For most of us, Ramadan starts with mouth watering savories and ends with shopping sprees for the Eid. It is impossible to fathom beyond delectable Pakoras, let alone understand the blessed month’s meaning to a Muslim.
Let us try to understand the logic and benefits behind Ramadan’s fasting.
Allah (swt), our Nourisher and Sustainer, has two types of creations. The first one is mandatory Muslims, such as animals, plantation, planets, mountains, etc. They all prostrate before Allah (swt) and praise Him, as mentioned in verse 41 of Surah Nur. These compulsory Muslims also fast.
Some animals are known to hibernate for a part of the year and emerge with renewed energies at the end of their hibernation period. Similarly, plants shed their leaves in the Fall and appear feeble. But as Spring approaches, they bloom. This is also a form of fasting.
Allah’s (swt) second creation, which is also His best, is the mankind. Humans are voluntary Muslims. They have been granted freedom of choice, whether to submit themselves in humility before Allah (swt) or disobey. Simultaneously, they have also been informed of the consequences of their conscious decisions.
Allah (swt) has not left His creation misguided. He has clearly mentioned in a Hadeeth the five cardinal pillars of Islam leading to success, both now and in the Hereafter. They are: belief in the oneness of Allah (swt) and that Muhammad (sa) is His last messenger, observation of Salah (prayer), giving of Zakah (charity), performance of Hajj (pilgrimage) and keeping Saum (fasting). (Bukhari)
It is His mercy that through offering us a way of life, He has also endowed us with physical benefits. Scientific research proves that fasting enhances health. It gives our livers a break, so as to improve the digestive system. It reduces blood volume, which is good for the circulatory system. It stimulates our bone marrow, thus producing blood. Fasting also helps the effective function of pituitary glands, thyroid glands and the pancreas. Besides that, Allah (swt) also rewards for this act of worship. Thus, Ramadan offers multiple benefits to those who fast.
In the ignorant days of Makkah, people had deviated from monotheism; however, there were still remnant, although distorted, practices of Hajj and Salah as practiced by Ibrahim (as). However, the concept of Saum (fasting) was completely alien to them. The closest you could get of the practice was when they would starve their horses in the scorching heat to train them to survive the severe conditions of war – a practice, which was called Siyam. History tells us that Musa (as) fasted, before the Torah was revealed to him. Similarly, Isa (as) fasted before the Injil. The number of days and mannerisms were different, but the concept of fasting did exist in previous nations, too. Thus, the Makkans were informed about it.
Allah (swt) commanded them: “O you who believe! Observing As-Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious).” (Al-Baqarah 2:183)
Fasting is a means of self-control, especially in the face of vain desires. The foremost quality that one can attain through fasting is Taqwa (God consciousness). And it is the condition of Taqwa that leads people to Paradise.
When Allah (swt) prevents His creation from what is permissible, such as food, drink, sexual relations, etc., He helps them develop self control in the face of what is forbidden the remaining eleven months. In Ramadan, Muslims submit to this command voluntarily and give up permitted blessings willingly, to please their Creator.
Ramadan means scorching or burning. Some scholars state that in this blessed month Allah (swt) burns the sins of His slaves, who sincerely fast and pray to Him, renewing their states as pious Muslims.
Allah (swt) further commands: “[Observing Saum (fasts)] for a fixed number of days, but if anyone of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (should be made up) from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (e.g. an old man), they have (a choice either to fast or) feed a Miskin (poor person) (for every day). But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for him. And that you fast is better for you if only you know.” (Al-Baqarah 2:184)
Allah (swt) is Just and, hence, provides options to the sick and old. This may include diabetics, patients with heart conditions, pregnant or lactating women, menstruating women, or women undergoing post-partum bleeding.
Another significant mercy of Allah (swt) is the lunar calendar that Muslims follow. Though Ramadan is the ninth month of the calendar, it shifts each year – Muslims residing in all parts of the world are offered an opportunity to avail this month in varied seasons. Sometimes it falls in winters, when the days are short and the nights are long, and sometimes vice verse. In thirty-three years of a lifetime, a Muslim has fasted in every season. This is another sign of Allah’s (swt) justice.
This also highlights how a Muslim is eager to please his Lord in all seasons. His prayer and submission is not time specific but perennial.
Lastly, all year round we are occupied with our physical existence – our body and its needs. We not only neglect but also forget about the vessel of our life – our soul. Ramadan is in reality an annul check-up of our soul. As Allah (swt) has breathed His soul into our bodies, our soul can only be nourished by the Quran revealed by Allah (swt). Ramadan is that month, when Muslims commit a great deal of their time to the understanding of the Holy Book.
Just as the moon is present during the day but not visible, so is the soul hidden within our physical body. The soul is supposed to be the master and possessor of our body. However, in this world, our vain desires and Shaitan’s whispers alter this arrangement. Our physical needs supersede our spiritual needs. Our body misbehaves like a demanding, spoilt child, and the soul gets house arrested. The body takes over as the master.
We can test the condition of our soul by simply analyzing our inclinations. If, in Ramadan, our routine doesn’t differ much from what we do during the remaining part of the year, such as performing Salah and Dhikr, staying away from the forbidden and fearing Allah’s (swt) watch, and we just need to do some more of it, Alhumdulillah. Our souls are healthy.
However, if Ramadan feels like a sentence, and we wait for it to get over, so we can return to our life of sin, we need to take serious caution. The soul is sick and needs to be treated.
The soul is Allah’s (swt) ambassador. It is pure and thrives only on purity. A sage once said: “Conscience is thorough bred. It stops talking to those who don’t listen to it.” If, all along, your conscience, the inner voice of your soul, has been preventing you from disobedience but you have been neglecting it, your soul will stop speaking up.
Our soul is like a pristine pearl, and its carrier is our physical body, acting as a velvet pouch. If we keep cleaning the velvet pouch unaware of the invaluable pearl inside, we have suffered a grave loss. Ramadan is here to make up for that loss and start anew. For on the Day of Judgement, Allah (swt) will not talk to our bodies; it will be the souls that will be held accountable. Allah (swt) will reverse our condition, as one wears a dress inside out showing the hem. The facials and the hair dos all will be discarded. The spiritual glow of the soul will lead the way.
Muslims should avail this golden chance offered by Allah (swt) in Ramadan to train the body and bring the soul back to life. This is when the soul is in command and our body is in submission, which should be the case for us all year long.