Millions of Muslims around the globe are on the final stretch observing the fast of Ramadhan, one of the five pillars of Islam.
Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It begins with the sighting of the new crescent after which all physically mature and healthy Muslims are obliged to fast for the complete month. Between dawn and sunset, the faithful with the exception of the underage, those on a journey, the sick, the elderly, menstruating women as well as expectant and breastfeeding mothers and are required to fast to abstain from all foods, drinks and conjugal relationship as an act of worship and obedience to God.
In addition to this physical component, the spiritual aspects of the fast include an added emphasis on refraining from slander, lies, obscenity and other profane acts. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) emphasized on this aspect when he said, “He who does not desist from obscene language and acting obscenely (during the period of fasting), Allah has no need that he does not eat or drink.”
Fasting is a universal custom, which is a common feature in many faiths. The Qur’an alludes to this when it states, “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may attain righteousness.” (Qur’an 2:183).
Fasting is not meant to punish the body but to strengthen the mind, directing it to higher spiritual goals. To function well and smoothly, machines require a rest period due to ‘metal fatigue’, similarly human beings are in need of occasions to boost and revitalise their faith and for Muslims, the fast of Ramadhan is an important opportunity for the purification of the soul and the body as well.
Ramadhan is the time for Muslims to learn to control themselves and to develop their spiritual potential. During this period, Muslims focus their attention on God and strive to live a life in obedience to His commandments. For this reason, Ramadhan is not about just keeping away from food and drink; it is a time when Muslims re-evaluate their lives in the light of divine guidance and following the example of Prophet Muhammad.
Fasting encourages the faithful to engage in charitable and good activities beneficial to humanity and this is the reason why generosity reaches its peak during this noble month when Muslims come out to share food with others in society.
Mosques are transformed into feeding centres where people gather every evening to break their fast.
At home, families come together to share the iftar meal with neighbours, friends and the less fortunate in society.
Among Muslims, fasting promotes the spirit of unity and belonging within the community. Muslims all over the world fast during the same month; following the same rules and observances. Fasting also promotes the spirit of human equality. Muslims, males and females, rich and poor from all ethnic backgrounds go through the same experience of deprivation with no special privileges for any group or class.
The wisdom behind fasting is that it allows one to build a sense of self-control and will-power, which can be beneficial throughout life in dealing with temptations and peer-pressure. Through fasting, Muslims learn to control their natural urges such as hunger and thirst, and thus are able to better resist temptations such as crime, drug abuse and other anti-social behaviors.
The month-long intensive training programme is designed to make Muslims better human beings and change their lives for the better, leaving behind un-Islamic and immoral practices. Lessons acquired in this training school ought to be replicated in the everyday life of a Muslim beyond the one-month fast period.
To our Muslim brothers and sisters, let us remember that our faith demands that our concerns go beyond our own selves and families to our brethren in faith and brothers in humanity. An increasing number of people in the country and other parts of the world are falling victims to conflict, hunger, incurable diseases and human rights abuses. Regardless of religion or ethnic background, we have a responsibility to help others in whatever way possible as we aspire to become better Muslims in and after Ramadhan.
As Ramadhan draws to a close, every Muslim is required to give to charity, which is known as Zakatul fitr. This money is meant to be used to help the less fortunate partake in the celebration of Eid ul Fitr (the festival of breaking the fast) which marks the end of Ramadhan.
On the day of Eid, Muslims attend special congregational prayers in the morning, wearing new clothes, visit families and exchange gifts.
Abu Ayman is the editor of the Friday Bulletin, a weekly publication of Jamia Mosque.