When the Ramadan banner flies, soul restrains nature,
so it can taste its own foodl
The strength of horses and the intensity of fire,
these are the powers of sacrifice.
Fasting, we honor the guest.
Clouds of courage give rain,
because it was in this month that the Qur’an rained down,
light through an opening.
Grab the rope.
Be lifted out of the body’s pit.
Announce to Egypt, Joseph of Canaan has come.
Jesus dismounts the donkey,
and the sacramental table descends.
Wash your hands. Wash your face.
Do not eat or speak as you normally do.
Other food and other words will come in the silence.
The concept of silence here symbolizes the fast. The silent person side-steps from the usual impulse to talk and to speak up his mind. This willing evacuation of the mind of petty distraction of conversation makes room for wisdom and insight.
Rumis says this more eloquently in the following ghazal couplets**:
If you want your every atom to be eloquent and a poet,
don’t place your faith in poetry and prose, be silent.
If you start to talk, you will stray from your thought.
Don’t stray from your heart’s intent. Stay away from talk.
Fast performs similar functions for us on a much broader scale. Why does performing acts God loves, with great frequency, length and recurrence become much easier in Ramadaan, than at other times? It’s not just because of the extra incentive we have in form of hope for extra reward; it’s not just due to being reinforced and encouraged by seeing nearly everyone around doing more. The fast frees us from the constant chain of distractions that our bodily ties of food and drink provide us through the day. Ordinarily, we remain mentally bound by one concern followed by another. Since hunger and thirst are of the body, naturally, other bodily and personal interests take forte as well and keep us occupied. Even when we think of doing something ‘extra’, we get lazy, feel busy, or simply forget amid the ‘stimulus overload’.
Fast provides a calm for the whole day. It also changes the schedule of daily life, thus helping to reinforce the change. The calm and peace resulting from a control on bodily hungers also weakens the force of other personal desires and lusts. Although, we feel the nutrient deprivation, we don’t even feel as much hungry as we would if we could not eat on time on a regular day. All this ‘stimulus underload’ paves the way for the better and nobler instincts of our psyche to come forward and to take lead.
If a mosque was full of chatter and banter, how could it inspire noble meditations, pious intentions and love-filled inclinations? It is the vast seclusion of the typical mosque from everything earthy and wordly that encourages those honorable attitudes.
This fasting sifts the soul like a sieve,
Discovering the hidden flecks of gold.
Once the soul outshines the brilliant moon,
It will tear up the veil and light up the seventh heaven.
* Translated by Coleman Barks in Rumi: The Big Red Book, 2010, New York: Harper Collins Publishers, p. 273
** Translated by Iraj Anvar and Anne Twitty in Say Nothing: Poems of Jalal al-Din Rumi in Persian and English, 2008, Sandpoint: Morning Light Press, p. 17.
^ Translated by the same as above, p. 19.