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As-Siyaam or fasting

As-Siyaam stands as a unique moral and spiritual characteristic of Islam, in addition to the fact that it is one of the pillars of Islam. In Arabic, fasting means abstinence from doing something. Literally defined, fasting means to abstain completely from foods, drinks, sexual intercourse and smoking, before break of the dawn till sunset during the entire month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Hijrah (Islamic) calendar. 

Fasting is an ancient religious practice exercised in different ways by various monotheistic religions. Allah the Exalted said: O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain piety. (Al Baqarah 2:183)

Allah explains that fasting is not new among the Holy Laws; it was ordained for previous peoples as well. This doubtlessly soothes the heart, facilitates the acceptance of fasting, and sweeps away the feeling of vexation, because Muslims are not the only people requested to fast.

After this, Allah adds That you may attain piety and this is the purpose of fasting. People are commanded to adopt fasting as a means to protect themselves against wicked and evil motives. Fasting safeguards the person as an individual, and the society as a whole. It protects the person from turning into a beast living according to the Law of the Jungle. It also protects society by preparing the devout individual to work for the general welfare, thus living as a human being with other human beings, not as a wild beast with other human beings. To this effect, the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) confirms: Saum (fasting) is a shield (or a screen or a shelter) from the Hell-fire. So, the person observing Saum (fast) should avoid sexual relations with his wife and should not behave foolishly and impudently, and if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should say to him twice, ‘I am observing Saum (fast)’ [Al-Bukhari: 919].

Fasting is a shelter in the sense that the faster knows his fasting is carried out in order to avoid the evil of his animal nature. When he proclaims, I am fasting! he is fully aware that he says it under the effect of his human, not animal, nature. When he safeguards himself against the evils of his animal nature, and his society against his own evil, he gains God’s Pleasure, and thus takes his stand among the righteous. The words ...that you may, mentioned in the aforementioned aayah, bears the sense of preparation and readiness. The way fasting prepares the spirits of fasters for the devotion of Allah, is manifested in many aspects, the most important of which is the following. As a personal affair, fasting is left to the conviction of the faster himself, with none assuming the role of guardian over him except Allah.

When the faster obeys Allah’s Commandments by rejecting the appeals of his desires that come to his mind during fasting, or when he trains himself to be patient every time he is tempted by delights and desires out of feeling that Allah watches him and knows all the secrets of his heart and when he keeps on this for a full month (Ramadan), out of this continuous heed accompanying his activities he certainly will attain the gift of Allah’s Watch over him, as well as increasing his own fear of Allah. He will try to avoid the shameful situation of Allah finding him where he is prohibited to be. Allah’s Watch over him enables him to carry out all deeds of goodness, and keeps him away from evil. He then would not cheat, ill-treat or do injustice to others; nor would he spread corruption among people.

However, the mere abstinence from food and drink is not the real meaning of fasting that Allah enjoined on the righteous. The Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) declared: Allah does not accept the fasting of those who do not restrain themselves from telling falsehood or from doing false deeds.

The basic truth of fasting in Islam springs from Allah’s Watch over the faster, as well as the latter’s carrying out of his fast for the cause of none but Allah. To this effect, the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) explains: Allah will forgive all the sins of those who fast during Ramadan out of true belief and in anticipation of Allah’s Reward in the Hereafter.

In the same way, fasting prepares the spirits of fasters for the devotion of Allah, in the sense that fasting moderates the violence of their instinctive desires, the source of all sins. Along this vein, the Prophet (sallallaahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) declared: O you young people! Those of you who can afford marriage, let them marry, for it confines eyes to modesty and protects the wombs (of women) from evil intentions. Those of you who cannot do this, let them fast because fasting breaks off their lusts.

The experience of fasting during Ramadan, which comes during the different seasons over the years since it is calculated by the moon, is of genuine advantage to the believer. It is a practical exercise of will, of self-control, and of civil conduct. Though the individual is allowed to eat whatever he wishes and to enjoy sex after breaking the fast, he often feels that indulgence is not best for him. After a few days of fasting, one develops the power of restraint and rejoices in his ability to master his own desires and eccentricities.

Here is a list of some of the benefits of the Islamic Fasting: 
1) It teaches the person the principle of sincere love, because when he observes the fasting he does it out of love for Allah. And the person who loves Allah truly is someone who really knows what love is.
2) Each and every moment during our fast we suppress our passions and desires and proclaim, by our doing so, the supremacy of the law of Allah.
3)From yet another point of view fasting has an immense impact on society, for all the Muslims irrespective of their status must observe fast during the same month. This brings to prominence the essential equality of people and thus goes a long way towards creating in them sentiments of love and brotherhood. During Ramadan evil conceals itself while good comes to the fore and the whole atmosphere is filled with piety and purity.
4) It equips the person with a creative sense of hope and an optimistic outlook on life; because when he fasts he is hoping to please Allah and is seeking His Grace.
5) It imbues a person with a genuine virtue of effective devotion, honest dedication and closeness to Allah, because when he fasts he does so for Allah and for His sake alone.
6) It cultivates in the person a vigilant and sound conscience, because the fasting person keeps his fast in secret as well as in public. In fasting, especially, there is no mundane authority to check man’s behaviour or compel him to observe the fasting. He keeps it to please Allah and satisfy his own conscience by being faithful in secret and in public. There is no better way to cultivate a sound conscience in people.
7) It indoctrinates patience and unselfishness in a person; because when he fasts he feels the pains of deprivation but endures patiently. Truly, this deprivation may be only temporary, yet there is no doubt that the experience makes him realise the severe effects of such pains on others, who might be deprived of essential commodities for days or weeks or probably months together. 
8) It is an effective lesson in applied moderation and willpower. The person who observes his fasting properly is certainly a person who can discipline his passionate desires and place his self above physical temptations. Such is the person of personality and character, one of willpower and determination.
9) It provides the person with a transparent soul to transcend, a clear mind to think and a light body to move and act. All this is the never-failing result of carrying a light stomach. Medical instructions, biological rules and intellectual experience attest to this fact.
10) It enables the person to master the art of mature adaptability. We can easily understand the point once we realise that fasting makes someone change the entire course of his daily life. When he makes the change, he naturally adapts himself to a new system and moves along to satisfy the new rules. This, in the long run, develops in him a wise sense of adaptability and a self-created power to overcome the unpredictability and courage will readily appreciate the effects of Fasting in this respect.
11) It generates the real spirit of social belonging, of unity and brotherhood, of equality before Allah as well as before the law. This spirit is the natural product of the fact that when one fasts, he feels that he is joining the whole Muslim society in observing the same duty in the same manner at the same time for the same motives to the same end. No sociologist can say that there has been at any period of history anything comparable to this fine institution of Islam.

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