In the Name of God, the Kind, the Beautiful
Today is the Day of Ashura, which is the tenth day of the first month of the Islamic calendar. For Shia Muslims, this is one of the most significant days of the year, during which the commemorate – with great sadness – the massacre of Imam Hussein and his family. Imam Hussein was the grandson of the Prophet Muhammad. For Sunni Muslims, this day is a day of fasting and remembrance. Sunnis are encouraged to fast on this day and the day before to commemorate the Exodus of the Children of Israel out of Egypt.
I knew that Ashura was coming soon, but I didn’t know it was today. I must admit, when I got the email reminding me that I should fast, my heart (and stomach) cringed. When it is not Ramadan, it is very hard for me to fast. It is a personal weakness, and I not proud of it. Yet, I felt almost compelled to fast, because, for one thing, the day is so short this time of year. But, also, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) himself fasted this day and vowed to fast two days the following year. That was very important to me.
But, it is not like I was happy about it. This despite the fact that the day (for Sunni Muslims, at least) is all about Moses. This mighty Prophet of God is mentioned all over the Qur’an. His story is mentioned over 70 times in the Holy Scripture, sometimes in several chapters in a row. The Prophet Moses is so significant a figure in Islam, and it is only proper that we fast to remind us of the great miracle that was the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. It is a weakness of mine, and I am not proud of it.
And as I was struggling with myself about whether I should fast or not fast, this verse of the Qur’an came into my head:
“…whosoever is saved from the covetousness of his own soul, such are they who will be successful.” (59:9)
Originally, the verse was about those people in Medinah who took in the Emigrants from Mecca into their own homes, sharing everything they had with them. Yet, when I thought about it more deeply, that passage took on an even greater meaning. Why was I objecting to fasting these two days, despite their being so short? Why did my soul and stomach cringe?
I was being miserly with myself.
I was quick to deny myself the enormous blessing of fasting these two days for the sake of God and His Prophets Moses and Muhammad. I was quick to deny myself the enormous reward of fasting itself, which is given to me by God Himself. I was quick to deny myself the power that comes with self-restraint; the freedom that comes with dropping food and drink on the spot for the sake of the Lord. All so that I can eat some yogurt in the morning and drink soda at lunch?
Is this not the covetousness of my own soul?
Indeed it is. And so, I fought the covetousness of my own soul and fasted these two days, and I am all the more happy because of it. The days went by quickly, and I have – God willing – reaped the reward and forgiveness from the Lord. I am so thankful that I did not give in to my weakness and let these days of fasting go by.
Of course, the shortness of the days did play a major role, and I wonder what I will do when Ashura is in August. Will I overcome the covetousness of my own soul then? I really don’t know. I pray the Lord gives me the strength to overcome my weakness then, when the days will be long and hot and humid.
Yet, come to think of it even more, isn’t any sin that we commit an act of covetousness? Isn’t it true that every time we go against the dictates of our Precious Beloved, our Creator Who knows us the best, we succumb to the covetousness of our own soul? Indeed we do, and that is why this passage of the Qur’an is so meaningful:
“…whosoever is saved from the covetousness of his own soul, such are they who will be successful.”
Because when we fight the covetousness of our souls, which leads us to not only sin, but even forgo acts of devotion and obedience, we become better people, we do better things, we increase our love and devotion to the Lord. And we become successful.
This is a constant battle, especially for me. This year, I could not fast the extra six days after Ramadan because the days were still too hot and too long. (and I was training for a marathon at that…) But when next year comes along, and Ramadan is in August, I know that I will be very weak when it comes to extra-Ramadan fasts. I am ashamed to admit it, but I must be honest with myself and my Lord. Yet, I can always pray to Him for help, so let us pray:
Precious Beloved Lord; Precious Beloved God in Whose Hand is the Dominion of the Heavens and the Earth; Precious Beloved Lord our God Who is so Beautiful to us even when we show our ugliness to Him: I pray to You, my Lord and Protector, that You give me the strength to overcome the covetousness of my own soul so that I can do what You would like me to do and can not do what You do not like me to do.
I ask this in Your Most Holy Name. Amen.