Back to Work
In terms of time, the blessed month of Ramadan is a mere 29 or 30 days of our year. Yet despite its brevity, God gives us blessings and lessons which we can use to strengthen us after it is over. But for us to get the full benefit of this sacred month, it is imperative that we understand the true nature of the struggle between us, ourselves, and Shaytān (Satan).
Abu Huraira reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “When Ramadan arrives, the gates of mercy are opened, the gates of Hell are locked, and the devils are chained.”
Our scholars have discussed a number of possible meanings for this hadith, ranging from the literal to the metaphoric. In any event, it’s worth noting the idea that the month of Ramadan is a period in which Satan is limited or unable to whisper to us as he does throughout the rest of the year. One might ask, “Well, if the devils are chained up in Ramadan, then why do people still sin?”
Here lies the heart of the matter! There is a part of the human being, or nafs (self), which seeks after the fulfillment of desires. Yes, we have desires. We are attracted to, and seek out, things such as food, sex, various forms of pleasure, etc. None of these are intrinsically forbidden in Islam. On the contrary, our Creator knows us better than we know ourselves, and has given us a way of life in which we can enjoy life’s pleasures, while still living for the next life. The trouble lies when we forget ourselves and our higher purpose, and live only to satisfy our own desires, even if it is through what God has made forbidden to us. So while the whispers from Satan might stop or lessen in Ramadan, the nature of the human being is essentially unchanged. Thus, if a person sins in Ramadan it’s because he or she wanted to sin, not necessarily because Satan suggested it. God tells us in the Quran, “Indeed We have created man, and We know whatever thoughts his inner self develops, and We are closer to him than his jugular vein.” (50:16)
Here one might ask, “If we’re just going to continue to sin in Ramadan anyways what’s the point of chaining up the devils?” That’s actually an important question, which highlights the nature of our struggle with evil. The Devil knows our nature and how we were created (he was there when it happened, remember?) He knows we’re inclined to seek after pleasures, thus he whispers to us and attempts to make us fall by using things which are the most attractive to our nature. Because of that, we find that the desire to commit certain sins is much greater than the desire to commit others. In fact, there are plenty of sins that a person will never have the desire to commit, simply because the self does not find them desirable.
This is one reason that God chains the devils in Ramadan, so that we have a month to do some real work on ourselves. If we can really change who we are, and what we’re living for, then dealing with the simple whispers of Satan is an easy task. God tells us in the Quran, “When the reckoning is over Satan will say: ‘The promise that was made to you by God was indeed a true promise; but I went back on the promise I had made, for I had no power over you except to call you; and you responded to my call. So blame me not, but blame yourselves. Neither can I help you nor can you give me help. I disavow your having associated me earlier (with God). The punishment for those who are wicked is painful indeed.’” (14:22) “I (only) called you… but you answered!” When we fall into temptation and sin it’s so easy to blame Satan, but so hard to blame ourselves. All he has over us is the power of suggestion, such that if we were strong in faith, and focused on the mission at hand, we would be too busy doing good to even notice.
Looking at it from this perspective, Ramadan is very much like the rest period between rounds that fighters get in professional boxing and mixed martial arts. This small amount of time is given to the fighters, who are separated, so they can go back to their corners and rest, discuss their strengths and weaknesses as well as the strengths and weaknesses of their opponent, and the best plan to win the fight.
Of course, all the works we do in Ramadan are absolutely important. Our prayers, fasting, charity, reading of the Quran, seeking repentance, etc. help us repair our hearts and refocus on God. However, Ramadan has another purpose which many of us forget after ‘Eid, which is to prepare us for the fight to come. Satan has promised he will not stop trying to lead us astray. This is his only task before his reckoning with God Almighty, and he will not stop. He said to God, “Because You have sent me astray, surely I will sit in wait against them (human beings) on Your Straight Path. Then I will come to them from before them and behind them, from their right and from their left, and You will not find most of them to be thankful.” (7:16-17)
If we want to win this fight, we have to know ourselves, our purpose, and our enemy. Ramadan is a time to plan, a time to rest (not relax) from the whispers of Satan, and to refocus our hearts and minds back to God, so that we can face the challenge that awaits.