Sufi Ramadan

“I cried because I had no shoes, and then I met a man who had no feet.” This famous line from the Sufi poet Hafiz reflects the essence of Sufism, the mystic path of Islam, in one sentence.

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How do Sufi practices differ in Ramadan?

“The question you bring up is interesting because it indicates to my mind that you make a separation between Sufi and Muslim … I don’t make that separation,” . Sufis are Muslims; they practice the five pillars of Islam, which include fasting in Ramadan.

Out of the five pillars, fasting is the only one done purely between an individual and God. It is done in secrecy and privacy. “Fasting is a form of hijab; Allah gave every being on earth protection. The birds he gave wings, the porcupine he gave needles, the skunk he gave a scent … to man he gave zikr Allah, and in Ramadan we remember Him more and more,” he says.

Restraining oneself from eating, drinking, love making, sinning, anger and striving to be good builds patience. Sabr (patience) is mentioned in over 90 places in the Quran. In one verse in Surat El-Baqarah, it clearly states, "O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you, as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn patience."

Yet patience is only one aspect of the holy month. “Ramadan gives everyone the opportunity to go into themselves … during this month we are not taken by the world,” .

Sufi iftars are traditionally communal. Many gather together in a zawya with a sheikh present. They first drink water then pray the maghrib prayers followed by a communal meal. Then they pray the tarawih and in between they sing praises to the Prophet Mohammed.

In Ramadan extra prayers are done not out of habit but out of genuine conviction. Sufis feel this so strongly they want to do more. A Sufi makes sure he does all the tarawih prayers although they are not obligatory.

“The Prophet Mohammed prayed the tarawih two nights in a row, and then didn’t show up the third night. He didn’t want people to think it was mandatory,”

In Arabic Ramadan is spelled with five letters and Sufis believe that each stand for something that defines this holy month. R for ridwan, Allah’s satisfaction; M for marhaba, Allah’s love; D for deman, Allah’s protection and security; A for ulfal, Allah’s friendship; N for nour, Allah’s divine light and the essence of creation.

“Ramadan reveals many of the holy secrets of the Quran and for the believers it is a month of forgiveness, Ramadan opens the door of the interior of ourselves and the secrets of Allah are within us.”

A Sufi Ramadan

By Paul Salahuddin Armstrong

Paul of the Wulfruna Sufi Association tells about Ramadan in Sufism. Read about the significance of fasting, the symbolism of the rose and the importance of prayer and meditation.

Ramadan, the month when God revealed the Holy Qur’an, is a time of deep reflection and contemplation for Muslims. Considering past accomplishments and where our life’s journey is leading. Ramadan is a good time for us to make changes for the better, an excellent opportunity to turn over a new leaf, shedding any old bad habits.

Sufi meditationSufi meditation

Walking in the footsteps of the prophets

"O you who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain concious of God" Holy Qur’an (2:183) Asad

"Moses was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights without eating bread or drinking water. And he wrote on the tablets the words of the covenant - the Ten Commandments." Exodus (34:28) NIV

Muslims aim to be walking in the footsteps of prophets and saints. While Ramadan is unique to Islam, most religions have their traditions of fasting. We spend much of our lives concerned with mundane activities, work, meals, television, fashion. Without even realising it, time passes, often wasted on nothing special. Fasting helps us to regain self-discipline and self-restraint.

Tayyaba Mosque

Realising the difficulties of others

An important role of fasting, is to help us realise the difficulties and suffering of others. Caring for those in need is so important, charity is the third pillar of Islam. One important benefit of fasting, is we learn what it is like to feel hungry. Once we realise this, hopefully we will show more compassion for those in need, for those who have no food to break their fasts, or cannot afford to buy it.

The rose blooms amid thorns

Sufis are people striving for an inner, personal experience of the Divine. Seeing the basic practices of Islam as only the first step to this higher goal. To allow one’s soul to grow and ascend, one needs to strive against the bad characteristics of one’s ego. In Sufism, the rose is symbolic of our soul. As like the development of our own souls in this world, the rose blooms amid thorns.

Seeking to lose themselves in the Divine

While all Muslims are on a quest for inner peace, Sufis seek to lose themselves in the Divine. Fasting is an important stepping stone on this inner spiritual journey. Sufi saints perform the greatest form of fast, while others go without food, they exercise the fasting of their mind. Put another way, they do not think of anything except God.

Prayers and meditation

Sufis consider their existence in this world as only the seed, for their existence in the next world. In a similar way to how small acorns grow into mighty oaks, we reap what we sow. In addition to their daily prayers, various forms of meditation are practised by Sufis, enabling them to become more conscious of the Divine.

"unto everyone who is conscious of God, He [always] grants a way out [of unhappiness], and provides for him in a manner beyond all expectation" Holy Qur’an (65:2-3) Asad

Laylat al-Qadr

God has promised great rewards for those who fast. One of these occurs during the last ten days of Ramadan. During the night of Laylat al-Qadr, for one who has fasted perfectly, God sends an angel to personally meet this person, and grant them any wish they desire.

Fasting is an enormous blessing, it is a great way of improving one’s self discipline and physical health, yet at the same time conveys immense spiritual benefits.

In pursuit of true happiness

There was once a Sufi story of a man crying on the side of a road, praying to find true happiness. When God sent an old man to inquire of him the reason for such tears, he replied that he was lost and that his life had been wasted in the pursuit of true happiness. The old man asked him to describe the shape, size and dimensions of these objects so desired and that perhaps, he might be able to help him to find them.The man answered that this was the very problem. He did not know how to describe them, to which the old man replied; at least now, we know why you are lost.

The moral of the story is that many of us are like this man, pursue our fancies through a veneer of sophisticated ideas, arguments and imaginings through veils of uncertainty. But, if we take the time, stop and listen to our heart and ask sincerely - every cloud will part and guidance becomes evident.