Dr. Abou El Fadl begins by supplicating God, who is like no other: God, the Creator of everything who is outside the logic of the created; the Creator of the physical laws who is not bounded by the physical laws. Our rational senses are premised on the ideas of causation and laws that shape and determine physical reality. The only exception to these laws is God’s self, which is why we say “SubhanAllah,” meaning there is no comparable to Allah.
Especially at the beginning of the month of Ramadan, Dr. Abou El Fadl cherishes the supplication for God to move our hearts toward loving God. We want our hearts to love God, and not be content with obeying God out of fear, dread or caution as many do. We want our heart to be affirmatively touched by God’s love, to know God, and to fall in love. We pray for God to inspire us to move and use our bodies only towards what would please God and bring us closer to God. If your body and heart are created by God, then you would not want your heart to steer you in any direction but towards God. If your body is a loan from God to you, then how could you use what belongs to someone else – in this case to God – in a way except to meet the approval of that who loaned you the body in the first place?
This is the heart and soul of Ramadan and fasting. The chapter of the Quran, Surah al Baqarah, which was revealed for the most part shortly after Muslims migrated to Medina, set for the community an entire philosophy of life; a philosophical engagement with the meaning and logic of social existence in Medina and for any sociopolitical unit to come after. Before this revelation, Muslims fasted certain days of each month with the Prophet, but not as a strict obligation. After the revelation of Surah al Baqarah, especially the verses around 182, God decrees the fasting of Ramadan as an obligation upon all Muslims.
When God speaks to the believers (2:183-184), God is defining the premises and foundations for what it means to be a believer. If you are not going to accept the terms of God’s discourse, then you do not count yourself as one of the believers. God tells us that fasting has been ordained upon you as it was ordained on those before you. We know that fasting is a very old human practice from the time of Prophet Abraham. Jews, Christians, polytheists and ancient tribal religions – all religious groups except perhaps some modern re-articulations of religion – always understood that their relationship to the divine requires some form of fasting or another. God acknowledges this and affirms that fasting performs a very essential function in our relationship with the Lord.
God reminds us of the status of the month of Ramadan, the month in which the Quran was revealed. We are also taught by the Prophet that it is a blessed month for those who want to reach out to God and fall in love. If this is your sincere desire, then there are powers in the cosmos that will assist you. It is as if the veils between the dimensions of earth and Heaven are lifted such that the separators between the two are not as uncompromising as they normally are. So many believers who have done this in the month of Ramadan will testify that they feel something blessed, as if you feel the angels or the aura in the air. Sometimes you even smell the perfume of the Divine. But it is all contingent on you and how you approach the issue of fasting.
There is an intimate connection between the Quran and Ramadan. God says that the Quran is a guidance to people, but not just guidance, but signs of guidance and furqan, meaning criterion (2:185). Signs are like sign posts of guidance, meaning that attainment from the Quran towards the journey of guidance is incremental and developmental; the more you engage the Quran, the more it anchors you and elevates you. Different parts of the Quran will address you in different ways at different times for different occasions. None of this is coincidental. You could read the same chapter twenty times and each time it strikes you differently. That is the way it is supposed to be as long as your heart is with God.
The Quran is also the criterion, something that separates wrong from right. If the Quran does not transform you into a more ethical human being who is able to tell the difference between wrong and right, then the Quran is not a furqan or criterion for you. There are Muslims who pray, fast and read Quran, but it does not affect their conduct or make them moral human beings. The Prophet said there are many people who gain nothing out of their fasting other than simply hunger and thirst.
Many human beings live life on the principle that their body is entitled to attain whatever it desires: I feel lazy, so I want to sit down; I feel hungry, so I eat; I feel like a little chocolate, so I consume chocolate. If your relationship with your body is such that the body is the master and you are subservient to this body, then you will never recognize that your body, in fact, belongs to God. You live your life learning that your body is entitled to gratification. If you do not discipline the body, you will not remember that the body is on loan from the Owner. In the end, when you meet God, God will ask, “How did you use the body I gave you on loan? Did you use it in an immodest and promiscuous way? Did you use it to abuse or hurt people, or to commit injustice? Did you use it to gratify your desires?”
To love God, the first step starts with self-denial because God is not bound by physical laws. You are not going to love God through gratifying the body. God has a very different logic; God’s logic is metaphysical, so it is only when you learn to deny the physical that you can start the journey towards even understanding God.
God tells the Prophet in the Quran, when people ask about God, tell them I am very close and I hear everything they say (2:186). God is there. The journey to understanding God and the key to remembrance begins with learning to control your body through self-denial.
If you want to achieve something with God’s help, do it in Ramadan. Intensify your prayers, learn to be a committed, moral human being in Ramadan. Ramadan is an opportunity provided by God in a workshop of self-denial and restraint to renew your vows with God’s promise of help. God’s divine force is there to assist you, spirit and body, but all with a caveat – if you want the path of God, then follow God’s rules which start with fasting the month of Ramadan. If you don’t fast (without a valid excuse, ie. illness, etc.), then you have no grounds to ask God for that special assistance when you need it.
Ramadan is the time to reflect on this. We are all now confronted with a pandemic. Imagine that you find out that a loved one has fallen ill and the possible panic as you rush to pray and beg God to save your child, your siblings, your parent or whomever. The time to earn the goodwill is in Ramadan. Many people waste this opportunity. It all starts in Ramadan. That is why God reminds us that the Quran started to be revealed in Ramadan – it is the month that lays the groundwork for the trajectory of the year.
From one Ramadan to another is the journey. You can count your life with how many Ramadans there were – each an opportunity for renewal – and ask yourself how many of them you have honored and how many you have wasted. You don’t need a scholar to tell you all the complexities. You can do this on your own.
There is a television station funded by U.S. tax dollars that was created by the U.S. government after we invaded Iraq and murdered millions of Iraqis – an unlawful and immoral invasion and occupation. It is called Al Hurra; hurra in Arabic means freedom. It has become a forum for attacking, degrading and demeaning Islam. The programs and their hosts call themselves enlightened, but it is all darkness. They tell Muslims that fasting does not make sense; that fasting is bad for your health; that if you fast you will get the corona virus; that you don’t have to fast; that it is not clear that God wants you to fast. It is part of a thoroughly colonial project that wants Muslims to look down on their own tradition. Again, it is all done on American taxpayer money. There is something deeply unconstitutional and immoral about this. Many American Muslim organization try to pretend that we have nothing to do with foreign politics, but it is our taxpayers’ money that is being used to forward a colonial imperial agenda. Muslims should care about this.
Another example: the Armenian genocide gets a lot of news coverage, here in Los Angeles because a special parade in commemoration was just canceled. Congress brought up the Armenian genocide recently as well. But what about the Bosnian genocide? Or the ongoing genocides of the Rohingyas or the Chinese Muslims? Why is it that in Los Angeles, the entire world has to remember the atrocity and offensiveness of the Armenian genocide, but the genocides committed against Muslims are hardly worth a mention? It is because there are wealthy, intelligent Armenians who spend money so that the world does not forget about the Armenian genocide.
Not so with the Muslims. There are many wealthy Muslims who will fast Ramadan, pray taraweeh, and have lavish iftars with wonderful delights from Turkey, Saudi Arabia or Egypt. But the furqan has not come to them in Ramadan; the furqan that tells you the difference between what is moral and immoral.