The life of a human being is given its character, its personality, its tone by the almost continuous changes that the human being undergoes. A series of physical and spiritual changes transform man from a child to an adolescent, from an adolescent to an adult, and from an adult to an elderly person. The physical changes that occur in this process are usually fairly easy to trace. The story becomes interesting, however, when we begin to analyze the spiritual changes that are brewing within this aging mind.
The progression of the materialistic mode of thinking and the spell that it has placed the majority of the Western population under is constantly encouraging us to analyze our physical being and cast away any thoughts of our spiritual existence.
We are told that happiness is achieved through this and that physical commodity.
Those clothes, those electrical accessories, that car, that house, that sensual pleasure, that body shape, we are told, will make us happier; will allow us somehow to be more comfortable with ourselves.
We are all, to a certain extent, drawn in by the glossy covering of this empty, illusory world, and rush out to satisfy our physical self.
Many of us fall into the trap of providing ourselves with a ridiculous amount of physical comfort.
The increasing number of ‘communication devices’ and ‘entertainment accessories’ is a testament to the future of our societies.
The fault with the current system is not that it encourages physical well-being and comfort, but that it takes this to the extreme at the expense of spiritual well-being.
Spirituality today is given the demeaning tag of being something ‘alternative’, something outside the scope of science, outside the scope of sensory experience, of what we can touch, see and hear, and thus something not trustworthy, something not worthwhile pursuing.
This is one of the fundamental differences between Western and Islamic views of the world. Islam places spirituality at the core of its doctrine.
It works from the fundamental law that a human being is both a physical and spiritual being, that he has both a body and a soul.
Further, Islam argues that the body is simply a vehicle for the soul until the two are separated when the human being dies physically.
The only difference between being alive and being dead is that while we are alive, our soul has command of our body and can direct it toward performing certain deeds, whilst after death, the soul loses control of the body and is left with only the bliss of reward for its good deeds, or with the piercing pain of regret for its wastefulness and sin.
Islam, then, ignores neither the physical nor spiritual aspect of the human being. It provides the rules which ensure that a perfect balance between the two is achieved.
Thus in Islam disciplining one’s physical habits is often the path towards training the mind and achieving greater proximity to the Creator.
Allah (swt) often puts physical barriers to be negotiated before spiritual strength is achieved. The best example of this is the act of fasting.
Allah (swt) tells us that fasting was ordained upon us as it was ordained upon those who came before us, so that we may achieve taqwa.
That is, we must pass this challenge in disciplining our physical habits so that we may become more conscious and more fearful of our Creator, so that we may become more aware that he encompasses everything and anything, and that he is All-Hearing, All-Seeing, and All-Knowing.
That instruction was given to the general Muslim population and was specific to the month of Ramadan.
However, in the Qur’an, fasting is ordained for many different purposes: fasting as a form of repentance, fasting as a form of making up missed duties, fasting as a form of making up for broken oaths.
There is, however, a certain verse in the Holy Qur’an that illustrates very vividly the effect that physical discipline has on the mind.
It is a historical verse, recounting the battle that ensued between Talut and his few sincere followers against the tyrant Jalut and his horde of warriors.
Talut was appointed the king of Bani Israel by Saul, the Prophet of Allah. He was to lead them into battle and defeat the tyrant who was oppressing them. Talut and his men set out to fight the war knowing they would be greatly outnumbered.
On the way, Talut told his men that during their march, they would be ‘tried by a stream of water. Whoever drank from this water was not of Talut’s men, and whoever took only a handful of this water would be allowed to continue with Talut to the battle. This was a command from Allah, a test of these men’s willpower over themselves.
Was their faith strong enough to allow them to overcome this great obstacle? Inevitably, only a few men obeyed their king’s command, and the others deserted.
Now even fewer in number, and if one were to think purely with physical criteria, even weaker, due to their thirst, these men went to face the enemy.
So what was the response of these men? They said, “ how often, by Allah’s permission, has a small army vanquished a mighty host, and Allah is with the patient
O Lord, Pour patience down on us, and make our foothold firm, and help us against the disbelieving people.“
Despite their apparent physical weakness, these men had attained a new level of spirituality, and an extremely high level of faith in Allah.
They saw beyond the conventional relation of cause and effect and believed in the divine power that stood above it. And so Allah rewarded them: “So they routed them by Allah’s permission”.
This is the strength that lies in overcoming one’s desire; this is the freedom that is achieved by not letting oneself be imprisoned by sensual pleasure.
The man seems to float above even the laws of nature once he has put trust completely in Allah, once he can look past the pragmatic laws of nature, and see the Creator beyond nature, and the power of the Creator to say to anything in nature to be, and it will be.
One of the paths towards this state of bliss, towards this elevation, is to control one’s desire, be it for food, drink, or other sensual pleasures.
Fasting is on the road to taqwa so let us enter the fast lane from today.