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August 2009

2009, An-Nahar, Articles

Fasting / 29.08.2009

The arrival of Ramadan is delighting for me, since in that month Muslims are purified. [In Ramadan] the great ones in piety receive eminence from their Lord, and there is no doubt that they become closer to the depth of prayer, and in their recitations they seek nearness to the gracious God.

This period is a [chance for] perfect solitude in order to endorse truth and patience. And whenever you bear your hunger and thirst patiently you would also be receptive of people, especially that they walk the same path as you. And maybe the splendor of this commitment is what is mentioned in the Hadith, on the lips of God: “Fasting is for me and I shall reward for it.” This is a spiritual pilgrimage not to the House [Mecca], but to the Lord of the House, as Saida Rābi῾a al-῾Adawiyyah said. It is a [spiritual] exercise, which seeks the face of God, and nothing other than it remains. Our worldly desires fail as they encounter it. And the Prophet says: “God, the almighty, is proud about the young worshipping man; and says: O young man, who is renouncing his desires for my sake and exerting his youth for me. You are to me as one of my angels.” [Hadith]

Those who pursue the obligations, the laws and the rules for break-fast ifṭār know that this is not the ultimate [end]. Some people are of great awareness and spiritual strive that is deeper than what appears. What matters is the purpose from this, which is possible to be viewed as the greatest jihād. [The purpose] should be putting on the divine attributes, namely the eternal nature, since whoever holds fast to his/[her] purity of heart inclines to the realm of angels. And whoever imitates the angels approaches his/[her] Lord, thus, the light of the Lord’s eternity reflects upon him/[her].

As the believer longs to the climax of this spiritual exercise we have to note the truth in the saying of Imam Ghazali: “Fasting is of three [successive] grades, namely, the common fasting, the distinctive fasting and the distinguished of the distinctive.” The common fasting is about complying with the known obligations, which may be summarized by abstaining from the desire for food and the marital relations (at the time of fast). For the distinctive fasting all senses refrain from sins, the tongue is to be guarded and the ear should refrain from listening to what is abhorrent “because that which is prohibited to speak about is also prohibited to listen to.”  A beautiful saying by al-Ghazali is: “one should not demand much of the lawful food at the break-fast, such as one’s abdomen is full, since there is no more detestable vassal to God than from an abdomen filled with lawful food.” The meaning of this rule of al-Ghazali is that the fasting person should eat whatever he/[she] used to eat every night if he/[she] was not fasting. And the prominent in distinctive fasting is the one who, after the break-fast, does not know whether his/[her] fasting was acceptable or no. The issue is not automatic in Islam.

As for the distinguished of the distinctive, their fasting is “the fasting of the heart from the worldly worries and thoughts and its complete unconcern with anything but God … and thus the breaking of the fast (al-fiṭr) occurs by thinking about anything other than God, mighty and majestic, and about the Last Day, as well as through the concern with this world, except in so far as it promotes religion”.

This tells us that each of Islam’s pillars is founded upon determination and sincerity. Thus, we should not be disappointed whenever we think that this or that person is satisfied with pretense. God alone judges the hearts. We pray that God might grant those, whom we find superficial in their exercises, depth in their piety so that the common in his/[her] faith might become from the distinguished or maybe from the distinguished of the distinctive. Perhaps his/[her] fast becomes similar to Mary’s fast associated with silence and tranquility. She said: “’I have vowed to the Compassionate to fast, and so I shall not talk today to any human being’” [Sura Maryam [Mary], 25]. And in this the truth of this saying is manifested:

Whenever the person fasts from the world all the months, which he/[she] lives, those months become months of fasting.

The whole path is a path of compassion, as this prayer says: “O my God, the fasting ones have wined, and we are Your sinful servants. Have compassion upon us for Your mercies’ sake, grant us from Your grace and kindness. Forgive us all by Your mercy, O most merciful of the merciful ones”. Whenever this comes to be true for a person, he/[she] becomes a window to the inclusive divine love.

All believing nations, who feel that through fasting they might appeal to the manifestations of truth, practice fasting. Buddies practice asceticism, purification and repression of desires and these, for them, lead to death. In the Gospel it is a recommendation and not a divine order. In different places in the New Testament fasting is associated with prayer. Fasting does not desist from prayer, rather, as if it sustains prayer. This tradition has continued in the First Church, as we read in the Book of Acts that the Holy Spirit addressed the Church of Antioch as it was holding the Divine Liturgy and fasting, and asked from it to send Paul and Barnabas (Acts 13: 1-6).

At this first journey there was no rule to specify the kinds of food people should abstain from, but Epiphanius of Cyprus in the fourth century speaks of abstaining from meat and its derivative products. He speaks of one meal per day, and this is confirmed at the council of Trullo [A.D. 692] at the end of the seventh century. While at a time I could attain, the break-fast has been for Christians after the sunset prayers.

And since fasting has been a church-provision, our Fathers have considered it mandatory. The churches have differed in the form of their disciplines. Today, in Orthodox Church, fasting implies abstaining from food at certain hours and refraining from meat and dairy products. However, this no longer has remained on its sternness as in the past. In Middle Ages the Orthodox Church allowed the fruits of the sea, for the lack of vegetables and herbs in certain areas. Other churches have expanded the period of fasting and elaborated on the kinds of food. The Evangelicals alone have voluntary individual fasting, not bound to a specific period.

Fasts have varied in every church. The Orthodox have four fasts in addition to the Wednesdays and the Fridays and at some feasts. Nevertheless, not only the type of fasting but mainly the intensity of prayers is perceptible, [particularly at] what is called the Lent, which prepares for the Easter.

Lent remains the most important fast in its significance and strives; since it is associated with the preparation to what we call the Holy Week or the Passion Week, which ends after Resurrection, “the Feast of the feasts and the Season of the seasons”. As for the significance of Resurrection [or the Easter, it is possible to say that] every important feast is derived from it.

As for its perception, fasting, for Jews, is concentrated on repentance, namely the seeking of God. For Christians and Muslims fasting is the plea for the face of God, and this [also] involves repentance. Thus, the fast of the Monotheists is distinguished from the Buddhists’, who do not have faith in God. And I do not doubt that the one and the only God accepts the fasting of the Buddhists as God accepts the fasting of the Abrahamic religions.

And whenever we want to read fasting at our times, we understand that it is a protest against the excessive use of food prevalent in this era of consumption. It is a confirmation of the words of Christ: “One does not live by bread alone” (Matt. 4: 4).

The human being lives first by the Word of God, and the rest is given to him/[her] as supplementary.

Translated by Sylvie Avakian-Maamarbashi

Original Text: “االصيام” –An Nahar- 29.08.2009

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2009, An-Nahar, Articles

The Light / 01.08.2009

It is natural that the mention of light as the antithesis of darkness would occupy a major status in the Biblical text: “And God said: ‘Let there be light’.” (Gen 1: 3). It does not speak of light in the absolute, but it speaks as if it is assigning a specific task for that “light”, one of dispelling the darkness. The writer of the passage does not stress the relation between light and the sun. And this brings us to the understanding of light in the Bible.

When we read the beginning of the gospel of John which relates to the above passage in Genesis, we understand that “life was the light of the world” (John 4: 1). And the life that the Gospel author refers to is in the Logos (the Word) who was in the beginning. This above mentioned life is uncreated; and if the task of the created light is the dispelling of darkness, then the life which is in the Divine Logos is the same divine life that is in us which takes us from the “spiritual nothingness” we are in to “spiritual existence”. In this context, we have two sayings of Jesus the first of which is “I am the light of the world” (John 5: 9) in which the light is again the antithesis of darkness and the second saying is of the disciples “You are the light of the world” (Matthew 14: 5) as it came in the “Sermon on the Mount”. Putting the two sayings together, we find that Christ reveals himself as the source of light and He calls his beloved to acquire His radiance.

The light shines by itself and if you forget the source of its emission, you remain in the darkness. We are in a dynamics of giving and receiving light; this is clear in the Psalms of the Old Testament where it says: “In your light do we see light” (Psalms 4:34). The emphasis in these verses is on the light of the righteous. Loving God in righteousness is the dwelling in the light and betraying God is darkness. That is the kingdom of Joy and love.

That is revealed in the Last Supper when Jesus was asked about who would betray him, Jesus answered, “It is the one to whom I will give this piece of bread when I have dipped it in the dish.” Then, dipping the piece of bread, he gave it to Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot……………….. As soon as Judas had taken the bread, he went out. And it was night.”(John 13: 26-30). The word “night” here could be considered as a figure of speech meaning that Judas’ heart has become darkened as opposed to the spiritual light in the glory of Christ; for John says that after Judas had gone Jesus says, ‘Now the Son of Man is glorified and God is glorified in him’.” We find much symbolism in the Gospel of John.

We also find that symbolism of light in the rituals of the Church. The gold which is the foundation color in iconography, the halo around the Saints’ head, the lighting of candles by the faithful, the candles lit for use in the Liturgy….etc. In one of the services of the Great Lent, the priest carries a candle before the faithful proclaiming: “Come take light from the light in which there is no darkness”. This is done nowadays during daytime when no lighting is needed. In the Latin Church, there is a similar service to the Orthodox service of Holy Saturday during which the eyes of the believers are looking at the visible light while the hearts go beyond that to behold the Light who is Life.

One of my favorite verses in the Qura’an is Sura24: 35 “God is the light of the heavens and the earth; a likeness of His light is as a niche in which is a lamp, the lamp is in a glass, (and) the glass is as it were a brightly shining star, lit from a blessed olive-tree, neither eastern nor western, the oil whereof almost gives light though fire touch it not– light upon light– God guides to His light whom He pleases, and God sets forth parables for men, and God is Cognizant of all things.” The Qura’an here confirms that God is light in Himself, and then compares the radiance of God with the sensory radiance of the light of an oil lamp, then ascends with a move of love to God saying: “light upon light”. Yes the Creator is light in Himself and He brings people out of the darkness to the light in general and He specifically says that there is guidance in the Torah and in the Gospels. The Quran rejects any claim of light the source of which is not God; it says in Sura 24: 40, “Whoever God does not attribute light to him does not have the light.”

This indicates that the meaning of the word light in the three monotheistic religions is the same; light is God and only God, whence He is the source, the origin and radiance regardless of what disapprovers say.

Since all religious groupings seek the light and its guidance, then it remains our duty towards Truth that we love God as light not only in Himself, but also in how He shines in the others in the text of their scriptures; because everyone who teaches his religion to his own people, is supposed to reveal what light there is in the religion of the other. That does not reduce our commitment to our own religion in the way The Light is revealed in it.

If you are committed to a certain religion, you do not necessarily reject all the others. As someone said: “My religion is that of love wherever it is found.” So of you find the light outside your own religious boundaries, you feel you belong there because you seek that Love that “broadcasts its tunes” here and there. That is the true openness that saves you now and at the resurrection. And such a blessing can be given to the common people and not only to those who are knowledgeable in religion. This is so because the illumined hearts can see what great intellects cannot.

Before you are open to others of different religions, it is important that you submit yourself to God making only Him the lord of your heart always returning to Him in everything. Without that condition, there is no Light. Without that you become a slave to the “letter” in religion and the meanings of words and rituals the warmth of which you do not experience. Those who have their hearts set on God, those whose pilgrimage is to His Blessed Face, are his people and beloved. Those, whoever they are, have been illumined with His brightness. I do not say that all religions are one and the same; and I do not say that they teach the same about God, but I see God in His followers wherever they are found and I get blessed through them. Those who do pilgrimage to God, to His person and to His light are my brothers; there are no limits for those who love. We do not stop at the fact that God is light; but that He illuminates those who want, and the light in me yearns for the light in you.

Translated by Riad Mofarej

Original Text: ” – 01.08.2009

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