During the sacred month of Ramadan, believers strive to purify body and soul and increase their taqwa, god-consciousness. This purification of body and soul harmonizes between the inner and outer spheres of an individual.
Muslims aim to improve their body by reducing food intake and maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Over indulgence in food is discouraged and eating enough to silence the pain of hunger is encouraged. Muslims should be active, tending to all their commitments and never falling short of any duty.
On a moral level, believers strive to attain the most virtuous characteristics and apply them to their daily situations. They try to show compassion and mercy to others, exercise patience, and control their anger. In essence, Muslims are trying to improve their moral character and cultivate good habits.
Morality is perfected on three levels: individual, communal, cosmic. On an individual level, a Muslim strives to adopt honesty, justness and compassion with him or herself. Being honest is important as it separates truth from falsehood and gives the Muslim a clear direction and or focus in life.
On a communal level, a Muslim strives to positively interact with other members of society, treating them with kindness and sincerity. A positive contribution should also be made to benefit the general public.
On the cosmic level, encompassing the earth, the heavens, and the Almighty Creator, the Muslim attempts to increase his God-consciousness and his or her understanding that he or she is accountable for every action. This creates a love/fear relationship which drives a Muslim to obey Allah through love of Allah, and never to invoke Allah’s wrath, for fear of Allah.
Fasting encourages not only fasting from food but also from malicious and idle talk, slandering and backbiting. Muslims are encouraged to engage in intellectual, contemplative, and peaceful conversation. They are encouraged to look at their characters and aim to improve them.
Character is the essence of one’s being or one’s inner reality. It evolves from one’s consciousness and is sustained and further developed through consistency and determination. Habits become part of a character through repetition and consistency.
Aristotle said: “You are what you repeatedly do.” Hence, habits become conditioned responses, formed through repetition, that eventually become unconscious behavior.
On the same token, Shakespeare said, “first we make our habits then our habits make us.” Thinking in a specific pattern creates a mental path which affects our attitude and behavior.
Our thoughts, following a specific mental path, affect our attitude which affects our actions. Our actions are determined by our habits, repeated forms of action, which affect our character. And our character determines our destiny.
The pursuance of taqwa (piety) and an enhanced understanding of Islam should be reflected through one’s moral character. Good habits should be cultivated and bad habits should be changed.
Good habits, rearing good results, are profitable to the Muslim in this world and in the Hereafter. Good habits will also positively affect the individual, his or her family, and society as a whole, because his or her virtuous characteristics will guide him or her to do what is right.
Bad habits, on the other hand, should be forsaken as they yield bad results. It harms a Muslim to adopt these habits both in this world and the next, because no one can benefit from such actions: not the individual, nor his family, nor the society.
Islam defines good habits, virtues, and bad habits, vices, as two forces in eternal opposition. Virtues are cultivated through conformity to Islamic ideals and principles whereas vices are cultivated through opposition to Islamic rules. Good character emanates from virtues and bad character emanates from vices.
Improving character can be achieved through overcoming bad habits. In the words of Roman orator, Cicero, ” consuetudo consuetudine vincitur = habit is overcome/ conquered by habit.
Ramadan is an ideal period for filtering out bad habits and developing a virtuous character. Such a character, as referred to by Prophet Muhammad, salla Allahu alahi wa sallam, serves as a shield against evil and wrongfulness.
As Muslims, we should all strive to nurture noble qualities and forsake bad qualities. We should learn to be more considerate, generous, patient, and compassionate. We should refrain from cursing, yelling, gossiping and being arrogant, and many other evils that we recognize all too easily.
As we undertake the physical and spiritual responsibility of fasting, we should reflect on the words of our beloved Prophet, sala Allahu alahi wa sallam. He referred to Ramadan as a blessed month in which Allah as made fasting obligatory on those who are able; whosoever denies himself of the benefits of that month denies himself many virtues.
Essay by Marwa Afifi