Muslim scholars differentiate between three levels of fasting. The first level is that of the common people, which entails abstaining from eating, drinking and sexual activities during daytime hours. The second level is that of the elite in which people ensure all organs of the body refrain from any kind of sin. The third level belongs to the elite of the elite, who must keep the soul, mind and heart clear of all thoughts and feelings that could distract one from God.
I have always acted along with the common people. The best I could do was not eat excessively at the iftar dinner and not drink too much water at sahur, the pre-dawn meal. But I have witnessed fasting of the elite and of the elite of the elite. Grandpa Abbas had a master in his Qadiri order. I never learned his name. In fact, nobody at our house knew his name. We referred to him as “Nur Yüzlü,” which means “the illuminated face” or simply “the saint.” His face was so white that it was as if he had never seen sunlight.
According to Grandpa, Nur Yüzlü had never listened to the radio out of fear that he could hear a worldly sentence, or God forbid, a curse. If Grandpa was correct, Nur Yüzlü did not walk through the shadows of shops, either. He was afraid that the shops might sell cigarettes or hot beverages. “He does not so much as smell food before guaranteeing that it was made with clean money,” Grandpa used to say. Years later, when I read the books by Said Nursî, I realized that Nur Yüzlü fasted at the second level for life. In summary, Nursî prescribes people pursuing the second level of fasting not to look at what they shouldn’t see; not to listen to a voice they shouldn’t hear; not to walk to a place that calls on their evil-ordained self to sin; not to touch what shouldn’t be touched: Use all your organs in what they have been created for. He described this fast as “renting what already belongs to God, back to God,” and said you should use your eyes to look at Creation and think about the Creator; use your ears to hear the message of the Holy Quran and the Beautiful Names of Allah; use your feet to walk to the mosque or to visit the ill; use your tongue to speak about God… In short, be a Godly man. This was the fasting of the elite.
I have seen the third level of fasting recently, as practiced by Fethullah Gülen during my visit to his house in Pennsylvania. He has lived in this house with his students for 10 years. His students told me that he was in itikaf, or religious seclusion, for the whole of Ramadan. He would not leave his floor. He had stopped reading newspapers, and even when he was informed about important developments in the world, he always responded with the language of the Quran. On the day I was leaving, he asked his students to pray for rain for the African countries hit by famine. Even then, he felt the need to explain that such a rain prayer is not made to bring rain. “This particular prayer is appointed for famine. We don’t pray so as to convince God to send down rain. If out of His mercy He sends rain, this is His grace, but the rain prayer is our duty,” he said. He kept his mind and heart busy only with God and our duties as the servants of God. He gave a lecture on Quranic commentary in the early morning and late afternoon and declined to speak on any matter other than that of the Quran. If anyone mentioned the oppression of the Syrian regime, he replied with prayer; if anyone reminded him of a past event, he replied with the name of Allah; if anybody suggested a future possibility, he said “Allah knows best.” Nothing -- no question and no news -- would distract him from his state of mental fasting.
In his example, I realized that the principles of Islam can in fact be applied in full. In his face, I saw the elite of the elite.
Published on Today's Zaman, 19 August 2011, Friday
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