I was reading a book of poems by Mawlana Jalalluddin Rumi yesterday after returning home from terawih prayers and stumbled across a poem describing the virtues of fasting. An abstract of the first few stanzas of the instructional poem goes like this:
"There's a 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 the belly are burning clean with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire."
The poem seems to corroborate the advice given by our beloved Prophet s.a.w. who said: "The worst vessel the son of Adam ever fills is his stomach. It is sufficient for the son of Adam to eat what will support his back. If this is not possible, then a third for food, a third for drink and a third for his breath." [at-Tirmidhi]
The Persian scholar Sahl al-Tustari was asked about a man who ate once a day and he replied, “This is the way of the prophets.” Asked about someone who eats twice a day, he said, “This is the way of the righteous.” Finally, he was asked about someone who eats three meals a day and he replied, “Build for him a trough!”
This blessed month of Ramadhan is a most opportune time for us to reflect on the blessings of food and satiety. Fasting allows us to experience once a year what many throughout the world experience almost daily. Hunger, for them, is not a choice - it is their fact of life. Yet, on the other side of their world, we consume more than we need, we take pride in our frivolities to do so and we post food-photos online for the world to see.
One of the blessings of Ramadhan is that it provides us with an opportunity, when our own self-induced hunger should bring us closer to those whose hunger is caused by circumstance and not by choice. As a result, we become more empathetic and are spurred into charitable actions.
Imam al-Ghazzali mentions in his Ihya' Ulum ad-Din, one of the benefits of our hunger is that it makes us more responsive and generous by giving food to orphans and to the poor, so that on the Day of Resurrection we would dwell in the shade of His Generosity s.w.t. The beloved Prophet s.a.w. said: "Whoever feeds a fasting person will have a reward like that of the fasting person, without any reduction in his reward." [at-Tirmidhi] It is that rare moment in which feeding others in need, supersedes our own hunger and greed. This is another reason to celebrate the month of Ramadhan.
These virtuous acts points to the unity of the global Islamic community. There is a network of us all across the globe, all doing the same thing at the same time. However disparate our lives, whatever freedoms we enjoy – or otherwise – however different our experiences, someone else is probably feeling exactly the same way you and I feel. This, I find to be incredibly moving and life-affirming.
Being hungry in this blessed month truly appeals to me. It reduces me to the person who I need to be. It provides me with a reality jolt to my physical and spiritual senses.
I humbly pray, for me and for all of you, that this physical hunger and thirst will deliver a burst of hungering and thirsting for Allah, The Most Merciful, The Most Compassionate.
Amin, ya Rabbal 'Alamin.