After a month of struggles against desires mainly through hunger and thirst, a Muslim comes to the point of victory that deserves to be feted. As the word implies, ‘Eid al-Fitr is a celebration that symbolises the return of man to his true nature.
What is the true nature of man? The Qur’an explains that God has indeed made men the most perfect of creations, “We have created man in the best of forms,” (Surah al-Tin, 95:4). ‘In the best of forms’ refers to, in addition to a body, man is endowed with a soul blown into his body by God, “When I have fashioned him and breathed into him of My Spirit, fall you down in obeisance unto Him.” (Surah Sad, 38:72). Furthermore, man is divinely endowed with the faculty of reason that distinguishes him from all other creations.
Having originated from a higher source compared to the physical body, which, according to the Qur’an is created from clay, the soul and reason have the higher position and stature to control man’s desires and shield him from the external form of temptations. Desires, on the other hand, originate from the bestial and animalistic nature in man will always drag him downwards and subsequently lessen his rational and spiritual qualities.
According to elaborations from Muslim scholars such as al-Ghazali, excessive preoccupation with food and sexual matters are the main contributors to the escalation of human desires. For that, fasting that is made obligatory in the month of Ramadhan is one of the important forms of training to curb excessive desires through the abstention from food, drink and sexual relations in the day time of the month. Both kinds of desires are not to be totally rejected since they have their contribution in some ways to the development of human life, yet excessive preoccupation in them is rather harmful. Thus, they have to be properly controlled and channelled through proper means. While the desire for food and drink is controlled and trained through a month of fasting ritual, sexual desire is channelled through the institution of marriage.
By successfully administering and controlling desires, man’s soul and reason play their proper roles as the Ruler or King to the physical body. As a result, harmony and cosmos will prevail in the kingdom of man’s own self. However, should there be failure in the way the King rules, and in the worst scenario, his role is usurped by desire, it will definitely create disharmony and chaos to the kingdom.
The success in controlling desires will also give way to the soul to rise to a higher position. The highest level of the soul is when it is in the state of tranquillity and ready to meet its Creator in the state of being pleased by Him. The Qur’an extends the Divine welcome, “O you the Tranquil Soul, return to your Lord Well pleased and well-pleasing unto Him. Enter, then among my devotees. Yes, enter my Heaven.”(Surah al-Fajr, 89: 27-30).
The lower level of the soul is always in struggle, sometimes man is in control of his desires, while at other times, loses his battle to them. Such is termed ‘the self accusing soul’ (nafs al-ammarah). The Qur’an refers to such a state in the following verse, “Nay, I swear by the self-accusing soul.” (Surah al-Qiyamah, 75:2). It is the intermediate state of the soul that fluctuates between right and wrong.
The lowest level of the soul is one that inclines to evil cited in the Qur’anic verse, “Nor do, I absolve my own self; the human soul is certainly prone to evil. Unless my Lord do bestow His Mercy but surely My Lord is Oft-Giving Most Merciful.” (Surah Yusuf ,12: 53)
The whole process of controlling desires is pertinent in the sense that it will lead to good character. This is in line with the final aim of the religion brought by Prophet Muhammad namely to accomplish noble character. The state of the soul is pertinent in determining the external character of the human being. Such is why the disciplining of the soul (riyadat al-nafs) becomes one of the important conditions of good character building in Islam. The whole process of disciplining the soul is elaborated in an extensive manner in the discipline called tasawwuf.
Another important characteristic of the true nature of man, according to the Qur’an, is that, prior to his coming to the present world, man has already submitted himself and obedient to God. The Qur’an asserts that God had gathered all of the Children of Adam and had asked them to testify to His Lordship, “When your Lord drew forth from the children of Adam from their loins their descendants and made them testify concerning themselves (saying) ‘Am I not your Lord?’ They said ‘Yea we do testify.’ Lest you should say on the Day of Judgement: ‘Of this we were never mindful.’” (Surah al-A’raf , 7:172)
Indeed, the Qur’anic verse heavily indicates that man is already in the state of submitting himself to God when they come to this world, and they are already in the state of good character. Some Quranic commentators elaborate that the reason why men were in the state of good character and properly submitting themselves to God when they testified to the Lordship of God is because they had not yet been associated with the bodily aspect which is the source of his desires. It is only when they are brought to this world and faced with the physical and bestial natures of their selves, that they forget about the covenant made earlier with God.
Thus, it can be construed that during the whole month of Ramadhan, what Muslims undergo through the act of fasting is an act of returning to themselves, in other words, to their original state of being free from desires as they once were when they made the covenant with God. Thus, when Ramadhan draws to a close and then comes Eid al-Fitr, a Muslim who has completed the rigours of abstentions, has then successfully passed the examination and is ready to continue the remaining months with a much stronger soul and closer to his original nature. That, more than anything else, is the reason why it should be celebrated and rejoiced.
(Sumber: Institut Kefahaman Islam Malaysia (IKIM), oleh Dr. Mohd Farid Mohd Shahran)