The world mostly perceives Ramadan as a month of fasting during which committed Muslims engage in a religious ritual, abstaining from any form of eating and drinking from dawn to dusk every day for the entire month. Muslims who successfully accomplish the task also tend to see it as quite an accomplishment.
However, the Holy Qur’an informs us that the act of fasting has a deeper and longer-term objective. Chapter 2 verse 183 says, “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous.” Further, verse 185 reveals that through the act of fasting God desires to accord us “facility” not “hardship.”
As the Qur’an emphasizes, fasting should naturally compel one to adopt a course toward moral excellence. If Muslims or others who fast find this progress to be lacking, they must reflect on the validity of their ritualizing and reconsider their approach to fasting.
Here are five ways in which the particulars of Ramadan and fasting increase one’s faith and lead to righteousness.
1. Fasting is a withdrawal from routine.
Simply by waking up a good hour before dawn, actively rushing to prepare the pre-fasting meal known as Sehri, and then abstaining from eating or drinking for a good 12 or more hours fundamentally breaks up our normal routine.
This aids in a psychological and physiological withdrawal from the chores and hustle-bustle of life, which facilitates a frame of mind that leads us to reflect on the spiritual and celestial realm of our creation — and the hope is that we would act accordingly.
2. Fasting leads to humility.
A natural outcome of depriving ourselves of food and water, suffering pangs of hunger and weakness, is that it leads us closer to humility. We end up reflecting deeper on the provisions we take for granted and begin to realize that our sustenance is accorded by our Creator — to whom we need to hold a greater attitude of gratitude.
It also helps us to identify with and aid those stricken with poverty as they suffer from hunger on a regular basis. Again, it causes us to reflect on the plentiful provisions of our lives and recognize that those living below the poverty line are deprived of these privileges.
3. Fasting trains you to resist temptation and fend impurities.
Depriving ourselves of food and water is not the only abstinence prescribed from dawn to dusk — we are also required to abstain from sexual activity with legitimate partners. For young, unmarried adults, libido can be a serious challenge. A study published by the Eastern Mediterranean Health Journal showed that 52 young males between the ages of 18-24 had significantly lower testosterone levels towards the end of Ramadan after fasting for 12 hours a day.
Muslims also hold fast against any form of impure thoughts and impulses– such as envy, anger, pride, etc. Fasting as a means of fighting sin, temptation, and impurity has a great Christian legacy with Jesus’ 40-day fast in the wilderness fending off all the great temptations that Satan had thrown at him.
The prophet Muhammad said that Ramadan is a time when the devil is fettered in chains, symbolizing it as a great opportunity to beat sin and progress in faith. He called it a “shield,” saying that those fasting must not behave impudently, and if someone addresses you abusively then reply only with, “I am fasting.” So fasting must be seen as holding fast against all forms of sin and malice.
4. Fasting facilitates intensive worship and spirituality.
Practicing Muslims commit to a prayer ritual five times a day, but during Ramadan many undertake an even greater frequency and intensity of worship. Many Muslims will begin their day with the voluntary prayers in the wee hours of the night known as tahajjad.
It’s also common to undertake a full recitation of the 114 chapters of the Holy Qur’an within the span of the month. A large body of those fasting will visit their local mosque for extra nightly prayer sessions known as tarawee. Verse 185 of chapter 2 says that the Qur’an was revealed to Muhammad during the month of Ramadan, though it happened gradually — over 23 years — through the archangel Gabriel.
Muslims believe the Night of Power, which is the basis of the 97th chapter of the Holy Qur’an, occurs in the latter part of Ramadan. The significance of this night is said to be worth a thousand months. Consequently, many dedicated Muslims spend the latter part of Ramadan in intensive worship through the night, secluded inside a mosque or confine.
Ghulam Ahmad, founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and regarded by Ahmadi Muslims as the Messiah foretold by Muhammad, has said, “A person who keeps fast should always have it in view that fasting does not simply signify remaining hungry. Rather such a person should engage in remembrance of God so that he can attain devotion to God and is able to forsake worldly desires. Fasting signifies this alone that man gives up one kind of bread, which is for physical sustenance and takes the other kind of bread which is a source of contentment for the soul.”
5. Fasting strengthens communion between believers.
The Qur’an guides us in verse 118 of chapter 9 to keep company with the righteous. As the idiom goes, we are judged by the company we keep, which inexorably has great influence on our conduct.
Ramadan generates much communion among its participants who congregate daily for fast-opening ceremonies and communal prayers that lead to camaraderie among like-minded people. The development of such a social network also helps us shed sin and adopt righteousness.
Fasting is a religious ritual common to many faiths — including Judaism, Christianity, Hinduism and Buddhism among other religions. In verse 185 of chapter 2, the Qur’an emphasizes the importance of this type of interfaith activity based on a common religious practice as a way of maintaining harmony. So let the fasting begin.