There are two great paradoxes about man.
Like every other creation of Allah subnahu wa ta'ala man is an 'abd' of his Creator. In this man himself had no choice. It was determined by the Lord who gave man existence. However there is another level of 'abdhood' that Allah (swt) desires man to attain through his conscious choice and striving. For this he needs to recognize his created status, surrender his own will to the will of his Lord and gratefully and joyfully strive to shape his life in the way that pleases his Lord. This is the 'abdhood' that really matters. There is a paradox here. It is in this surrender and loss of freedom to Allah (swt) that man gains true freedom. In this surrender he safeguards himself from every internal and external harm, gains unfailing strength and fulfills his noblest destiny.
There is another paradox. Biologically man is too insignificant, much weaker and more helpless than so many other living beings. Yet Allah subnahu wa ta'ala has chosen man to be His 'khalifa' on this earth and endowed in him the potential to become His 'khalifa'. But man does not automatically qualify for this role; he needs to cultivate the potential to qualify for this dignified position. Man acquires the competence to be the 'khalifa' of Allah (swt) only when he becomes a sincere 'abd' by his conscious choice . It is only becoming an 'abd' by conscious choice that man becomes worthy to be the 'khalifa' on earth of Allah (swt). Only in this can he find his proper role on earth.
What are the qualities of the willing 'abd' of Allah (swt)? So that we do not have any confusion Allah (swt) has made it abundantly clear in the Qur'an what those qualities are and His Beloved Messenger Muhammad sallallahu alayhi wa sallam has elaborated on them for us. However, Allah (swt) in the Qur'an compresses all of those qualities into one word: 'taqwa'. Allah has also told us how to acquire it and His noble Messenger has shown us the way to do it. Everything in Islam is geared to this single end.
Who is a man of 'taqwa'? The man of 'taqwa' is always conscious of the glory of his all powerful, ever wakeful and all wise Lord, fears His displeasure, always seeks to please Him, is obedient and ready to fulfill His wishes and maintains caution so as not to slip or stray. The only thing that really matters to him is the pleasure of his Lord. In order to remain obedient to his Lord and earn His pleasure the person with 'taqwa' is willing to endure hardship. In other words, He is satisfied to have Allah (swt) as his Lord, Islam as his 'deen' and Muhammad (saws) as his prophet. Only such a person can become an 'abd' in the second and really meaningful sense and live the full life of the 'khalifa' of Allah (swt) on this earth.
Nothing else provides the opportunity for man to acquire 'taqwa' more than the month long fast of Ramadan. The hunger and thirst and the voluntary restraints from all that is displeasing to our Lord and the urge to eagerly seize every opportunity to please Him impress into our consciousness the presence of Allah (swt) and create the habit of enduring hardship to stay on the path of Allah (swt). Fasting is not just abstaining from food, drink and sex all day. It is not just going through the motions: there is much more to it. This physical fasting has to be safeguarded and strengthened through the total dedication to the teachings of Islam. Ramadan fasting in the real the sense brings together the entire teaching of Islam.
Is there any practical way of measuring the state of one's 'taqwa'? Yes, there is. One has to place oneself beside Muhammad sallallahu alayhi wa sallam, the Noble Messenger of Allah (swt). To the end of time he remains for everyone the supreme example of attaining 'taqwa'. We can measure the state of our 'taqwa' by comparing our inward and outward life with the inward and outward life of our dear Prophet (saws). Thus Ramadan becomes a month to strive to become like Muhammad (saws), the blessed Messenger of Allah (swt). Until and unless our life resembles his we can never become the kind of 'abd' that Allah (swt) wants us to be and assume our proper role on the earth, to become the 'khalifa' of Allah (swt). Ramadan provides all the inducement to suppress the worst and bring out the best in us, so that we can attain our highest and noblest self, thus becoming what Allah (swt) desires us to be.
Let us gratefully and joyfully strive to make the finest use of Ramadan and hope that Allah (swt) will accept our efforts and bless us to become the kind of 'abd' He likes and will make us worthy to be His 'khalifa' on earth. As for the Hereafter, the rewards for the sincere 'abd' and 'khalifa' from his Lord are beyond calculation.
A. K. M. Mohiuddin is a retired university professor of English literature living in Bangladesh. He can be reached at this address: akmm45yahoo. com