September 21, 2023 | Rabiʻ I 6, 1445
Reasons to Fast
Al Baqara (The Cow) - Chapter 2: Verse 183
“What is fasting?” “How does the fasting of Muslims in Ramadan differ from the fasting of other faiths?” “Why should one ‘torture’ one’s body in the first place?” “What do you really gain from fasting in the end?" These are a few questions that a number of non-Muslim friends and colleagues often ask us, usually out of fascination with this spiritually-uplifting practice of Islamic faith, and at times out of pity and sympathy for us, thinking, why should anyone suffer from hunger and thirst like Muslims? I wouldn’t be surprised if many of us shared the same negative perception of fasting.
It is important to note that fasting in Arabic is called “Sawm”, which literally means ‘to be at rest’. Fasting in the month of Ramadan (the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar) is one of the Five Pillars upon which the “house” of Islam is built. During this month, every able-bodied Muslim is required to fast everyday from dawn until dusk
7 Reasons To Fast
- Fasting is an institution for the improvement of moral and spiritual character of human being. The purpose of the fast is to help develop self-restraint, self-purification, God-consciousness, compassion, the spirit of caring and sharing, the love of humanity and the love of God. Fasting is a universal custom and is advocated by all the religions of the world, with more restrictions in some than in others. The Islamic fast, as opposed to mere starvation or self-denial, is an act of worship and obedience to God, thanksgiving, forgiveness, spiritual training, and self-examination.
- Fasting indoctrinates us in patience, unselfishness, and gratitude. When we fast we feel the pains of deprivation and hunger, and learn how to endure it patiently. The meaning of this powerful experience in a social and humanitarian context is that we are much quicker than anybody else in sympathizing with the oppressed and needy around the world, and responding to their needs.
- It cultivates in us the principle of sincere love because when we observe fasting we do it out of deep love for God. And a person, who loves God, truly is a person who knows what love is and why everyone on this Earth should be loved and treated justly, for the sake of God.
- Fasting elevates the human spirit and increases our awareness of God. It strengthens our willpower as we learn to rise above our lower desires. The institution of fasting is both unique and a shared experience in human history. From the very beginning of time, humans have struggled to master their physical and psychological selves: their bodies and their emotions. Hunger is one the most powerful urges that we experience. Thus, when a person purposefully denies something to their own self that it craves, they are elevating their mind above their body, and their reason and will above their carnal passions.
- With the clarity of mind and absence of distractions also comes a greater focus. In the month of Ramadan, many Muslims try to avoid watching TV, listening to music, and some other leisure activities, which spares them more time and energy to be spent on more productive activities such as academics, intense study of Islam, voluntary prayers, social and humanitarian causes, and a quality time with the family, to name a few. It is a reminder of our duty to God, our purpose and higher values in life.
- It makes us realize the reality of life and death. Fasting makes us realize how dependant our lives are on things that we often take for granted, such as food and water. It makes us think about our dependence on God and God’s mercy and justice. Moreover, it reminds us of the life after death, which itself has a great impact on our character and our worldview.
- Ramadan is a blessed month for a special reason: it is actually the month in which God first revealed His final message and guidance for mankind to our beloved Prophet Muhammad. This message has been perfectly preserved both orally and textually in the form of a Book, called the Quran (The Reading/Recital). Therefore, Muslims try to do an intense study of the Quran in this month especially, and evaluate their lives according to the standards and guidance contained in it.
In a nutshell, even though the real purpose of the dynamic institution of fasting is to discipline our soul and moral behavior, and to develop sympathy for the less fortunate, it is a multi-functional and a comprehensive tool of change in various spheres of our lives including social and economic, intellectual and humanitarian, spiritual and physical, private and public, personal and common, inner and outer – all in one!
"The Fasting of Ramadan: A Time for Thought, Action, and Change!" - Taha Ghayyur & Taha Ghaznavi
From Issue: 795 [Read original issue]
"Be mindful of Allah, and you will find Him in front of you." [Tirmidhi]
If a person fulfill's Allah's right upon him, then Allah will be with him in all of his affairs. That is, Allah will support him, protect him, guide him and strengthen him in his actions. He will guide him to what is best for him and steer him away from everything that is harmful to him.
This is, of course a very special relationship that one may have with Allah. Allah sees and knows all things that exist in his world. Nobody can do anything without Allah being present via His knowledge. Nothing escapes Him. This type of "Allah's presence" is true for the believers and the disbelievers. However, this hadith is describing a special closeness to Allah. This is Allah's closeness to the believers in that He is always close with His help, protection and support. He is in front of them and guiding them.
As the person obeys Allah more and more and comes closer to Allah, Allah protects him in an even greater fashion. The extent of this closeness, protection and care from Allah is described in another hadith, wherein Allah says:
"My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more loved by Me than the religious duties I have imposed upon him. And My servant continues to draw near Me with supererogatory works so that I shall love him. When I love him, I am his hearing with which he hears, his seeing with which he sees, his hand with which he strikes, and his foot with which he walks. Were he to ask [something] of Me, I would surely give it to him; and were he to ask Me for refuge, I would surely grant him it." [Bukhari]
Al-Haitami makes the point that "in front" is the only direction mentioned. He says that this is the case because every human being is headed forward, forward to the Hereafter, and is not going to remain in this world. Hence, he is like a traveler who is moving on. He is in need of having Allah in front of him, in the direction that he is moving, in order to protect him and safeguard him in that journey.
"Commentary on the Forty Hadith of al-Nawawi" - Jamaal al-Din M. Zarabozo, pp. 745-748
From Issue: 857 [Read original issue]
Strength in Sensitivity
When the news of the Prophet's, peace be upon him, death spread through Medina it caused infinite sorrow. Faces showed dismay; tears, sobs, and sometimes screams expressed the intensity of the pain. The Prophet had recommended that grief should be expressed but without excess, without hysteria, with restraint and dignity. Heavy silence, crossed with sighs and sobs, reigned near the Prophet's home. Umar ibn al-Khattab suddenly broke that silence and exclaimed forcefully that the Prophet was not dead, that he would come back, as Moses had done, after forty days. He even threatened to kill whoever dared declare that the Prophet was dead. His love was such, and the feeling of emptiness was so intense, that Umar could not imagine the future without the man who had guided and accompanied them. Emotion had taken hold of his being.
At this point, Abu Bakr arrived at the Prophet's home, sat at his bedside, and lifted the blanket that had been laid over the Prophet's body and face. Tears were streaming down his face as he realized that the Prophet had left them. He went out and tried to silence Umar, who, still in a state of emotional shock, refused to calm himself. Abu Bakr then stood aside and addressed the crowd, and this was when he uttered those words, so full of wisdom, that synthesized the very essence of Islam's creed: "Let those who worshipped Muhammad know that Muhammad is now dead! As for those who worshipped God, let them know that God is alive and does not die."
Umar, despite his strong character and impressive personality, had lost control of himself for a short while, his emotions seizing him so strongly that it brought out a heretofore unsuspected fragility, causing him to react like a child refusing the ruling of God, of reality, of life. By contrast, Abu Bakr, who was normally so sensitive, who wept so abundantly and so intensely when he read the Quran, had received the news of the Prophet's death with deep sorrow but also with extraordinary calm and unsuspected inner strength. At that particular moment, the two men's roles were inverted, thus showing that through his departure the Prophet offered us a final teaching: in the bright depths of spirituality, sensitivity can produce a degree of strength of being that nothing can disturb. Conversely, the strongest personality, if it forgets itself for a moment, can become vulnerable and fragile. The path to wisdom and to strength in God inevitably leads through awareness and recognition of our weaknesses. They never leave us, and the Most Near recommends that we accept them - with confidence, as Abu Bakr did, and with intensity, as Umar did, but always with humility.
"In The Footsteps of The Prophet" - Tariq Ramadan, pp.209, 210
From Issue: 683 [Read original issue]