Sermon delivered at Darus Salam, London, UK, 4th April 1992
by Mr. Shahid Aziz, Secretary Ahmadiyya Anjuman Ishaat-e-Islam Lahore UK (AAIIL(UK))
The Light & Islamic Review (US), July/August 1992 Issue (Vol. 69, No. 4, pp. 6–9)
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا کُتِبَ عَلَیۡکُمُ الصِّیَامُ کَمَا کُتِبَ عَلَی الَّذِیۡنَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِکُمۡ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تَتَّقُوۡنَ ﴿۱۸۳﴾ۙ
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil” (The Holy Quran 2:183).
This is the reason given for fasting by the Holy Quran: that we may guard against evil. The fast is not only to refrain from food and drink but a special effort to avoid all evil for a whole month. One of the Ramadan timetables I received had the following heading:
“When you fast, do not forget the fast of the eye, the fast of the ear, the fast of the tongue, the fast of the hand and the fast of the foot”.
What this means is that the person who fasts must refrain from committing any evil or indecency with any of his limbs. In this way the whole body is to fast during Ramadan and that is how you guard against evil. But is it a mere claim on the part of the Holy Quran to say that fasting keeps you away from evil? Is there any proof? If there is proof, what is it?
Perfect Example of Elevation through Fasting:
The only conclusive proof could be to point to those people who have achieved purity through fasting. There have been many such people through history. There were people who became sinless through prayer and fasting before the advent of Islam, such as Abraham, Noah, David, Jesus, Krishna, Buddha, all of them venerable prophets; and there have been many since. Today, I want to talk to you about the life of one such person as THE PROOF of this claim. A man who experienced all that life had to offer, from pits of poverty to incalculable wealth, from the humblest of beginnings to the mastery of a whole nation, from being persecuted to being able to avenge the persecutors. An orphan, a husband, a father, a merchant, a general, a leader and a king. If fasting can instil such discipline in a man that under all circumstances he acts correctly, then surely that is proof enough that it does indeed help man guard against evil. The name of this man is Muhammad — the blessed Prophet of Islam.
The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) was born an orphan, his father having passed away before his birth. As the Holy Quran put it:
اَلَمۡ یَجِدۡکَ یَتِیۡمًا فَاٰوٰی ۪﴿۶﴾ وَ وَجَدَکَ ضَآلًّا فَہَدٰی ۪﴿۷﴾ وَ وَجَدَکَ عَآئِلًا فَاَغۡنٰی ؕ﴿۸﴾
“Did He not find thee an orphan and give thee shelter? And find thee groping, so He showed the way? And find thee in want, so He enriched thee?” (The Holy Quran, 93:6–8)
It was the humblest of beginnings, the Holy Prophet being looked after by his grandfather and uncle. Though they loved him dearly, young Muhammad must have missed the affection a father would have shown his only son. Under such circumstances, it would have been easy for the Holy Prophet to fall into bad company. As he grew into a handsome young man, it would have been even easier to fall prey to wine, women and gambling. A man from a similar background would indulge in dishonesty as a short cut to wealth. But we find not the slightest shade of this in our beloved Prophet’s life. In a society which did not regard virtue very highly; on the contrary, it was vice that was highly regarded, this must be the greatest miracle of all time. The fact that the Holy Prophet prayed and fasted from an early age must have helped instil in him an aversion to evil.
The sceptic may say that a poor orphan may be too scared to do wrong in a society where patronage in all important. Thus, the Holy Prophet’s refraining from evil is not necessarily any proof of virtue. Let us see what this poor orphan did when he grew up. The Holy Prophet became a merchant, as did most people of his town. He had accompanied caravans to neighbouring countries from an early age, so he had a wealth of experience to draw upon. However, there was one thing that Muhammad the Blessed offered which was not found in others — honesty; and his honesty soon became legendary. It was because of the Holy Prophet’s business acumen and honesty that he was employed as a manager by one of the best traders in Makka — a lady by the name of Khadija. She was so impressed by young Muhammad that she asked him to marry her. Picture the scene, a woman in her forties employs a handsome young man in his early twenties and a little later asks him to marry her! How many Muslims today would like to work for a woman? How many would like to work for their wives? What motives will we attribute to two people marrying under the circumstances described above? Most of all, what would our society think of a woman who asked a man to marry her? And yet, we class ourselves as Ahl‑i Sunna or the upholders of the tradition of Muhammad (peace be on him). If we truly followed the example of our Prophet, we would find a lesson for us in his every breath, in his every step, in all that the Holy Prophet (peace be on him) did or did not do.
Appointed to Prophethood:
It was after leading such a life, having seen the poverty of an orphan to becoming the husband of the richest woman in Makka that Hazrat Muhammad laid claim to being the Prophet who came in fulfilment of his father, Prophet Abraham’s, prayer. As the Holy Quran put it:
رَبَّنَا وَ ابۡعَثۡ فِیۡہِمۡ رَسُوۡلًا مِّنۡہُمۡ یَتۡلُوۡا عَلَیۡہِمۡ اٰیٰتِکَ وَ یُعَلِّمُہُمُ الۡکِتٰبَ وَ الۡحِکۡمَۃَ وَ یُزَکِّیۡہِمۡ ؕ اِنَّکَ اَنۡتَ الۡعَزِیۡزُ الۡحَکِیۡمُ ﴿۱۲۹﴾٪
“Our Lord, and raise up in them a Messenger from among them who shall recite to them Thy messages and teach them the Book and the wisdom, and purify them. Surely Thou art the Mighty, the Wise” (The Holy Quran, 2:129).
The Prophet whose advent had been prophesied by all the prophets who preceded him:
وَ اِذۡ اَخَذَ اللّٰہُ مِیۡثَاقَ النَّبِیّٖنَ لَمَاۤ اٰتَیۡتُکُمۡ مِّنۡ کِتٰبٍ وَّ حِکۡمَۃٍ ثُمَّ جَآءَکُمۡ رَسُوۡلٌ مُّصَدِّقٌ لِّمَا مَعَکُمۡ لَتُؤۡمِنُنَّ بِہٖ وَ لَتَنۡصُرُنَّہٗ ؕ قَالَ ءَاَقۡرَرۡتُمۡ وَ اَخَذۡتُمۡ عَلٰی ذٰلِکُمۡ اِصۡرِیۡ ؕ قَالُوۡۤا اَقۡرَرۡنَا ؕ قَالَ فَاشۡہَدُوۡا وَ اَنَا مَعَکُمۡ مِّنَ الشّٰہِدِیۡنَ ﴿۸۱﴾
“And when Allah made a covenant through the prophets: Certainly what I have given you of Book and Wisdom — then a Messenger comes to you verifying that which is with you, you shall believe in him, and you shall aid him. He said: Do you affirm and accept My compact in this matter? They said: We do affirm. He said: Then bear witness, and I (too) am of the bearers of witness with you” (The Holy Quran, 3:81).
This is not something new; the same covenant is spoken of in the Bible in Acts 3:21. And what did the people do when they heard that this prophet had appeared. Was there dancing in the streets? Did the nations rejoice at the advent of the Saviour? No! they ridiculed him, called him mad and told him he was a liar. In the words of the Holy Quran, the Holy Prophet responded by saying:
قُلۡ لَّوۡ شَآءَ اللّٰہُ مَا تَلَوۡتُہٗ عَلَیۡکُمۡ وَ لَاۤ اَدۡرٰىکُمۡ بِہٖ ۫ۖ فَقَدۡ لَبِثۡتُ فِیۡکُمۡ عُمُرًا مِّنۡ قَبۡلِہٖ ؕ اَفَلَا تَعۡقِلُوۡنَ ﴿۱۶﴾ فَمَنۡ اَظۡلَمُ مِمَّنِ افۡتَرٰی عَلَی اللّٰہِ کَذِبًا اَوۡ کَذَّبَ بِاٰیٰتِہٖ ؕ اِنَّہٗ لَا یُفۡلِحُ الۡمُجۡرِمُوۡنَ ﴿۱۷﴾
“Say: If Allah had desired, I could not have recited it to you, nor would He have made it known to you. I have lived among you a lifetime before it. Do you not then understand? Who is then more unjust than he who forges a lie against Allah or gives lie to His messages? Surely the guilty never succeed” (10:16, 17).
What a challenge! A man stands before a whole nation and tells them to prove that in his forty years with them he has uttered a single lie or committed one solitary act of dishonesty. We have just fasted for a month; the fasts were to have helped us shun evil. Can anyone of us claim that during the last thirty days we did not utter a single lie? Surely, our fasts then did not have the sincerity of purpose whereas the Holy Prophet Muhammad’s fasting showed the result spoken of in the Holy Quran because he had the correct motivation.
Subjected to Temptation:
When the ploy to have people believe that he was mad did not succeed, Hazrat Muhammad was offered the mastery of all Arabia, unlimited wealth and the most beautiful women. Our Prophet (peace be on him) responded with:
“If you place the sun on my right hand and the moon on the left, I shall not forsake my mission”.
This man who was born a poor orphan, he does not have any patronage, he is married to a woman fifteen years his senior, refuses wealth, kingship and women, and holds on to the mission entrusted to him by Allah. It was fasting that was undertaken with the correct motivation and therefore produced in him this steadfastness of purpose.
Persecution, and the Prophet’s Response:
When greed failed to entice the Holy Prophet Muhammad from his mission, fear and persecution were tried. He was mocked, he was ridiculed, he was beaten, he was stoned. His enemies even tried to have him killed. How did the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) behave? Let us look at some examples. There was a lady in Makka who would wait for the Holy Prophet to pass by her window every morning. And as he passed, she would throw her household rubbish in his face. One day as the Holy Prophet went down the street, he did not see this woman. He knocked on her door and asked her if she was unwell. The Holy Prophet (peace be on him) went to Taif, a town near Makka, to preach to the people there. The inhabitants stoned the Holy Prophet and his companion, the two of them barely escaping with their lives. Wounded, bleeding, and exhausted, they hid in an oasis outside the town. His companion asked the Holy Prophet to pray to Allah to punish the people of Taif. The Holy Prophet responded by saying that he had not been sent to ask for Allah’s punishment to fall upon people.
It may be said that Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) behaved in this manner because he was powerless to act otherwise. He was weak. The true character of a man is realised when he is in a position to extract retribution. Not many years had passed when the Holy Prophet Muhammad entered Makka at the head of an army. He became the master of whole of Arabia. Makka lay at his feet for him to do as he pleased. He called together the people of Makka and asked them how they expected to be treated after having subjected the Holy Prophet to years of persecution and torture. Even these people responded by saying that they did not expect Muhammad (peace be on him) to avenge the persecution, torture and even murder of his friends and followers. The Holy Prophet declared a general amnesty and let every one go in peace. No one was forced to embrace Islam.
Moral development through Fasting:
I have given this brief sketch of the Holy Prophet’s life here to prove the Holy Quran’s statement that fasting does indeed keep man away from evil. This is the benefit a real Muslim draws from fasting. Together with prayer, fasting develops in a man colours Divine. But this can only happen if each day’s fast leads you to new spiritual heights. Fasting enhanced the Holy Prophet’s patience but when we fast we become irritable. Fasting enhanced the Holy Prophet’s steadfastness so that neither greed nor persecution would move him from the right path but we do not even perform our ordinary duties properly during Ramadan. Fasting increased the Holy Prophet’s kindness and gentleness but while fasting we treat every one with anger and coarseness. The Holy Quran tells us that as a result of these devotions the Holy Prophet became so close to Allah that he was only two bow‑lengths away from Him. Does this transformation take place in us during Ramadan? There may be a few of us who manage to enter into the real spirit of Ramadan. But what happens when it’s over is another matter. Back we go to our bad old habits. It is as if an alcoholic who had been forcibly locked in a hospital to dry out is released. As soon as he is free, he rushes to the nearest bar.
Of course, it is excellent that we have fasted. It is even better if we have, at least during Ramadan, behaved as a true Muslim should. However, what would be truly great if we carried on with such behaviour through the rest of the year. Then each Ramadan would act as the next rung of the ladder of our spiritual development. Although the fast of eating and drinking has come to an end, the fast of the mind, the eye, the ear, the tongue, the hand and the feet carries on. This is what we find in the life of our blessed and beloved Prophet (peace be on him). End of Ramadan is the end of one school year, in the next year we should move to the next stage of development; not keep on repeating the same school year, over and over again, throughout our lives. May Allah grant us the strength to follow in his footsteps, for if we are true Muslims, then, in the words of the Holy Quran, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) is dearer to us than ourselves — Ameen. Eid Mubarak!