Eid-ul-Fitr Khutba:

Nearness to God through restraining one’s bodily desires

Delivered at Lahore Ahmadiyya Centre, Darus Salaam, Wembley, London, 10 April 2024

by Dr Zahid Aziz

“And when My servants ask you (O Prophet) concerning Me (God), surely I am near. I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.” —ch. 2, v. 186

وَ اِذَا سَاَلَکَ عِبَادِیۡ عَنِّیۡ فَاِنِّیۡ قَرِیۡبٌ ؕ اُجِیۡبُ دَعۡوَۃَ الدَّاعِ  اِذَا دَعَانِ  ۙ فَلۡیَسۡتَجِیۡبُوۡا لِیۡ وَ لۡیُؤۡمِنُوۡا بِیۡ  لَعَلَّہُمۡ  یَرۡشُدُوۡنَ ﴿۱۸۶

Today we are holding the annual festival of Eid-ul-Fitr, the ending of the month of fasting, known as the month of Ramadan. This festival is not held to commemorate any historical event in the religion of Islam, such as a conquest in war, or any famous person’s birth or death or achievement. Every year it marks the end of fasting, which is a personal achieve­ment for each Muslim, in perhaps his or her own indi­vidual way. Of course, Ramadan does mark a famous event in the history of Islam, and that is the beginning of the revelation of the Holy Quran to the Holy Prophet Muhammad. It marks the birth of an ideology and of a book presenting that ideology, a book which still exists in the world. So in Eid-ul-Fitr we commemorate things which are present and living now, that is, our own moral and spiritual condition and the revelation which is with us in the form of the Quran.

The verse which I read at the beginning is within the section of the Quran dealing with fasting in Ramadan. It shows that humans can have a living contact with God and that this can be developed through fasting. It states it as a fact that God is near us human beings, and this is the case whether we develop that realisation or not. Then it goes on to say that God takes the initiative in answering prayers, and humans, in response, should answer the call of God, i.e., believe in and act on His teach­ings. God is holding out His hand for us to grasp. Therefore, closeness to God should not just be a vague feeling entertained by a person. It must be manifested in action by walking in the right way out of belief in God.

The histories of religions show that the leading figures of world religions undertook fasting as a preliminary to starting their missions of preaching righteous­ness to people. According to the Bible, Moses left his followers to go up to a moun­tain to be in solitude with God for forty days and forty nights, fasting, and there he received the law of the Israelites from God (Deuteronomy, 9:9). The Gospels tell us that Jesus, before beginning his ministry, fasted forty days and forty nights in the tradi­tion of Moses. At that stage he explained the purpose of fasting as follows: “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God’.” (Matthew, 4:4). The meaning of this saying is clear. Humans have a body which requires food in order to continue living, but they also have a soul which requires to be nourished by the revelation sent by God.

Buddha, whose name was Siddhartha and was born as a prince, and who lived in India 500 years before Jesus, undertook very severe fasting in order to discover the truth about the purpose of life. He came to the conclusion that such severe fasting was not necessary, but in fact was damaging to the body and the mind. He came to the realisation, or “enlightenment” as it is called, that he should follow the path of moderation, which, he said, was neither to starve the body nor to feed it more than what it needed.

And, of course, our Holy Prophet Muhammad, before his appoint­ment as Messenger of God, undertook prayers and rigorous fasting in the cave of Hira every year in the month of Ramadan. This led to him receiving revelation from God in the form of the Quran and being raised to the rank of the Messenger of Allah. Later on, too, he sometimes undertook severe and extensive fasting whereby he would join fasts into one single, continuous fast which kept on going through the night, but he forbade his followers from doing the same. He said to them:

“While I spend the night, my Lord gives me food and drink. So undertake deeds of only the hardship for which you have the strength” (Bukhari, hadith number 1966).

An incident is mentioned in the Quran about a leader of the Israelites who is called Saul in the Bible and Ṭālūt in the Quran. He set out with an army under him to fight the enemy who had among them a terrifying warrior of a gigantic stature called Goliath. No one could succeed in a combat with him. The Quran tells us that while Saul was on his way he said to his men:

“Surely Allah will try you with a river. Whoever drinks from it, he is not of me, and whoever does not taste it, except for taking a handful with his hand, he is surely of me. But they drank of it except a few of them. So when he had crossed it, he and those who believed with him, they said: We have today no power against Goliath and his forces. Those who were sure that they would meet their Lord said: How often has a small group overcome a numerous army by Allah’s permission! And Allah is with the steadfast” (2:249).

The test they faced was to refrain from drinking plentifully from the river, but take only a handful of water at the most. The vast majority of his men failed the test, being tempted by the cool water. As a result, they lost the strength and resolve to fight. The few who only took a sip of water for their needs were sure that they could defeat the enemy who was far more in number. And the Quran goes on to say that they made their enemy run away and Goliath was killed by David, who is known to us as the prophet Dawūd and he was then more a boy than a man.

There is a deeper meaning to this story. Those who give themselves up to their bodily desires entirely, so much as to fall like animals on the luxuries and comforts of the world, they lose the strength to fight in Allah’s way. They become unable to make the necessary sacrifices, and they are over-awed by the material resources of their enemies because they regard the possession of such resources as a sign of strength. Only those remain able to fight and full of confidence who fulfil their bodily and physical needs only to a measured, controlled and reasonable extent.

The incident of Saul’s army involved fighting by weapons on the battlefield. In our age, as the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement declared, the battles for Islam are battles of ideas and the battlefields are the places, repositories and venues from where people learn knowledge, and opposite views and ideas clash against each other. The struggle and fight is conducted only by disseminating true knowledge and accurate information about Islam. But the same principles apply to those undertaking this struggle. Those who fall on their worldly desires lose strength, while those fulfil their material needs within limits, no matter how few in number such people are, they will be confident and will be successful as David was over Goliath.

The Holy Prophet Muhammad and his Companions were people of exactly this kind. They had no attachment whatsoever to the material things and comforts of the world. If we consider only the aspect of consuming food, as this is connected with fasting, we find that they subsisted on the simplest food. His Companions informed later generations that, while living in Madinah, the Holy Prophet and members of his household never got to fill their stomachs for more than three days in a row (Bukhari, hadith 5374, see also hadith 5416 and hadith 5423). His wife Aishah related that during the life of the Holy Prophet: “we used to subsist on dates and water” (Bukhari, hadith 5383). This was a time when the Holy Prophet was the head of an entire community and the ruler of a state, first a city-state and later an entire country.

On the other hand, the Holy Prophet was not dogmatic or inflexible about his austerity, and if it so happened that he was offered some dainty dish, he would not turn it down, with an air of superiority, claiming to be leading a simple life. Rather, he ate and enjoyed that blessing of God. But in the normal course of his life, he ate very little, and took whatever came to hand, however coarsely prepared or simple it might be. He advised his followers as follows:

“Food for two people is sufficient for three, and food for three people is sufficient for four” (Bukhari, hadith 5392).

A long time after the Holy Prophet’s death, when Muslims became very pros­perous, some­times the Companions recalled the times of privation during the Holy Prophet’s life and cried in memory of those days. I refer here to two such incidents. Abu Hurairah was passing by some people who were roasting a sheep. They invited him to join them. Abu Hurairah was suddenly overcome by the memory of the Holy Prophet and he said to them: “The Messenger of Allah left this world and never even got to eat bread to the full.” Recalling the simple, hard life of the Holy Prophet, Abu Hurairah felt unable to accept their invitation (Bukhari, hadith 5414).

A famous Companion, Abdur Rahman ibn Auf was once fasting and a meal was brought to him to end the fast. Seeing the food, he suddenly recalled the Com­panions who had been killed in battle during the Holy Prophet’s time. He cried and said that Muslims then did not even have sufficient cloth to cover their bodies for burial. If the head was covered the feet were left bare, and if the feet were covered the head was left bare. “Now worldly wealth has been made abundant for us”, he said. Then he added: “I fear that the rewards of our deeds have been given to us earlier in this world.” Then he started weeping and left his food (Bukhari, hadith 1274 and 1275).

There are many Muslims today who say that they follow example of the Holy Prophet by starting and ending their fasts with what the Holy Prophet used to eat and drink for his fasts. But after following his example, they then continue in the same meal to consume large amounts of all kinds of food and drink! Do we ever hear that any Muslims of the present day weep, as these two Companions did, at the remem­brance that the Holy Prophet never got to eat the amount and variety of food they are eating today, and then they are so overcome that they cannot bring themselves to eat? This is the difference between real and deep love for the Holy Prophet, on the one hand, and a superficial and self-deceiving feeling of following his example, on the other hand.

All the hadith reports from which I quoted above, except for the one about Abdur Rahman ibn Auf, are from the part of Sahih Bukhari entitled Food, where he has collected together reports on matters to do with eating. If you look at the first hadith in this part you realise what deep insight this great man Bukhari had into the real spirit of the teachings of Islam. That hadith is as follows:

“The Prophet, may peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him, said: Feed the hungry, visit the sick and get the slave set free” (hadith 5373).

Bukhari indicates here that the teachings of Islam about food are not merely about our consumption of food, and what is allowed and what is not allowed, but their spirit is about feeding others and relieving their distress, whether they are hungry, ill or in servitude.

Moreover, above this hadith Bukhari has quoted from three verses of the Quran relating to consuming food. The first is: “Eat of the good things that We have given you” (2:57) — this we might expect in this context. The second is: “spend of the good things that you earn” (2:267). In the context of food it means give to others from the good provisions you have. The third is: “eat of the good things and do good. Surely I am Knower of what you do” (23:51), the meaning being that our consumption of food should not be a merely selfish activity but be also connected with doing good deeds.

So let us be thankful for the blessing of food and other physical necessities and comforts that God has provided us with, and resolve to use them within the proper limits, remembering our duty to provide the same to those people who are deprived of them. And let us pray that after Ramadan we are thankful to Allah for giving us the oppor­tunity to reform ourselves, and to re-dedicate ourselves to acquiring knowledge of His revelation, the Quran, which He sent for all mankind, and which our elders in this Movement tried to propagate in the world. — Ameen.