On the Journey: A Ramadan Reflection: Part 2: Humility in Struggle

In April, we published the first part of Imaan Javeed’s reflections on Ramadan. We now publish the second part.

A Place of Desperation 

Looking at our brothers and sisters in Gaza, we bear witness daily to their courage and strength. In the face of violence, disease, and hunger, they have intense faith and taqwa, a state that fasting was prescribed by God to help humanity achieve. Decades of brutal occupation, in both Gaza and the West Bank, combined with the secret ingredient of taqwa (see Part 1), have turned them into the diamonds of indomitable spirit we see today. 

Although we never wish harm on ourselves or others, Ramadan is a chance to experience just a taste of the deprivation and desperation that people around the world feel. Most of us live in states of relative comfort and privilege compared to those in the Global South, certainly compared to those living under occupation. Still, to the cash-strapped worker sustaining two jobs under the fist of a capitalist just to make ends meet; some of their only comforts may be food, drink, and sex. But any amount of self-indulgence, when devoid of taqwa and intentionality, runs the risk of making us soft, reducing our tolerance for struggle, and strengthening our nafs. Indeed, there is a reason the ancient Romans famously employed “bread and circuses” to keep their populations inert, and even today, many leftist movements struggle to balance a worker’s desire for recreation in their often minuscule moments of “free time,” with the necessity of inspiring people to forgo that same recreational time and take on additional burdens, to organize for the greater good. The captivation of the nafs with “bread and circuses” makes it an obstacle more than a prize. 

Imam al-Ghazali, classical Islamic scholar and polymath wrote at great length about the benefits of curbing the desires of the stomach. He was inspired, of course, by the practice of the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) who advised only to eat in careful moderation, something that we rarely find ourselves willing or able to do. It so happens, then, that in Ramadan, when it comes to limiting food and drink, it is actually the most blessed (and the most gluttonous) among us – those who practice the least restraint – who are tested the most. The wealthy and privileged in society are ideally humbled and called to reckon with their excess. All while hundreds of millions of our siblings in humanity are woefully (and in the case of ongoing genocides, deliberately) starved.

Wealth accumulation is, in fact, permissible in Islam. It is permitted to be wealthy, and wealth inequality is an anticipated and accepted feature of society. Wealth does not belong to a person – all wealth belongs to God, and is merely distributed to  human beings to test them to see if they will spend it righteously. In the Quran, God makes it clear that wealth does not signify God’s favor upon a person, nor does poverty suggest punishment.  As Dr. Hanif explains, Ramadan is an opportunity for a person to put themselves into a mindset of need and desperation. Against a background of physical deprivation, a person should feel a sense of spiritual inadequacy and neediness, and, with a genuine awareness of their weaknesses, call out to God to overlook their shortcomings. This includes the wealthy and privileged, who should feel humbled and encouraged to increase their good deeds, many of which involve sharing their power and wealth with others, and leveraging their resources to uplift their communities.

Working our way upward in society, an Islamic view suggests that a leader who is able to experience a state of desperation, even a Pharaoh who may never have been touched by physical adversity in their lifetime, would be more likely to develop God-consciousness and control of their nafs. This would in turn cause them to govern more justly and empathically. This is one way the potential oppressor can prevent themselves from oppressing others, or rectify themselves if they are. If this does not occur, the people must help the oppressor – as the hadith goes – by stopping them from their oppression. And these same spiritual tools, from jihad al-nafs to an awareness of human desperation, can aid a Muslim to develop the character and strength required to work toward their liberation, in the matters of both this life and the next. 

Imaan Javeed is a medical professional in Ontario, Canada.

Image credit: 2024 AlMaghrib Institute