SHAFAQNA (Shia International News Association) - There are reasons and wisdom behind every single act in Islam, no matter how small that act is. In time we may know the wisdom for behind some acts, and for others we may never know. What I mean by wisdom is the perfection of acts and placing everything in the most appropriate and fitting place in every situation. This approach entails that all acts of worship set for human beings by Almighty God must be fully suitable and completely fit for man’s life and practices. Otherwise, wisdom will be meaningless and rendering itself useless.
Prayer, for instance, is a daily guidance for purifying the believer and reminding him/her that he/she is a member in a community of the believers. Fasting during the month of Ramadan, on the other hand is an annual institution containing all conceivable attributes for human excellence. It is training for the body and soul, a renewal of life, encouraging the spirit of sharing and helping others.
The believer knows that the month of Ramadan is a school which he/she attends every year for the month of Ramadan. During the time of the school hours, fasting people do learn that fasting brings multi-dimensional benefits but the most central is spiritual. The believer learns that the goal of fasting is not punishing one’s body, soul or putting hardness on one’s life. He/she is well aware of the words of Almighty God:
“God intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you.” (Quran, Ch. 2, v. 185)
Fasting in Islam, as opposed to mere starvation or self-denial as some hold, is an act of worship and obedience to God, thanksgiving, forgiveness, spiritual training, and self-examination. Ramadan gives us a break and provides us with a rare opportunity to think about our own selves, our future, our families, our community, our society, our worldwide Muslim brothers and sisters as well as our brothers and sisters in humanity. It is a time to give ourselves a mental break and to temporarily forget about the hundreds of worries and stresses we are constantly bombarded with. In hectic times, such as ours, this valuable time to think about our lives, on individual basis, is a luxury and is desperately needed! It is a unique month of self-analysis, and of taking stock of one’s moral and spiritual "assets and liabilities". That’s a reason why fasting in Arabic is called, “Sawm”, which literally means ‘to be at rest’.
The school of Ramadan: Benefits
Let us remind ourselves on some of the lessons (benefits) which we learn or gain in this great school of the month of Ramadan…lessons that are plenty of reflection, initiatives for action as well as ways of transformation of individuals and the community. Fasting, as will be explained in the following paragraphs, is not only a physical but also a moral and spiritual exercise that has many lasting benefits:
1. At Taqwa (awareness of Almighty God, self-control, self restraint, self-discipline and self-education). Almighty God informs us in the Quran: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those nations before you that you may attain a quality of At Taqwa.” (Ch. 2, v.183)
Fasting helps one to become less preoccupied with bodily appetites, and enables the heart and mind to become free to reflect over deeper spiritual matters, such as one’s relationship with God and with fellow human beings. It enables a person to develop sustained consciousness of God – “Taqwa”. That is to say, fasting instills in the hearts of the Saimin (the fasting persons), the essence of consciousness of the Creator, moral courage both in secret and manifest, guarding the heart and the seat of emotions from spoilage and moral indecency.
2. As Sabr (Patience). The school of the month of Ramadan gives to the Saimin practical lessons which will affect positively the heart, soul and the body of the Saim. Fasting helps in conditioning the heart, soul, and body on the virtues of patience and firmness in the face of adversity. As Sabr turns the phrase "I cannot" into "I can". It is an inner and psychological demolition of things perceived by others as impossible. It fills the mind and soul with the necessary powers to function effectively in life. As Sabr, in Islam, is considered as the most important possession of a believer and one of the greatest lesson fasting people learn from fasting. As Sabr is reaction or result of fasting. Saim controls three aspects of his/her body which are, in most cases, the root cause of human downfall, namely the stomach, the private parts, and the tongue.
The lesson of As Sabr in the month of Ramadan is obvious because the Saim is well aware of the words of the Messenger of Allah, Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him,: “Ramadan is the month of As Sabr. And the reward for As Sabr is Jannah (Paradise).
3. Behavioral modification and especially cleansing the tongue from backbiting, mocking, lying, slandering, yelling, screaming, shouting; keeping our eyes in restraint from unlawful look; the ears from listening to idle talk, etc. One of the important things that fasting offers the Saim (observer of fasting) is helping him/her control or change his/her habits. To change or control a habit is to wage a war on oneself. The Messenger of GOD, Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him, advised us as follows: “Sawm is a shield (or a screen or a shelter from the Hell-fire). So, if a person is Saim, he/she should not engage in foolish behavior or shouting or yelling. If someone offends or fights him/her, he/she should just remind himself/herself and others: ‘I am fasting, I am fasting.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
If fasting for a whole month with the prayers, do not prove their effect on the whole behavior of the Muslim, especially in developing self-control and strengthening the will, they are rejected by Almighty God since they have been fruitless. The Messenger of God, Muhammad, peace be upon him, warned us that one who prays without being influenced by the prayer, may not gain nothing from his/her prayers except the physical exertion of standing, kneeing, and bowing; and similarly, whoever does not abandon falsehood in word and action then God the Mighty and Majestic has no need that he/she should leave his/her food or drink. (Bukhari)
4. Social benefits. Fasting is an expression of solidarity with the poor, the family and the whole community. In the school of Ramadan this lesson of solidarity is well understood. Even in NorthAmerica, the days of Ramadan are the days in which the rich brothers and sisters have first-hand experience of what it is to be poor. Fasting instills in the hearts of rich brothers and sisters the virtue of Rahmah (Mercy), which is important in terms of social well-being and good harmony among people. Besides being the month of As Sabr it is the month of mutual help and support and the month in which the Rizq (provision) is multiplied for the believers, as the Messenger of God said in the tradition reported by Ibn Khuzaymah.
Fasting encourages compassion and charity.When fasting, one should think of those in need who may be fasting but have no food at the start or the end of their fast, those whose tiny children are also having to go hungry, out of poverty. The Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, described Ramadan as “the month of Mercy”. His companions observed: “The Prophet (Muhammad) was the most generous of people, but he would be his most generous during Ramadan …”.(Bukhari)
Fasting promotes community spirit. During Ramadan the one who fasts has heightened concerns for the well-being of the community, both rich and poor, intellectuals and labourers. Community spirit is promoted as people start fasting at the same time and break their fast at the same time, they reflect together through longer prayer and deeper devotions. It is greatly encouraged that families invite each other to break their fast together.
Zakatul Fitr has been prescribed on the believers as means of getting rid of the bad effect of vain talks and useless speeches in Ramadan, any shortcomings or un-Islamic act as well as to help the needy on the day of Eid and make them happy. As it can be seen, the wisdom behind this institution is individual and social as well. Besides these two components or benefits, let us mention that being generous during the month of Ramadan is the tradition of the Messenger of God, Muhammad, peace and blessings be upon him. We were taught by the example of the Messenger Muhammad, peace be upon him.
Ibn Abbas , may allah be pleased with him, said: “The Messenger of God was the most generous person among all people, particularly during the month of Ramadan he used to be extraordinary generous when he met the angel Jibril. During this month the angel Jibril used to visit him every night and recite the Qur’an to him. At this time the normal generosity of the Messenger of Allah used to be very much increased, faster than the rain bearing wind.” (Bukhari, Muslim)
5. Fasting strengthens family ties, especially in today’s time where the family is endangered institution. It helps the family gather together at least twice a day for the whole month, to eat Suhur together, and to break fast, at Iftar. This is a great opportunity for a Muslim family in which relationship between a husband and a wife can be improved as well as the relationship between parents and their children. Both of the relationships are in a great danger, so use the opportunity of the month of Ramadan to fix the problems and misunderstandings which are present in the family.
6. Health care. Unlike religious or spiritual methods which despise the body, Islam has always recognized the importance of the body. Islam treats human being as a total being, consisting of body, mind, and soul. Nothing is ignored. Balance among the various powers and faculties of human being are greatly stressed. The Messenger of God, Muhammad, peace be upon him, did not restricted in his words fasting to the spiritual benefits only, but the benefits of fasting embrace the health of the body as well.
Fasting helps people choose healthy living lifestyle. A fasting person learns to restrain and only responds to hunger and thirst in the heightened level of consciousness and discipline. Through fasting a person begins to appreciate the value of food. In the Quran “healthy and wholesome food” is described as the best of provisions. Thus fasting helps a person choose a healthier lifestyle by making small yet lasting changes to one’s daily diet.
Fasting without the spirit is empty of blessing. Abstention for long hours can be very hard physically and spiritually. However, by the end of the long month one should feel cleansed and with a renewed spirit. Ramadan is an ideal time to break bad habits, to reflect on personality and to improve one’s character.Those who fast but make no change to their lives except delaying a meal cannot really expect to become any different in their behaviour during or after Ramadan. In many ways, this is a wasted fast, as stressed in a number of sayings of the blessed Prophet:
“Fasting is not merely abstention from eating and drinking, but also from vain speech and foul language.” (Bukhari)
Fasting is, therefore, about much more than just giving up food and drink and hoping to lose a couple of pounds. By fasting a person reflects, acts, betters his or her character and thus transforms his or her life according to that what God Almighty is pleased with. In a nutshell, even though the real purpose of the dynamic institution of fasting is to discipline our soul and moral behaviour, and to develop sympathy for the less fortunate, it is a multi-functional and a comprehensive tool of change in various spheres of our lives, including: social and economic, intellectual and humanitarian, spiritual and physical, private and public, personal and common, inner and outer. All in one!