Ramadan is scarcely two days away. This is a joyous month, of prayer, fasting, reflection, and Qur'an study. A month to give in charity, particularly to the hungry, and to give thanks for all that we are blessed with and too often take for granted.
I've noticed a trend that greatly disturbs me. The trend is "Here's a list of these volunteer events. Come join in and maximize your hasanat (rewards from God) in Ramadan!"
This scares me a bit, to be honest. It ignores the fact that we should be charitable and help others out of love for our fellow human beings, regardless of faith or lack thereof. Instead, it advocates doing good so that you'll be rewarded by God. Selfish motives over selfless.
The Qur'an tells us that fasting is ordained for us (Muslims) as it was for those before us (Jews and Christians) so that we may become righteous. (Qur'an 2:183)
What was ordained, specifically? Well, if we refer to the previous book, the Torah and Gospel, (as the Qur'an instructs us to do if we are in doubt or confusion about something the Qur'an contains), it says:
[Matthew 6:16] “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full.
[Isaiah 58:3] "Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
4 and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
5 only a day for people to humble themselves? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying in sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
6 to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry
7 and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter —when you see the naked, to clothe them, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
8 and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer;
9 you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
10 and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always."
In short: Fasting is not about you. It is about others. Free the enslaved and oppressed, feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless. Don't gossip, pass blame, or bicker with people.
So take a step back, take a breath, and remember, when someone starts talking about "rewards": "It's not about me."