Breaking the fast after sunset during Ramadan

It is said that the defining miracle of the Prophets and the awlīyāʾ (beloved) of Allah, is qalb al-ʿayn: the total remaking of the soul. That is, to take an individual, and indeed a society, and to remodel them beyond recognition. This is achieved through ​kharq al-ʿāda: a process defined as breaking through the usual course of nature and going beyond prevailing habits and customs.

In this article, we take a look at the manner in which past Prophets transformed the lives of those who chose to accept their ways, enabling them to move beyond what is prevailing and how the onset of Ramadan each year brings that realisation to the fore.

With each new coming of the Prophets, with Ibrahīm (Abraham) AS, with Mūsa (Moses) AS, with ʿĪsa (Jesus) AS, with Mohammed SAW – lasting change has been their legacy. Each of these prophets brought an old moral perspective back into sharp focus, by means of a seemingly new canon. And these codes have endured, despite whims and changing fashions.

Ibrahīm AS is the father of what we have come to know as the ‘Abrahamic’ faiths – Judaism, Christianity and Islam – religions whose tenets are largely common, even though their differences invariably grab the headlines. Mūsa AS set in stone the Ten Commandments, ʿĪsa AS upended the merchants’ tables from the temple and embraced the lepers, and Mohammed SAW delivered the Arabs from ​jahilīyya,​ the age of ignorance.

Each of them transformed their communities, restoring justice and equality, and rolling back the hedonistic folds that had come to prevail in their time – and all within a period that, historically, was a mere blink of an eye. Moreover, the touchpaper they lit was taken up by others – across communities and continents, and over the passage of time.

For every person of faith, there are times of the year when the opportunity to break away from the habits of daily life comes around – such as Lent for Christians or Passover for Jews. For Muslims, one of those periods is Ramadan al-Muʿazzam, Shahr Allah, the month of Allah. One moment we are living our normal life but come the next morning, a complete breach with the old ways has taken hold. Schedules which were governed by work and school, now revolve around the times of prayer. Where we could not get from one meal to the next without a caffeine boost or a snack, we now last from dawn till dusk without food or water. The hours of sleep we keep to be at our best for the day ahead, are replaced by time at the masjid, midnight prayer and pre-dawn breakfast, all preceding the long day of fasting ahead. Transformation at a macro level, begins with transformation of the self.

Perspectives change, as do priorities. Prayers are offered at their initial time, not when they’re near to ending. Sleep is surrendered and evenings devoted to communal gatherings, TV, leisure and relaxation make way for reading the Holy Quran, attending discourses and sermons and reciting supplications that we may neglect at other times of the year.

Evening prayers at al-Masjid al-Husaini in London

But the hallmark of Ramadan is the fast, which begins shortly before dawn and ends at sunset, and can vary across the globe from being akin to missing lunch, to stretching to 20 hours in the northern hemisphere summer. It would seem impossible, unthinkable even, yet it is achieved by young and old on every continent. There may be exceptions ordained, such as for pregnant women, the old or the sick, yet the fast holds a special place in the hearts of Muslims and is not forgone easily. Children often hanker for the opportunity to fast, a sign of their maturing, and wary parents will allow them the occasional day to fulfil their wish.

Everyone pushes personal boundaries. They extend themselves in ways they would not even contemplate during the rest of the year. Whether it be in attending the masjid, commitment to the five mandated prayers, recitation of the Holy Quran or performing the special midnight prayer, each individual sets aside the routine of the rest of the year and lives a life that is unrecognisable from the one that was lived just the day before the month of Ramadan began. We still go to work, to school, to university. We still open our places of business, attend our meetings, meet our targets, sit our exams. Ramadan is not a sabbatical, there are added stresses and strains both emotionally and physically but these are absorbed, embraced and even revelled in. We find a dormant strength awakened within us, and the sleep loss and missed meals are forgotten.

Communal prayers in Marol during the month of Ramadan

That is the miracle of ​qalb al-ʿayn and kharq al-ʿāda – the transformation and remodelling of the soul that takes place in every Muslim, every Ramadan. Even the least pious will push some boundary, drop some habit, take up some forsaken rite out of reverence for the month. This is the miracle of the prophets and their codes of life which, once experienced, are not easily forsaken. For some, once the month ends, much of this pious activity will become mothballed, but when Allah’s month comes round again it will be ready in hand. The inner joy and sense of fulfilment are not forgotten – and they will want to experience them once again.