Daily Archives: April 7, 2022

Ramadan: Making Diamonds out of Deen

We are well into the month of Ramadan at the point of writing, and we may well be beginning to feel the physiological effects of the fast. In such instances, it is useful for us to remember the reason why we adhere to a process that is essentially unnatural. After all, to deprive the body of sustenance – albeit voluntarily – is not without effects. Dehydration, loss of concentration, tempers may be a bit short, acid reflux and gas pains, perhaps. Exhaustion may begin to seem chronic. And these even as we marvel at the speed of the passing days. So why do we do this to ourselves? What’s the point?

An interesting parallel can be drawn from the very element that makes us who we are, and which can help illuminate the experience and the outcomes of fasting for the month of Ramadan.

Carbon – The Foundation of Diverse Lifeforms

A naturally occurring substance is carbon, an element which is described as the chemical basis for life.

It is as essential as it is versatile. It is essential in that it moves through the food chain, from plants (through photosynthesis) to animals (in the form of carbohydrates and proteins) and back to plants (as carbon dioxide and from decay). It is versatile in that it forms various compounds. One example of carbon is the diamond while another example is that of charcoal. And what a world of difference exists between the two.

Diamonds are formed slowly, deep in the earth, under tremendous pressure and heat. Buried deep in the earth, constantly facing heat and pressure acting on it, a conscious carbon element in diamond must think its life as one of misery and hardship. But it rallies on (not that it has much choice), and all the imposing pressures make it bigger and stronger with the passing of time. And persons, hearing of its existence, expend significant effort to try to find it. Scouring the planet for veins, digging deep, searching carefully, and upon finding it, erupting in joy – here is something of value and worth that would change our fortunes.

The bigger the diamond, the greater its significance. Carefully secured and handled, it is cut and polished, mounted and sold for significant sums. And the recipient? They would be sure to secure it, and use it to adorn themselves in select company.

In this context the diamond is looked upon adoringly, and maybe even with envy. And it is often with pride and joy that one generation passes it on to the other, so that they too may savor its worth and the results of its ownership. And of course, with the passing of time its value increases.

Its sale by auction is announced well ahead of time, so persons can prepare for bidding and hopefully its ownership. They want this for themselves, and would compete with others to try to get it. Such is its value and worth – a far cry from its years buried deep in the earth and undergoing all the stress. This new life would be a paradise compared to that time. And well deserved – it went through all the hardships to get here.

Compared to diamonds, charcoal, on the other hand, has a very different experience. It lives close to the surface, and undergoes minimal heat and pressure. A conscious carbon element in charcoal must think it is living it up. Close to or at the surface, enjoying the sights and sounds. A little stress here or there, not lasting very long… life is good. This charcoal is readily found in large quantities in most places on earth. Or it can be made – since it takes little effort to produce – not much heat, pressure or depth is required.

It is a soft material – easily fragmented, and deliberately broken into small pieces in process where it is not handled with much care. It is bagged in bulk, moved through handlers to the daily markets, and offered for sale where its price is haggled over – the cheaper the charcoal the better. It has little value in itself – we use it as fuel for other products that we crave – perhaps a savory barbeque or tandoori with nan.

Little thought and attention is given to the charcoal in the course of its use. And persons would handle it begrudgingly – you touch it and become stained. You may in fact want to pour it directly into the firepit, so as not to be stained by its touch. And after it is used, any remaining fragments are swept up and discarded, while more charcoal is sought as a replacement.

The conscious carbon element by this time might well be feeling dejected. An easy start to life, but on its discovery it is treated as… well… charcoal, and given no importance beyond its base utility as fuel. We don’t want to pay too much for it, and hasten to discard it quickly after use.

The Basis of Human Life

This reality in itself is a metaphor for our lives. Not only are we made from the same base element of carbon, but the manifestation of our lives are akin to the diamond or the charcoal.

As diamonds, we too can become, within our societies, highly revered and valued. We may see people travel far and expend great resources and effort to reach us and benefit from us, or just be associated with us. If we travel to meet with others, we may be given VIP status and treated with great care and with opulence. Our contributions, in whatever form, would be cherished and provide value for generations to come. But such reverence is often the result of tremendous effort and experiences – perhaps in scholarship, perhaps in spiritual pursuits, perhaps in action on the ground.

As charcoal, we are considered to the extent that we can be used for other purposes or benefit. We are one among many, readily accessible and with no compelling distinct value. Those we interact with may fear becoming infected or stained by our presence and interaction. In terms of use itself we may be sought for menial tasks; or perhaps entertainment value; or perhaps as a pawn in a bigger game. And once used, we can find ourselves being easily and readily discarded or neglected.

Islam – Making Diamonds out of Deen

Islam, as a complete code of life for all across space and time, establishes clear direction on the expectations of our beliefs, conduct and behaviour. We are told in the Qur’an, “We will surely try you with somewhat of fear and hunger, and loss of wealth and lives and fruits, then give glad tidings to the steadfast.” (Qur’an 2:156).

It is not an easy path. Perhaps this is why we are told in a hadith, “The world is a prison for the believer and a paradise for the disbeliever.” (Muslim 2956).

As carbon lifeforms, the difference with us against that of diamonds and charcoal is that we have freedom of choice in how we respond to our environment. When the environment pressures us to a particular direction, we can give in to the pressure, or withstand it and hold our position as articulated in Islam. The Qur’an tells us, for example, “We will surely try you until We make known those from among you who strive in the cause of Allah, and those who are steadfast.” (Qur’an 47:32). Also, in a hadith we are told, “A believer male or female continues to be tried in respect of self, children, and property till he or she faces Allah, the Exalted, in a state in which all his or her sins have been wiped out.” (Tirmidhi).

And we are guided in how we can resist the pressures and temptations of this world during this holy month. To observe the fast physically, we are required to abstain from food and drink, and marital relations, from the break of dawn through sunset, each day of fasting during the month of Ramadan. (Quran 2:187).

In terms of conduct, we are cautioned to not engage in idle or abusive conduct while fasting, nor complain about the fast, and we should be patient with others, especially those who are not fasting. In various ahadith, we are told explicitly, “…When any one of you is fasting on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language, nor raise the voice; or if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him he should say: I am a person fasting….” (Muslim). And in another instance, “’Whoever does not give up evil and ignorant speech, and acting in accordance with that, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and drink.” (Ibn Majah).

Should we take the easy route and succumb to the pressures… maybe complain about the fasting, maybe become impatient or angry with others…, we opt for the path of the charcoal, and we risk becoming exactly that – fuel for a fire. We are told this in the Qur’an, “But those who disobey Allah and His Messenger and transgress His limits will be admitted to a Fire, to abide therein: And they shall have a humiliating punishment.” (Qur’an 4:14)

Should we stand firm by our Islamic beliefs and practices, we are assured of not only the support and help from Almighty Allah, but reward beyond measure – very much like the diamond after it is discovered. We are told this in the Qur’an, “Verily, the steadfast shall have their reward without measure.” (Qur’an 39:11).

In the Qur’an, these pressures are alluded to summarily in the ayat, “The life of this world has been made appealing to the disbelievers, and they mock the believers. But those who fear Allah shall be above them on the Day of Resurrection. And Allah provides for whoever He wills without limit.” (Qur’an 2:212)

This month of Ramadan is a command imposed on Muslims by Almighty Allah – one that is designed to test our resolve and submission to His command. He tells us in the Qur’an, “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint” (Quran 2:183), and in another instance, “…Allah does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful.” (Quran 2:185).

Almighty Allah savors our submission to His command. Perhaps this is why we are told in a hadith often cited, “…the breath of the observer of fast is sweeter to Allah on the Day of judgment than the fragrance of musk.” (Muslim).

The rewards of this sacrifice that we make for the sake of Almighty Allah are assured, and unlimited. In a hadith, Prophet Muhammad (peace be on him) is reported to have said, “Allah the Exalted and Majestic said: Every act of the son of Adam is for him, except fasting. It is (exclusively) meant for Me and I (alone) will reward it. Fasting is a shield…”  (Muslim). In another hadith, we are told, “Every (good) deed of the son of Adam would be multiplied, a good deed receiving a tenfold to seven hundredfold reward… With the exception of fasting, for it is done for Me and I will give a reward for it, for one abandons his passion and food for My sake.” (Muslim)

The rewards are also instantaneous throughout the month. We are told in a hadith, “When there comes the month of Ramadan, the gates of mercy are opened, and the gates of Hell are locked, and the devils are chained…” (Muslim).

In Ramadan, with every act and its driving intention, we have an opportunity every day over the month to withstand the pressures and grow our faith and our closeness to Almighty Allah, and become as the hardest known substance and immune to fire; or we can succumb to the pressures and restrict the strength and scope of who we are, becoming easily combustible and relegated to the role of fuel.

Fasting for Ramadan is not easy and not meant to be. Perhaps this is what is alluded to in the hadith, “…There are two occasions of joy for one who fasts, joy when he breaks it, and joy when he meets his Lord.” (Muslim). We experience the joy of breaking the fast every evening at sunset. We will experience the joy when the new moon of Shawwal is sighted. And we pray that we all are able to experience the joy of meeting with our Lord, where our strength and our substance would be displayed like that of the diamond, immune to the fire, to live as elements cherished and valued throughout the rest of our existence.

In the meantime, we salute all those who endeavour to observe the fast, and strive to restrain their conduct in compliance with Allah’s command. Rejoice inwardly with every hour of fast completed, that you are leveling up in a way that others may never comprehend.

“The thirst is gone, the veins are moistened, and the reward has been earned, if Allah wills.”


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