar, is an occasion of fasting and self introspection. The significance of this month is multiplied by revelation of the Holy Qur’an in the night of Qadr, one of the odd number of 10 nights of the month.
For Muslims this month is an occasion of self-introspection, (ehtisaab) through seclusion, self assessment and introspection and repentance (tauba).
Humans have a physical and spiritual component. The nafs in Arabic is the “ego” or “soul” of a person. There may be multiple wishes and desires in a human being of lust, greed, envy etc. Introspection and purification of soul is the aim of fasting.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, whoever fasts in the holy month of Ramadan with faith (imaan) and ehtesaab (introspection), Allah will forgive all his sins.
Therefore, it is important to cleanse or ‘detox’ and purify the soul by self-introspection, repentance and connecting with the Creator.
The ‘wishes’ and ‘desires’ need to be groomed, tailored and kept under check. Self control through patience (sabr) and self restraint (abstention from sins) are major outcome of worship in Ramadan.
The Muslims are obliged to say prayers five times a day, recite Holy Quran, engage in good deeds and give charity all of which together create an atmosphere of piety and goodness. In an environment of purity souls are rejuvenated, replenished, reactivated, recharged to carry out the same good deeds in next 11 months.
An important ingredient of Ramadan is repentance, seeking apology for sins, which is termed Tauba and Istighfaar. Istaghfar is to pray to Allah that He protects the supplicant from the evil consequences and poisonous influences of the misdeeds and sins. Repentance is to cleanse the sins and purify the souls.
Believers never lose hope i.e if they have sinned, the doors of repentance are open until death. In fact this is the beauty of Islam that Allah loves those who repent and repentance of wrong doers invites pleasure of Allah.
It is said in Chapter Baqarah (verse 222): Surely Allah loves those who turn much (to him) and he loves those who purify themselves.
Allah has specified in the Holy Book that the most favourite quality of humans for Allah is that they do not stick to wrong but admit their flaws clearly and unconditionally. They repent with pure hearts which is described as Taubatun Nasuha meaning truthful repentance. Tauba to be truthful has to contain 3 important aspects:
First, the person should be sincerely ashamed of the sin committed by him or her.
Second, there should be a firm resolution to avoid committing sin in the future.
Third, there should be efforts with heart and soul to reform his or her life.
The last 10 nights of Ramadan are significant for Itikaaf. Itikaff is a practice of retreat in a masjid for a certain number of days, spending time worshipping Allah and contemplation. It is confinement with purpose of connecting with Allah, practicing self-control and to get tranquillity of heart and soul. It was the sunnah of the Holy Prophet. He used to perform itikaaf in last 10 days of Ramadan.
The Muslims have the Night of Qadr or Laylatul Qadr which is translated as the Night of Power during the last 10 days of the holy month. It is said to be equivalent to 1000 nights. This means that if a person carries out his religious duty during this night, he would get the reward of performing that deed 1000 times.
The most authentic account of the occurrence of the Night indicates it can occur on any one of the last 10 odd number night such as on 21, 23, 25, 27 or 29.
The last 10 nights are very significant which gives rewards to years of worship. According to a saying of the Prophet once his wife Hazrat Ayesha asked him what night is the Night of Qadr and what should she say on that night. Prophet Muhammad replied, ‘Say O Allah you, love to pardon, so pardon me in the last 10 nights of Ramadan. Therefore, the believers engage in seeking pardon by engaging in etekaaf or seclusion and staying up the whole night offering special prayers.
The last 10 nights of Ramadan are significant as the Holy Prophet used to undertake etekaaf i.e sit in seclusion and engage in prayers and remembrance of Allah. The night worship builds self-discipline, feeling of proximity to God, and acceptance of His supremacy, cleansing and purification of soul, help in moulding the personality and developing strong character built around the tenets of Islam. This character stands for truth, patience, forgiveness, gratitude, mercy, justice, peace and humanity. These are the purposes of fasting during Ramadan.
Dr Asma Zehra is a Hyderabad based social activist. She is also the Chief Organizer of Women’s Wing of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board.