Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar year and the only one mentioned by name in the Qur’an. It is intrinsically linked to the fourth of the five pillars of Islam, obligatory fasting or sawm. Before the Prophet Muhammed and his companions were forced to flee Mecca and settle in Medina, Muslims practiced only non-compulsory fasts. It was not until the year 2 AH (623 A.D.) that a series of verses in sura 2 (verses 183 to 187) required Muslims to fast throughout the month of Ramadan and laid down the basic rules of this rite.
O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may (learn) self-restraint (Quran, 2:183). Believers, say, ‘We believe in God and in what was sent down to us and what was sent down to Abraham, Ishmael, Isaac, Jacob, and the Tribes, and what was given to Moses, Jesus, and all the prophets by their Lord. We make no distinction between any of them, and we devote ourselves to God’ (Quran 2:136)
Ramadan is the Month wherein Almighty Allah has commanded the believer to fast so that He purifies them therewith by inculcating in them the attributes and qualities of Taqwa. In this and, indeed, all the other months, Allah is constantly testing His creation and giving humanity the opportunity to achieve infinite bliss. Fasting is a complete purification and a means to developing the consciousness of Allah’s presence. The consciousness of Allah (Taqwa), is a protection against the schemes of shaitan, and the suffering of this world. Allah has informed us that, “Whoever keeps his duty to Allah (has Taqwa), He ordains a way out for him and gives him sustenance from where he imagines not. And whoever trusts in Allah, He is sufficient for him. Surely Allah attains His purpose. Allah has appointed a measure for everything.” (Q65:2)
Salman al-Farisi (RA) reported that “Allah’s Messenger (SAW) delivered a sermon for our benefit on the last day of Sha’ban, and told us: A mighty month has cast its protective shade to screen you. A blessed month, a month in which there is a night that is better than a thousand months! Allah has made keeping the fast therein an obligatory religious duty and the observance of night vigil therein a voluntary practice. If someone seeks to draw near [to the Lord] therein by setting just one example of good conduct, or performs just one religious obligation, that person will be exactly the same as someone who discharges seventy religious obligations during all the other months of the year.
It is the month of patient endurance, and the reward for patient endurance is the Garden of Paradise. It is the month of charitable sharing and it is the month in which the sustenance of the true believer is increased. So, if someone provides a breakfast meal for a person who is keeping the fast, this will result in forgiveness for his sins, and in his emancipation from the hell fire. The benefactor will also be granted a reward equivalent to that earned by the recipient of his generosity, but without anything at all being deducted from the reward due to the latter.”
Therefore, you must invoke your Lord in all earnestness with hearts free from sin and evil, and pray that Allah may help you to keep fast, and to recite the Holy Qur’an. While fasting remember the hunger and thirst on the Day of Judgement and extend a helping hand to the poor and needy. It is important therefore to feel and be grateful, focus our attention on all the blessings we have been given, and thank God for them, as gratitude is an essential component of the Islamic faith and a source of barakah (blessings) and abundance: “If you give thanks, I will give you more” (Quran 14:7).
During this month, making an intention and taking the time to reflect on every aspect of one’s life in order to see how it can be improved and re-centered on principles of wisdom is crucial. While fasting is observed by most Muslims, self-evaluation and introspection form an important practice of Prophet Muhammad and a spiritual element of Ramadan, which is often forgotten. However, if we become conscious of the value and importance of this practice and engage in it, we will come out of this month with renewed strength and energy to grow in every area of our lives: spiritual development, higher consciousness, improved personal relationships, better health, stronger finances, and more satisfactory professional lives.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) considered self-reflection so crucial that he said that one hour of contemplation is better than 70 years of worship (Hadith of Prophet Muhammad). In fact, contemplation, or meditation, is an act of worship because it leads us to improve our character and perform good deeds. Contemplation benefits us and prevents us from acting with haste, which tends to have negative consequences in our lives: “Do know that contemplation and patience are from Allah, while hastiness and impetuosity are from Satan” (Hadith of Prophet Muhammad).
Fasting during Ramadan, i.e. abstaining from food, drink, smoking, and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset, perfectly complements self-reflection as it helps us to focus inwardly and does wonders for our physical wellbeing. Western science is barely catching up with the knowledge and wisdom of the Islamic tradition, which has mandated fasting for over 1,400 years. Western medicine now recognizes that fasting provides numerous benefits, including increased longevity, cell regeneration and repair, increased neuron production, more balanced insulin levels, and improved brain plasticity, among other things.
Fasting is extremely beneficial to our spirit and character. It makes us stronger and less reactive, improving our self-control and helping us feel empathy towards those who are forced to go without food because of poverty. The overarching spiritual purpose of fasting is to prevent the body from taking control over the soul. By controlling our bodily desires, we are able to focus on our spiritual side and increase our character strength and moral values.
Fasting teaches us to be patient and less-reactive, which is extremely important in Islam for “Allah loves the patient” (Quran 3:146). Patience is a supreme virtue in Islam: “. . . And whoever remains patient, Allah will make him patient. Nobody can be given a blessing better and greater than patience” (Hadith of Prophet Muhammad). And nothing can teach us patience like fasting does. Fasting also teaches us perseverance, gratitude, and contentment. Finally, fasting makes us trustworthy, because fasting is between Allah and the believer. Only God will know if one is observing the fast or not.
Ramadan is of great importance in the religious life of Muslims, as much for the rigor it implies as for the spiritual perception of such asceticism. Even more than prayer, Ramadan fasting brings into play a twofold aspect of religiosity: Collective societal participation, a fully horizontal dimension, and the individual commitment of the faster to God, a fully vertical dimension.
The essential thrust of the period is highlighted by the heightened sense of brotherliness and communal binding where both Muslims and non-Muslims have lived in peace through the period of keeping fast and same is seen by the camaraderie during the break of fast when all are welcomed to share in the meals. This activity has been a major attraction and a converging point for a better hegemony and a common stance against the many societal vices and a step to achieving the most sought-after global peace. Economically, the disequilibrium in wealth distribution is reduced by the tendency of many societies to benefit from immense charitable actions that lead to developments beyond particular countries and a progression in societal demands.
Thus, by “fasting Ramadan,” the Muslim is in step with his community, a simple reality which should not make him lose sight of fasting as a purely spiritual process.