We have been taught that five pillars uphold the structure of our way of life, Al-Islam. In these five ideas, we see the direction that Allah intends for human life. We become conscious of our Creator, we cultivate the self, we give increase to others, we become victorious as an individual, and we become victorious as a group (the biggest group being humanity). These are the five pillars or five principles or five ideas or five senses that guide and govern the Deen of Al-Islam.
We are in the holy month of Ramadhan, the fourth of the five pillars. This is the time for victory over the self. This month is filled with challenge and reward, with difficulty and ease, with seriousness and joy. It is a time of learning, feeling, serving experiencing, yielding, submission, sensitivity, and yearning. In this month, we confront ourselves; we listen to our own bodies, see our own thoughts, feel our own souls, and dream new dreams.
In this month, heaven and earth are torn asunder, then seamlessly sewn back together with the mighty thread of faith. A likeness is that of a cell (muscle tissue), when torn apart from vigorous exercise, repairs itself into ever stronger tissue. In Ramadhan, we deconstruct and then reconstruct. Ramadhan produces a state of body, mind, and soul that is a result of a vigorous and beautiful training exercise for the body, mind, and soul.
What do we mean by deconstruct and then reconstruct? Ramadhan means to burn. To burn something is to change its composition. When you change something’s composition, it is no longer itself; it effectively becomes something else. To burn is to scorch or destroy. When something burns, its cellular and/or molecular composition is changed and this produces an effect we call ‘damage.’ To burn the skin, damages the skin. To burn the plastic toy, damages the plastic toy. Damage is the deconstruction of the burned substance.
What is burning actually? It is the application or transfer of heat to a substance greater than that substance’s capacity to absorb heat. Dry wood’s capacity to absorb heat is far less than steel’s capacity. Therefore, wood burns more readily than steel. What causes heat? Heat is an energy produced as a consequence or reaction to friction; be that friction mechanical, chemical, electrical or otherwise.
When Allah instructs us to fast during Ramadhan, we are cast into a friction with our bodies, minds, spirits, and ultimately our souls. What we practice during Ramadhan is usually different from what we have been practicing throughout the year. Thus, we are put at odds with our eating and drinking habits, our study and praying habits, our emotional and spiritual habits. This friction creates heat, and if we persist in our fast, this heat will increase to the point of burning; to the point of deconstruction.
What is deconstructed? Whatever is put into the heat is what gets burned, right? What are we putting into the heat during Ramadhan? Our appetites are put into the heat. Our desires, ambitions, physical needs, our mistreatment of ourselves, even the things we think about are all put into the heat. How? They are placed into the heat by being put into conflict (friction) with the command to sacrifice or subdue them to pursue the training that Allah has prescribed for us. What is deconstructed? The things in our lives that are in discord with the will and guidance of Allah are deconstructed.
We are living beings and whenever a living thing gets burned, it feels the stinging, discomforting sensation in the spot where the burning occurs. Is it painful to make our prayers, do our reading, give up the rich food, stop arguing with our mates, or stop watching our favorite TV program? What has become so big in our life that it competes with our submission to Allah’s training program? Stick it in the heat, by disciplining our self to take the training, and let it burn. Do this, because we want to decompose those things that have become competitors with following the guidance of The Most High.
When you heat matter beyond its comfort zone, its molecules try to escape the heat, causing the matter’s innate structure to expand. The expansion makes the matter softer, more flexible and malleable. Now, you can reshape the bad habit, the out-of-balance appetite into its proper form.
Another meaning for the word Ramadhan is to sharpen, as in sharpening a blade. Ramadhan allows us to sharpen our physical, mental, and spiritual ‘blades’ so we can cut away the fat, perform surgery on the cancers, and sculpt our character and mentality into the form that we need to fulfill the mission outlined by Allah, the Prophet Muhammad, and our leader, Imam W. Deen Mohammed.
The first revelation of the Glorious Qur'an was revealed during a Night of Power in the month of Ramadhan. Allah tells us in the Sura called The Night of Power; 97:1-5, that He revealed this message (the Qur'an) in the Night of Power. What is the Night of Power? It is better than one thousand months. What is one thousand months? It is approximately 83 years; in other words a lifetime. What kind of night is better than an entire lifetime?
Allah says on that night, the angels and the Spirit (Ruh) come down on every kind of command, task, errand, cause or mission. One of the major commands of the angels is to bring revelation and messages from Allah to prophets and people. What is the command of the Spirit? It comes into us and inspires life in our soul; starting the growth of a new creation.
This is what happened to Muhammad Ibn Abdullah on the day he received revelation. When Muhammad was in the darkness of the cave (night), the angel Gabriel and the Spirit came to him. It is easy to think that only Gabriel came to him, but the Spirit was also there. What is the proof?
In Sura 2, ayat 97, Allah says that it is Gabriel that brings the revelation to the heart of man. Gabriel pressed or squeezed Muhammad’s chest three times. When your chest is squeezed, both the lungs and the heart are affected. When squeezed, the breath is taken out of you. Once released, you take a deep breath. Pressing 3 times is a picture given to communicate that Muhammad inhaled the mighty breath of inspiration. This is the Spirit. “And when I breathed into him of My Spirit…”
Oxygen, from deep breathing, is required for healthy blood. Imam Mohammed has taught us that blood carries the life of the body. What happens when the heart is squeezed; it pumps and distributes blood to the body. What is the life of the human being? The life of the human being is revelation and the revelation was written on Muhammad’s heart. What is revelation? You answer this one, but don’t think it is just scripture in the formal sense. For the blood carries air, water, and physical nutrients to give life.
What happened to Muhammad in the cave was the making of a prophet. What he experienced was his birth as a prophet; his rise to the highest enlightenment. Gabriel’s pressing or squeezing of the chest 3 times represents the completion of his delivery of the revelation on Muhammad’s heart and the breathing of the Spirit of Inspiration (Qur'an Yusuf Ali - 17:85) into Muhammad’s soul. After living a lifetime among his people, a new creation began, Muhammad the Prophet (Peace be upon him).
What night is better than one thousand months? It is the night in which the angels and the Spirit descend upon our chests and we are pressed and squeezed until truth is revealed to us and we are resurrected into enlightenment, just as a new born baby or a prophet is born into the world. Allah says in Sura 31:28, “And your creation or your resurrection is in no wise but as an individual soul: for Allah is He Who hears and sees (all things).” Indeed, a single night in which we attain enlightenment is better than a lifetime of ignorance to our higher self and purpose.
Yes, the Immaculate Conception (birth or pure concept) of a prophet and the resurrection of the human being is the same process. A confirming similitude is seen in the resuscitation of a person that has stopped breathing (stopped taking in life). We press the chest to stimulate the heart and breathe air into the lungs to bring the person back to consciousness.
So, this blessed month of Ramadhan begins when we see the crescent of the new moon; the dawning of a new light, the first signs of enlightenment. How does our daily process go? We are in a deep sleep, we are dead. Then in the darkness, a spark of consciousness alerts us that we must get up, we rise and come to life—this is conception. When we take Suhoor; we take nutrients, which give us energy and strengthen us, which help us grow—we develop in the womb, unseen. After strengthening ourselves and increasing our growth, then comes the light of Fajr—we come to birth into the light.
Then, we put our appetites and free-spirit in check, while we pray (cultivate the spirit), read the Qur'an (study revealed knowledge) and we practice charity (help increase others).
Why do we deny ourselves during the daylight hours? The day is for rational development and meaningful productivity. The message is that to think clearly and be productive, we must not be driven by our appetites and jinn nature. As a consequence, we shed excess fat and the impurities that accompany it. We lose weight and are thus lighter so that we can go faster. To go faster means we can do more and reach our goals quicker. If we are not burdened with unchecked appetites and an unruly and frivolous Jinn nature, we can go fast. Hence the term ‘to fast.’
The word fast is also related to the word fasten. To fasten is to make secure, as in “fasten the door.” Our training, discipline, and reorganization of the self during Ramadhan enable us to better secure and control the advances we make.
What a beautiful religion we have, so pregnant with meaning and full of guidance. Imam Mohammed said it best,
“We have been taught to read letters, but most of us have not been taught to read ideas. Until we learn to read the ideas, we are living in darkness. Many of us have faith, but that doesn’t mean we have light. There is a difference between faith and light.”
“Muslim holidays are not to be taken as rituals, empty rituals. Everything that Allah did through the Great Prophet Muhammad was done to bring the people out of darkness, the darkness of ritualism, the darkness of empty formalities. Empty gestures, empty traditions that say no more than just a show. Do no more than just wet the appetite but never satisfy. These things attract us to think, to think. Everything that you see operating in the universe is something to provoke thought, make you think.”
Mubaashir is an author and writes commentaries for the Muslim Journal Newspaper.