Dr Rania Awaad
Dr Rania Awaad|Meem Hub

'Ramadan is a cocoon'. A Powerful speech to transform your life in this Ramadan.

Ramadan is the month of the heart. It's a cocoon, and we go into this cocoon for 30 days hoping that when we come out, we'll have wings strong enough to soar with the rest of the year.

DR Rania Awaad, M.D.

DR Rania Awaad, M.D.

Assalamu Alaikum to all sisters and brothers. I pray that your first week of Ramadan has gone well and that you found that the doors of Mercy have opened in these days. I hope you're gearing up and getting ready for the second and third week of Ramadan.

Our discussion today is about the journey of the self in Ramadan. The goal for today's discussion is to understand the potential transformation a human can go in this blessed month. We'll talk about it from the psychological, spiritual and behavioural perspectives. But before we get there, first I wanted to share a story. One of my favourite story, about the month of Ramadan. It's a story that's narrated about sayyidina Musa alayhi wasalam. Moses- peace be upon him. Musa was given a gift or miracle of Allah speaking to him. And he says to Allah; I was given the miracle of you speaking to me directly. Have you given a similar gift to anyone else? And Allah revealed to Musa that there would be a group of his servants that will come at the end of time. They will be given the month of Ramadan to fast. And they will fast until their lips turn white and their skin becomes a yellowish hue. The reward for their sacrifice of fasting will be that the veil between them and to Allah is lifted when they break their fast and that Allah will answer their prayers at this time. Subsequently, Allah says 'Oh Musa, thooba' ( طوبى' ). Thooba, a place in Jannah (Paradise) will be for those whose livers are thirsty, and stomachs are hungry in Ramadan.

A Beautiful story, reminding us how incredible and amazing Ramadan. And how much you can transform in this month. The miracle that was given to Moosa, Allah compares it to that miracle he gave not just to the prophet Muhammad but all of the Ummat Muhammad.

Ramadan, in its essence, is the month of the heart. It's the month of little food and little drink and little sleep. It's the month of ridding yourself of everything unnecessary and everything extra.

Ramadan, in its essence, is the month of the heart. It's the month of little food and little drink and little sleep. It's the month of ridding yourself of everything unnecessary and everything extra. I'd often hear my teacher use the terms Laghvu لغو and Lahvu لهو. Laghvu لغو is translated as useless and idle speech. Lahu لهو typically refers to the frivolous and wasteful time spent. Both terms have negative connotations. The idea is to get rid of both laghvu and lahvu in Ramadan.

In Ramadan, we're talking about getting rid of anything and everything negative. We're also talking about getting rid of the unnecessary extras, the things that aren't necessarily Haram or problematic but instead they take up time, and they're wasteful in time. They're not needed. We need to take a step back and think to ourselves, what do I do that's extra? That's not needed.

Since all of us are fasting, we're already giving up some extras. We've given up an extra meal by the mere fact of fasting. If you get up for Suhoor and you eat during Ifthar, you've given up at least one meal. If you're praying tharaweeh and getting up for Suhoor, you have already given an extra sleep every day.you've already done this, extra sleep and extra food you didn't necessarily need. What else can you give up that's extra ? what do you find yourself gravitating to in your free time?

For many of us, if it's not people that are distracting us, it's probably our phones, tablets, laptops, social media, the myriad of apps and games, Netflix binging. All kinds of things that distract us and take our time. Abu Huraira reports that the prophet said that "a person might fast and get nothing from his fast except for hunger. And he may get up at night to pray and get nothing from that getting up at night except for sleeplessness." The point of Ramadan isn't just leaving food and drink. The ayah in the Quran, which commands fasting, ends with ' la'allakum tattaqoon' ( لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ) - ' so that you may attain God-consciousness'. Undoubtedly, fasting in Ramadan is a platform to achieve taqwa or God-consciousness.

Imam Ghazali classified fast into three different types and levels. The first of which is the level of the laypeople, the general masses. Who fast from leaving food and drink. They may have a routine. The routine of getting up for Suhoor, leaving food and drink all day long, eating Iftar and then going to pray tharaweeh. This routine, the cycle in and cycle out. It will definitely garner blessings. There is no doubt about that. But the question is, will you really be transformed just by the cycle of these routine activities?

The fast will inherently benefit you, even if you don't have a lot of thought and heart in it. It will still help you because Allah says about prayer

( إِنَّ الصَّلَاةَ تَنْهَىٰ عَنِ الْفَحْشَاءِ وَالْمُنكَرِ ) inna alssalata tanha AAani alfahshai waalmunkari Prayer will prevent you from evils . There's a hadith of the prophet, once when somebody came to him and said this person is sinning, but he prays. The prophet's response was his prayer will prevent him, So keep on with that prayer. It'll eventually lead you to taqwa - God-consciousness. Same is true with fasting. This primary level is quite beneficial. It doesn't necessarily transform you completely. Why? Because what you're fasting from are things that otherwise are permitted- food and drink. But it doesn't mean that you're necessarily mean that you're fasting from things that are prohibited. That's the second level of the fast. But Imam al-Ghazali says that's the fast of the Khawass ( خوّاص)- the elect. They leave behind not just the permitted, the food and drink but also the Haram. They are the ones who fast from making sure their eyes don't see Haram and their ears don't listen to Haram, and their tongues don't engage in Haram, and their limbs don't take them to Haram. And they don't overeat or overindulge. This is the second level of fast.

The third level and the highest level to attain is the Khawass of the khawwass - the elect of the elect. This third level involves being physically, spiritually and intellectually occupied with your lord without breaking consciousness from that state even for a moment. This is the fast of the heart and the mind. This is the fast of leaving behind the Laghvu and lahvu, all the extra and unnecessary. The first level you left behind the permissible the food in the drink . and on the next level, you left behind the impermissible - all the Haram. But on the third level, you left behind what is otherwise is ok to do - the Mubah ( مباح). So that you can spend more time focusing on your spiritual transformation and focusing on your connection with Allah.

Think about like this. When somebody asked you how are, you doing, and you spent 20 minutes chit-chatting with them. Outside of Ramadan, that's fine. You're kind of getting to know people and you're keeping up the connection. But inside of Ramadan what you needed was only five minutes. The extra 15 that you spent is considered lavhu, it's extra .it's too much. It was unnecessary.

Most of us wake up in the morning, and the first thing we do is look at the phone. Look at Facebook or Twitter feed or WhatsApp messages. It takes 20 minutes when all they needed was 5 minutes just to see if everything was okay with friends and family. All the extra stuff that we didn't need could have been spent on clicking the Quran app instead and spending those 15 minutes reading a couple more pages of Quran.

Those who are very careful about how they spend every moment of Ramadan are the people who understand the true essence of Ramadan. They know it to be an intensive spiritual retreat, that's only 30 days long. It's a cocoon, and we go into this cocoon for 30 days hoping that when we come out, we'll have wings strong enough to soar with the rest of the year.Masha Allah. It's easy to get into this cocoon. It's easy to enter into this prestigious prep school called the Ramadan cocoon. Because all it requires for entrance or admission is you being Muslim. But just because you enter it doesn't mean you're going to be successful. And doesn't mean you're going to graduate successfully, from this prestigious school of Ramadan.

The tricky part is actually trying to figure out how to make your wings strong enough that when you come out of that cocoon that you're able to maintain the rest of the 11 months of the year. This is where I hear my teachers speak about Ramadan being different for different people. They would say that for some that Ramadan comes as a mercy to wash them through and through. And for others, Ramadan came to scrub out the filth and the grime and the soot that had developed in their hearts. Yet for others, Ramadan comes like a sieve asking essentially to figure out whether you're going to choose Akhira or choose the dunya.

If you're starting to feel like which Ramadan is it for me this year? And you're starting to feel a little panicky and worried if you haven't figured it out, as the one week of Ramdan has already passed.

Let's take a step back .because anytime the human being needs to figure out something, the manual that they go to is the Quran. So let's look at the Quran and let's look what it says about fasting. We'll go to surah Baqarah ayah 183 which begins the discussion on the commandment to fast. It's telling us 'oh you who believe; fasting is prescribed onto you like it was prescribed to the people before you. So that you may attain God-consciousness, that's the first ayah. Next ayah indicates, they are a limited fixed number of days. Hence the concept of these intensive spiritual retreats, so make the most use of it. Then the next ayah comes down and says Ramadan is the month of the Quran in which it was revealed as a guide to humankind. Now between that ayah that comes two aya down which gives you all the rules of fasting. There's an aya in the middle. And most people don't think about this ayah or even connect it to Ramadan .but when you look at the order of the ayat you realize Allah put it. There is nothing haphazard in the Quran. It is there and in that place very specifically. So you have all these verses referring to the pursuit of fasting, and then you get this ayah 186( وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ ۖ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ ۖ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ ). Allah says' if they ask Mohammed if they ask you O Muhammad concerning me, indeed I am near . and I respond to the invocation of the supplicant when he calls upon me. Beautiful. This is one of my favourite aya, where Allah says to us that he is near. Call upon him, he will answer.

And the earlier story that we shared, where Allah reminds the Moose of Muhammad coming at the end of time that we will have our prayers answered . and especially at the time of breaking fast in this month of Ramadan. Then it carries on with further verses referring to the rules of how you fast .

Look at that ayah, that sandwiched in between.And remember, part and parcel of fasting is calling on to Allah Subhana thaala. Because Ramadan can't possibly be just be putting away food and drink. It can't possibly be, only from leaving the Haram, which we should have left anyway. The transformation that happens . The connection with Allah shoiuld be the focus.

The Quran was sent as the catalogue and manual for human beings. Allah knows what he created. When you call upon Allah, he answers you.If it's cleared for you, if it's good for you, you get it. If it's not good for you, then he replaces it with what's better from you, for you. Because as humans, we don't necessarily know what's best for us. Although sometimes we think we do. But Allah will fix and put in what's better than what we asked for. if what we asked for wasn't so good, so we should go into the month of fasting with confidence. Knowing that Allah knows what he created .knowing that he knows that this was best for us.

We fast without food and drink for an entire month. That's 1/12 of your year. Roughly about 8 per cent of your days alive. If there were a detriment in that Allah would never have commanded it . But he knows that there is a benefit in it.That benefit isn't just physical. There's a physical benefit and a spiritual benefit and a behavioural benefit and a psychological benefit to this commandment.He would never ask us to do something detrimental to us. Hence we should really focus on fasting with confidence and know that it is the best for us .

We should also do one of the most beautiful lessons we learned in Islam. The human being should always between be between two very important emotions. Hope and fear. Hope (رجاء) and fear ( خوف). We should look at our fast with the hope that it's been accepted and we've done. We've done the best we can do. And a little bit of fear and trepidation that maybe I didn't do as well as I should have with this day of fasting. And that tomorrow I will do better . I will do better. I will do better. It's beautiful. It's like the wings of a bird, hope and fear. But if you lose one the bird cannot sustain its flight .it crashes and falls.

How how do we do this? How do we take this journey, of the self- in Ramdan? How is it that we reach a point that we're really reaping the full blessings of this month as it's intended to be. Let's look at Imam ghazali and his psychology of the self. Gahazali's understanding of the human psyche supersedes the best of what modern psychology, i say this as a psychiatrist. When he talks about the psyche, he splits it into four domains - intellect ( العقل- alaql), the heart ( القلب - alqalb ),the Nafs - the self ( Nafs نَفْس ),and the Rooh - the spirit/ Soul ( الروح - alruwh )

The physical heart pumps blood but rather the spiritual heart the kalb is what derives and nourishes our soul. It's what seeks connection with Allah. It has the potential to have the most beautiful experiences and purest of emotions.

When you don't feed your heart,just like if the physical heart was devoid of blood,it would go into cardiac arrest and die. The spiritual heart when it's not being fed properly, there's a huge void .Whenever there's a void,something else will come up to fill the void instead. The first contender that comes up to the plate very naively is the physical state.it comes to the front line thinking, it can fill the void that you haven't been feeding your spiritual heart with, it's going to fill the void, with the physical .stuff - clothes and cars and gadgets and entertainment and relationships and people both actual and virtual . Unfortunately, it's like a bottomless cup. The more you try to fill it, the more that seeps out. And you can't actually fill the void truthfully. So you feel the void still.

The next contender comes up is the Nafs- the ego. The ego says if the physical can't fill it, i'm going to try and it Wells up. The ego Wells up.When the physical well is up and then the ego Wells up, it pushes the spiritual heart out of the way. It weakens that connection to the heart. The connection that you could potentially fill with Allah. It weakens it .but, Ramadan can force you to put the physical aside and break the Nafs.The ego goes down, and the physical goes down .and as we said, whenever there's a void something else has to well up and take its place. When you put down and minimize the physical, and the ego ,the heart, takes its place. it takes its rightful place.

It's like the phenomenon that when somebody had looses a sense, itother senses get stronger.People who are blind, their hearing is much stronger than the typical person.When the person is deaf, their vision is stronger than the others. Subhanallah, look at how Ramdan comes pushing the physical out of the way, the stuff, the ego and the whims and desires.

Instead you are able to rekindle the spark that was in your heart, to ignite it back into that connection with Allah . This is why Awliyas those who are close to Allah have written about and spoken extensively about how their connection with Allah almost unanimously started in the month of Ramadan. The awliya are sometimes are also scholars but sometimes they are not . the Awliyas are folks like yourself and myself who have worked and worked and worked hard and then reached a high level in connection with Allah . And they have said that that happened for them in the month of Ramadhan. if not in the month of Ramadhan then when ?

Sisters and brothers, it's not just quantity,it is also quality. You're not just meant to reduce the quantity of what you eat and drink and consume . But you're also meant to look at the quality of that too.- so no more festive extras. Take away the extras .put yourself in the shoes of those who truly don't have what you have . This is the definition of empathy .To do that you must actually work, it's not just a feeling, it's an actual working ,towards, which is what we do in Ramadan. so you minimize the food, you minimize the drink, you minimise the laghvu and lahvu and we hope that after 30 days of doing this we actually have built healthy habits ,that become imprinted on who we are and it's lasts for a long time.

Insha Allah, Allah make us people in Ramadan who learned not to be petty and trivial who learned to be humble yet confident who learn to become magnanimous souls. Who learned to behave their insides match their outsides. And have the inside and the outside both be beautiful.

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