By on June 4, 2017

HUNGRY…

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Let’s face it; it’s about being hungry. In spite of much insightful commentary on prayer and connection to the Qur’an being the true purpose of the holy month, in our minds, and if not, certainly in our stomachs, hunger remains the most salient feature of Ramadan: “Believers, fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may have fear of God.” {2:183} In consonance with this verse, the significance of fasting has always been understood among Muslims: Voluntary self-denial out of devotion to God. If we can successfully abstain from that which is not merely permissible but essential (food and drink) in obedience to God, abstaining from the impermissible and even the questionable should be comparatively easy. Considering hunger during the days of Ramadan, both popular preaching and the bulk of Muslim scholarly writing on the subject tend to focus on patience and sincerity. These core Islamic values are correctly identified as the fruit of a successful Ramadan. Nonetheless, the seed; that visceral feeling of hunger we experience while fasting, in and of itself, may also contain profound lessons.

C.S. Lewis, the great English novelist of Narnian Chronicles fame, is perhaps best known for his stories. Less spoken of is the celebrated author’s deep commitment to Christian witness and keen interest in theology.  One of the more fascinating themes that appears in Lewis’ lay-theological writing is the centrality of desire to religious devotion. In Mere Christianity, he muses:

“Creatures are not born with desires unless satisfaction for those desires exists. A baby feels hunger: well, there is such a thing as food. A duckling wants to swim: well, there is such a thing as water. Men feel sexual desire: well, there is such a thing as sex. If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never meant to satisfy it, but only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing. If that is so, I must take care, on the one hand, never to despise, or be unthankful for, these earthly blessings and on the other, never to mistake them for something else of which they are only a kind of copy, or echo, or mirage.”

Islam embraces the sensate and, dare I say, even carnal motivations of human beings.  In fact, what appears to be for Lewis a dawning reflection, is in the Qur’an a fully developed concept. The Qur’anic Ākhirah; indeed, the other world for which, in Lewis’ words, we were made, is described in vivid detail:

“They will be adorned therein with bracelets of gold, and they will wear green garments of fine silk and heavy brocade. They will recline therein on raised thrones. How good the recompense! How beautiful a couch to recline on!” {18:31} “Eat and drink at ease for that which you have sent forth (good deeds) in days past!” {69:24} “There will be circulated among them a cup [of wine] from a flowing spring. White and delicious to drinkers.” {37:35-36}

Whereas Lewis understood earthly pleasure to echo an abstract otherworldly pleasure, the Qur’an elaborates; offering that the provision of Paradise will resemble earthly pleasure:

“…And give glad tidings to those who believe and do good works; that theirs are Gardens underneath which rivers flow. Every time they are fed with fruits therefrom, they say: “Why, this is what was given to us aforetime!”—for they shall be given something that will recall that past…” {2:25}

The fundamental difference between heavenly pleasure and its worldly shadow is permanence. Every worldly pleasure will eventually come to an end. Every culinary delight, no matter how exquisite, will be followed by hunger. Every sexual experience, no matter how rapturous, will be followed by desire. Every achievement, no matter its height, will be followed by anxiety.

Knowledge that permanent satisfaction can never be found in worldly pursuits certainly hasn’t stopped us from seeking it. Quite the reverse, for many, the inherent ‘knowing’ that permanent satisfaction lies beyond this world exerts the opposite effect.  We anxiously reel down a futile path of trying to stay materially and even emotionally satiated by the things of this world. Hunger, thirst, and longing consistently remind us of the world’s inability to satisfy us. Failure to acknowledge this delivers us into the waiting arms of the advertising firms of Madison Avenue; an industry which literally capitalizes on the perpetual dissatisfaction of our hearts. On the other hand, an embrace of hunger, thirst, and longing delivers us into the Hands of God:

“Those who believe, and whose hearts find satisfaction in the remembrance of God: for without doubt in the remembrance of God do hearts find satisfaction.” {13:28}

Ramadan Mubarak! A day of privation for the body is the soul’s feast. Stay hungry my friends…

 


Ubayd Ustadh Ubaydullah Evans is ALIM’s first Scholar-in-Residence and now Executive Director. He converted to Islam while in high school. Upon conversion, Ustadh Ubaydullah began studying some of the foundational books of Islam under the private tutelage of local scholars while simultaneously pursuing a degree in journalism from Columbia. Since then he has studied at Chicagoland’s Institute of Islamic Education (IIE), in Tarim, Yemen, and Al-Azhar University in Cairo, Egypt, where he is the first African-American to graduate from its Shari’a program. Ustadh Ubaydullah also instructs with the Ta’leef Collective and the Inner-City Muslim Action Network (IMAN) at times.