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‘Id-ul-Fitr Khutba, December 2002
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‘Id-ul-Fitr Khutba (Sermon)

Delivered at London, 5 December 2002

by Dr. Zahid Aziz

The festival of ‘Id, following Ramadaan, is not mentioned anywhere in the Holy Quran. It was a practice or Sunna of the Holy Prophet Muhammad, and thus became an institution in Islam. Fasting during Ramadaan is, of course, clearly instructed in the Holy Quran. So those Muslims who say that they follow only what is in the Holy Quran, and that they reject Sunna and Hadith, would have to undergo the rigours of fasting but would not, in accordance with their standpoint, celebrate the end of fasting! How unlucky for them!

Festivals usually commemorate some famous event (some religious personality’s birth or some victory they achieved over their opponents) but the celebration at ‘Id-ul-Fitr does not commemorate any such event. We celebrate our own achievement during the previous month of Ramadaan. It is actually Ramadaan which marks a famous event, that of the beginning of the revelation of the Holy Quran to the Holy Prophet Muhammad. And how are we required to mark that great event? By undertaking the physical and spiritual rigours of fasting, which are a glimpse or small example of what the great founders of religion did before the Word of God came to them for the first time. Moses, before receiving the revealed law, was instructed by God to come up on Mount Sinai, alone (Exodus 34:3), and there he received the Divine law:

“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.” (Ex. 34:28)

About Jesus it is written in the Gospel of Matthew (ch. 4:1-4) that before he began his ministry:

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. The tempter came to him and said, If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread. Jesus answered, It is written: 'Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”

Our Holy Prophet Muhammad too, as you know, before he received his prophethood used to frequent a cave outside Makka, where he contemplated and engaged in worship (which included fasting) in absolute solitude, in search of the truth, wanting to know about God and about how the evils of his people could be removed. Then after undergoing this hardship, he received the revelation of the Holy Quran. Notice how these three great founders of religions were in solitude during their fasting. This is reflected in the voluntary practice of i‘tikaf in the last ten days of Ramadaan in which a person cuts himself off from all worldly involvements.

So it is the experience of the founders of three great religions, and indeed numerous holy persons, that by fasting one attains closeness to God because of the self-purification that it brings. The Holy Quran says in connection with fasting in Ramadaan:

“And when My servants ask thee concerning Me, surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.” (2:186)

That God is near is a fact, but in order to recognise that fact and to feel it as a reality a person must undergo fasting. An objection raised against Islam is that its concept of God is that of a remote Being, Who is stern and unapproachable, Whose orders you obey through fear of punishment. This verse shows that this objection is just baseless. God is near and accessible, if you make the effort to recognise this. You communicate with Him by prayer, He communicates with you by answering your prayer. But that relationship is only possible if, as we are here told, “they hear My call”. If we want God to respond to our call, then we must hear His call as well and act according to it.

What we are commemorating are the lessons we learnt in the month of fasting. The words of Jesus, which in fact he was quoting from the scriptures of Moses, that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” shed light on the necessity of fasting. Physical food or bread supports only the material needs of man and maintains his physical body. But a human being is not just a physically living body. He has a character and a set of behaviour, and to build and nurture those what is needed is the higher food, the teachings revealed by God.

The Holy Quran tells us that the purpose of fasting is to enable us to protect ourselves from the inclinations of wrongdoing. Obviously, if we practise our powers of self-control, especially self-control over our strongest desires for food and drink, then this exercise develops these powers so that we can then use them for self-control we are really thinking of doing a wrongful act in our normal lives. Also, during the fast when we refrain from eating and drinking, we feel some hardship and it is a disagreeable, discomforting experience which is against our liking. But we manage to persevere with that. Now when we are tempted to indulge in some bad habit or act of wrongdoing, and we try not to do it, we get the same feeling of suffering at being deprived of our desires, of frustration, as we did during fasting. So we should also accept that feeling and persevere with it. The good news is that, with constant persistence in refraining from a bad desire or habit, the unpleasant feeling of deprivation and the pain will get less and less, till eventually it disappears. If we continue to desist from eating and drinking the deprivation and pain will get more and more, till we are emaciated, because food and drink are essential for us. But not so with desisting from a bad habit. Things get easier the longer we persist.

Apart from the purposes of fasting mentioned above, which are connected with the individual’s own person and his/her relationship with God, the Holy Quran indicates purposes of fasting in regard to a person’s relationship with other human beings. Firstly, charity towards those in need has been stressed very strongly in Islam as a part of fasting. Our minor, temporary suffering gives us at least an inkling of the real-life suffering of many others, encouraging us to try to alleviate their problems. Secondly, the Holy Quran says in the section relating to fasting:

“And swallow not up your property among yourselves by false means, nor seek to gain access thereby to the judges [or authorities], so that you may swallow up a part of the property of men wrongfully while you know.” (2:188)

This is a prohibition against unlawfully using the resources of the community or country for yourselves, taking what belongs to others, or to bribe the authorities to get others’ possessions made over to you. The property of others is not just their physical possessions, but their rights in a general sense as well. How is this related to fasting? During the fast we voluntarily abstain from things which we are absolutely entitled to use and do: eating and drinking our own food and drink, and lawful sexual relations with the spouse. Since we can accomplish that, then any thought of taking what belongs to others, in real life dealings, must be the furthest from our minds. If this prohibition of the Quran was put into practice by each individual, then all the problems of giving and taking bribery, misappropriation of national funds, etc. would disappear from Muslim societies and nations. Unfortunately we Muslims do not pay any attention to the lessons the Quran teaches us to be learnt from fasting, and are too busy asking whether this or that small action can invalidate our fast. Our fasting has become a ritual and a social event.

I would like to say, lastly, that Ramadaan and ‘Id-ul-Fitr also have a message for Christians and have a bearing on the propagation of Islam in Western countries. I quoted above the words of Jesus: “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”. If these words are still true, then we see that the institution of fasting, which creates this feeling in the heart that man doesn’t live by bread alone, does not exist any longer in Christianity but exists as a fundamental practice in Islam. And as to man needing “every word that comes from the mouth of God” in order to truly live, we see that the Christian scriptures are much more the words of men who compiled the books of the New Testament and less the words of God. In Islam, however, “every word that comes from the mouth of God” has been preserved in the Holy Quran which is recited and read especially during Ramadaan. Therefore it is only Islam now that provides a way for Christians to live according to this principle that “Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”.

It is also a point to be noted that the Gospels and the Quran both record an incident that some followers of Jesus asked him to show them the sign of bringing down to them food from heaven, and then they would believe in him. (See the Quran 5:112–115 and Gospel of John 6:25–31.) The reply given to them by Jesus is similar in both the Quran and the Gospels. In the Quran Jesus says to them: Keep your duty to Allah if you are believers; in other words, act on the teachings of the religion to gain belief in God instead of seeking such signs. In the Gospels Jesus replies to them to seek the eternal bread, not the bread which decays but the true bread from heaven, which comes from God (See John, ch. 6, verses 31, 32 and 27).

According to the Quran, the followers of Jesus insisted on seeing this sign, saying that it would satisfy them as to the truth of his mission. So Jesus prayed thus:

“Our Lord, send down to us food from heaven which should be to us an ever-recurring happiness [or ‘Id] to the first of us and the last of us, and a sign from Thee, and give us sustenance and Thou art the best of the sustainers.” (5:114).

And the reply from God was as follows:

“Surely I will send it down to you, but whoever disbelieves [yakfur, or is ungrateful] afterwards from among you, I will chastise him with a chastisement with which I will not chastise anyone among the nations.” (5:115)

This prayer of Jesus in the Quran reminds us of the chief Christian prayer:

“Give us this day our daily bread” (Matthew 6:11)

a prayer repeated by Christians over and over again.

The reply from Allah is that, on these people’s insistence, He will grant them, even to their generations in the distant future, this food they ask for, but then, after seeing this magnificent sign of material sustenance, it will be their duty to believe in the truths revealed by God and to seek spiritual bread also. The sign shown to them, at their request, will be so unprecedented that if they still fail to believe in God and His prophets, God says: “I will chastise him with a chastisement with which I will not chastise anyone among the nations.”

There cannot be any doubt that this sign of food and material provisions of all kinds being made abundantly available to Christian nations has been fulfilled in modern times in the West. The material prosperity and plenty is such as was unimaginable one or two centuries ago, and is still unimaginable by most of the world’s population living elsewhere. This, then, is the sign, which should indicate that they should now search for the spiritual bread as well. Otherwise, it is promised in the Quran that there will be unprecedented chastisement. And what is that chastisement? If nations run after material welfare and advancement blindly as their sole objective, then various forces of destruction are let loose in the world. Greed makes nations one another’s enemies, willing to fight each other with the most destructive weapons; it leads to injustice against other human beings, which ultimately produces a violent retaliation from the oppressed. Blind greed for material gain even leads man to destroy his very home, i.e. this world, by profligate abuse of its resources. This is the unprecedented chastisement, with which no people were previously punished, that the Holy Quran means here.

So the message of Ramadaan and ‘Id-ul-Fitr for the rich and powerful nations, of Christian origin, is that having gained so much bread of the world they must now turn to looking for spiritual bread and nourishment, which is provided by the Holy Quran and Islamic teachings. Having obtained the ‘Id of the body, which comes to them even everyday, they must now look for the ‘Id (happiness) of the soul. The message of Ramadaan and ‘Id-ul-Fitr to Muslims is that they must set an example of what true Muslims should be like, by carrying out the lessons learnt through fasting, and that they must take the teachings of Islam and the Holy Quran to the materially affluent but spiritually starving nations of the world. Ours is a Movement created for this purpose. May Allah make us successful in our efforts!