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Jumaat, Jun 28, 2013

Ramadan and Good Conduct

This article by Md. Asham b. Ahmad (From IKIM)

As Ramadan approaches its end everybody begins to make all sorts of preparation for the coming of the day commonly known in our country as Hari Raya Aidilfitri. It is the day that marks the end of the fasting month and as the name itself indicate it is supposed to be a happy and joyful day.

However, happiness according to Islam is something profound and it refers ultimately to individuals. Happiness has to do with the questions regarding justice and ethics, and why ethics is necessary in order to achieve happiness.

The Prophet was once told about a woman who would fast during the day and pray all night long; yet she had a very bad habit: she used her tongue to insult her neighbours. Upon hearing that the Prophet remarked:"There is nothing good in her; she is among the hell dwellers!"

This is a clear indication that in Islam worship is related to ethics and morality. Any act of worship that does not lead to the purification of the soul and does not result in good conduct has no value in the sight of Allah.

Islam teaches that every man is created by Allah with good natural disposition. This natural disposition is however susceptible to corruption and the cause of this corruption is no other than following one's evil desire. Hence, the self is considered by the Prophet as one'e worst enemy, and the struggle to defeat this enemy is the greatest of all struggle.

The Prophet was sent to guide and lead mankind in this struggle. Fasting is made a religious obligation to be observed for one month in a year where the Muslims are trained to put their desire and anger under control.

The aim of spiritual struggle, according to Islam is to establish in the soul a state of equilibrium, and that is only possible by means of battling against the extreme inclinations of the soul either towards excess of deficiency because both extremes are harmful and may cause evil acts. For example, lack of anger or its excess will bring about cowardice or recklessness respectively, and both are, according to Islam, vices. Similarly, excess or deficiency in terms of one's desire for sex and food are vices and they can only be corrected through a spiritual struggle.

In every aspect of life anything that is extreme is usually not good. Extreme towards this world, the secular world, is no good so is extreme towards religion or spiritual matters. One must have a certain balance in the middle, and that is virtue. The Qur'an, in this regard, speaks of the followers of Islam as being the community in the middle, i.e. between the two extremes.

Ramadan is an opportunity to search for the hidden defects of the soul and to correct them. Only then will the soul be returned to its original disposition which is called 'fitrah'. It is the month specially dedicated for spiritual training. During this month one is required to abstain from certain things most desireable to the body, namely food and sex. The purpose is not to annihilate the desire altogether but to achieve moderation through self-control.

However, many people, according to the Prophet, do not realize that purpose, and as a result what they actually get from Ramadan is only hunger and thirst.

Hari Raya is actually the day one celebrates the victory of the rational soul over the animal soul. It is a victory because the animal soul is now subdued and put under the command of the rational soul. Only when this happens peace and freedom are achieved. The soul is now peaceful because the war is over and the greatest enemy, namely one's evil desire is defeated. And it is enjoying freedom in the sense that the rational soul is freed from the dictates of the animal soul. Only then justice prevails; and justice according to Islam begins with the self.

Justice, defined as a condition of being in the proper place assumes that there is knowledge that tells one about the proper place. The proper place of the animal soul is under the rule of the rational soul. Otherwise one will become like the animal, in fact worse, according to the Qur'an.

Ethics (akhlak) according to Islam is part of religion. It tells us everything about who we are, where we come from, where we are going to, what is good and what is evil and what is our duty and responsibility. The purpose of ethics is to achieve a stable character for the soul and what is recommended by the intelligence and religion is good and what is rejected is bad. We do this to achieve good character and only when that is achieved happiness is achieved. Without good character we cannot achieve happiness although there might be false happiness.

Some people may think that they are happy but in reality they do not know their true condition. The modern conception of happiness goes back to the primitive pagan conception where the code of conduct was no longer necessary. Happiness now becomes just the pursuit of pleasure and distraction from what would truly bring about the state of happiness. This explains why young people resort to drugs and all kind of escapism.

What is celebrated in Hari Raya is actually connected with the basic question of human existence namely the question of identity and destiny. Unless one has a true answer to this question and then consciously live according to that truth one cannot be happy. How can anybody be happy with an empty and purposeless life?

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