Allah The Almighty says in the Holy Qur’aan:
“The month of Ramadhaan is that in which the Qur’aan was revealed as guidance for people, in it are clear signs of guidance and Criterion, therefore whoever of you who witnesses this month, it is obligatory on him to fast it. But whoever is ill or traveling let him fast the same number of other days, God desires ease for you and not hardship, and He desires that you complete the ordained period and glorify God for His guidance to you, that you may be grateful”. Holy Qur’aan (Ch 2 : v 185)
Ramadhaan is the fasting month for Muslims, where over one billion Muslims throughout the world fast from dawn to sunset, and pray additional prayers at night. It is a time for inner reflection, devotion to Allah, and self-control.
It is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Presently, Muslims the world over have commenced fasting as the month of Ramadhaan has commenced.
Islam based on five pillars
Fasting in the month of Ramadhaan is one of the five pillars upon which the structure of Islam is built. The other four are : the declaration of one’s belief in God’s oneness and in the message of Muhammad (peace be upon him); regular attendance to prayer; payment of zakah (i.e. obligatory charity); and the pilgrimage.
If we examine these five pillars, taking into account the fact that Islam aims at improving the quality of human life at both the individual and social levels, we find that the first of these five pillars is concerned with beliefs which influence man’s conduct.
The second, i.e. prayer, provides a constant reminder of man’s bond with God. Zakah, the fourth pillar, is a social obligation which reduces the gap between the rich and the poor, while the fifth, i.e. the pilgrimage, has a universal aspect that unites the Muslim community throughout the world.
Significance of fasting
Fasting in Ramadhaan, which is the third of these pillars, has a particularly high importance, derived from its very personal nature as an act of worship.
Although in a Muslim country it is extremely difficult for anyone to defy public feelings by showing that one is not fasting, there is nothing to stop anyone from privately violating God’s commandment of fasting if one chooses to do so.
This means that although fasting is obligatory, its observance is purely voluntary. The fact is that fasting cannot be used by a hypocrite in order to persuade others of one’s devotion to God.
If a person claims to be a Muslim, he is expected to fast in Ramadhaan. On the other hand, a person fasting voluntarily at any other time should not tell others of the fact. If he does, he detracts from his reward for his voluntary worship. In fact, people will find his declaration to be fasting very strange and will feel that there is something wrong behind it.
Reward for fasting
This explains why the reward God gives for proper fasting is so generous. Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) quotes God as saying: “All actions done by a human being are his own except fasting, which belongs to Me and I reward it accordingly.”
This is a mark of special generosity, since God gives for every good action a reward equivalent to at least ten times its values.
Sometimes He multiplies this reward to seven hundred times the value of the action concerned, and even more. We are also told by the Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) that the reward for proper fasting is admittance into heaven.
Perfection in fasting
It may be noted that we have qualified fasting that earns such great reward as being ‘proper’. This is because every Muslim is required to make his worship perfect. Perfection of fasting can be achieved through restraint of one’s feelings and emotions. Prophet Muhammed (peace be upon him) said that when fasting, a person should not allow himself to be drawn into a quarrel or a slanging match.
He teaches us: “On a day of fasting, let no one of you indulge in any obscenity, or enter into a slanging match. Should someone abuse or fight him, let him respond by saying: ‘I am fasting!’”
This high standard of self-restraint fits in well with fasting, which is, in essence, an act of self-discipline. Islam requires us to couple patience with voluntary abstention from indulgence in physical desire.
This is indeed the purpose of fasting. It helps man to attain a standard of sublimity, which is very rare in the practical world. In other words, this standard is actually achieved by every Muslim who knows the purpose of fasting and strives to fulfill it.
Feelings of sympathy
Fasting has another special aspect. It makes all people share in the feelings of hunger and thirst. In normal circumstances, people with decent income may go from one year’s end to another without experiencing the pangs of hunger which a poor person may feel every day of his life. Such an experience helps to draw the rich nearer to the poor.
Indeed Muslims are encouraged to be more charitable in Ramadhaan in order to follow the Prophet’s lead who was described by his companions as “the most generous of all people.” Yet he achieved in Ramadhaan an even higher degree of generosity. His companions say of him that he was in Ramadhaan “more generous and charitable than an unrestrained wind.”
Unity of purpose
Fasting has also a universal or communal aspect. As Muslims throughout the world share in this blessed act of worship, they feel their unity and equality.
Their sense of unity is enhanced by the fact that every Muslim individual joins willingly in the fulfilment of this divine commandment.
The unity of Muslims is far from superficial; it is a unity of action and purpose, since they all fast in order to be better human beings. As a person restrains himself from the things he desires most, in the hope that he will earn God’s pleasure, self-discipline and sacrifice become part of his nature.
He learns to give generously for a good cause.
The month of Ramadhaan is aptly described as a “festive season of worship.”
Fasting is the main aspect of worship in this month, but people are more attentive to their prayers in Ramadhaan than they are in the rest of the year.
They are also more generous and charitable. Thus, their devotion is more complete and they feel in Ramadhaan much happier because they feel themselves to be closer to God
For further information on Islam or a free copy of the Holy Qur’aan,
please contact:Majlisul Ulama Zimbabwe, Council of Islamic Scholars
P.O. Box W93, Waterfalls, Harare
Tel: 04-614078 / 614004, Fax : 04-614003e-mail: [email protected]