Islamic Perspectives

A Ramadan Tale For A Great Full Year

Tariq Ramadan states that “The philosophy of fasting calls upon us to know ourselves, to master ourselves, and to discipline ourselves; the better to free ourselves.” The Arabic word for fasting (Sawm) has a two-fold meaning as described in Qur’an and Hadith. 

The primary meaning of sawm is to hold back, to refrain, to abstain – the deeper mystical meaning is to rise beyond, to move past former limits. The Hebrew word for fasting (Tsom) has a similar double meaning. So sawm/tsom (fasting) fulfills its two meanings, restrain or abstain, pertains to the restraint engendered by the fast; to rise beyond pertains to the self-improvement results God bestows upon those who fast with sincerity and knowledge. 

Thus a fast is both a holding back and a lifting up. The body-mind and it’s appetites are self-disciplined, and through this self-discipline, a subtle but profound spiritual awakening begins. By observing our religious duties of sawm/tsom Jews and Muslims are provided the means by which to alter our personal reality, in order to shape what we ourselves can become. By holding back the body-mind, the soul-mind attains moments of self-perception, and spirit awakens and begins to unfold itself.

But fasting alone is of no real moral value if compassion is not enlarged and extended through fasting. As the Prophet Isaiah told the Jews, "The truth is that at the same time you fast, you pursue your own interests and oppress your workers. Your fasting makes you violent, and you quarrel and fight. The kind of fasting I want is this: remove the chains of oppression and the yoke of injustice, and let the oppressed go free. Share your food with the hungry and open your homes to the homeless poor" (Isaiah 58:3-7).  

And as Prophet Muhammad told the Muslims, "Whoever does not give up deceitful speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his abstaining from eating food and drink" (Bukhari, vol.3, 31, #127)

In the book, Tales of the Prophets, both Jews and Muslims can learn an excellent example of this lesson: “One day Prophet Moses passed by a barren hill and noticed a pious man, busy in prayer, sitting in a hillside cave. Prophet Musa felt an urge to meet and talk to this pious man so he went near and greeted him. The pious man asked disinterestedly, "Who are you?" Prophet Musa said, "I am Moses!"

The pious man asked, "Are you the Prophet Moses?"


"Then ask Allah to grant my wish!"

"What is it that you want?"

The pious man said, “For one hundred years I have been sitting here fasting and praying to Allah. I don't do anything else other than pray. Ask Allah, what will He give me for my efforts?"

"I shall find out about it immediately," Prophet Musa said and climbed up the hill and called aloud, "O Sustainer Allah! This person wants to know about the reward for his prayers! Tell me, what I should inform him?"

He heard a heavenly sound (Bat Kol in Hebrew), "Musa! Tell him, he shall be informed about his reward tomorrow."

Prophet Moses returned to the pious man and conveyed this message to him. The pious person said, “Fine. Tomorrow is not such a long time!"

Now the pious man was in the habit of going early every morning to a nearby canal (built by local farmers) for bathing and fetching some water (provided by God) for his use. So, the next morning he started for the canal, but he lost his way and reached somewhere else. 

Because of the sun's heat he became very thirsty. He sat on a boulder and started thinking about his (coming) death. 

At that time he saw another person coming from the other direction. He waved to the person to come to him. When the person came close, he asked him to help him with some water.

The visiting person said, "Where is any water in this wilderness? Whatever little I have is only for me."

The pious person started crying. The other person said, "Fine! What will you give me if I give you a cup of water?"

The pious man said, "I don't have anything to give you. I have been busy every day praying (by myself) in a cave for the last one hundred years."

The other person said, "If you agree to transfer to me the rewards for your prayers of one hundred years, I shall give you a cup of water."

The pious person thought, if he lived, he could pray for a further period to get another reward from Allah. He said, "I am ready to transfer to you my reward for the hundred years' of my prayers.

The other person gave him a cup full of water and the pious person returned to his cave.

Later in the morning Prophet Moses got a revelation that the pious man had transferred his hundred years of prayer reward, to another man in exchange for a cup of water. “Ask the man to set the value of (all) the cups of (canal) water that he had been drinking during the last hundred years!”

So Prophet Moses went to the cave and told the man that he had a message for him from Allah.

The pious person said, "O Prophet Musa! I have already sold my hundred years of penance.”

"Yes! I know. But God said that when the value of one hundred years of prayer is one cup of water, then you must set the value of all the (canal) water you had been drinking over the last hundred years."

When the pious man heard this, he was shocked and shouted, "O Prophet Musa! Recommend to Allah to forgive my sins! Allah is Beneficent and Merciful!"

Prophet Musa got a Revelation to tell this pious man: “Your penitence of this moment pleased God more than all your prayers of a hundred years; so God has given to you rewards for a thousand years of prayers!"

Four lessons we can learn from this tale.

Imam Ali says, "The sin that makes you sad and repentant, is more liked by Allah than the good deed (years of pious personal prayer) which turns you arrogant.”

Antignos of Socho taught: “Be like workers who serve loyally without seeking a reward.” Talmud Avot (1:3)

Rabbi Yaakov taught: “One hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is better than all the life of the World to Come; and one hour of bliss in the World to Come is better than all the (secular pleasures of) life in this world”  Talmud Avot (4:17)

No one can be a pious or righteous person unless he or she is a good-hearted person. Midrash to Zabur/Psalm 4

Rabbi Maller’s web site is: