In Ramadan, Muslims everywhere in the world enter into a season of intensive worship, which is characterized by fasting, praying, and training for self-control and discipline, in order to become a better and spiritually purified human being. This season is the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month in the lunar calendar. A sacred month when the Glorious Qur’an, Allah’s word, was revealed to the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) for the first time around 610 CE.
Muslims have been fasting in Ramadan for more than 1420 years since they were ordered by God Almighty through the Glorious Qur’an: [Oh you who believe! Fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you, so that you may learn self-restraint] (Al-Baqarah 2:183). This verse shows clearly that the Muslims were not the first ones to fast. Allah prescribed fasting on many nations before Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) was sent as a prophet. The Qur’an tells us that when Zakariyah (peace and blessings be upon him) prayed and asked Allah to give him offspring, he was commanded to fast three days by abstaining from talking. Likewise, Maryam the mother of Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him) was also ordered by Allah to fast the same way when she became pregnant. Our Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) told us that David (peace and blessings be upon him) used to fast every other day. Jesus (peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have fasted forty days and forty nights in Matthew 4:2. Fasting had always been one of the observances of pious people.
In Islam, fasting is one of the fundamental ordinances, with its unique moral and spiritual characteristics. The other fundamental ordinances are the following: the testament of faith (to declare none has the right to be worshiped except Allah alone, and Muhammad is his final messenger); the five daily Prayers (dawn, noon, afternoon, sunset, and night); zakah (alms) which is an obligatory charity that the Muslim must pay once a year (2.5 percent of one’s wealth) to the poor and needy people; and pilgrimage to Makkah once in a lifetime for those who are physically and financially capable of doing so. These religious obligations are stations where the believer charges his soul with love of God and desire for righteousness. As we nurture our bodies with food and drink at different times of the day, we nurture our souls five times a day by praying. We go through the same process when we listen to the Friday sermon once a week and pray collectively in congregation, when we perform the pilgrimage to Makkah once in our life, and when we fast the whole month of Ramadan once a year.
What Is Fasting?
Literally defined, fasting means to abstain completely from eating, drinking, and having intimate intercourse before the break of the dawn till sunset. It is also refraining from committing any kind of sin, whether major or minor, during the month of Ramadan. This does not mean that the act of fasting cannot be performed at other times of the year. There are great virtues in fasting in general, but in this sacred month it is Allah’s commandment, which should be fulfilled by every Muslim who has reached the age of puberty and is, of course, physically able. Those who cannot do it for these reasons can eat and drink, but they still have to control themselves and avoid committing minor and major sins. They, too, live and share the spiritual experience with their fellow Muslims.
The Spiritual Experience
Fasting in Ramadan is a great spiritual experience, an occasion for reflection and spiritual discipline and another chance to express gratitude for Allah’s countless blessings and guidance. It is an occasion to show one’s commitment and submission to Allah Almighty. It is a month of mercy, tolerance, forgiveness, and purification from past sins and mistakes. It is an awareness of human frailty and dependence on Allah. It is an eye-opener and self-experience of what the less fortunate, the poor and the hungry, are enduring and experiencing in everyday life.
Fasting in Ramadan Is a Practical School
In this institution, the faithful learn the principle of sincere love. Fasting also equips the individual with a fervent hope in God. It imbues the person with virtues of effective devotion, honest dedication, and closeness to God. It indoctrinates people in patience and unselfishness. Fasting is also an effective lesson in applied moderation and willpower. It provides a transparent soul to transcend, a clear mind to think, and a light body to move and act. It creates an atmosphere of equality and unity among the fasting people. Fasting also shows us a new way of wise saving and sound budgeting instead of lavish wasting. Indeed, fasting is a school for learning righteousness, self-discipline, and self-control.
Fasting and Self-Control
For eleven months, Muslims eat and drink in moderation as required by Islam, but in this month of Ramadan, they renew self-control and habit modulation in resisting their desires instead of becoming slaves to them. A fasting person must overcome hunger and thirst and must keep all of his desires under control. Many sins and crimes are caused by the failure of people to silence or control their desires, whether they are physical or emotional. Sinners and criminals are usually people who found themselves weak in front of their lusts and desires. The school of Ramadan trains those who fast the proper way to overcome base sensuality.
Fasting and Health
We believe that human beings are bodies and souls. While fasting purifies the soul, it cleanses the body. Fasting has many health benefits, and results in the increase of many advantages for the human body. It gives the digestive system the opportunity to rest. It is often the advice of the physician to the patient to limit meals or decrease quantities of food. This process where fat and excess stored energy are reduced leads to positive weight loss. Fasting is an excellent preventative measure and remedial treatment of the digestive system and the colon where the accumulation of fecal matter causes a lot of problems for many people. In fact, fasting has been proven medically to be effective for some illnesses related to the stomach and the intestines.
The advent of the month of Ramadan is greeted by Muslims with great joy and its passing away is lamented, with the consolation that the next Ramadan would certainly come the following year.
May Allah bless us and forgive our previous sins in this sacred month! May He give us the strength to make up the fasting the proper way! And May He bless this Ummah of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him)!
By Imam Hamid Slimi**