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Posted Online on Sunday, 15 October 2006 13:30 IST

Muslim Islamic NewsRamadan is Welcome - Islam and Fasting

By M. Burhanuddin Qasmi

The Milli Gazette Online

Fasting is another unique moral and spiritual characteristic of Islam. Literally defined, fasting means to abstain "completely" from foods, drinks, intimate intercourse and smoking, before the break of the dawn till sunset, during the entire month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year. But if we restrict the meaning of the Islamic Fasting to this literal sense, we would be sadly mistaking. 

The Glorious Month of Ramadan

The month of Ramadan enjoys a special importance in the Islamic calendar. As the Prophet (saws) said: "It is Allah's Own month." It is the chief of all months and the most glorious one. 'Fasting' is one of the important pillars of Islam and it is the very month of Ramadan during which fasting has been made obligatory for all adults and sane Muslims. By fasting during Ramadan, a Muslim besides discharging an obligation imposed upon him by Allah, becomes entitled to great rewards in the Hereafter. On the other hand, any lapse in the matter amounts to a great sin. Fasting is an article of worship, the knowledge about the performance or otherwise whereof rests only with Allah and the person concerned. Hence, it is Allah alone who will reward that person for it, on the Day of Judgment.

The blessings of Ramadan are not limited to fasting alone, because the performance of all sorts of worship and good deeds during this month is also a source of great Divine favour. The revelation of the Qur'an commenced during this very month and it is therefore the duty of every Muslim to read, listen and try to understand the message of the Qur'an and thereby gain an insight into the Divine secrets enshrined therein. It brings peace and illumination to the mind and imparts purity to the soul.

Ramadan is the month of fasting, intensive prayer, sacrifice and Divine worship. Throughout this month a devout Muslim fasts during the day in the true sense of the word, that is, he not only merely abstains himself from food and water, but also as explained by the Prophet (saws), exercises strict control over his tongue, eyes, ears, thoughts and deeds and does everything possible to seek the pleasure of Allah.

Devout supplications to Allah and repentance of one's sins during Ramadan are the sources of Divine blessings and mercy. One night, among the last ten nights of Ramadan, is called the 'Night of Glory' (Laylatul Qadr). Muslims keep awake during last ten nights and offer special prayers in search of that special night which is ‘greater than thousand years’, as stated in the Qur’an. Laylatul Qadar is accompanied by great blessings, and the supplications made to Allah during this night are granted by Him. Pious Ulama or saints spend whole month worshiping—day and night—with their followers in Khanqah or Masjid to assure blessings of every moment of Ramadan. Wealthy people visit Masjid-e Haram in Makkah to avail most of the benefits of Ramadan and blessings from Allah.

The month of Ramadan, besides being the month of worship and blessings, carries a historical importance as well. As already mentioned above, the revelations of the glorious Qur'an commenced in this month. The epoch-making Battle of Badr and the Conquest of Makkah also took place during the month of Ramadan.

 

Fasting in Ramadan is Obligatory

  "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn self-restraint," says the Qur’an [2:183].

It has already been indicated that the period of obligatory fasting is the month of Ramadan. The daily period of observance starts before the break of the dawn and ends immediately after sunset. Normally there are accurate calendars to toll the exact time, but in the absence of such facilities one should consult one's watch and the sun's positions, together with the local newspapers, weather bureau, etc.

Fasting in Ramadan is obligatory on every responsible and fit Muslim. Month of Ramadan may be 29 or 30 days only, depending on the moon's positions. Fasting is a pillar of Islam, and any failure to observe it without reasonable excuses is a grave sin in the sight of Allah.

But there are other times when it is recommended to make voluntary fasting, after the Traditions of Prophet Muhammad (saws). Among these times are Thursdays and Fridays of every week, a few days of each month in the two months heralding the coming of Ramadan, i.e., Rajab and Sha'ban, six days after Ramadan following the 'Eidul Fitr Day. Besides, it is always compensating to fast any day of any month of the year, except the 'prohibited’ days when no Muslim should fast.

 

They are exempted from fasting

Children (below age 15)

Elderly People (Al-Harim)

Physical Disability (Al-'Ajiz)

Pregnant and Nursing Mothers

Travelers

 

 

Spiritual Benefits of Fasting

When Islam introduced this matchless institution, it planted an ever-growing tree of infinite virtue and invaluable products. Here is an explanation of the spiritual meaning of the Islamic Fasting:

It teaches man the principle of sincere Love: because when he observes Fasting he does it out of deep love for Allah. And the man who loves Allah truly is a man who really knows what love is.

It equips man 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.

It cultivates in man 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 behavior or compel him to observe 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 man.

It indoctrinates man in patience and selflessness: as through fasting, he feels the pains of deprivation but he endures them patiently.

It is an effective lesson in applied moderation and willpower.

Fasting also provides man with a transparent soul, a clear mind and a light body.

It shows man a new way of wise savings and sound budgeting.

It enables man to master the art of Mature Adaptability. We can easily understand the point once we realize that fasting makes man change the entire course of his daily life.

It grounds man in discipline and healthy survival.

It originates in man the real spirit of social belonging, unity and brotherhood, of equality before Allah as well as before the law.

Fasting helps in conditioning the heart, the soul, and the body on the virtues of patience, tenacity, and firmness in the face of adversity: Because patience is the apex of self-mastery, discipline and spiritual alertness. Patience is to turn the phrase "I can't" into "I can." It is to say the difficult is easy. It is an inner and psychological demolition of things perceived by others as impossible.

It is an ‘Godly’ prescription for self-reassurance and self-control.

 

The wisdom behind fasting

There is wisdom behind every act in Islam, no matter how big or small it is. In time we may know the wisdom behind some acts, and for others we may never know. Salat, the five daily prayers for instance, is a daily training for purifying a believer and reminding him that he is a member in a community of believers. Fasting, on the other hand, is an annual institution containing all conceivable attributes for human excellence. It is a training for the body and soul, a renewal of life, encouraging the spirit of sharing and giving. The following are some of the general benefits:

 

Behavior Modification

One of the most benefiting factors of fasting is that its observer is able to control or change his or her old or so called 'unbreakable' habits. The reason being is that human life is an embodiment of acquired habits. To change or control a habit is to wage a war on oneself. 


Fasting - Key to Good Health

Fasting is a sentinel against disease, provided that the faster follows the strict dietary rule: eat during fast breaking and avoiding over-eating. Allah (swt) States: "...Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters." (Al-Qur'an, 7:31) 

When the stomach is empty, as a result of fasting, it gets well-desired rest, to renew and revitalize its energy. With the fasting, the stomach is forced to go through a discharge whereby harmful residues are eliminated through perspiration as the body searches for food during fast. During fast, the system of secretion is organized, and this in turn benefits the blood pressure, inhibiting hardening of the arteries. The heart and kidney functions are enhanced as the workload tapers off. Fasting helps to correct the problem of obesity and diabetes. Doctors over the years have used fasting as a prescription for certain ailments.

Islam wants a Muslim to be healthy, clean, alert, agile and energetic. "Fast to be healthy," had said the Prophet (saws). And physicians today acknowledge the many benefits of fasting that ensure health and the soundness of one's body and mind. Some of these positive points have a direct influence on psychology and physique of the fasting individual.

Fasting has been found to be an effective treatment for psychological and emotional disorders.  It helps a person to firm up his will, cultivate and refine his taste and manners, strengthen his conviction of doing good, avoid controversy, petulance and rashness, which all contribute towards a sane and healthy personality. Besides nurturing resistance and ability to face hardships and endurance, fasting reflects on outward physical appearance by cutting out gluttony and getting rid of excess fat. 

According to expert doctors the benefits of fasting on health do not stop there but are instrumental in alleviating a number of physical diseases, including those of the digestive systems, such as chronic stomachache, inflammation of the colon, liver diseases, indigestion, and conditions such as obesity, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, asthma, diphtheria and many other maladies,

A Swiss physician Dr. Barsilus noted that: ‘The advantages of hunger as a remedy exceed those ingesting medicine several times’.

As readers are well aware, several physicians advise patients to skip meals, sometimes for a few days, before prescribing them a controlled diet.

Generally speaking, fasting hastens the destruction of the decaying tissues of the body by means of hunger, and then builds new tissues through nutrition. This is why some scientists suggest that fasting should be regarded as an effective means of restoring youthfulness and longevity. However, Islam exempts from fasting sick and old people whose health is bound to deter.

But fasting should have its regulations too, and not simply inorderly skipping meals, that is bound to harm health and stamina, rather than improving them. Here again Islam provides the answer, and in order to realize the benefits of fasting, it recommends the late midnight meals called 'Sahar' (before the formal start of a fast) and the breaking of the fast at the time prescribed. Of course, to ensure good health one should abstain from gluttony after breaking fast.

 

Social Outlook

Socially, fasting is an expression of solidarity with the poor, the family and the whole society. This is a period in which the rich have first-hand experience of what it is to remain hungry. The pains that indigents suffer in normal living conditions. The process of disciplining resulting from Islamic fasting instills in the rich the virtue of mercy, which is very important in terms of social well being, and proliferation of harmony.

 

Family Ties

Fasting strengthens family ties, especially in that the family is an endangered institution in the western society. It helps the family gather together to break fast at Iftar, and then eat Suhoor (food before fasting) together at least twice a day for a month. The family even makes Salat together.

 

Basic elements of fasting

There are two basic elements that constitute the essence of Islamic fasting. The observation of these elements makes one's fasting acceptable.  The first element of fasting is abstinence of an individual from the break of dawn (Fajr) until sunset (Maghrib) from food and drink and sexual relations. Any nourishment taken by mouth or nose, or drink of any sort, water, juices, milk, etc., should be avoided. The second element of fasting is Niyyah (intention). 


Importance of Niyyah in Islam

In Islamic practices, Niyyah is highly rated. This remarkable element is not unique to fasting; it includes every degree of the believer's undertakings from Salaat, to Zakaat, to Hajj. It is the difference between whether the actions are religious or irreligious. As the Chairman of MMERC Maulana Badruddin Ajmal Al-Qasmi frequently says, Muslim Ummah is in great loss not because of ‘Badh Niyatie’ (bad intention) rather it is in great loss because of ‘Bey Niyatie’ (no intention). For instance, fasting for political reasons, or as a weapon of passive resistance, or hunger strikes, or starving for dietary reasons, or weight control, or even on medical advice - all of these are not proper Islamic fasting, because they lack one main component: the Niyyah or intention. This is why Niyyah for fasting is to worship Allah by abstaining from fast-breakers from the break of dawn to sunset is an essential component of Islamic Fasting.

 

Why Muslims are not in a utopia

Someone may be tempted to raise the objection: If this is the case with the Islamic institution of fasting, and if this is the picture of Islam in this aspect, why are the Muslims not living in a utopia? To such an objection we can only say that Muslims have lived in and enjoyed a utopia in a certain epoch of their history. The realization of that utopia was a phenomenon of a unique achievement in the history of man. We say unique, because no religion or social system other than Islam has ever been able to realize its ideals in reality.

The reason why the Islamic utopia is not being established nowadays is manifold and easily explicable. But to restrict our discussion to the institution of fasting we may say that some Muslims, unfortunately for them, do not observe the fast or, at best, adopt the attitude of indifference. On the other hand, some of those who observe it do not realize its true meaning and, as a result, derive very little benefit out of it or, in fact, no benefit at all. That is why some Muslims today, do not enjoy the real privileges of fasting.

 

A Darul Uloom Deoband graduate and Editor Eastern Crescent English monthly, MB Qasmi, is director of the Mumbai-based institute ‘Markazul Ma’arif Education and Research Centre’. He may be reached at manager@markazulmaarif.org

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