The Islamic fast is unique and different from other types of fasting observed in other religions. It is obligatory, for a specific period of time from dawn to dusk, and in a specific lunar month called Ramadan.
It involves a voluntary renunciation of all appetites and desires of the flesh during that month for defined hours, with a cheerful and willing acceptance of this beneficial divine mandate.
Sunset signifies the achievement of one s victory over his self during the day.
This blessed month of Ramadan inculcates a spirit of fortitude and gratitude. The atmosphere of the month is such that positive thoughts are automatically invoked on a 24-hour basis. Such thoughts, which wish the welfare of one and all, Muslims as well as non-Muslims, including those who have wronged us!
A stable monotonous environment of eating three times daily tends to produce stereotyped reactionary patterns. Fasting gives a variable environment with rigid strategies and sufficient degrees of freedom to cope with the changing conditions.
Some of us may be habituated to a particular type of vice or wrong-doing – e.g. gambling, smoking, drinking, backbiting, fraud, hot temper, domestic violence, etc.
Whatever foul we are habituated to, becomes our routine and it becomes difficult to resist. Fasting helps to overcome such habits either gradually for some of us or immediately for those with a stronger will power, especially if supported by constant supplications seeking Allah s assistance. The usual antidote is to put an entirely opposite thought in the mind to displace the negative trend.
This act of self-restraint in Ramadan strengthens the will and hence, the will power. This extra will power helps to overcome obsessions and addictions. In fact, fasting also reduces a criminal s urge to commit dangerous crimes.
During the Islamic fast, every organ in the body that has been given to us as trust by Allah is put to a critical test.
A hunger strike is not an Islamic fast. We must not see evil, hear evil, utter evil nor act evil. This is a training session for us to develop Taqwa (God-consciousness) and piety, as well as to show gratitude for the great favor of the revelation of the Holy Qur an during the month of Ramadan in the night called Lailatul-Qadr.
Taqwa is the most valuable fruit of fasting. Just as plants have their own season of flowering, so is Ramadan the season of the year for blossoming of goodness, virtue and piety in the Muslim ummah (nation). Not one, but millions of people jointly water the garden of virtue in the same lunar month, all over the world.
The purpose of the Islamic fast is to obey Allah s command. Through this exercise, Muslims can develop a balanced personality and a strong sense of a community of believers. It trains all those who volunteer for service to Allah, before allowing them to take on the job of His vicegerency and establish Allah s message of mercy on Earth.
The fasting Muslim is continuously tied with rules and regulations for one full month and then released for 11 months to see whether the training has been adequate and effective, and if not, any deficiency found in the personality and will power could be corrected and made up in the following year s refresher course, in the Ramadan program. This is because Allah wants us to make the choice and behave well, when left alone and unattended. The personality develops when a person is free to do any wrong as he would like, but does not do it under unrestricted conditions; e.g. during the 11 months following the Ramadan fast.
If we have passed this first part of the examination, then as Muslims who adhered to the five pillars of Islam and fasted, we are entitled to celebrate Eid Al-Fitr (Feast of breaking the fast), also called Eid Al-Saghir (the Minor Feast).
Then Allah gives us two months and 10 days to prepare for Eid Al-Adha (Feast of Sacrifice), also called Eid Al-Kabir (the Major Feast).
The Minor Feast will entitle us to climb up the ladder one step toward becoming mu’mineen (believers), because we must now learn to sacrifice our time, money, leisure, pleasure, skill, along with other talents, God-given gifts and bounties, then be prepared to share them with our fellow human beings.
As believers adhering to the seven branches of iman (faith and belief) we must not only think of, but actually perform good deeds.
This in turn, will now prepare us for the second examination of higher spiritual achievement. And, if successful, we will be entitled to celebrate the Major Feast as believing men and believing women then go up one more rung on the ladder up Sirat Al-Mustaqim (the Straight Path).
During Ramadan, we get up for suhoor before dawn, then stop eating and drinking at the break of dawn, abstain from such and such actions during the day and take Futoor (break the fast) in the evening, at the exact time of sunset. This is precise timing. The month of fasting teaches us to respect time and be precise in our dealings and timings and to be punctual at all times.
The exact timing of initiating of the fast at the break of dawn and breaking it at sunset with the right countdown to the last minute, teaches us the limits between right and wrong, between halal (permitted) and haram (prohibited), which is so essential for the elevation of the soul to a higher level on the spiritual scale.
A person who can rule his/her desires and make them function as he likes, has attained true moral excellence! A 425-hour of intensive study in any particular subject of one’s choice in any university would qualify one in that particular subject.
Similarly, 425 hours of intense devotion in Ramadan should certainly uplift a practicing Muslim to a state of higher spiritual achievement and earn him a reward from Allah.
During Ramadan, we also learn to inculcate in ourselves the art of patience. This, together with lessons and reminders to forgive all those who wronged us, add their own quota of enhancing our personality and outlook on life, with multiple benefits, not only in this life but also in the Hereafter.