Qamar, who is a community member of both the Ahmadiyya Muslim and our Church Lab communities, shares about the meaning of Ramadhan.
“Even though fasting may seem challenging during the long days of summer in Texas heat, the gains are many. Islamic fasting as it is meant to be practiced bears the promise of bringing about spiritual, personal and social change.”
All religions prescribe their respective paths for salvation. Islam also lays out rules of conduct to live peacefully in this world and attain salvation in the next. I like to call Islam’s road to salvation: The High Five…more on that later.
One of the main tenets of Islam is Fasting in the month of Ramadhan. This year Ramadhan will begin in the last week of May. It will last 29 or 30 days being based on the lunar cycles. Compared to the solar/Gregorian calendar, it arrives approx. 10 days earlier every year, encompassing all months and seasons in about 33 solar years. Islamic fast consists of refraining from eating, drinking (no exceptions!) and intercourse during the daylight hours. In this blog, I will cover the basics of this practice plus its spiritual, social and physical benefits per my understanding.
The injunction for fasting is laid out in the Quran, Islam’s Holy scripture thus:
[Chap 2: Verse 184] O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous.
[Chap 2: Verse 185] The prescribed fasting is for a fixed number of days, but whoso among you is sick or is on a journey shall fast the same number of other days; and for those who are able to fast only with great difficulty is an expiation — the feeding of a poor man. And whoso performs a good work with willing obedience, it is better for him. And fasting is good for you, if you only knew.
In a following verse, the duration of daily fast is laid out:
[Chap 2: Verse 188] …and eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn. Then complete the fast till nightfall…
Fasting is a way of improvement of one’s self. One gives up worldly pleasures for the sake of God, learns to avoid sins, evil and establishes him/herself on the path of goodness. During this month, we are given an opportunity to make and follow through on our resolutions and then continue to practice the newly acquired habits the rest of the year. An empty stomach affords a state of self-awareness and a capacity for growth which is unmatched. Devotion to worship goes hand in hand with fasting. Increased spiritual focus to complement the reduced physical focus is the goal here. Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is known to have said
“Fasting is not just giving up food and drink, but it also means giving up bad and evil talk. If you are fasting and someone abuses you or provokes you, say I am fasting. One who involves in fighting and brawling while fasting, he is only starving and would not gain anything.”
In addition to spirituality, fasting also brings social benefits. It is noteworthy that fasting empowers us to have control over 3 of seven deadly sins, i.e. gluttony, lust and sloth. Avoidance of food and sex resulting in control over hunger and carnal desires makes sense. Similarly, a person is dishonest and may steal etc., due to an inclination towards life of ease. However, one who fasts spends time in worship, gets up early to eat in order to start the fast, refrains from eating, exercises patience all day and reduces his sleep time. By continuing this practice for a month, his/her habit of carelessness and laziness is transformed into increased discipline over mind and body.
Similarly, by staying hungry, one comes to understand the condition of the poor and less fortunate and is more likely to help them. Indeed, Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) made a habit of spending in the cause of the poor during the year, which has been likened to a breeze, never ceasing to comfort and help the needy. However, during Ramadhan, it is related that the breeze seemed to pick up speed and blow like strong winds.
Physically speaking, the body becomes used to enduring hardship of fasting during the month of Ramadhan. This creates forbearance and tolerance. These lead to good behavior, chastity, honesty, self-awareness and mindfulness.
Even though fasting may seem challenging during the long days of summer in Texas heat, the gains are many. Islamic fasting as it is meant to be practiced bears the promise of bringing about spiritual, personal and social change.
As for The High Five, these are the five tenets that Muslims practice, namely:
1. Kalima - Affirmation of Uniqueness/Oneness of God AND Prophethood of Muhammad (peace be upon him)
2. Salaat - Five Daily Prayers
3. Saum - Fasting
4. Zakaat - Obligatory Alms
5. Hajj - Performing pilgrimage to Mecca