The Rationale of Ramadan From Shaykh Shafiur Rahman MOST SCHOLARS agree that much of the Islamic law is based on a rationale which we can understand; there is a divine wisdom and reason behind legal rules. They also agree that every single legal rule of shari’a (Islamic faith, law and ethics) either achieves a benefit (maslaha) or wards off a harm (mafsada). In Madkhal ila Maqasid al-Shari’a, Dr A. Raysuni explains how Ibn Abbas (may Allah be pleased with him) advised Muslims to listen intently whenever they hear Allah, calling “O You who believe…” in the Qur’an, as He is either directing them to a benefit or warning them of a harm. Muslim scholars recognised this underlying rationale and thus summed-up the goal of Islamic shari`a in one condensed sentence: “The attainment of benefit and prevention of harm.” Some of them reduced it even further to: “The attainment of benefit.” Ibn al-Qayyim (d.751 AH) also points to this fact: “The Qur’an and the sunnah (traditions) of the Prophet are full of rationale for legal rulings.” He further affirms, “These rationales are to be found in over a thousand places (in the texts) expressed through various means.” DEFINITIONS OF MASLAHA & MAFSADA What is exactly meant by maslaha and mafsada? Imam al-Razi (d. 606 AH) in al-Mahsul succinctly defined maslaha as nothing but pleasure or that which leads to it; and mafsada as pain or that which leads to it. Al-Imam `Iz al-Deen b. Abd al-Salam (d. 660 AH) in al-Qawaid al-Kubra further defines maslaha as: Pleasure and its causes and Happiness and its causes. He defines mafsada as Pain and its causes and Sadness and its causes. Pleasure and its opposite, pain, allude to physical realities, whilst happiness and sadness allude to emotional or psychological realities. He further divided each of the above categories into those related to this worldly life and those related to the hereafter. FASTING TO BREAK THE TWO DESIRES So what has this to do with Ramadan? Fasting in Ramadan is also an Islamic legal command and therefore the act must have associated benefits and must somehow prevent harm. One of the key purposes of fasting in Ramadan according to the Qur’an is to gain taqwa by training the nafs (self) through self-restraint. Imam al-Ghazali (d 505 AH) called it “breaking the two desires”: 1. The desire for food and drink2. The desire for sexual relations. Although these desires are not actually intended to be broken completely, as they are inextricable parts of human nature and we depend on these basic appetites for survival. However, they can and should be tamed, regulated and controlled so that the self can escape from being a slave to these two powerful desires and protect itself from both temporal and eternal harm: pain and sadness – whilst striving to acquire both temporal and eternal benefit: pleasure and happiness. Amazingly, that is what the root word of taqwa literally means: to protect and save oneself from harm. The imperative form of the word to save/protect (quw) is used in the Qur’anic verse: “Save yourselves and your families from the hellfire...” [Qur’an 66:6] The fact that a whole month is dedicated to taming and controlling these two desires indicates to us their significance to our spiritual well-being. These two desires when fulfilled are the most pleasurable and at the same time potentially the most destructive. They appear to offer the greatest immediate pleasure or happiness, but they can also lead to the greatest pain and sadness— both temporal and in the hereafter. This elusive nature is illustrated in the following hadith: “Paradise is surrounded by difficulties and the Fire is surrounded by pleasures.” But the “difficulties” surrounding Paradise only appear as harmful (mafaasid) in the sense that they incur some hardship and pain; however they ultimately lead to a greater benefit (maslaha). Whereas the “pleasures” surrounding the fire are beneficial (masaalih) in the sense that they are enjoyable and desired temporarily; however, ultimately they lead to a much greater pain and harm (mafsada) in both the temporal and eternal abodes. One of the major challenges in our societies today is the relentless all pervasive appeal made to these two desires. Food and drink is everywhere, in limitless varieties and consumed in fatal quantities. We are literally eating ourselves to death, and in the process starving other parts of the world. Healthy sexual desires are aggressively being targeted and distorted by internet porn, films, fashion, advertising and social media apps that are available everywhere to everyone. Most people on a daily basis are in pursuit of fulfilling these two basic desires either through permitted means (halal), or through illegal means (haram). Islamic law distinguishes for us which is beneficial and which is harmful in their true and ultimate sense. FASTING AND ITS REWARDS The ultimate purpose of Shari’ah, as articulated by al-Shatibi (d. 790 AH) and others is to guide people to their best interests/benefits in both this life and the next. This purpose is generally attained by opposing or regulating our base desires. Fasting is the ultimate training in strengthening our ability to control our most powerful desires. The ability to control and regulate these desires and the nafs is the essence of the test of life, in which Allah wants us to attain servitude (‘ubudiya) to Him alone, as opposed to servitude to our base desires, in order to attain our full potential as human beings and to attain our best interests. Fasting is one of the greatest acts of ‘ibadah (obedience/submission to Allah), and one of the most highly rewarded (its true reward has been kept hidden, to be revealed in the hereafter) – probably because it addresses the very thing that will determine our eternal success or failure: self-control in accordance to the guidance of Islamic law. The promise of high reward, or pleasure and happiness and protection from harm and pain motivates all sane human beings to strive for its attainment. The month of Ramadan, amongst its many other immense blessings, grants us the best opportunity to strive for attaining the self-control that will lead to eternal pleasure and felicity. Allah, guarantees paradise, the greatest maslaha, the ultimate eternal abode of unimaginable joy and happiness, as a reward for the one who resists following his/ her desires. But as for he who feared the standing before his Lord and prevented the soul from [unlawful] inclination, Then indeed, Paradise will be [his] refuge. (Quran 79:40-41) How Merciful is Allah who not only rewards us when we control our nafs, but He rewards us immensely whilst we are learning/practicing how to control our nafs through fasting. May Allah grant us all the ability to earn His pleasure and not waste this magnificent opportunity. As Ibn Rajab (d. 795 AH) said: “For every month that passes, you may hope to find its substitute; but alas, for the month of Ramadan, how can you ever hope to find its replacement?” ___________________________________________________________________________________________________________ Shaykh Shafiur-Rahman is a Management Consultant, occasional Imam and Islamic studies teacher based in London. He holds an MSc in Addictive Behaviour and PGDip in Business Administration. He studied Arabic and Islamic Studies in Syria and Egypt, including at Al-Azhar University. He teaches Arabic and Islamic Studies at Al-Salam Institute and Jibreel Institute – he is a director of the latter and a vice-chair of the East London Mosque.