If you were to ask a common person about the purpose of fasting in Ramadan, you would hear a variety of responses:
- To practice patience
- To feel for the poor
- To learn self-control
- To appreciate Allah’s blessings
- To increase spirituality
- To connect with the Quran
Yet, none of these are actually mentioned in the Quran or the Prophetic traditions as the main purpose of fasting in Ramadan. These are beautiful and healthy byproducts of Ramadan, which should be cherished and nourished.
Isn’t it fascinating that Allah talks about the fasting of Ramadan only once in the Quran, in five verses of Surah Al-Baqarah (2:183-187), where the ONLY purpose mentioned for fasting is Taqwa, building God-consciousness.
Interestingly, this purpose is repeated twice. Once in the first verse and second in the last verse of this segment.
“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may achieve Taqwa” (Al-Baqarah 2:183).
“Thus does Allah make clear His ordinances to the people that they may achieve Taqwa” (Al-Baqarah 2:187).
Yet, we hardly hear people talk about achieving Taqwa as an objective or a priority in Ramadan.
Why is achieving Taqwa not a goal for many in Ramadan?
There are a couple of reasons. One being that Taqwa is usually talked about in theoretical terms. Practical aspects of Taqwa and its application are discussed in limited ways. And most often, Taqwa’s connection to Ramadan is mentioned in passing.
Another reason for Taqwa not being on top of the minds of many observers of fasting is that it is often insufficiently translated as “fear of God” in English and other languages. While fear of an authority may motivate people to change their behavior, there are other intrinsic and extrinsic factors that motivate people to take action. In Islam, both awe and love of God are powerful forces that move believers to live faithfully and productively in this world.
Considering that Allah used the word Taqwa and its derivatives over 150 times in the Quran indicates that there is more to this concept.
What is the big idea behind Taqwa?
The Arabic word Taqwa comes from the root word wa-qa-ya” which means to shield, and its verb, ittaqi, which means to protect against something or to be cautious. Although Taqwa is variantly described as “consciousness of Allah”, “awareness of Allah”, “fear of Allah”, “righteousness” and “piety”, it is a comprehensive term that encompasses all of these connotations.
As an Islamic terminology, Taqwa, is a transformative spiritual trait that involves propelling yourself to do what pleases God and repelling what displeases God.
Once a companion of the Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, asked, “O Messenger of Allah, give me some advice.” He responded, “I advise you to have Taqwa, because it is the head (brain) of everything” (Musnad Ahmad). On another occasion, the Prophet replied, “Have Taqwa because it is the collection of all goodness (Khayr).”
You can’t go wrong with having too much Taqwa because it is the source of all goodness.
How do you measure or test your Taqwa?
“Taqwa is here,” is what the Prophet said pointing to his heart. Since you can’t “see” what is in your own heart, let alone someone else’s heart, you can’t measure Taqwa.
However, you can test the strength of your Taqwa based on your reactions and behaviour in the following situations.
Five ways to test your Taqwa
- When you are alone and no one is watching you (other than angels & Allah of course), physically or virtually.
- When you are bored.
- When no one is noticing or appreciating your good actions, personal or public.
- When you are in a company of bad people, physically or virtually (negative peer pressure).
- When you are emotionally charged (upset, angry, insulted, argumentative, wronged, abused...etc.).
- When you are happy (excited, satisfied, praised, supported, served, problem free, financially well off, independent….etc.).
In each of these scenarios, ask yourself:
- Do you remember Allah and Allah’s boundaries?
- Do you act in a way that you would be proud of telling family members about?
- Do you respect the rights of others?
- Do you feel remorse before, during, or after committing an act that Allah is displeased with in any of these situations?
- Do you continue to do good deeds regardless of people’s acknowledgement or recognition?
Answers to these questions will help you gauge how much work you have cut out for you in strengthening your Taqwa.
How is your Taqwa tested in Ramadan?
1. Only Allah knows.
Fasting tests your sincerity to Allah, as no one other than Allah truly knows if you are fasting, your intention behind fasting, and your actions during fasting. The element of showing off while being hungry and thirsty for 30 days is minimal. There is little to be gained from a worldly perspective from this fasting bootcamp. This is a true test of Taqwa.
2. Only Allah rewards.
No wonder, the reward of this intense Taqwa training is also unmatched. Allah singles out fasting among all good actions in how and how much Allah rewards those who fast. Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, said: “Allah said: ‘Every deed of the son of Adam (human being) is for him except fasting; it is for Me and I shall reward for it…’” (Bukhari & Muslim).
3. Allah has no need for it.
Those who can’t pass the Taqwa test in Ramadan while fasting, Allah has no concern or need for it. Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, said: "Whosoever does not abandon false speech and the acting upon it, Allah is not in need of them leaving off their food and drink" (Bukhari, Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi & Ibn Majah).
How can you become a Taqwa Transformer this Ramadan?
Taqwa, practically speaking, is about practicing willpower, which is your ability to resist temptation, to reform bad habits, and to revive good habits.
Resist. If there is one word you remember about Taqwa, this would be it. This is how you can Taqwa in action in Ramadan.
10 things you can resist to experience spiritual transformation this Ramadan:
- Resist talking too much and talking about meaningless affairs. Restrain your tongue.
- Resist overeating. Adopt a simpler Ramadan and ditch feasting at Iftar.
- Resist social media. Curb your digital activity and go on a tech diet.
- Resist negative thoughts and toxic relationships that are impacting your mental health.
- Resist not prioritizing your physical health and fitness in Ramadan.
- Resist laziness in exerting yourself in worship and spiritual devotion.
- Resist procrastination in executing acts of Sadaqa (charity), humanitarian benefit, and volunteerism.
- Resist the temptation to belittle “small” sins.
- Resist the habit of enjoying Ramadan by yourself or with your family only, especially during the pandemic, while ignoring the needs of your neighbors as well as the single parents, the orphans, the seniors, the lonely, and those with special needs in your community.
- Resist the delusion that your fasting or prayers or donations are enough to save you while ignoring the need to humble yourself, asking Allah for forgiveness (Istighfar) and repenting to Allah (Tawba).
This is Taqwa in action in Ramadan.
Omar ibn Abdul Aziz, may Allah be pleased with him, once said: “Taqwa is not fasting by day and standing for prayers at night. Rather it is to refrain from what Allah has prohibited and act upon what He has mandated. Whoever is granted anything beyond (this level of obedience), they have been given goodness upon goodness.”
May Allah enable us all to achieve the ultimate goal of Ramadan this year: Transformation through Taqwa. Ameen.