Peace, one and all…
As is, perhaps, commonly known, the Quran instructs Muslims to prepare themselves for prayer by means of a ritual ablution (wudu): ‘O you who believe, when you rise to [perform] prayer, wash your faces and your forearms to the elbows and wipe over your heads and wash your feet to the ankles’ (Quran 5:6). The prophetic example (sunnah) includes rinsing the mouth and nose three times, and washing the ears, amongst a few other things. Ever since I became a Muslim I have found these practices a very profound means of marking out the time of prayer as something sacred, as something set apart. When done with intention and focus, the ritual ablution cleanses the mind of distractions and helps loosen all those unhelpful, automatic behaviours we so often fall into (or, into which I so often fall). Wudu is thus an act of intervention, in which the flow of our workaday lives is interrupted, in which we prepare to return to the Source.
If ablution and prayer are Divine interruptions, then Ramadan is doubly so. During this month, Muslims give up food, drink, and other bodily pleasures during daylight hours. Ramadan interrupts our normal lives in a much more visceral manner, striking at our eating, drinking and sleeping patterns, reminding us that God is the Source to which we are all returning. This interruption even affects wudu. During Ramadan, many will lessen or avoid rinsing their mouths and noses, for fear of accidentally ingesting water. I certainly do so, at any rate.
Recently, as I readied myself for prayer, I found my attention drawn to the fact that I was still using the normal amount of water to wash around and within my ears. As I continued making wudu, I pondered why my mind had been drawn in such a direction. It struck me that during Ramadan we are being trained in becoming silent, in becoming still before God. As such, the aim is to let our mouths rest, to simply stop talking and listen to that small, still voice hidden deep within. If we aren’t able to listen, how will we ever find our path? How will ever hear what the Divine is trying to tell us? ‘We hear and we obey’ says the Quran (2:285), and yet to listen deeply we have to become deeply stilled. In other words, the fast isn’t only physical, it isn’t only about refraining from food and drink. It is also about fasting from wayward speech, from drowning out that inner voice with life’s constant chatter. This is no doubt why Hazret-i Mevlana tells us that we were given two ears and one mouth that we might listen twice as hard as we speak.
Ramadan is thus a time of listening, of walking more closely with God down the winding corridors of our lives. God is always there, of course. He is ever-present, but the question I find myself asking in this moment is: how often am I present? How often do I turn up, as it were? I have found that I am present when with others: I am when we are! In Ramadan we are asked to pay much closer attention to our interactions with others. Are we interacting positively? Are we interacting negatively? Are we opening or closing channels of communication? And, more deeply, with what intentions are we listening?
May we all be brought to an inner stillness, an inner silence. May all who pass by be blessed.
And my last prayer is in praise of God, Sustainer of All Being.
Ask olsun! May love increase!