Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam. It has been an integral part of all major religions. The Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) fasted for forty days before he was called to prophethood (Matthew 4:2). Similarly Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) fasted for forty days and nights before he was given the Law (Exodus 24:18).
Controlling Desires.... Fasting in Ramadan is a part of the broader program that Islam prescribes for man to fulfill his moral and spiritual destiny in this world and in the Hereafter. It is the special worship designed to develop in man the ability to exercise self-restraint and patience for the pleasure of Allah, man's Creator, Lord and Nourisher. Its objective is to give man the power to keep in check his unruly desires and tendencies that make him prone to greed, revenge, anger, provocation and fear; that make him commit various sins, acts of aggression, cruelty and oppression. It seeks to free the human soul and lends it the moral and spiritual strength to promote beauty, harmony, kindness, peace, compassion and justice. The Qur'an says:
" We sent Our Messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the balance (of right and wrong), that men may stand forth in justice." (57:25)
Fasting for Taqwa.... Prescribing fasting the Qur'an says:
"O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint." (2:183)
The original Arabic word translated here as self-restraint is taqwa, which has a much broader significance. It symbolizes that basic mortal quality that demarcates the line between morality and amorality, and distinguishes humans from animals as moral beings. It represents love of good with an eagerness to respond to it, and a strong desire to keep away from what is evil and harmful. Those who are neutral or immune to questions of good and bad, justice and injustice, compassion and cruelty, loyalty and treachery are in the words of the Qur'an like the blind, deaf, and dumb cattle, whose only concern in life is to fill their stomachs."They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not."
Developing Taqwa.... This moral quality is nourished and can be developed only by controlling and keeping in check one's desires, impulses, and emotions and that is precisely what fasting is prescribed to achieve. The Arabic word for fasting used in the above verse is siyam which means to leave something or to avoid it. In the light of this, Islamic fasting may be defined as the worship in which man willingly forsakes his quite legitimate needs like eating, drinking and other lawful pleasures in compliance with the commandment of god, every day for a whole month, Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Thus Islamic fasting is not merely leaving all that is evil. The Prophet Muhammad(pbuh) said: "When one of you is fasting and someone abuses him or fights with him, he should tell him `I cannot respond to you for I am fasting.'" On another occasion he said "He who does not leave evil only gets thirst and hunger from fasting."
Through fasting we seek closeness to God by obeying him sincerely and carrying out his will in our daily life, our actions and thoughts, till our days and nights bear witness that He is dearer to us than anything else. Look at the time schedule of a believer during this month; getting up early before dawn for a light snack, stopping all eating and drinking all day, being anxious to devote himself to prayers and adoration of God, eagerness to do good and eschew evil, and during the nights of this month to stand in prayer for hours, sacrificing sleep and comfort, offering special extra prayers: more or less like one of a soldier under rigorous training. The only difference here is that it is not just one physical battle he is training for, but an all-comprehensive and continuous war against evil, both from within and without.
Special Rewards..... It is well known that Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) regularly observed fasting in other parts of the year besides Ramadan, and he always exhorted his followers to do the same. But it is in the month of Ramadan when the entire Muslim community all over the world observes fasting that a special meaning emerges. It transforms fasting into an institution that elevates the human soul to unprecedented heights. The Prophet (PBUH) said: "Every good deed is rewarded from ten to seven hundred times over, but God says fasting is the exception; it is for Me, and My servant forgoes his eating and drinking for my sake, so I Myself will reward My servant for it."
Gift of Qur'an...... Association of fasting with the month of Ramadan reminds us that it was during this month that Allah perfected His blessing upon mankind by giving us His last book, the Qur'an.
"Ramadan is the month in which was sent down the Qur'an as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgement (between right and wrong). So everyone of you who is present (at home) during that month should spend it in fasting." (The Qur'an, 2:185)
Fasting in the month of Ramadan thus takes on a new spiritual and moral significance. It is the month in which we celebrate the praises of our Lord God for the great gift of the Qur'an. We glorify Him and extol His holiness by fasting during this month. The Qur'an not only shows man the right path, but also guides human reason and lays down a clear criterion between right and wrong, good and evil. It is not just a book of do's and don'ts, but is the repository of infinite wisdom, and a guidance to the highest moral and spiritual excellence as well as to material and temporal success. The Qur'an regards human reason as the greatest single gift of God to man, and addresses its message to it, but it can function properly only if it is free and objective in its outlook. Fasting helps free human reason from the tyranny of unruly lusts and appetites, whims and caprices, individual and social, which often overwhelm and enslave it. Fasting puts human reason back in the driving seat by restraining, not suppressing or destroying three dominant human desires: desire for comfort, desire for food, and desire for procreation of his species. The Qur'an liberates human reason from the clutches of blind but powerful and unbridled emotion and sentiment.
THE STRAIGHT PATH............ Following the path of good is often unpalatable, and involves struggle against one's own desires and interests. It may also sometimes mean doing or saying what one considers true but is not popular and hence risking the anger and displeasure of others, sometimes of those most dear and near. To stand firm under these circumstances steadfastly following the right path requires a great deal of inner strength and self-restraint - a prime moral and human quality - to choose what is right and then abide by it notwithstanding the difficulties and sacrifices. "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many there are that follow it," whereas "strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leads to life, and few are they who find it." (Matthew 6:13-14)
Islam seeks to guide man onto the path to eternal life and prepares him for it through worship, prayers, charity and fasting. All these are meant to enable man to exercise control over his own life and have the moral courage to take the path of truth, justice and compassion. It wants reason to take charge of the ship of life and steer it wisely and safely through the stormy and dangerous seas of this life under the guidance of Divine Revelation. That is the message of Ramadan. Let us heed the message and proclaim: " God is my Lord and your Lord; then worship Him. This is the way that is straight." (The Qur'an 3:51)
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