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Friday, 19 April 2024

John Trashes Priesthood

Columns

Benson C Saili
THIS EARTH, MY BROTHER…

When the Essenes referred to the year AD 6 as the Year of Wrath, It was not a mere figure of speech.  The loss of their high priest Zechariah to the thrust of a dagger wielded by an agent of Judas of Galilee was a crushing blow. For the next 20 years, they were practically leaderless, though by no means rudderless,  as Simeon, Zechariah’s deputy, had bowed out to  pursue purely philanthropic causes untainted by political chicanery of whatever guise.  Indeed, a line in a Dead Sea Scroll dubbed the “Damascus Document” bemoans that “for 20 years we were like blind men groping for the way”.    

 
Yet on a somewhat optimistic note, the Essenes had given the year AD 6 another moniker – the Year of the Plant Root. This primarily referred to Jesus, a “shoot” from the Davidic “root”, who had officially been inducted into the Essene fold  at his Bar Mitzvah ceremony in AD 6. They pinned on him their hope for  a popular political messiah who would spearhead the apocalyptic war against the “Kittim” – their sneering nickname for the Roman occupiers.  Morally allied with him would be a counselor, a counterpart messiah of the House of Aaron.

The messiah of Aaron, namely John,   would be the priest who would promote Jesus to the body politic before he finally strode onto the public stage. John would be the Elijah foretold in the Old Testament through a pronouncement by the prophet Malachi that “Behold, I will send you Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD: And he shall turn the heart of the fathers to the children, and the heart of the children to their fathers, lest I come and smite the earth with a curse” (MALACHI 4:5-6).  


Meanwhile, Annas, the new high priest of the Jerusalem temple, was mandated to stand in for John till he was 30 years of age. Annas, however, was content with being a symbolic high priest of the Qumran temple: all his efforts were devoted to enriching himself from the loot of both temples. When it came to providing spiritual, moral, and ecclesiastical guidance particularly at the Qumran temple, he was as detached as made no difference: he did not care a damn at all. The provisional Qumran priesthood was little more than an opportunistic feather in the cap for him.  Age was also probably a factor: he was only 26 years old when he was appointed high priest and was way short of the qualifying  priestly age of  30, meaning for at least four years or so, he did not command commensurate priestly authority at Qumran.   


Sadly for the Essenes, their cherished hope for liberation messiahs  did not crystalise. It turned out neither Jesus nor John had that much of a zest for armed revolutionarism Zealot-style. Even worse, the two messianic mascots began to work at cross purposes with one another.

JAMES BACK IN LIMELIGHT
The second decade of the first century was not exactly epoch-making but it was fairly eventful as   Annas ceased to be high priest, a new Roman governor was installed, and the second Caesar was crowned.  


Augustus Caesar, who had been emperor since 27 BC, passed on in August 14 AD. He was succeeded by his stepson Tiberius, who had carved himself a reputation as one of Rome’s greatest generals.


Annas had been appointed high priest of the Jerusalem temple in AD 6. Sometime in AD 15, he was deposed by Valerius Gratus, who had just assumed office that very year as Roman governor of Judea. Gratus, Pontius Pilates’s predecessor, was a hard-to-please oddball. Of the four priests who followed after Annas, only one lasted for more than a year.  This was Joseph Caiaphas, the son-in-law to Annas.  Caiaphas was appointed in AD 18 and was in office up to AD 36, making him the longest serving high priest alongside Simon Boethus under Roman rule.  It was Caiaphas and his father-in-law Annas who as members of the Jewish Supreme Court jointly heard the marathon “treason” case of Jesus in the early hours of March 20 AD 33.  


Unlike the Annas priests (that is, Annas and his son Eleazer) who had lent unequivocal weight to the messiahship of Jesus,   Caiaphas took the Boethusian view that Jesus did not qualify for the Davidic title as he had been born in sexually scandalous circumstances. As such, he promoted James as the next in line after Joseph. In AD 23, Joseph died aged 67 and Caiaphas officially recognised James as the new David. Until then, James had been known by his given name Cleopas.

At his father’s demise, he became the Jacob, which was his more familiar title as the David. And since he had been declared messiah of Israel by the religious establishment, he also assumed the name James, by which he was best known. In Aramaic, James was Iah-Mes, or Mes-Iah when reversed. Iah- Mes meant “Son of God”. All Davidic kings were addressed as Son of God as per PSALM 2:7.  That in fact was the original meaning of “Messiah”: the widely held view that it meant “anointed one” was a derivative and not primary interpretation.      


With such sagacious and sensible Essene elders such as Zechariah and Simeon no longer on the scene, James’s designation as the Davidic King de facto did have quite a resonance at Qumran and the national grapevine.  However, James, now aged 23, still privately deferred to his brother as the bona fide Davidic messiah at this stage at least. It was only in later years that he actively contended with Jesus for the title at the urging, unstintingly, of his mother Mary and not on account of personal ambition but in heed  of the sway, generally, of the politics of the day.   
 
JOHN GOES OFF AT  A TANGENT
In AD 23, John turned 30 years of age: remember he was born in  September 8 BC. As the Essenes’ Zadok priest, he had long been tipped to commence his priestly duties in that year. A priest, according to the Torah,  was to serve in the temple from 30 years to 50 years  of age (NUMBERS 4:3). It transpired, however, that John had decided he was not going to follow in the footsteps of his late father Zechariah and substantively assume the position of the Michael-Zadok – the high priesthood of the Qumran temple.

Instead of becoming a monastic priest hidebound by ecclesiastical ritual, he disavowed all this, opting instead  for the life of an ascetic and reclusive  Nazarite in the Judean wilds.  He had decided to be the Elijah proper. John’s actions were informed by specific Old Testament injunctions which he read as applying to himself. One of these was ISAIAH 40:3, which said, “Prepare the way of Yahweh in the desert.”  Yahweh had also announced, through the  prophet Malachi, that, “I’m sending  my messenger to prepare the way before me” (MALACHI 3:1).


Read on the surface, John’s decision comes across as self-impelled, as the  stirrings of a purposeful impulse of a wayward, non-comformist  man. But the Anunnaki undertones behind  the move are loud and plangent. In ancient Egypt was a river called Iarutana. In modern, anglicized spelling, this is … the river Jordan. It was in the river Iarutana that Anup, the Egyptian John, baptised Horus, the Egyptian Jesus.  Indeed, the gospels themselves do not say John decided to retreat into  the wilderness proper of his own accord:  they say he heard a “voice” – that of Yahweh if we are to go by Old Testament prognostications.

Today, in 2015, we know who Yahweh was. He was Enlil, the head of the Anunnaki pantheon, the Anunnaki being Aliens from a little-known planet of the Solar System called Nibiru, seen only once  in 3600 years by Earthlings. Of course in the Age of Pisces, which mathematically began in AD 1, Enlil is not in direct charge of Earthly affairs.

It is his grandson Utu-Shamash (called Abbadon in Revelation) who sits at the reins (he was not uncontested though: the Enkites, led by Enki’s eldest son Marduk, challenge him to this day as the Age of Pisces was contractually one of those in which they were to exercise  hegemony as per the compact between the two ever-feuding clans). John’s move, therefore, was not voluntary  as such: it was a prompting – a setup.


From a purely mundane point of view, however, John’s course of action followed the pace the Essenes themselves had set. About 200 years before, some ranks of disaffected Jews had read the same Isaiah scripture and made a kind of  “Great Trek” from mainstream society to sequester themselves in the Judean wilderness at a settlement by the Dead Sea called Qumran, where they embarked on writing what have come to be known as the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In the Community Rule, their foundational document, they state that they had “separated from the habitation of unjust men”  with a view to “prepare in the wilderness the Way… This is the time for the preparation of the Way in the wilderness”. They in future would become best known as Essenes but initially they did not call themselves that:  they referred to themselves as “The Way”, that is people who were paving the morally and spiritually upright way for God’s imminent direct rule of Earth. That must ring a bell, or doesn’t it?


Early Christians called themselves “Followers of the Way” (ACTS 19:20) and Jesus said ,“I am the way, the truth, and the life” (JOHN 14:6). All this is unequivocal enough evidence that Jesus, John, and the entire Christian movement were forged in the Essene crucible. A mature John, however, had now decided his concept of preparing for the Way did not exactly dovetail with that of the monastic Essenes.

Whilst the Qumran Essenes pretty much kept to themselves and did not proselytize, John had decided on a strategy of  reach-out. He wanted to actively minister to the nation of  Israel by clarion call so he could effectually get the message across to them and the only the only he could do this was to set up his own base well beyond the orbit of the Qumran establishment.    

A THREE-YEAR PREPARATION
The exact place in the Judean desert John chose as his hermitical perch was where the Jordan River flowed into the Dead Sea. This is 429 metres below sea level, the lowest inland spot on Earth. Called the Aravah, it was not totally barren desert: it was a valley with scattered stands of savannah vegetation in a general terrain of  colouful cliffs and sharp-topped mountains. There, John, with a handful of disciples who included Simon Peter and Andrew began life as a Nazarite and the new Elijah. This was his southern redoubt.


A Nazarite (very different from “Nazarene”) was a Jew who had taken a special vow of separation from society in line with NUMBERS 6. Accordingly therefore, he let his hair and beard grow long Rasta-style, abstained from liquor, and wore a rough camel’s hair garment with a leather belt. Nazarites did marry, examples of whom where Samson and James the brother of Jesus, but John took the institution to another level: he never married and never pursued a trade. His aversion  to an intimate relationship with women was almost certainly inherited from his father, who had to be bidden – if not browbeaten – to consummate his marriage and produce a heir.     


In addition to a southern, Judean lair,  John had a northern lair just within sniffing distance of Galilee. This was just south of the Sea of Galilee at a place called Aenon near the settlement of Salim. This was a strategic location for two reasons in the many. First, it was associated with the prophet Elijah, whose birthplace, Tishbe,  was just across the Jordan River to the east along a brook called Wadi Cherith. Wadi Cherith is the area around which Elijah hid from Ahab and his wicked queen Jezebel and was fed by ravens. But just as important, the spot John chose lay at the intersection of the Valley of Jezreel and the Jordan River.

This was the route the Galilean pilgrims used in travelling south to Judea for annual  festivals such as  the feasts of Passover and Tabernacles. Thus John literally stood at the crossroads of a national thoroughfare  where  a captive audience for his apocalyptic sermons every now and again  processed.


Yet John did not begin to court the public straightaway. He waited for three years before he stepped into the public spotlight. This was not by mere happenstance: it was purposeful. He had a schedule based on the messianic timetable of the prophet Daniel. In working to this schedule, he was partnered by one of his cousins, a dynastic one like he was.
This was Jesus.  

NEXT WEEK: WHO WAS GREATER BETWEEN JOHN AND JESUS?
 

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GONE FISHING

28th March 2023

In recent years, using personal devices in working environments has become so commonplace it now has its own acronym, BOYD (Bring Your Own Device).  But as employees skip between corporate tools and personal applications on their own devices, their actions introduce a number of possible risks that should be managed and mitigated with careful consideration.  Consider these examples:

Si-lwli, a small family-run business in Wales, is arguably as niche a company as you could find, producing talking toys used to promote the Welsh language. Their potential market is small, with only some 300,000 Welsh language speakers in the world and in reality the business is really more of a hobby for the husband-and-wife team, who both still have day jobs.  Yet, despite still managing to be successful in terms of sales, the business is now fighting for survival after recently falling prey to cybercriminals. Emails between Si-Iwli and their Chinese suppliers were intercepted by hackers who altered the banking details in the correspondence, causing Si-Iwli to hand over £18,000 (around P ¼ m) to the thieves. That might not sound much to a large enterprise, but to a small or medium business it can be devastating.

Another recent SMB hacking story which appeared in the Wall Street Journal concerned Innovative Higher Ed Consulting (IHED) Inc, a small New York start-up with a handful of employees. IHED didn’t even have a website, but fraudsters were able to run stolen credit card numbers through the company’s payment system and reverse the charges to the tune of $27,000, around the same loss faced by Si-Iwli.  As the WSJ put it, the hackers completely destroyed the company, forcing its owners to fold.

And in May 2019, the city of Baltimore’s computer system was hit by a ransomware attack, with hackers using a variant called RobinHood. The hack, which has lasted more than a month, paralysed the computer system for city employees, with the hackers demanding a payment in Bitcoin to give access back to the city.

Of course, hackers target governments or business giants  but small and medium businesses are certainly not immune. In fact, 67% of SMBs reported that they had experienced a cyber attack across a period of 12 months, according to a 2018 survey carried out by security research firm Ponemon Institute. Additionally, Verizon issued a report in May 2019 that small businesses accounted for 43% of its reported data breaches.  Once seen as less vulnerable than PCs, smartphone attacks are on the rise, with movements like the Dark Caracal spyware campaign underlining the allure of mobile devices to hackers. Last year, the US Federal Trade Commission released a statement calling for greater education on mobile security, coming at a time when around 42% of all Android devices are believed to not carry the latest security updates.

This is an era when employees increasingly use their smartphones for work-related purposes so is your business doing enough to protect against data breaches on their employees’ phones? The SME Cyber Crime Survey 2018 carried out for risk management specialists AON showed that more than 80% of small businesses did not view this as a threat yet if as shown, 67% of SMBs were said to have been victims of hacking, either the stats are wrong or business owners are underestimating their vulnerability.  A 2019 report by PricewaterhouseCoopers suggests the latter, stating that the majority of global businesses are unprepared for cyber attacks.

Consider that a workstation no longer means a desk in an office: It can be a phone in the back of a taxi or Uber; a laptop in a coffee shop, or a tablet in an airport lounge.  Wherever the device is used, employees can potentially install applications that could be harmful to your business, even from something as seemingly insignificant as clicking on an accidental download or opening a link on a phishing email.  Out of the physical workplace, your employees’ activities might not have the same protections as they would on a company-monitored PC.

Yet many businesses not only encourage their employees to work remotely, but assume working from coffee shops, bookstores, and airports can boost employees’ productivity.  Unfortunately, many remote hot spots do not provide secure Wi-Fi so if your employee is accessing their work account on unsecured public Wi-Fi,  sensitive business data could be at risk. Furthermore, even if your employee uses a company smartphone or has access to company data through a personal mobile device, there is always a chance data could be in jeopardy with a lost or stolen device, even information as basic as clients’ addresses and phone numbers.

BOYDs are also at risk from malware designed to harm and infect the host system, transmittable to smartphones when downloading malicious third-party apps.  Then there is ransomware, a type of malware used by hackers to specifically take control of a system’s data, blocking access or threatening to release sensitive information unless a ransom is paid such as the one which affected Baltimore.  Ransomware attacks are on the increase,  predicted to occur every 14 seconds, potentially costing billions of dollars per year.

Lastly there is phishing – the cyber equivalent of the metaphorical fishing exercise –  whereby  cybercriminals attempt to obtain sensitive data –usernames, passwords, credit card details –usually through a phoney email designed to look legitimate which directs the user to a fraudulent website or requests the data be emailed back directly. Most of us like to think we could recognize a phishing email when we see it, but these emails have become more sophisticated and can come through other forms of communication such as messaging apps.

Bottom line is to be aware of the potential problems with BOYDs and if in doubt,  consult your IT security consultants.  You can’t put the own-device genie back in the bottle but you can make data protection one of your three wishes!

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“I Propose to Diana Tonight”

28th March 2023

About five days before Princess Diana and Dodi Al Fayed landed in Paris, General Atiku, a certain Edward Williams was taking a walk in a woods in the Welsh town of Mountain Ash. Williams, then 73, was a psychic of some renown. He had in the past foretold assassination attempts on US President Ronald Reagan, which occurred on March 30, 1981, and Pope John Paul II, which came to pass on May 13, 1981.

As he trudged the woods, Williams  had a sudden premonition that pointed to Diana’s imminent fate as per Christopher Andersen’s book The Day Diana Died. “When the vision struck me, it was as if everything around me was obscured and replaced by shadowy figures,” Williams was later to reminisce. “In the middle was the face of Princess Diana. Her expression was sad and full of pathos. She was wearing what looked like a floral dress with a short dark cardigan. But it was vague. I went cold with fear and knew it was a sign that she was in danger.”

Williams hastily beat a retreat to his home, which he shared with his wife Mary, and related to her his presentiment, trembling like an aspen leaf as he did so. “I have never seen him so upset,” Mary recounted. “He felt he was given a sign and when he came back from his walk he was deeply shaken.”

The following day, Williams frantically sauntered into a police station to inform the police of his premonition. The officer who attended to him would have dismissed him as no more than a crackpot but he treated him seriously in view of the accuracy of his past predictions. He  took a statement and immediately passed it on to the Special Branch Investigative  Unit.

The report read as follows:

“On 27 August, at 14:12 hrs, a man by the name of Edward Williams came to Mountain Ash police station. He said he was a psychic and predicted that Princess Diana was going to die. In previous years, he has predicted that the Pope and Ronald Reagan were going to be the victims of assassination attempts. On both occasions he was proved to be correct. Mr Williams appeared to be quite normal.”

Williams, General, was spot-on as usual: four days later, the princess was no more.

Meanwhile, General,  even as Dodi and Diana were making their way to the Fayed-owned Ritz Hotel in central Paris, British newspapers were awash with headlines that suggested Diana was kind of deranged. Writes Andrew Morton in Diana in Pursuit of Love: “In The Independent Diana was described as ‘a woman with fundamentally nothing to say about anything’. She was ‘suffering from a form of arrested development’. ‘Isn’t it time she started using her head?’ asked The Mail on Sunday. The Sunday Mirror printed a special supplement entitled ‘A Story of Love’; The News of the World claimed that William had demanded that Diana should split from Dodi: ‘William can’t help it, he just doesn’t like the man.’ William was reportedly ‘horrified’ and ‘doesn’t think Mr Fayed is good for his mother’ – or was that just the press projecting their own prejudices? The upmarket Sunday Times newspaper, which had first serialised my biography of the princess, now put her in the psychiatrist’s chair for daring to be wooed by a Muslim. The pop-psychologist Oliver James put Diana ‘On the Couch’, asking why she was so ‘depressed’ and desperate for love. Other tabloids piled in with dire prognostications – about Prince Philip’s hostility to the relationship, Diana’s prospect of exile, and the social ostracism she would face if she married Dodi.”

DIANA AND DODI AT THE RITZ

Before Diana and Dodi departed the Villa Windsor sometime after 16 hrs, General, one of Dodi’s bodyguards Trevor Rees-Jones furtively asked Diana as to what the programme for the evening was. This Trevor did out of sheer desperation as Dodi had ceased and desisted from telling members of his security detail, let alone anyone else for that matter, what his onward destination was for fear that that piece of information would be passed on to the paparazzi. Diana kindly obliged Trevor though her response was terse and scarcely revealing. “Well, eventually we will be going out to a restaurant”, that was all Diana said. Without advance knowledge of exactly what restaurant that was, Trevor and his colleagues’ hands were tied: they could not do a recce on it as was standard practice for the security team of a VIP principal.  Dodi certainly, General, was being recklessly by throwing such caution to the winds.

At about 16:30, Diana and Dodi drew up at the Ritz Hotel, where they were received by acting hotel manager Claude Roulet.  The front entrance of the hotel was already crawling with paparazzi, as a result of which the couple took the precaution of using the rear entrance, where hopefully they would make their entry unperturbed and unmolested. The first thing they did when they were ensconced in the now $10,000 a night Imperial Suite was to spend some time on their mobiles and set about touching base with friends, relations, and associates.  Diana called at least two people, her clairvoyant friend Rita Rogers and her favourite journalist Richard Kay of The Daily Mail.

Rita, General,  was alarmed that Diana had proceeded to venture to Paris notwithstanding the warning she had given Dodi and herself in relation to what she had seen of him  in the crystal ball when the couple had consulted her. When quizzed as to what the hell she indeed was doing in Paris at that juncture, Diana replied that she and Dodi had simply come to do some shopping, which though partially true was not the material reason they were there. “But Diana, remember what I told Dodi,” Rita said somewhat reprovingly. Diana a bit apprehensively replied, “Yes I remember. I will be careful. I promise.” Well,  she did not live up to her promise as we shall soon unpack General.

As for Richard Kay, Diana made known to him that, “I have decided I am going to radically change my life. I am going to complete my obligations to charities and to the anti-personnel land mines cause, but in November I want to completely withdraw from formal public life.”

Once she was done with her round of calls, Diana went down to the hair saloon by the hotel swimming pool to have her hair washed and blow-dried ahead of the scheduled evening dinner.

THE “TELL ME YES” RING IS DELIVERED

Since the main object of their Paris trip was to pick up the “Tell Me Yes” engagement ring  Dodi had ordered in Monte Carlo a week earlier, Dodi decided to check on Repossi Jewellery, which was right within the Ritz prencincts, known as the Place Vendome.  It could have taken less than a minute for Dodi to get to the store on foot but he decided to use a car to outsmart the paparazzi invasion. He was driven there by Trevor Rees-Jones, with Alexander Kez Wingfield and Claude Roulet following on foot, though he entered the shop alone.

The Repossi store had closed for the holiday season but Alberto Repossi, accompanied by his wife and brother-in-law,  had decided to travel all the way from his home in Monaco  and momentarily open it for the sake of the potentially highly lucrative  Dodi transaction.  Alberto, however, disappointed Dodi as the ring he had chosen was not the one  he produced. The one he showed Dodi was pricier and perhaps more exquisite but Dodi  was adamant that he wanted the exact one he had ordered as that was what Diana herself had picked. It was a ploy  on the part of Repossi to make a real killing on the sale, his excuse to that effect being that Diana deserved a ring tha was well worthy of her social pedigree.  With Dodi having expressed disaffection, Repossi rendered his apologies and assured Dodi he would make the right ring available shortly, whereupon Dodi repaired back to the hotel to await its delivery. But Dodi  did insist nonetheless that the pricier ring be delivered too in case it appealed to Diana anyway.

Repossi delivered the two rings an hour later. They were collected by Roulet. On inspecting them, Dodi chose the very one he had seen in Monte Carlo, apparently at the insistence of Diana.  There is a possibility that Diana, who was very much aware of her public image and was not comfortable with ostentatious displays of wealth, may have deliberately shown an interest in a less expensive engagement ring. It  may have been a purely romantic as opposed to a prestigious  choice for her.

The value of the ring, which was found on a wardrobe shelf in Dodi’s apartment after the crash,  has been estimated to be between $20,000 and $250,000 as Repossi has always refused to be drawn into revealing how much Dodi paid for it. The sum, which enjoyed a 25 percent discount, was in truth paid for not by Dodi himself but by his father as was the usual practice.

Dodi was also shown Repossi’s sketches for a bracelet, a watch, and earrings which he proposed to create if Diana approved of them.

DIANA AND DODI GUSH OVER IMMINENT NUPTIALS

At about 7 pm,  Dodi and Diana left the Ritz and headed for Dodi’s apartment at a place known as the Arc de Trompe. They went there to properly tog themselves out for the scheduled evening dinner. They spent two hours at the luxurious apartment. As usual, the ubiquitous paparazzi were patiently waiting for them there.

As they lingered in the apartment, Dodi beckoned over to his butler Rene Delorm  and showed him  the engagement ring. “Dodi came into my kitchen,” Delorm relates. “He looked into the hallway to check that Diana couldn’t hear and reached into his pocket and pulled out the box … He said, ‘Rene, I’m going to propose to the princess tonight. Make sure that we have champagne on ice when we come back from dinner’.” Rene described the ring as “a spectacular diamond encrusted ring, a massive emerald surrounded by a cluster of diamonds, set on a yellow and white gold band sitting in a small light-grey velvet box”.

Just before 9 pm, Dodi called the brother of his step-father, Hassan Yassen, who also was staying at the Ritz  that night, and told him that he hoped to get married to Diana by the end of the year.

Later that same evening, both Dodi and Diana would talk to Mohamed Al Fayed, Dodi’s dad, and make known to him their pre-nuptial intentions. “They called me and said we’re coming back  (to London) on Sunday (August 31) and on Monday (September 1) they are

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RAMADAN – The Blessed Month of Fasting

28th March 2023

Ramadan is the fasting month for Muslims, where over one billion Muslims throughout the world fast from dawn to sunset, and pray additional prayers at night. It is a time for inner reflection, devotion to Allah, and self-control. It is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. As you read this Muslims the world over have already begun fasting as the month of Ramadan has commenced (depending on the sighting of the new moon).

‘The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was revealed as guidance for people, in it are clear signs of guidance and Criterion, therefore whoever of you who witnesses this month, it is obligatory on him to fast it. But whoever is ill or traveling let him fast the same number of other days, God desires ease for you and not hardship, and He desires that you complete the ordained period and glorify God for His guidance to you, that you may be grateful”. Holy Qur’an  (2 : 185)

Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars upon which the structure of Islam is built. The other four are: the declaration of one’s belief in Allah’s oneness and in the message of Muhammad (PBUH); regular attendance to prayer; payment of zakaat (obligatory charity); and the pilgrimage to Mecca.

As explained in an earlier article, fasting includes total abstinence from eating, drinking, smoking, refraining from obscenity, avoiding getting into arguments and including abstaining from marital relations, from sunrise to sunset. While fasting may appear to some as difficult Muslims see it as an opportunity to get closer to their Lord, a chance to develop spiritually and at the same time the act of fasting builds character, discipline and self-restraint.

Just as our cars require servicing at regular intervals, so do Muslims consider Ramadan as a month in which the body and spirit undergoes as it were a ‘full service’. This ‘service’ includes heightened spiritual awareness both the mental and physical aspects and also the body undergoing a process of detoxification and some of the organs get to ‘rest’ through fasting.

Because of the intensive devotional activity fasting, Ramadan has a particularly high importance, derived from its very personal nature as an act of worship but there is nothing to stop anyone from privately violating Allah’s commandment of fasting if one chooses to do so by claiming to be fasting yet eating on the sly. This means that although fasting is obligatory, its observance is purely voluntary. If a person claims to be a Muslim, he is expected to fast in Ramadan.

 

The reward Allah gives for proper fasting is very generous. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) quotes Allah as saying: “All actions done by a human being are his own except fasting, which belongs to Me and I will reward it accordingly.” We are also told by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) that the reward for proper fasting is admittance into heaven.

Fasting earns great reward when it is done in a ‘proper’ manner. This is because every Muslim is required to make his worship perfect. For example perfection of fasting can be achieved through restraint of one’s feelings and emotions. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said that when fasting, a person should not allow himself to be drawn into a quarrel or a slanging match. He teaches us: “On a day of fasting, let no one of you indulge in any obscenity, or enter into a slanging match. Should someone abuse or fight him, let him respond by saying: ‘I am fasting!’”

This high standard of self-restraint fits in well with fasting, which is considered as an act of self-discipline. Islam requires us to couple patience with voluntary abstention from indulgence in our physical desires. The purpose of fasting helps man to attain a high degree of sublimity, discipline and self-restraint. In other words, this standard CAN BE achieved by every Muslim who knows the purpose of fasting and strives to fulfill it.

Fasting has another special aspect. It makes all people share in the feelings of hunger and thirst. In normal circumstances, people with decent income may go from one year’s end to another without experiencing the pangs of hunger which a poor person may feel every day of his life. Such an experience helps to draw the rich one’s conscience nearer to needs of the poor. A Muslim is encouraged to be more charitable and learns to give generously for a good cause.

Fasting also has a universal or communal aspect to it. As Muslims throughout the world share in this blessed act of worship, their sense of unity is enhanced by the fact that every Muslim individual joins willingly in the fulfillment of this divine commandment. This is a unity of action and purpose, since they all fast in order to be better human beings. As a person restrains himself from the things he desires most, in the hope that he will earn Allah’s pleasure, self-discipline and sacrifice become part of his nature.

The month of Ramadan can aptly be described as a “season of worship.” Fasting is the main aspect of worship in this month, because people are more attentive to their prayers, read the Qur’an more frequently and also strive to improve on their inner and outer character. Thus, their devotion is more complete and they feel much happier in Ramadan because they feel themselves to be closer to their Creator.

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