A time to pu­rify the soul


At the end of May, Ra­madan will start for Mus­lims. This is a month of fast­ing from dawn to sun­set and is one of the five prac­tices of Is­lam, which in­cludes be­lief in One God; reg­u­lar prayers; char­ity; and the pil­grim­age.

We be­lieve it was in this month that the Prophet Mo­ham­mad re­ceived the first rev­e­la­tion of the Qur’an. It is con­sid­ered a holy month as Mus­lims try to fo­cus on God and pu­rify the soul with the prac­tice of self- dis­ci­pline and sac­ri­fice.

To prac­tise re­straint of both mind and body, Mus­lims re­frain from food and, more im­por­tantly, from be­hav­iour that is harm­ful or hurt­ful to the self and oth­ers. It is to con­trol anger, to con­trol neg­a­tive thoughts and to do “good.”

The fo­cus on God is by in­creas­ing prayers, by study­ing the mes­sage of the Qur’an and by the giv­ing of char­ity. The in­tent is that if we do all this for a month, then the in­flu­ence will last for the rest of the year.

A con­cept that is very ap­peal­ing to me is “Taqwa,” which sim­ply means “God con­scious­ness.” All the prac­tices are to heighten our aware­ness of God, who we be­lieve is closer to us than our own jugu­lar vein. If we truly prac­tise taqwa then surely neg­a­tive thoughts and deeds can­not ex­ist si­mul­ta­ne­ously in our minds.

One group that con­cen­trates on lov­ing God are the Mus­lim mys­tics called Su­fis. Many in the West know about Rumi and Omar Khayyam, whose was trans­lated into English by Ed­ward Fitzger­ald. There are many won­der­ful sto­ries of how Su­fis lose them­selves in their search to achieve close­ness to God.

The Su­fis speak of the fragility of this earthly life, and fo­cus on the life here­after when they be­lieve they will be in the pres­ence of God. Khayyam says:

“When You and I be­hind the Veil are past,

Oh, but the long while the world shall last,

Which of our Com­ing and De­par­ture heeds

As the Sea’s self should heed a pebble- cast.”

There was one Sufi mys­tic, Ibrahim bin Ad­ham, who lived in Balkh (part of mod­ern Afghanistan) in the eighth cen­tury. An English poet, Leigh Hunt, wrote a poem, Abou Ben Ad­hem, based on this Sufi saint.

I have al­ways loved the poem, which speaks of the per­son’s love of God and of God`s love in re­turn for all of hu­mankind.

This poem is:

Abou Ben Ad­hem [may his tribe in­crease]

Awoke one night from a deep dream of peace,

And saw, within the moon­light in his room,

Mak­ing it rich, and like a lily in bloom, an an­gel writ­ing in a book of gold:

Ex­ceed­ing peace had made Ben Ad­hem bold,

And to the Pres­ence in the room he said,

“What writest thou?” — The vi­sion raised its head,

And with a look made of all sweet ac­cord,

An­swered, “The names of those who love the Lord.”

“And is mine one?” said Abou. “Nay, not so,”

Replied the an­gel. Abou spoke more low,

But cheerly still; and said, “I pray thee, then,

Write me as one that loves his fel­low men.”

The an­gel wrote, and van­ished. The next night

It came again with a great wak­en­ing light,

And showed the names whom love of God had blest,

And lo! Ben Ad­hem’s name led all the rest.”

The Qur’an states, “And when those who be­lieve in Our rev­e­la­tions come to you, say: `Peace be upon you.’ Your Lord has pre­scribed Mercy on Him­self, that who­ever of you does evil through ig­no­rance and re­pents of it af­ter­wards and does right, God is For­giv­ing, Mer­ci­ful.”

So in the com­ing month of Ra­madan, we will con­cen­trate on God’s love for us, our love for God, and on the love of his cre­ation by be­ing char­i­ta­ble to each other.


Women carry their shop­ping at a pop­u­lar Ra­madan lan­tern mar­ket in Cairo on May 15 as they pre­pare for the holy month of Ra­madan.

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