When Faith Is Divorced From Love
Today, I had the misfortune of reading an opinion piece in a local news portal by a Muslim who felt that Muslims simply romanticise Ramadhan and the writer herself only fasts because her parents do—she views it as a cultural practice that bonds her family together.
As I read through the article, I was irritated because all the questions she asked regarding fasting or Islam could have easily been answered by a knowledgable teacher or by doing some research. There are also some credible Islamic websites you can find online such as Seekers Guidance which accepts questions and has a large range of free online courses.
For a good few hours, I was annoyed thinking about the article because it belittled something which means so much to me. But after some reflecting, I wasn’t annoyed anymore. I remember a time when acts of worship were a burden to me and I belittled them, too. I remember a time when I just didn’t get why I had to follow Allāh’s commands. It was always why this or why that—isn’t it enough that I’m not running around hurting others? All of a sudden, I empathised with the writer instead of being annoyed because ‘been there, done that’.
When it comes to questioning faith: there are limits to questions because there are also limits to the truth.
I remember attending a talk by Prof Syed Muhammad Naquib al-Attas who gave the example of a chair as a topic of discussion. He explained that you can talk about how the chair is made, what wood it’s made of, etc, but at some point the questions will have to end because how much more do you need to know about a chair? Moreover, what benefit is there to know so much about a chair?
Questions pertaining to the deen are there to lead you to a place of clarity so that you may practise the religion with ease and improve your relationship with the Almighty. If the question is open-ended or may potentially lead you to further confusion (because you’re not at that level of being able to understand it), then it’s more beneficial to leave it.
Depending on the issue you’re referring to, the whys will have to end at some point and faith will have to take place instead. This is not to say that faith does not require logic whatsoever—the Quran repetitively ask the questions: “Do you not think? Do you not then reflect?”
Aqidah (Islamic creed), which pertains to what Muslims believe Allāh is and isn’t plus what a nabi (prophet) and rasul (messenger) is and isn’t, require sound reasoning. Aqidah unlike teachings of fiqh (how to pray, recite the Quran, how to fast, etc) relies on a person’s convictions as opposed to imitation, which is why in Islam, an insane person is not accountable for their actions. Someone who is intellectually incapable of differentiating right from wrong cannot come to know God.
Something I’ve also learnt along my journey of seeking knowledge is that: when it comes to asking questions, the intention must be to clear confusion or to clarify a misunderstanding, not to challenge out of spite. There is a correct adab (etiquette) that must be observed.
Some people have lots of questions regarding the deen but their questions come from a place of resentment, perhaps even arrogance, as opposed to genuine curiosity. From my experience, when you want to find a reason to dislike something, you’ll surely find plenty. But if you sincerely want to find reasons to further your understanding and to increase your love for the deen, Allāh’s doors of guidance will fling wide open.
You Can’t Accept What You Don’t Love
I understand it when Muslims view their faith with annoyance because such feelings are bound to arise when there is no love or genuine thirst for Islamic knowledge at the centre of their religious upbringing.
Unfortunately, not every Muslim has been taught to practise their faith in a beautiful way. Not every Muslim has the privilege of having parents who are well-versed in Islam nor do they have access to religious teachers that are patient and understanding of their circumstances.
I attended a religious camp once at the age of 11 and was screamed at for something so small I won’t even mention it, so trust me: I get it. When you’ve been introduced to religion in a way that is harsh or boring, it can put you off it for a longgg time.
I went to a private/international school for my secondary education and most of my Muslim friends had a Western and liberal upbringing so I’ve learnt to be a lot more understanding towards Muslims who have a huge disconnect with their faith.
Fortunately, I’ve always known faith to be beautiful even when I did not truly understand it throughout my youth. It was the way my mum spoke about Allāh—how Merciful and Generous He is. Everything she spoke about, even something as simple as the food we ate everyday, she would always relate it back to Allāh.
I grew accustomed to this language of hers and began to view everything in my life in relation to God even if I wasn’t fully practising at the time.
It was also through the poems of Rumi, a Persian jurist and theologian, that I tasted how beautiful faith is when you come to truly know God. When you read the poetry or spiritual reflections by past Muslim scholars, they sound like they were deep in love, and they were but it wasn’t with a person, it was with their Creator. These people knew Allāh at such an intimate level that there was no separation between them and God.
Ultimately, all acts of worship are a means for us to connect with Allāh. Of course, to attain a strong bond with Allāh, abandoning sinful acts and purifying our hearts from spiritual ailments such as envy, greed and arrogance, are a necessary part of the process. In the end, whatever we do sincerely for the sake of Allāh beautifies us.
Why Then Do We Fast?
The word for fasting in Arabic is sawm which comes from the root word which means ‘self-restraint’. The whole point of fasting is to discipline ourselves to such an extent that we cut ourselves off from everything that does not bring us closer to Allāh. Fasting, when done with the right intentions, disciplines our ego and redirects us back to Allāh.
I wrote this post 4 years ago, and my conclusion still remains the same: when fasting is reduced to simply starving ourselves for no higher purpose, it’s no surprise that people cannot appreciate nor gain anything from it. When acts of worship are void of God-consciousness or love for the Divine, then you cannot possibly be transformed by it. You cannot enjoy something your heart does not have any understanding of.
Ramadhan has not come to burden our soul; it has come to nourish it. May Allāh subḥānahu wa ta'alā open our hearts to the secrets of Ramadhan, may He pour His Mercy unto us and forgive us for all our wrongdoings. Amiin.