By Dr. Jamal Badawi
Sawm (fasting) is the one of the main pillars of Islam. It is mentioned in the Glorious Qur’an and Sunnah. In the Qur’an we read:
O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may remain conscious of Allah [or so that you may learn self- restraint]. (Al-Baqarah 2:183)
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“Islam is built on five pillars; to testify that there is no one worthy of worship but Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger; to perform (the five daily) prayers; to pay Zakah; to fast the month of Ramadan and to make Pilgrimage if one is able to.” (Authenticated by Al-Albani)
Moreover, there is a consensus of Muslim scholars throughout history that rejection of the obligation of fasting is tantamount to rejection of Islam as well. To emphasize the blessings of the month of fasting, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“Whoever breaks the fast of one day of Ramadan, without a valid excuse or (not due to) illness, fasting forever will not make up for it (i.e. the missed day) even if he /she did fast it.” (Al-Bukhari)
It is the month of endurance and the reward of endurance is paradise. Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“It (Ramadan) is a month whose beginning is mercy, whose middle is forgiveness and whose end is freedom from hellfire.” (Authenticated by Al-Albani)
In another hadith, he said:
“He who fasts during Ramadan with faith and seeking reward from Allah, Allah will forgive his past sins. And he who prays during the night in Ramadan with faith and seeking reward from Allah, Allah will forgive his past sins. And he who spends the Night of Decree (Lailat-ul-Qadr) in prayer with faith and seeking reward from Allah, Allah will forgive his past sins.” (Al-Bukhari)
Significance of Fasting
Like other injunctions of Islam, the benefits of fasting are not exclusively “spiritual” or “temporal”. In Islam, the spiritual, moral, social, economic and political aspects are all inter-related and integrated, constituting a consistent and cohesive whole. The significance of fasting is discussed under four subheadings; spiritual and moral, psychological, social, physical and medical.
Spiritual and Moral Elements
– Fasting above all is an act of obedience, love and submission to Allah. This submission and commitment is based upon the love of Allah and the earnest effort to gain His Pleasure and to avoid His Displeasure. If this is the only reason for fasting, it suffices.
– Fasting is an act of acknowledgement of Allah and of His Countless Favours upon humankind.
– Fasting is an act of atonement for one’s sins and infractions. As the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said: “Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan motivated by Iman (Faith) and seeking the Pleasure of Allah, his past sins are forgiven.” (Al-Bukhari)
– Fasting trains the believer in taqwa (to be conscious of Allah). If a person, willingly, refrains from lawful food and sex during the fasting period, he is likely to be in a better position to refrain from the unlawful.
– Fasting trains the believer in sincerity. Unlike other acts of worship it is entirely based on self-restraint. Others can never know for sure whether the person is fasting or pretending to do so (as he can eat or drink in secret).
– Fasting teaches other virtues. Fasting does not exclusively mean refraining from food and drink. Essentially, it means refraining from all vice and evil. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
“If one does not abandon falsehood in words and deeds, Allah has no need for his abandoning of his food and drink.” (Authenticated by Al-Albani)
– The spirit of Ramadan with its nightly voluntary prayer (Tarawih), frequent recitations and the study of the Qur’an provide a chance for spiritual revival; a kind of annual spiritual overhaul.
– Fasting is a form of jihad (striving in the path of Allah). It teaches self-discipline and enhances one’s ability to master one’s his appetites and desires rather than being enslaved by them.
Fasting enhances the feelings of inner peace, contentment and optimism. These feelings result from the realization of Allah’s Pleasure. It teaches patience and perseverance and enhances the feeling of moral accomplishment. Voluntary abstinence of the lawful appetite leads one to appreciate the bounties of Allah which are usually taken for granted (until they are missed).
For a whole month every year, Muslims go through a different and exciting experience which breaks the normal routine of life. Not only can this be refreshing, it also teaches the person to adapt to varying conditions, difficulties and circumstances in his life.
Fasting promotes the spirit of human equality before Allah. All able Muslims, male and female, rich and poor, from all ethnic and national backgrounds go through the same experience of deprivation with no special privileges or favour for any groups or class.
Fasting promotes the spirit of charity and sympathy towards the poor and the needy. A rich person may be able to imagine the suffering of the poor or think about hunger. Yet, one cannot fully appreciate suffering or hunger until he actually experiences or feels it.
This may explain, in part, why Ramadan is also known as the month of charity and generosity. It promotes Islamic sociability. Muslims are urged to invite others to take the meals with them when they break the fast at sunset and to gather for Qur’anic study, prayer and visitations. This provides a better chance for socialization in a brotherly and spiritual atmosphere.
Fasting promotes the spirit of unity and belonging within the Muslim Ummah. Millions of Muslim all over the world fast during the same month following the same rules and observances.
Physical and Medical Elements
A great deal has been written about the medical and health benefits of fasting, both by Muslim and non Muslim scientists. These benefits include the elimination of harmful fatty substances from the blood, helping in the cure of certain types of intestinal and stomach ailments and the renewal of body tissues. Needless to say that some ailments may be aggravated by fasting in which case the person is exempted from fasting.
For those who may be engaged in Islamically (and medically) undesirable habits such as over-eating or smoking, the self-control and discipline exercised in Ramadan provide an excellent beginning to kick out these bad habits.
In a sense, fasting is an annual physical overhaul of the body. It should be reiterated; however that the main motive behind fasting is to obey Allah, manifest the believer’s love of Him and to seek His pleasure and reward.
Source: Taken from www.onislam.net with modifications.