There are many life-changing values and exemplary disciplines that one could learn from living through the Ramadhan experience.
Let me share some of the fundamental ones for us to make them lifelong habits in our quest for success and happiness in life.
Integrity, Synergy, Excellence and Sustainability are among my top pick of Ramadhan core values that have inspired and defined us at UTM over the years.
I regard integrity as part of Taqwa, an arabic word that linguistically means “a shield”, or “a protective barrier”. Conceptually, Taqwa is about having self-restraint and being ever cautious of staying righteous in the omnipresence of Allah Almighty.
It is for this reason that the Quran stresses on the attainment of Taqwa as the ultimate goal of fasting.
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may learn self-restraint (At-Taqwa)” [Qur’an: 2:183].
While most fasting regimes emphasise on health and vitality, fasting in Islam is a covenant of self-purification and a holistic pledge of abstinence. It is holistic in its total commitment for self-purification of not only our guts from food and drink excesses, but more a struggle to align our body, mind and soul toward righteousness. Fasting is a camp for “tazkeya an-nafs”, or self-cleansing of the mind and soul of sins of greed, arrogance, corruption, lust and stinginess among others. It is an intense process of nurturing humility, honesty, patience, moderation, generousity and compassion in our character and being. The context of my reflection shall be based on holistic fasting.
Clive Staple Lewis, a British writer famously said that, “Integrity is doing the right thing even when no one is watching”. In this regard, I consider fasting as the ideal training ground for building integrity in academia because, those who undergo fasting, do so at all times, in all circumstances, from dawn to dusk, in their thoughts and acts, when being alone, or in the company of others.
At UTM, we make integrity the first out of our four core values because we believe, without integrity, success, wealth, fame and all else do not matter. On the other hand, with integrity; respect, recognition and trust shall be gained, such that nothing else matters.
2. Building Synergy through empathy and care
Fasting has been singled out as worthy of boundless superior rewards from Almighty Allah. As Narrated by Abu Huraira;
The Prophet (ﷺ) said, (Allah said), “Every good deed of Adam’s son is for him except fasting; it is for Me. and I shall reward (the fasting person) for it.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
This is because fasting is an unparalled act of sincerity and is therefore the highest manifestation of integrity that constitutes Taqwa.
As is the case everywhere, at UTM, Ramadhan is the time of heightened compassion. We see it as a previliege to help make a difference to the people whose lives we touch, by giving donations (sadaqah) in cash and monthly contributions to our endowment, zakat and zakat al-fitr funds that will be used to feed or support those in needs, especially from among our students.
“Whoever provides the food for a fasting person to break his fast with, then for him is the same reward as his (the fasting person’s), without anything being diminished from the reward of the fasting person.” (Narrated by Tirmidhi no 807).
Ramadhan is also significantly abuzzed with a cordial atmosphere of kindness, love, and respect. Throughout Ramadhan, UTM Sultan Ismail Mosque (SIM) in particular, is a picture of synergy in diversity during the time of breaking fast, as it is opened to students and staff from across the world, of all races and religions. This Ramadhan however, the SIM is expecting less visitors due to the need to strictly observe the COVID19 health and safety SOP.
3. Building Excellence through self-control.
If we believe that success and happiness is about striking a good balance between work and life, then, the month of Ramadhan should be our defining moment. This is when I personally find that addressing my First Things First toward a healthy work-life balance is miraculously made easy. I attribute this edge to the success of conquering self-control, that results from holistic self-purification.
“Successful indeed, will be those who purifies it” [Qur’an: 91:9]
In no other area is excellence most clearly manifested, then the way the fasting person manages his most vital asset, which is, time.
Ramadhan allows those who fast to observe time precisely, pivoting and planning their activities around the timing of five calls for prayers from dawn to dusk to the minutes, and even seconds. Ramadhan enables one to sharply focus and get more things done on a typical day when food is not a concern, and the gastrointestinal system is given its much needed break. Suddenly, there are extra hours out of the typically hectic day to stop and smell the roses, to enjoy and appreciate the beauty of life, adding into our daily routines time for prayer, zikr/meditation, reciting and studying the Qur’an alone, or with family and friends, doing regular exercise, and engaging with the community.
One of the secrets of controlling time is that, those who observe fasting start their day early, typically before 5am. This is the life habit and discipline of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). Not surprisingly, highly successful people like Tim Cook (Apple CEO), Oprah Winfrey, Michelle Obama, Richard Branson (Founder, CEO Virgin Group), Jack Dorsey (Twitter CEO) and Indra Nooyi (PepsiCo CEO), among others, routinely wake up every morning before 6am. They use these extra hours to pray, meditate, spend time with family, exercise, and get their key tasks completed more effectively with less distraction and more fresh energy. Starting the day early help them stay ahead in life.
4. Sustainability of Ramadhan Core Values
Being steadfast and consistent in doing the right things are essential ingredients toward sustaining great habits.
Back in the 1960s Dr Maxwell Maltz hypothesised that that it took a minimum of 21 days to form a new habit based on his observations and studies. His evidence maybe anecdotal, but clearly, new habits could be formed after a sustained period of continuous practice.
Careful observation of the thirty days (one month-long) fasting discipline, followed by voluntary weekly fasting on Monday and Thursday every week as practiced by the Prophet (s.a.w.) should be effective in making righteousness and the Ramadhan core values our habit and second nature. Indeed, the best of deeds are those done well, regularly and consistently.
Abu Huraira reported: The Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said, “Take up good deeds only as much as you are able, for the best deeds are those done regularly even if they are few.”
May I take this opportunity to wish all, Ramadhan Mubarak, Maaf Dzahir dan Batin.
Abu Huraira related that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said: “Whoever fasts during Ramadan with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven. Whoever prays during the nights in Ramadan with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven. And he who passes Lailat Al-Qadr in prayer with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
May the blessings and mercy of Ramadhan lead us to universal harmony, peace, prosperty and well being.
Professor Ir Dr Zainuddin Abdul Manan is the Acting UTM Deputy Vice Chancellor (Academic and International)