Ramadan: From Physical Fasting to Spiritual Fasting — Ismaili Gnosis com

The Month of Ramaḍān

Shahru ramaḍāna alladhī unzila fīhi’l-qur’ānu hudan lilnasi wabayyinātin mina’l-hudā wa’l-furqāni fa-man shahida minkumu’l-shahra falyaṣumhu

“The Month of Ramaḍān in which was sent down the Qur’ān a guidance for mankind, and manifest proofs of the guidance and the criterion (between truth and falsehood).  So whomever among you witnesses the Month, let him fast it.” (Holy Qur’ān 2:185)

Fasting (ṣawm) is among the seven pillars (arkān) of classical Shī‘ī Ismā‘īlī Islām and the five pillars of classical Sunnī Islām.  For Ismā‘īlī gnosis as taught by the Ismā‘īlī Muslim theosophers , each pillar (rukn) of Islām has an exoteric form (ẓāhir), an esoteric meaning (bāṭin), and a spiritual reality which is the esoteric beyond the esoteric (bāṭin al-bāṭin).

The level of exoteric form is sharī‘ah (religious law), the level of esoteric meaning is ṭarīqah (spiritual path), and the level of spiritual reality is ḥaqīqah (spiritual truth).  Other Muslim theologians recognize these three levels as submission (islām), faith (imān), and beauty (iḥsan).  Corresponding to these three levels in the human being are the physical body (jism) or sensual/animal soul, the rational soul (nafs al-nātiqah), and the heart (qalb) or spiritual intellect (‘aql).

The word ṣawm literally means ‘to abstain’ from something.  Accordingly, in Ismā‘īlī gnosis, there are three levels of fasting (ṣawm):

1) Exoteric Fasting (ẓāhirī ṣawm)
2) Esoteric Fasting (bāṭinī ṣawm)
3) Real Fasting (ḥaqīqī ṣawm)

1. Exoteric Fasting (ẓāhirī sawm)

The practice of Exoteric Fasting from food and drink from sunrise to sunset during the month of Ramadan was first established when the early Muslim community lived in Medinah among Jewish and Christian tribes. Before the Qur’anic instruction to fast for the month of Ramadan was revealed, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him and his family) had instructed his followers to fast on the tenth day of the month of Muharram as the Jews did, as well as on some other occasions. These former practices of fasting were replaced by the Ramaḍān fast, whose exact rules also underwent further modification by the Prophet: for example, sexual relations were initially forbidden by the Prophet during the nights of Ramaḍān, but the Prophet later changed this rule and allowed sexual relations (see Qur’an 2:187) during the nights (see Francis E. Peters, Muhammad and the Origins of Islam, 215-216). According to the Holy Qur’an, fasting was prescribed for the believers so that they may learn taqwah – a word which can mean piety, mindfulness, or God-consciousness.

Yā ayyuhā alladhīna āmanū kutiba ‘alaykumu’l-siyāmu kamā ‘alā alladhīna min qabilikum la‘allakum tattaqūna

“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may do taqwā. (Holy Qur’ān 2:183)

Naṣir al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī explains the purpose of Exoteric Fasting to ‘imprint’ a noble ‘form’ upon the human soul:

“Fasting (rūza), which similarly restrains the soul from its [base] inclinations, was introduced so that for thirty days a year, and every day [from dawn] until night [fall], one closes one’s mouth to food and drink, and avoids and denies oneself appetizing things which one’s taste is accustomed and which are agreeable to one’s nature.  One should be steadfast in this self-control and self-denial in this so that gradually and by degrees, a form will become imprinted in the soul, unto such a point that all one’s limbs and faculties, whether internal or external, become restrained from [pursuit of] improper things.”
– Naṣir al-Dīn al-Ṭūsī, (The Paradise of Submission, 149,
Click Here to Read)

The direct agent of Exoteric Fasting is the sensual soul (i.e. the animal soul and the vegetative soul).  As Exoteric Fasting purifies the body and restrains the sensual soul, it also influences and imprints a spiritual form upon the human soul.

Exoteric Fasting (ẓāhiri ṣawm) is performed during the month of Ramaḍān as one of the practices of the sharī‘ah.  The mandatory nature of the sharī‘ah continues through the Cycles of Prophethood until the Cycle of Resurrection (qiyāmah) – when the sharī‘ah is spiritualized and its outer forms are no longer obligatory upon the believers. (See Nāsir-i Khusraw, Khwan al-Ikhwan, Wajh-i Dīn; Faquir Muhammad Hunzai, The Ethical Philosophy of Nasir-i Khusraw, Click Here to Read).

In many places today it must become commonplace for people to sleep during most of the day – the time of fasting – and then feast through the entire night when fasting is not required. In many such places more food is consumed by people during the month of Ramaḍān than any other month. In such cases the spirit of fasting becomes lost and obscured. However, the Exoteric Fasting is merely the outermost layer of this practice.

2. Esoteric Fasting (bāṭini sawm)

All the exoteric practices of the sharī‘ah (religious law) have an inner meaning or ta’wīl.  The ta’wīl of Exoteric Fasting (ẓāhirī ṣawm) is Esoteric Fasting (bāṭinī ṣawm).

Whereas Exoteric Fasting is to keep one’s mouth closed by abstaining from food and drink, Esoteric Fasting is to keep one’s mouth closed by abstaining from speaking of the the esoteric knowledge of revelation (tanzīl) and interpretation (ta’wīl) to those who lack the capacity to receive it:

“The meaning of the fast (rūza) is to observe the taqīyya, i.e. precautionary dissimulation, and to keep secret from the enemies the tenets of the religion which is to be preached (dīn-i da’wat). The day of ‘Id is (the symbol of) the day of the Resurrection of Resurrections (qiyāmat-i qiyāmat), when, by the omnipotence of the command of the Qā’im, all people will be over powered by argument and proof.”
– Sayyidnā Khaykhwah-i Harātī, (Kalām-i Pīr, transl. Ivanow, Chapter 7)


Read more on Ismaili Gnosis com

Also See:

Ramadan Kareem Mubarak!

“Be it man or woman, each of you is equal to the other.”

Ramadan Four Angels-Amaana.orgRamadan Four Angels-Amaana.org

The holy month of Ramadan begins on the first day of Ramadan which is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. This year it starts on June 18, 2015 which equates to Ramadan 1, 1436 A.H. After the moon’s lunar cycle of 30 days or so, the end of the fasting month is celebrated by Eid where the devout celebrate after having completed the month of fasting successfully from dawn to sunset each day. The end of this month starts with the morning prayers on Eid-ul Fitr, greetings are exchanged with everyone and children are given an Eidi, a gift of money followed great rejoicing and feasting and picnics.

The great Muslim poet Jalal al-Din Muhammad Rumi in the 13th century AD says about Ramadan:

“Don’t give into some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you’ve lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast,
like soldiers appearing out of the ground,
pennants flying above them.

A table descends to your tents, Jesus’ table.
Expect to see it, when you fast,
this table spread with other food,
better than the broth of cabbages.”

— Rumi’s Ramadan Poems (more at this link)

Read more on http://www.amaana.org/ismaili/ramadan-2015/


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