"We sent thee not save as a mercy for the peoples." (XXI:107)
I have just recited before you a verse from Surah Anbiya of the holy Quran. In it God addresses the holy Prophet to tell him that he had been sent as a mercy for the whole world and all the peoples that might be born on this planet. This was, indeed, a unique declaration, or, if I could say so, a revolutionary proclamation for the entire humanity. And, this was put about by God in a Scripture which was destined to be read, after its revelation, in every age, time and clime, by billions of men in every nook and corner of the world. It was to have an unending line of exegetes, commentators and researchers who were to scan every word of it, evaluate its revelations and scrutinise the truth of its contents in the light of past and coming events. Whenever a man makes any statement or a writer comes out with a report in an article to be published in some news- paper or a journal, he has to think a hundred times lest he should be controverted by somebody. If he happens to make any unusual claim, he is extra-cautious for the fear that he might be challenged by another person or proved to be a fibster. As everyone of us knows, books last longer than the journals; they continue to be read for years together and some even live for hundreds of years. Thus, anyone putting forth an annunciation in a book has to be overcautious; he has to make sure that the reaction of his readers is not adverse and that his claim is accepted. Now, you see, the Knower of all secrets has made this declaration in a book about which He Himself says:
"Falsehood cannot come at it from before it or behind it. (It is) a revelation from the Wise, the Owner of Praise." (XLI:42)Read more...
The Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, was in Taif, a lush town of green palm trees, fruits and vegetables, about 50 miles southeast of his arid hometown Makkah. He was hoping that perhaps the people of this town would be receptive to his message, which had been rejected by most of the Makkans for over a decade.
But the people of Taif proved just as cruel and intolerant. Not only did they scorn his message of God's Oneness, they turned their youth against the Prophet. In the face of this misery, an angel was sent and presented him with an option: have the whole town be destroyed, by God's will, for such arrogance and hatefulness.
He could have done it. He could have asked that this valley of cruel people be crushed. But he didn't.Read more...
Aisha, the wife of Muhammad (s.a.a.w.) said:
"Allah's Messenger (s.a.a.w.) used to patch his sandals, sew his garment and conduct himself at home as anyone of you does in his house. He was a human being, searching his garment for lice, milking his sheep, and doing his own chores." (Narrated by al-Tirmathi).
She also said:
"He would patch his garments and sole his sandals. " She was once asked: "How was he with his family?", she responded: "He was in the service of his family until it was time for prayer, at which time he would go and pray."
Ibne Malik narrated:
"I never saw anyone more merciful with children than the Messenger of Allah (s.a.a.w.)" (Narrated by Muslim)
Abu Hurairah narrated that:
"The Messenger of Allah never denigrated any type of food; if he liked it he ate it, and if he disliked it he left it alone" (Narrated by Bukhari and Muslim)
Men are not all equal in their capacities to fulfill the piety and virtue which God has made incumbent upon them. Our bodies may weigh down our spirits so as to make them incapable of moving and rising toward God. Our will to material need and welfare may overcome our humanity unless we keep up the exercise of our spirit and constantly turn to God in our prayers rather than being satisfied with the mechanical performance of kneeling, prostration, and recitation. Hence it is our duty where possible to stop all activities which tend to weigh us down, to shackle our spirit, or to give dominance to our material welfare over our humanity. Hence, Islam imposed fasting as a means for achieving virtue and piety. God has said: "O Men who believe, fasting has been imposed upon you as it has been imposed on those that have gone before you that you may achieve virtue and piety [Qur'an, 2:183]?. Piety, virtue, and righteousness are all equivalent. The righteous are those who are pious, who prove their iman in God on the Day of Judgment, and who, by following the angels, the Book and the prophets, fulfill the requisites of the above-mentioned verses.
But if the purpose of fasting is that the body may not weigh down the spirit and that matter may not overcome humanity, to abstain from food and drink from dawn till sunset and then to indulge in the. enjoyment of all kinds of pleasures is surely to deny that purpose. Indulgence in pleasures is by itself immoral and vicious, regardless of whether it is preceded by fasting or not. The case is even worse if man fasts all day and then surrenders himself greedily to that of which he has been deprived. Such conduct is tantamount to bringing God to witness that the fast was not made in purification of the body and strengthening of humanity. Such a man does not fast in freedom, convinced of the advantage of fasting for his spiritual life, but in order to fulfill a duty, the meaning of which his mind is incapable of grasping. More likely, he regards fasting as a privation and a violation of the freedom which he will recapture at the end of the day. His case is not unlike that of the person who does not steal because the law forbids him to, not because he regards himself above stealing and denies it to himself as well as to others, in full exercise of his freedom.
Fasting Is Not Self-Privation
In fact, to regard fasting as privation, or as an attack upon man's liberty, is to misunderstand it and to make of it something utterly futile and vain. The truth is that fasting is a purification of the soul. It is demanded by reason and should be entered into freely if man is to recapture his freedom of willing and thinking which his material demands have denied or lessened. Once such freedom is gained, man may rise to the level of genuine iman in God. This is the purpose of the divine statement which follows the imposition of fasting upon men of faith of past or present, namely: "Fasting is to be performed on prescribed and numbered days. But if a man is ill or suffers from the hardships of travel, fasting may be postponed to other days. To those who are exempted from fasting because of hardship, the feeding of a poor man is imposed as expiation. At any rate, whoever willingly performs the good deed will be benefited. To fast is certainly better for you than not to fast, if only you had the wisdom to know." [Qur'an, 2:184]
It may seem strange to claim that a person can recapture his freedom of will and freedom of thinking if he should undertake to fast in deliberate pursuit of his spiritual welfare. But this strangeness is really the result of a confusion which modern thought has brought to our idea of freedom. Modern thought has pulled down the spiritual and psychic frontiers of freedom, and preserved only its material frontiers whose guardianship and protection it entrusted to the arms of the law. According to this modern thinking, man is not free to attack the wealth of his neighbor nor his person, but he is free in all that pertains to his own person even if he were to transgress the limits of reason or of morality.
The facts of life tell otherwise. They tell that man is the slave of habit; that, for instance, man is accustomed to eat his food in the morning, at noon, and in the evening. Therefore, his being asked to eat food only in the morning and evening is considered an attack upon his freedom. The truth is that it is only an attack upon his enslavement to his habit, so to speak. Some men accustom themselves to smoking so heavily that they can very well be said to have become the slaves of their habit. If they are asked to spend an entire day without smoking, it will be regarded as an attack upon their freedom, whereas in fact it is only an attack upon their enslavement to their habit. Likewise, others have accustomed themselves to drinking coffee or tea or other drinks at certain times. If they are asked to change these times, it will be regarded as an attack upon their freedom. But slavery to habit and custom is corruptive of the will, of the genuine exercise of true freedom. Moreover, it is corruptive of sane thinking, for it subjugates thinking to the material requirements to which the body has become accustomed. That is why many people have had recourse to varying kinds of fasting which they observe at different intervals of the week or the month. But God seeks no hardship for men. That is why He prescribed for them a definite number of days during which all men must fast without distinction. That is why He allowed them to expiate for their failure to fast, and granted the sick and the traveler express permission to postpone their fasting to other days.
The prescription of fasting for a definite number of days further consolidates the Muslim's feeling for and consciousness of equality with other men before God. This is the effect of complete abstinence from dawn to sunset undertaken not as physical but as spiritual exercise imposed equally on all. The same sense of equality is experienced in the communal fasting as that which communal prayer fosters so well. It is during their fast that the feeling of Muslim fraternity is at its greatest strength, for men are not then affected by the usual differences in enjoyment of the material goods of this life which separate them from one another. Fasting consolidates freedom, equality, and fraternity in man just as strongly as does prayer.
If we undertake fasting freely and in the consciousness that God's commandments can never differ from those of reason as long as it perceives the final purpose of life, we can appreciate how much fasting liberates us from the yoke of habit and contributes to the development of our will and capacity for freedom. We may remember that what man prescribes for himself with God's permission by way of spiritual and psychic limitations upon his own freedom in seeking to liberate himself from his habits and passions is the best guarantee for his reaching the highest levels of religious conviction. If, in matters of religion, taqlid constitutes no religious conviction at all but mere acquiescence to the proposed claim without conviction of its truth, taqlid in fasting is self-privation and a limitation of one's personal freedom, a totally different affair from that fasting which liberates man from the chains of habit and furnishes him with the greatest psychic nourishment and spiritual elan.