Sunday, 5 October 2008


Brought up as a Muslim in Egypt, fasting during the Holy month of Ramadan was a prescribed part of life from an early age. At first the perception of this practise was a sort of celebration. A celebration of solidarity, compassion and good will between people on various levels, which included the Muslim world at large, the nation, the society, right down to our community and family.

The ethos seemed to encompass a spiritually refined way of living, which manifested in outward displays of self-restraint, patience, kindness and generosity towards other people, a particular type of good behaviour or adab.

Later in life, the observance of this adab began to forge links with a deeper spiritual heritage. The extension of hospitality, the sharing of meals and other socially binding actions reflected inner opportunities to embody a remembrance of God within traditions shared through the generations.

This significantly transformed my attitude towards fasting, realising that although it was evidently possible for people to achieve a heightened mode of mindful existence, outside the context of Ramadan we tended to slip back into old habits. So it became clear that nurturing this remembrance of God was a key to an increasingly consistent adab towards life and our world.

The Prophet Mohamed (pbuh) said, "Fast so that perchance your hearts may seek God in this world."

So it appeared that the essence of fasting was to move towards the illumination of the heart and purification of the soul, a way of leading the spirit closer to the presence of God. Perhaps this cultivating of spiritual nature would ultimately lead us to devote ourselves entirely to God. And what this actually meant for me was a sort of tuning in to our innermost sacredness and to the sanctity of all of Creation, each in our own way and in our own time.

By slowly being drawn towards this tuning one could begin to behave more responsibly and with increasing care for others and for this Earth, our home and refuge. Becoming more conscious of the bigger picture, the cause and effects of our thoughts, words and actions would take on new light. There seems to be no limit to how finely we chose to tune ourselves. Fasting seems to nurture the will to do so.

"O you who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God" Holy Qur’an (2:183) Asad

So, perhaps, whatever we chose to fast from, however and whenever we chose to do it, this non-action and detachment from the worldly realm and subsequent deepening into the Sacred, bestows us with inner gifts of peace, stillness and reflection, which in turn can transform us towards deeper levels of personal freedom, awareness and interconnectedness.

For me, this poem by Mawlana Jalaluddin Rumi (R.A) beautifully encapsulates this essence of the fast.


There's hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less.
If the soundbox is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean with fasting,
every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears,
and new energy makes you run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you're full of food and drink,
Satan sits where your spirit should,
an ugly metal statue in place of the Kaaba.
When you fast,good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon's ring.
Don't give it to some illusion and lose your power,but even if you have,
if you've lost all will and control,they come back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out of the ground,
pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,Jesus' table.
Expect to see it, when you fast,
this table spread with other food,
better than the broth of cabbages

1 comment:

Arvind said...

Thanks Nevin for your insights and for explaining the broader meaning of "fasting".

I shall certainly fast more often as I continue my own journey of inner peace.

Love and gratitude