The Link Between The Intellect And Fasting

FOR more than a week, Muslims around the world have been observing the obligatory fasting in the month of Ramadan of the Hijrah year of 1438.

Regrettably, often heard in recent years is the issue of waste and the mounting of food leftovers during Ramadan and this is believed to spill over to Shawwal, more so than other months.

Such wastes indeed violate the spirit of fasting which characterises Ramadan.

Fasting in Arabic is termed sawm or siyam, whose fundamental intent being kaff or imsak which means refraining and regulating oneself from committing any prohibitions.

It is generally understood that the three fundamental things forbidden during daytime fasting are basic activities that ensure the continuity of the outward, physical dimension of man as individuals as well as species, namely: eating, drinking and copulating.

In the disciplines of psychology and ethics as promulgated in the Islamic intellectual tradition, these three activities are taken to characterise the most basic stage of the self, or soul, of man, referred to terminologically as “the vegetative self,” or al-nafs al-nabatiyyah, precisely because all living creations including humans share such characteristics together with plants.

Yet, many also realise that the self-regulation meant during fasting is hardly confined to self-control in the three above-mentioned, but also include higher levels of self-regulation, one that involves moral conducts and focus of the mind.

On that higher stage, the self-regulation meant is no longer physical in nature but rather takes spiritual and intellectual forms.

In fact, not many Muslims are aware that in terms of their fundamental meaning, fasting and the intellect (al-aql) signify the same purpose, namely: complete self-control.

As described by al-Raghib al-Isfahani (d. 502H./1108C.E.) in his renowned work, Mujam Mufradat Alfaz al-Qur’an, the term aqlbasically means al-imsak and al-istimsak, connoting “hold back,” “abstain,” or “restrain.”

Such connotations actually derive from the apparent purpose of ʻiqal al-baʻir i.e. the cord used for hobbling the feet of a camel, an animal deemed invaluable by the Arabs for its adeptness for the tough desert life.

The cord works by binding a camel to prevent it from running away or gone missing.

By extension of its aforesaid sense, the term aql is then used to refer to a spiritual reality that restrains or prevents a person from being astray and eventually abandoning the balanced, straight path.

Indeed, in many major works that explain the creeds of the Sunnites, such as Sharh al-ʻAqa’id al-Nasafiyyah by Saʻd al-Din al-Taftazani (d. 793H./1390C.E.), man’s true self is held to be the spiritual entity that is also referred to as his intellect.

The intellect, in this regard, is considered to be the manifestation of the human spirit, which is essentially different from his body.

As a matter of fact, fasting at its most basic level is man’s self-control from engaging in the three activities related to the fulfilling of the sine qua nons of the human body, as aforementioned.

Indeed, without such activities, man can neither grow in size nor breed on earth.

Yet, man is not a mere biological creature.

Neither is this worldly life his only life, let alone his ultimate end.

Fasting thus serves to act as a reminder to man of his spiritual reality through occasional severance of material bondage represented primarily by the afore-mentioned three mundane pursuits.

In fact, should one desire to live the worldly life well and in good health, one needs to consume food and drink and copulate with a full control of one’s mind such that they are carried out in order, balanced and without excesses.

Indeed, only with true knowledge can one be controlled by one’s mind from commiting any violations of restrictions and plunging into error throughout one’s life in this world.

True knowledge is rooted in Allah’s Guidance conveyed through the Teachings of His Last Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, comprising one’s inner conviction pertaining to the true consequences of human acts, especially on the Day of Judgement, so much so that one is still in control of oneself from the transient enjoyment and pleasures for the real rewards in the eternal life in the Hereafter.

Thus, at the highest level, the word aql, according to Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazzali (d. 505H./1111C.E.), denotes a person who is governed by his intellect as described above.

At such a stage, a person is constantly in a state of fasting.

Hence, the fasting performed during Ramadan year in and year out, as well as those done on other days religiously permitted in a year, should prepare Muslims to realise self-control at the aforementioned more advanced stage.

If such a control bears results, it will significantly reduce wastes and futility which of late have been worsening!

Rencana yang disiarkan ini merupakan pandangan peribadi penulis sendiri

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Dr. Mohd. Zaidi Ismail

Beliau merupakan Timbalan Ketua Pengarah Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia (IKIM). Beliau berkelulusan Ijazah Sarjana dalam Bidang Pemikiran Islam (Epistemologi dan Falsafah Minda) pada tahun 1995 dan ijazah Doktor Falsafah dalam Bidang Pemikiran Islam (Ontologi) pada tahun 2006, kedua-duanya daripada International Institute of Islamic Thought and Civilization (ISTAC), Universiti Islam Antarabangsa Malaysia (UIAM)

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