Ramadan Reflection by a Muslim from the Shia tradition
21 April, 2021, Zameer Hussain
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop God-consciousness.” (Quran 2:183)
Every now and then, a notification will pop up on our phones. It will ask us to complete a software update so that the applications, functionality and performance of our devices will work to its optimum level. I would like to think that the month of Ramadan is the ‘software update’ for our souls where the one who fasts, once the month is over, can perform to his or her optimum level for the rest of the year.
Contrary to what many may perceive, both within and outside the Muslim community, Ramadan is not about food and drink. The aim of Ramadan, as the Quran verse mentions, is God-consciousness. If I don’t feed my pet for a day, it has fasted. If I do similar, I would ask myself if I am better than this pet of mine when in reality, Islam teaches me that the human being is the highest of God’s creation. When I fast, I am aiming to defeat my animal nature and tap into the divine nature that God breathed into us. This is what fasting aims for – defeating the animalistic desires (food, drink, sex, anger etc.) and realising the divine nature through becoming God conscious.
Here I will explain 3 levels of fasting using familiar language:
Grade E Fast
If I was to get an E grade for one of my A-Levels, I would have passed but in all honesty, it may not open the door to many opportunities. An ‘E-grade fast’ is where I simply abstain from food and drink for a day. However, I may not change any vices I may have such as anger, bad language etc.
Grade C Fast
If I was to get a C grade for one of my A-Levels, I have more than passed and it will open the door to some opportunities. A ‘C-grade fast’ is where I do not just abstain from food and drink for a day but my ethics become virtuous too. Whilst usually I may road rage when someone is driving slow in front of me, whilst fasting I remain calm. I remove my vices and transform them into virtues.
Grade A* Fast
If I was to get an A* grade for one of my A-Levels, I have reached the peak of my subject area and it will open any door for me. An ‘A*-grade fast’ is where I quash my animalistic desires, become virtuous but also activate my divine nature in some form of union with God. Union with God means that I would do everything that God is pleased with and avoid what He is displeased with. My will becomes the same as His where He is pleased with me and I am always pleased with Him.
Imam Ali, the first Shia Imam (whose death anniversary is also mourned by Shia Muslims this month), summarises these levels of fasting well: “Some people get nothing from fasting except hunger and thirst.” Every Ramadan I always aim to achieve an A* with my fasting. It is a struggle and there are days where I achieve an E or C grade. However, I know that if I do achieve the A* one day, I will have the best of software upgrade for my soul that will help me function properly all year around.