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The True Meaning of Ramadhan

A short talk given by M. R. Bawa Muhaiyaddeen from Questions of Life, Answers of Wisdom Volume 2

Questions of Life, Answers of Wisdom Vol.2Question: Can Bawa explain the true meaning of Ramadän (the Islamic month of fasting) and the revelations that came to Prophet Muhammad (Sal.)? And what is the relationship between the two?

Bawa Muhaiyaddeen: When His creations came into this world, Allähu ta'älä Näyan (Almighty God), who is the Benevolence for all the worlds (Rahmatul-'älamïn), gave His benevolence to each. First He created the world, and then He provided the food, or rizq, for each creation. This food can be found in the trees, the flowers, in water, in air, in the earth, and in many other places. Seventy thousand years before He sent each creation into the world, Allähu ta'älä Näyan created the food for that creation. So, man comes here knowing that his food and water have already been provided for him. Everything he needs can be found here, and it is his job to take what is portioned out for him. He must understand which food is permissible (haläl) and which is impermissible (haräm) and eat only the food that was meant just for him. Anything he covets or steals from others is impermissible.

Within each of His creations Allähu ta'älä has placed the ability to understand what is haläl and what is haräm. He established laws regarding this and decreed that no one should obtain his food by deceiving another or plundering and stealing from another. We are all equal when we come into this world. No one comes rich or poor. Allähu ta'älä Näyan provided the food, the rizq, of His benevolence in equal measure for all. But satan's qualities and thoughts of pride, treachery, and deceit caused people to grab the food of others and thus eat what was haräm. Due to this plundering, some became poor and others became rich.

Then, because this state had developed, Allähu ta'älä Näyan sent His words of grace to the Rasül (Sal.). He established the qurbän, the acceptable way of slaughtering animals for food. In those times people would subject animals to a lot of suffering when they slaughtered them. They would kill the animal in any way they fancied strangle them, beat them with a stick or a club, beat them to death on a tree trunk, or cut their throats with chopping knives. They would inflict a lot of pain in killing them and would kill as many animals as they liked, whenever they liked. In every single home they would take the lives of animals any time of day or night. They slaughtered animals as well as birds such as chickens, cranes, and ostriches. They would catch a chicken in the night, when it was sleeping or when it was glorifying Allah, and kill it and cook its flesh. They would drag cattle off, right in the middle of grazing, and kill them.

Because of the torment people were inflicting on animals and birds, Allähu ta'älä Näyan sent down the commandment regarding qurbän: "Yä Muhammad! Tell this to your followers! 'Before you kill an animal to eat it, you must understand the meaning of haläl and haräm (permissible and prohibited). You must kill only the animals that belong to you. If you steal or plunder animals belonging to others, that meat will be haräm for you, it will never be haläl.' Yä Muhammad! If people want to eat the flesh of an animal, it must be killed in the prescribed manner and this must be done by someone who performs the five times prayer every day, such as the mu'adhdhin or lebbe.2 The person who kills it must be looking at its face, no matter what animal it is. Then the knife must be positioned on its neck and the Subhänallähi Kalimah must be recited before cutting. The neck must be severed within three strokes. During this process the knife should not strike the bone. The animal must not cry out or regurgitate its food. If it does, that flesh is haräm. And if you cut the animal again, that too is haräm."

There are also stipulations about the size of the knife that must be used so many inches of blade and so many inches of handle for a chicken, and different sizes for a camel or a cow or bull or goat. In this way, conditions were dictated appropriate to each animal.

Why were these conditions decreed in the first place? Earlier the Prophet (Sal.) had told the people it was a sin to kill, to take a life. So what did they do? In order to avoid actual killing, they would go by night and cut off the front leg or hind leg of a camel or a goat and cook and eat the flesh Although they did not kill the animal outright it would be dead by morning. Then the owner of the animal would complain to the Prophet (Sal.) that their animal had lost a limb and died.

The Rasülulläh (Sal.) told them that this practice was haräm, and that what they did had caused the death of the animal. He told them to reflect upon how they would suffer if one of their own limbs was cut off, and that if they did this to an animal, not only was it haräm, but they had caused it agony and suffering and would be subject to Allah's grievous punishment. Soon the house to house killing of animals was stopped, and the practice of performing qurbän only at the mosque was instituted.

Thus the number of animals that could be slaughtered was reduced even further, because of the mu'adhdhin's schedule and duties. After finishing the subh (morning) prayers, the mu'adhdhin had to clean up the mosque, dust the prayer mats, and fill the ablution tank with water. Then he would have breakfast. By then it was 9:00 A.M. Now, whenever he performed the qurbän according to the instruction given by the Rasülulläh (Sal.), he had to give water to the animal, then sprinkle water on it and recite the kalimah. Next the animal had to be positioned so that it looked toward the qiblah.3 One person had to hold the animal's legs down while the other held its head and cut its neck. These things had to be done only by people who prayed five times a day. All these conditions had to be met during the qurbän. After the neck was cut, the knife had to be dropped to the ground. Then both people had to recite the dhikr while looking at the animal's face, until the soul finally left the animal's body. Then the knife had to be washed, while reciting the kalimah. Throughout the whole procedure, they had to perform dhikr to Allah. All this had to be completed before they could start on the next animal.

Only if they observed every one of these conditions would that meat be haläl. If even one step were omitted, the meat would be haräm. This is what the Rasülulläh (Sal.) told them.

Prior to the institution of qurbän, there was indiscriminate slaughter of animals a thousand or even ten thousand a day were slaughtered, a hundred thousand on special occasions. But performing qurbän correctly would take fifteen to twenty minutes for each animal. By noon the mu'adhdhin would not have killed any more then ten animals. Then he would have to stop in order to give the call for the zuhr (noontime) prayer. After prayers he would go for lunch. Since there was only a short time between zuhr and 'asr (mid-afternoon) prayers, he might be able to deal with ten more animals at the most, making twenty in all for the day. Dusk came soon after 'asr, and qurbän could not be performed after dusk or in the nighttime. Thus the number of animals that could be slaughtered in a day was drastically reduced.

Because of this, the companions of the Rasülulläh (Sal.) complained that at this rate they would not have enough haläl meat to go around on festival days or other celebrations or days of rejoicing. Then Allähu ta'älä Näyan sent down words of grace to His Rasül (Sal.) to tell the people that instead of killing forty chickens, they could kill one goat and then share the meat. Instead of killing forty goats, they could kill three bulls and share the meat. If they were going to kill forty bulls or one hundred goats, they could slaughter ten camels instead and share the meat. If they did it this way the people would be satisfied.

Just as these commands were sent down to the Rasül (Sal.) to prevent the torture and random killing of animals, Allähu ta'älä Näyan sent down other commands to deal with different situations.

Why was fasting ordained? A human being needs to believe that his body, his possessions, and his soul all belong to Allah. Everything belongs to Allah. Allähu ta'älä Näyan sent down the kalimah, in which He says: First, have certitude of faith in Allah and with that certitude pray to Him and trust in Him alone. Believe firmly, without the slightest doubt, that He alone is worthy of worship, and turn your qalb, your innermost heart, in the direction of the qiblah. Allah is the light, and His grace and qualities are the qiblah. He is the Badushäh (Emperor) for that qiblah. And since He is the Imäm, the leader of the prayers for that place, turn toward Him. Worship only Him. Thus the first thing is to accept Him and follow Him.

The second thing is to worship Him. This world (dunyä) and the hereafter (äkhirah) belong to Him. Everything is His property, therefore be aware that you do not own anything. The world is not your property. Even what you earn is not your property, it is merely what He has distributed among all of you. But you are holding on to that common property and claiming it as your own. This thought is haräm and the desire for it is haräm.

Allah said, "Yä Muhammad! Explain this to your followers. They do not realize that everything belongs to Me. They keep on shouting, 'My property! My house! My wealth!' and so on. As a result, they are hurting and tormenting others. They covet and plunder the be longings of others. They lend money for interest. They are doing many cruel things like this. They must not harm My devotees and My slaves. I have appointed a Day of Reckoning called Qiyämah. On that day I will raise all of them up and will cause them to suffer in proportion to whatever pain or suffering they have inflicted on others. Yä Muhammad! Tell them that they will be made to endure the same pain they caused others."

God continues, "Tell them that I have ordained five and six obligatory duties (furüd). The five are outer duties and the six are inner. Of the five, the first is to accept Me. The second is to worship Me. The third is to give charity, or sadaqah. And what is charity? Because of their state of ignorance, because of the lack of light in their hearts, people have failed to accept Me with certitude and instead made the world their own. They do not realize that it is I who created the nourishment that is permissible for them. Anyone who claims the world as his own, anyone who grabs the world and says it belongs to him, has changed into satan and is surely going to hell. It is for such people that I created hell. They have seven kinds of base desires, and these seven will constitute the re that burns them in the seven hells. All the things they cherished in the world will turn into scorpions, spiders, snakes, centipedes, dogs, foxes, lions, tigers, and tarantulas each with seventy thousand kinds of poison. Whatever qualities such persons had, each quality will generate seventy thousand kinds of poisons within them, causing unending torment. Whatever scheming, trickery, deceit, and treachery a person practiced, intending to torment and ruin others, each of these will turn into seventy thousand kinds of poison that will afflict him. I have made each one of those qualities into a scorpion with seventy thousand stings and each sting has seventy thousand poisons. Therefore they cannot escape from a suffering that is many times worse than what they intended for others.

"Tell them this, Yä Muhammad. I have created food that is haläl for each person, and it is there for him to take. Tell him to search for it and nd it. I have given the food appropriate for every bird and animal, and I have also apportioned that which is permissible for mankind. Not realizing this, man goes after the world and grabs what belongs to others. So he must now give it back as charity to those who are in need.

But since man has forgotten these first three duties, Allah sent down a fourth, which is fasting. This is called Ramadän. The hunger that one feels when fasting is meant to help him realize the hunger that torments others more needy than himself. When he feels how his body shrivels, how much he suffers when he is hungry, how his desires increase and his body suffers then he comes to realize what older people and children and others are suffering."

But even with this, some people's faith still did not become steadfast, and they did not learn what they were meant to learn. Even though they fasted from dawn to sunset, after they broke their fast they would gorge themselves and continue to eat to their full until dawn. Therefore Allähu ta'älä Näyan said, "During these days of Ramadän, at least on Fridays, before the khutbah (the sermon given at the midday prayer) tell them to give offerings to the poor. Tell them to give some of the wealth they have accumulated. If they do not do this, tell them to give presents and charity to the poor at least on the twenty-seventh day of the fast." But they did not follow even this.

Then Allähu ta'älä Näyan said, "These people are not moving out of the darkness that fills their hearts. Therefore, tell them, Yä Muhammad, once again, to distribute at least ten percent of their wealth to the poor. There is a thing called death that governs them, and there is also a Day of Judgment. Remind them that on the day of their death they will have to leave everything behind." But they did not accept this either.

So Allah sent down His next obligatory duty. He said, "Yä Muhammad, the hajj, the holy pilgrimage to Mecca, is an obligatory duty. Tell them that they must fulfill this at least once in their lifetime. Tell them it is their duty to complete this perfectly. In order to do so, before they leave on hajj they must give whatever is due as dowry to the wife and what is due as inheritance to each of the children. Whatever is left they must give as charity and presents to the poor and the needy. Then they must go unencumbered, wearing a white cloth (kafan), as a corpse would be dressed, and in this state complete the fifth duty. To fulfill the hajj, they must be dead to the world. They must make the world in them die.

These five duties are the essential obligatory duties of Islam. God has declared that these duties must be fulfilled for Ïmän-Isläm. If we complete these five satisfactorily then we can celebrate 'Ïdul-Fitr, the day of rejoicing at the end of the month of fasting.

We need to understand the significance of these duties during Ramadän, the month of fasting. Some people, however, avoid the duty of fasting and in its place give a measure of rice to the needy. Some just give clothes and presents. Some rich people pay others to fast on their behalf. There are also those who, instead of doing the pilgrimage themselves, pay for someone else to go, carrying the rich person's staff to represent him. In this way, rich people attempt to buy something that cannot be bought.

What we have to realize is that the whole purpose of the fast and the holy pilgrimage is to help us realize the difficulties and suffering of other lives. We need to see how we have wrongly claimed as our own the wealth that belongs to Allähu ta'älä Näyan. We should understand this and give all responsibility to Him, saying tawakkul-'alalläh, al-hamdu lilläh. This is the true purpose of the fast, charity, and hajj to hand over all responsibility to Allah and die to make our desires die and the world in us die. This is the duty ordained for us. If we understand this, if we realize the true meaning of this fast, we will not hold on to anything for ourselves. We will not keep anything except Allah. Allah alone will be our property. His qualities will be our treasures. His actions will be our conduct. We will like whatever He likes, and we will seek whatever He seeks.

It is in this state that we must fulfill the five obligatory duties (furüd) and the six inner principles. If we accept that this is correct, we will have nothing to call our own no property or wealth and therefore we will have nothing to give in charity. A person with no wealth does not have to perform the hajj, but those with wealth are required to. Those who have wealth must give in charity. Those who have wealth must fast. They must perform all these obligatory duties. But one who is poor, a miskïn, has no food to eat, no clothes to wear, no strength to walk, and no house to live in. So how can he fast? Allah alone is his fast. His intention is his fast. His yearning is his fast. His fast is to never be separate from Allähu ta'älä. His constant thought of Allähu ta'älä is his fast. He glories Allah constantly. That is his fast. He surrenders himself to Allah. That is his fast. And for him, to die in Allah is the fulfillment of the five furüd (obligatory duties).

We must follow the four steps: sharï'at, tarïqat, haqïqat, and ma'rifat.4 As long as we live in the world we must follow these steps. As long as we desire the things of the world we must follow these steps. If we covet or plunder the property of others, we must give in charity. If we have gathered things that are haräm, we must give them away completely. If we have earned money by hurting someone else, or by underpayment of wages, that stays with us as haräm. Anything we acquire by telling lies and deceiving others is haräm. Anyone who imbibes such haräm things will lose his ïmän (faith, certitude, and determination) and his protection. On the other hand ïmän and protection will be with one who imbibes only haläl things. Ïmän will resplend in his heart. His life will be protected and peace will shine in his face.

Therefore, we must be in Ïmän-Isläm, those who with perfect trust accept Allähu ta'älä Näyan's commands and His words of grace. When we say Ïmän-Isläm, we mean that ïmän is Islam. All of everything, in fact, is Islam. Allähu ta'älä Näyan has said, "Yä Muhammad! If not for you I would not have created anything." Therefore everything is Islam. Everything has been formed out of the five letters alif, läm, mïm, hä', and däl.5 Without the mïm no form could have been created. It was by connecting the alif with the mïm that all of creation was created. Understanding this is to know the sirr, or secret, and the sifät, or manifestation. The rüh, the soul, which came from Allähu ta'älä, is His essence, or dhät. We must understand that essence and the creations. We must know what is good and what is bad. Dwelling within us are the things that belong to earth and also things that belong to Allah. The section that belongs to Allah is the good (khair), while the section of earth is the bad (sharr). We need to understand these. Khair is the beneficial part, while sharr is the creation, the part that appears as forms. If we can understand the difference between these two, then we will know how we must worship and pray to Allähu ta'älä Näyan.

Allah did not reveal all 6,666 verses of the Qur'an at the same time. Whenever someone committed some evil, the Rasülulläh (Sal.) would ask God, who would then send down a verse to address that issue. In this way, one after another, the verses were revealed, each more precious and valuable than the one before, each giving deeper inner meanings. It is very difficult to know the true meaning of the Qur'an. To do so we need faith, certitude, determination, and wisdom. The meaning of the Qur'an will be revealed to people of wisdom. They must be people who have realized all four states: sharï'at, tarïqat, haqïqat, and ma'rifat. Sharï'at relates to the state of man's birth. Tarïqat is the state in which his faith, or ïmän, begins to be established and he begins to understand. Haqïqat is the state in which he has love for God. And ma'rifat is the state in which, without duality, he merges in Allah and disappears in Him, worshiping Him in a state of oneness.

These four are present as four parts within one's own body. Sharï'at relates to the place of creation, the place we are born from. Tarïqat is the region of the stomach, the place of the re of hunger. Haqïqat is the chest, the place in which we become close to God and embrace Him in our hearts. Ma'rifat is the entire region above the neck. Here we understand the seven principles 6 and merge with God, surrendering entirely to Him. Only after this can we really pray to God. Understanding both day and night, we must realize that the Süratul-Fätihah, which is the inner form of man, consists of all four states. We must realize that inner form. We must realize that man has to transcend those four steps.

Allähu ta'älä Näyan sent us not only the verses of the Qur'an but also the reason for each one. Just as He sent each verse step by step, we must learn each of them step by step by step and thereby climb higher in wisdom. As we keep climbing upward, we need to discard thought after thought after thought. We need to cut away every one of our desires. We need to go beyond each period in our life. Finally we must come to the ultimate ending, in which we say, "Allähu!" At this stage, when we resonate, "Allähu!" we will be one with Him. That is His grace, His rahmat. Unless we attain that state, our life will end in this world called dunyä. We will perish in the same place from which we appeared. Whatever nourished us is what we will die in. What we nourished is what will turn us into insects and worms and make us subject to hell.

We must understand all this. To understand it is fasting, hajj, and ïmän. Only when one grows and understands this state can he be said to be in Ïmän-Isläm. Ïmän is Islam. Ïmän is perfect purity. Islam is resplendent light. Only when the light resplends in purity can it be called Ïmän-Isläm. It is true that everything is Islam, but it is only when ïmän grows and its light resplends within the heart that Islam can be said to be complete. Only then can one be called a mu'min, or one of true faith. Those who are mu'mins are blessed to meet and commune with Allähu ta'älä.

The one whose heart totally accepts Allah, the one whose heart becomes resplendent and luminous, the one whose heart becomes perfectly pure the purity of such a one is called Ïmän-Isläm. The resplendence of the innermost heart worshiping Allah without regarding anything as equal to Him is called Ïmän-Isläm. To accept Allah without the slightest doubt or reservation is Ïmän-Isläm.

All children of Adam (AS.) are Ïmän-Isläm. But if the hearts of the children of Adam (AS.) do not totally accept Allähu ta'älä, if they do not perfect their ïmän, if they do not transform their qualities, if they still contain the qualities of satan and the qualities of demons, such as selfishness and sucking the blood of others, they will belong to the faction of satan. It is those qualities of satan that are called kufr, or ungrateful to God. God did not create Adam (AS.) as kufr. All the children of Adam (AS.) who have accepted Allah are said to be Ïmän-Isläm. That is what they are called in the Arabic language. In other languages they may be called pure ones, or those who have accepted God. Those who are pure, those who have accepted God, those whose hearts are pure are the ones who have ïmän, or absolute faith. Those whose hearts are filled with light, those who have a heart that is luminous and accepts Allah totally, are said to be Ïmän-Isläm. All those who have ïmän have accepted Allah fully.

Each one of us must understand this. We are not divided. We all belong to one race, not to different races. We belong to one family, not families divided by color differences. This is the gracious word of Allah.

We must understand this and transform our hearts, fill them with light, make our ïmän steadfast, and glorify Allah. Whenever we pray, or worship and serve Allah, or glorify His name, we must accept Allah totally, with perfect ïmän. Purity must reign in our hearts. In order to worship Allah, who transcends both purity and impurity, we must stand in the station of purity in our hearts. May we strive hard to worship Him with that purity. Ämïn. May we accept this state with full faith.

Today is the last day of the fast. Tomorrow is the day we celebrate the 'Ïdul-Fitr, a day of rejoicing for having fulfilled the commands of Allah. We have observed the fast in God's name, and we have gloried the name of God.

My precious children! We confirm that you observed the fast. We are happy and we commend you. But Allähu ta'älä Näyan alone knows whether your fast made Him happy. If He is to accept your fast, He will do so only because of your heart and the intentions in your heart. It may be that some children were fasting without knowing the real meaning of the fast, but their hearts were observing it in the proper manner. Therefore, I say that Allah will have accepted their fast. Why? Because in their hearts they have steadfast ïmän, absolute faith in Allah. Through that ïmän they have fulfilled the fast.

My precious children! What I have been telling you about is the true meaning and significance of fasting: treating other lives as though they are your own life, feeling the hunger of others as your own hunger and offering them food, feeling the difficulties of others as though they were your own and attempting to bring them relief.

If we can establish this state in us, if we can perform our duties in this way, we will have made our fast complete. Allah alone will be our wealth. In that state we will have surrendered to Him and have absolute faith in Him. If we are surrendered to Him, we will not own anything. Our hands will be empty. Then what can we give? What can we do? We will be His slaves and He will be our Master, our Lord. We must establish that state in us. We must realize what our fast will be like when we have reached that state.

If I were to tell you in greater detail about the conditions that must be observed in order to make this fast truly complete, there would not be sufficient time. And it might make you feel sad. Therefore I will not tell you.

May God fill your hearts with light. May He make your hearts luminous. May He accept your fasts and bless you with His benevolent grace. May He fill your intentions with light and grace and make them complete. May He make your hearts the wealth of all three worlds the beginning, this world, and the hereafter (awwal, dunyä, and äkhirah). May this wealth be filled with light. May He bless you with the wealth of wisdom. May He bless you with the wealth of His qualities. May He bless you with the wealth of His duties, His wiläyät. May He bestow on you the wealth of His compassionate grace. May His look of grace be upon you at every moment. May He fulfill all your wants, and may He protect you from all dangers. Now and in the hereafter may He be your protector and safeguard you. May Allah be pleased with you and shower His love on you at every moment. May He hold you in His embrace and protect you from any kind of danger or disaster. May He bless you with remembrance, so that at every moment your intention for Him may be strong and steadfast. Whatever the circumstances be, may He bestow His house on you. May He give you a beautiful house in His kingdom and elevate your position there. May you always be His entrusted treasure. Believe in Him without the slightest doubt and surrender to Him.

May you merge with Him who is without partner or equal, and may your worship be free from ascribing partners or equals to Him. There is nothing equal to Him. So worship Him with a prayer that has no equal or parallel. Open your hearts in a state of peace and tell Him what is in your heart. Whatever rises up in your heart, tell Him. Tell Him all your intentions. He is the One who knows everything and understands everything. Knowing what your intentions are, He will help you. Understanding your wants, He will comfort you. Knowing your illnesses, He will treat you. Knowing your mind, He will bring you peace.

That Father who is God, Allähu ta'älä accept only Him. Glorify only Him. Open your hearts and speak to Him. In that state Allah will protect you. Do not forget your certitude of faith. Do not lose your ïmän. Do not let go of your steadfast determination. Do not be deceived by the qualities of satan into losing Allah's love. May God give you completion, bless you with the wealth of the three worlds and the light of grace, dispel the darkness, take you on the straight path, and give you victory in the hereafter. Ämïn. Ämïn. Al-hamdu lilläh.

As-salämu 'alaikum wa rahmatullähi wa barakätuhu kulluhu (May the peace, the beneficence, and blessing of God be upon you).

August 23, 1979

2. mu'adhdhin (A) The one who summons the people by reciting the call to prayer (adhän). lebbe (Urdu) A term used in South India and Sri Lanka for a person who performs similar duties in the mosque.

3. qiblah (A) Lit. The direction one faces in prayer. Muslims face toward the Ka'bah in Mecca. The inner meaning of the qiblah is the throne of God within the heart.

4. sharï'at, tarïqat, haqïqat, and ma'rifat (A) The four steps of spiritual ascendance. See Glossary.

5. alif, läm, mïm, hä', däl (A) Five Arabic letters. In the transformed man of wisdom, these letters are represented as: alif Allah; läm Nür, the light of wisdom; mïm Muhammad. Hä' and däl correspond to the body of five elements (earth, re, water, air, and ether), to the sirr (secret) and the sifät (manifestations of creations), and to mind and desire.

6. Seven principles: The seven faculties two eyes, two ears, two nostrils, and the mouth. These also relate to the seven levels of wisdom in man and the seven diacritical marks in the Arabic language, which give sound to the letters of the Qur'an.

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