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Comprehending Ramadan – Analysis

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Ramadan, a sacred month for Muslims, commemorates the revelation of the Qur’an to the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ)  (Surah 2, 185). It is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam. Fasting is therefore part of the prescriptions incumbent on Muslim believers, along with the shahâdah (profession of faith attesting that there is no god but God and that Muhammad is his messenger), salât (prayer), zakât (almsgiving) and hajj (pilgrimage to the holy sites of Mecca).

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The Ramadan fast is now a global event. (1) In the global village, diplomats and business leaders have already incorporated it into their agendas. A month of asceticism for some, a month of good business for others, Ramadan imposes a new rhythm that goes beyond the disruption of eating habits. (2)

Origin

The word “Ramadan” is derived from the Arabic ramîdah or ar-ramâd which means “great heat” and refers to the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar. In pre-Islamic Arab society, it was a month of truce which may have had a distant relationship with the sacred periods of Christianity (Lent) or Judaism (Yom Kippur). It could also correspond to a necessary civil and military inactivity during a heat wave. Abraham’s followers fasted at eclipses, equinoxes and solstices.

Islam, Judaism and Christianity have in common that they have put dietary prohibitions at the center of religious life. Moses, Jesus, Muhammad (ﷺ): all three fasted in the desert. Yom Kippur, Lent, Ramadan: three ways of observing the fast. 

Born in the Middle East, in landscapes of sand and sun, the three great monotheistic religions have included this practice in their calendar. The duration varies, the modalities have evolved over the centuries, but for all of them, the time of fasting is an opportunity to refocus on the spiritual, and to open up to sharing and caring. Another way of being in the world. Ramadan corresponds to the ninth month of the lunar calendar, during which the archangel Gabriel revealed the Qur’an to Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ), according to Islam.

In the Jewish faith, Yom Kippur (also known as the “Day of Atonement”) is the holiest day of the Jewish faith. Jews may not eat, drink, work, have sex or bathe for 25 hours. Mandated in the Torah, believers are encouraged to consider their sins over the past year and repent. 

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Finally, in Hinduism, fasting is also practiced in order to detach the body from its physical needs for spiritual gain. By separating obsessions from material pleasures, Hindus create harmony between their body and soul. On Ekadashi, healthy adults are encouraged to fast completely. This practice, combined with prayer and meditation, helps to eliminate sins, purify the mind and train the believer to endure future hardships. 

islam arab prayer mosque muslim islam sunset

Over time, many religions have come to regard voluntary abstinence from food as an important spiritual purification rite. By encouraging penitence and sacrifice, the essence of fasting is to prevent physical needs from taking center stage.

Gandhi used fasting as a “non-violent weapon“, a weapon of incredible power, since he made the British bow to him. He conducted his last fast, in favor of reconciliation between Hindus and Muslims, at 78 years old, before being assassinated by a Hindu fanatic.

In Arabic, the word Ramadan means intense heat, because it is considered a good deed burning away sins. It allows Muslims to be closer to Allah, but also to the poorest, by feeling the sensations of hunger and thirst and that is in itself, also, a feeling of great heat and burning of the throat. (3)

The 27th day of Ramadan commemorates the “Night of Destiny” when the angel Gabriel (Jibril) appeared for the first time to the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) to reveal the Qur’an to him. This month of fasting is therefore closely linked to the Muslim holy Qur’an, whose first revealed verse is “Read!’’ (Surah 96, Verse 1).

Muslims are therefore encouraged to read the entire Qur’an again during this month of Ramadan, hence the institution of an extra session of communal prayers (tarawîh) (4) in the evening in mosques only during this time of the year – a tradition that some date back to the second Caliph Omar (579-644).

Why fast?

A central Islamic ritual in religious observance, fasting is also practiced by the followers of other religious traditions, as well as by a growing number of people “without religion”. Some even speak of an intriguing phenomenon in our society in search of meaning.

Bringing a dietary benefit, even therapeutic according to some, or synonymous with chosen sobriety in the face of consumerism excesses, fasting evokes a dimension of self-control and fraternal solidarity, of sharing and mutual aid, which is found in particular in observant Muslim families during the month of Ramadan.

What meaning do we give to fasting today? Where does the relative infatuation with it come from? What is its place in the Islamic canonical tradition, as well as its spiritual aims and ethical purposes, usually so little addressed not only by non-Muslim actors, but also by many faithful of Islam? 

From the time of puberty, all Muslims must fast, except for those who are frail, elderly or suffering from certain diseases. This exemption also applies to those who have to travel or who are temporarily ill. In return, these people must feed a poor person for each day not fasted. Women who are breastfeeding or pregnant are also exempt. They should recover the days not fasted before the next Ramadan.

Fasting allows one to experience hunger and thirst. It reminds believers of the existence of the poor, which is reinforced by the prescription of zakât al-fitr (alms for the breaking of the fast), mentioned in several hadiths, the texts transmitted by the Prophet’s companions that record his deeds. “The best of all alms is the one given in the month of Ramadan,” (5) says one hadith.

In addition, Abu Hurairah reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying: (6)

“Charity does not in any way decrease the wealth and the servant who forgives, Allah adds to his respect; and the one who shows humility, Allah elevates him in the estimation (of the people).” 

Spiritually, Ramadan is an invitation to self-control and the exercise of the will, so that the acts of the believer are vehicles of divine mercy. Thus, fasting of the body should lead to fasting of the heart and bring the soul closer to God. The believer must work on himself to develop his qualities of goodness, benevolence, patience, perseverance, justice, solidarity, fraternity and fight against his defects of selfishness, hypocrisy, slander, and jealousy. (7)

During this period, Muslims should pray, reflect on their faith and try to be better. They should, also, give alms, by donating money to the mosque or to someone in need, just before the end of Ramadan.

Fasting is, clearly, stated in the Holy Qur’an in the following important verses:

“Believers! Fasting is enjoined upon you, as it was enjoined upon those before you, that you become God-fearing.’’ (Surah 2, Verse 183).

يٰٓـاَيُّهَاالَّذِيۡنَاٰمَنُوۡاكُتِبَعَلَيۡکُمُالصِّيَامُکَمَاكُتِبَعَلَىالَّذِيۡنَمِنۡقَبۡلِکُمۡلَعَلَّكُمۡتَتَّقُوۡنَۙ

‘’Fasting is for a fixed number of days, and if one of you be sick, or if one of you be on a journey, you will fast the same number of other days later on. For those who are capable of fasting (but still do not fast) there is a redemption: feeding a needy man for each day missed. Whoever voluntarily does more good than is required, will find it better for him; and that you should fast is better for you, if you only know.” (Surah 2, Verse 184).

أَيَّامًامَّعْدُودَاتٍفَمَنكَانَمِنكُممَّرِيضًاأَوْعَلَىسَفَرٍفَعِدَّةٌمِّنْأَيَّامٍأُخَرَوَعَلَىالَّذِينَيُطِيقُونَهُفِدْيَةٌطَعَامُمِسْكِينٍفَمَنتَطَوَّعَخَيْرًافَهُوَخَيْرٌلَّهُوَأَنتَصُومُواخَيْرٌلَّكُمْإِنكُنتُمْتَعْلَمُونَ

 ‘’During the month of Ramadan the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance to the people with Clear Signs of the true guidance and as the Criterion (between right and wrong). So those of you who live to see that month should fast it, and whoever is sick or on a journey should fast the same number of other days instead. Allah wants ease and not hardship for you so that you may complete the number of days required, magnify Allah for what He has guided you to, and give thanks to Him.’’ (Surah 2, Verse 185).

شَهْرُرَمَضَانَالَّذِيأُنزِلَفِيهِالْقُرْآنُهُدًىلِّلنَّاسِوَبَيِّنَاتٍمِّنَالْهُدَىوَالْفُرْقَانِفَمَنشَهِدَمِنكُمُالشَّهْرَفَلْيَصُمْهُوَمَنكَانَمَرِيضًاأَوْعَلَىسَفَرٍفَعِدَّةٌمِّنْأَيَّامٍأُخَرَيُرِيدُاللَّهُبِكُمُالْيُسْرَوَلَايُرِيدُبِكُمُالْعُسْرَوَلِتُكْمِلُواالْعِدَّةَوَلِتُكَبِّرُوااللَّهَعَلَىمَاهَدَاكُمْوَلَعَلَّكُمْتَشْكُرُونَ

Fasting as a spiritual practice is usually linked to asceticism (from the Greek askêsis, exercise). While asceticism is a discipline of life and a form of self-mastery, the way it is practiced varies according to the different cultures and philosophies of this world. It is indeed a widespread tradition in several religions: Jainism, Hinduism, Buddhism but also in the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam, under different forms. The objective is to learn to dominate one’s instincts and to reach spiritual plenitude. 

Ramadan Religion Culture Breakfast Islam Food

The ascetic imposes deprivations (food and pleasures) and practices prayer. The Sufis for example – Sufism is a mystical current of Islam – practiced asceticism. (8) For Muslims, the month of Ramadan has an ascetic dimension in the sense that it encourages Muslims to control their instincts and to progress spiritually. (9) In addition, the month of Ramadan commemorates the first divine revelation received by the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ).

First, there is a spiritual significance to the act of fasting. As in all the ascetic practices of the different religions, it is a matter of starving the body in order to become aware that the most essential human needs are spiritual: reducing the time spent on physical needs – not only not eating or drinking, but also abstaining from all sexual pleasure – in order to devote more time to meditation and prayer. 

Islam shows itself to be above all ritualistic, insisting again and again on the “technical” modalities of fasting, relating, for example, to the discernment of the moment of dawn when it is legitimate to begin it – 

“Eat and drink until you can distinguish the white thread from the black thread at dawn”, (Surah 2, Verse 187).

حَتَّىيَتَبَيَّنَلَكُمُالْخَيْطُالْأَبْيَضُمِنَالْخَيْطِالْأَسْوَدِمِنَالْفَجْرِ

Ramadan, month of mercy and piety

Mercy is a concept that is very important in Islam. In fact, the first Qur’anic verse begins: “In the name of Allah the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful“. Indeed, Allah said to the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ): 

We have sent you only to be a mercy to mankind” (Surah 21- Verse 107).

وَمَاأَرْسَلْنَاكَإِلَّارَحْمَةًلِّلْعَالَمِينَ

and the Prophet (ﷺ), in approving this verse, said: 

I am the gift of mercy to mankind“. (10)

Moreover, it is a tradition among the ulema to teach their students (in the science of hadith) the following wise prophetic saying first: 

The merciful will give them mercy; be merciful to those on earth and the one above the sky will give you mercy“. (11) 

This reminds us of a story in which a man who saw the Prophet (ﷺ) playing and kissing his grandchildren said to him: 

O Messenger of God, I have ten children and they do not dare to play with me in this way.” 

The Prophet (ﷺ) replied

“I can do nothing for you if your heart has been devoid of mercy.” (12)

Mercy is one of the expressions of taqwa. Taqwa essentially means “awareness of God” or “piety,” but has sometimes been translated as “fear of God,” though not with the usual meaning of “fear.” In order to develop taqwa, one should remember Allah often, learn more about Him, repent often, fast often, remember death often, be merciful often and work to increase one’s good deeds while decreasing one’s sins.

For example, Allah says to those who seek knowledge and understanding to have taqwa

Be pious and Allah will teach you” (Surah 2- Verse 282).

وَاتَّقُوااللَّهَوَيُعَلِّمُكُمُاللَّهُوَاللَّهُبِكُلِّشَيْءٍعَلِيمٌ

And the same to those who seek blessing and abundance: 

And if the people of the book had believed in their Lord and had been pious we would certainly have opened to them the blessings of heaven and earth” (Surah 7- Verse 96). 

وَلَوْأَنَّأَهْلَالْقُرَىآمَنُواوَاتَّقَوْالَفَتَحْنَاعَلَيْهِمبَرَكَاتٍمِّنَالسَّمَاءِوَالْأَرْضِوَلَكِنكَذَّبُوافَأَخَذْنَاهُمبِمَاكَانُوايَكْسِبُونَ

In another verse, Allah shows that taqwa is the possible way to repentance and redemption, He says:

 “And if the inhabitants of the cities had believed and had been pious we would have forgiven them their misdeeds” (Surah 5- Verse 65). 

وَلَوْأَنَّأَهْلَالْكِتَابِآمَنُواوَاتَّقَوْالَكَفَّرْنَاعَنْهُمْسَيِّئَاتِهِمْوَلَأَدْخَلْنَاهُمْجَنَّاتِالنَّعِيمِ

Taqwa leads to acceptance, to mercy and to the love of Allah. Allah says: 

Allah accepts only the work of the pious” (Surah 5- Verse 27). 

وَاتْلُعَلَيْهِمْنَبَأَابْنَيْآدَمَبِالْحَقِّإِذْقَرَّبَاقُرْبَانًافَتُقُبِّلَمِنْأَحَدِهِمَاوَلَمْيُتَقَبَّلْمِنَالْآخَرِقَالَلَأَقْتُلَنَّكَقَالَإِنَّمَايَتَقَبَّلُاللَّهُمِنَالْمُتَّقِينَ

He, also, says: 

[…] His allies are none other than the pious” (Surah 8 – Verse 34). 

وَمَالَهُمْأَلَّايُعَذِّبَهُمُاللَّهُوَهُمْيَصُدُّونَعَنِالْمَسْجِدِالْحَرَامِوَمَاكَانُواأَوْلِيَاءَهُإِنْأَوْلِيَاؤُهُإِلَّاالْمُتَّقُونَوَلَكِنَّأَكْثَرَهُمْلَايَعْلَمُونَ

and : 

The good end belongs to the pious” (Surah 28 – Verse 83). 

تِلْكَالدَّارُالْآخِرَةُنَجْعَلُهَالِلَّذِينَلَايُرِيدُونَعُلُوًّافِيالْأَرْضِوَلَافَسَادًاوَالْعَاقِبَةُلِلْمُتَّقِينَ

To better understand the pillars of Taqwa and piety in Islam, one ought to the boundless wisdom of Imam Ali, when he said: 

Piety is the exercise of four things: fear of Allah, putting into practice the teachings of the Koran, being content with what is attributed to us and preparing for the return to God“.

For the Holy Prophet (ﷺ), Ramadan is a special season for the taqwa of the pious Muslim:

When Ramadan begins, the gates of paradise are opened, the gates of hell are closed, the devils are chained, and people are addressed as follows: “O you who seek goodness, draw near, and O you who seek evil, refrain from evil“. (13)

Four phrases of special favors stand out in this prophetic saying. First of all, it speaks of the opening of the gates of paradise, which testifies to the extent of our Lord’s mercy, which facilitates access to the dwelling place of his gratitude, paradise.

Indeed, every good deed is rewarded more and this whatever its extent: 

Allah does not commit any injustice and when one works in good, He multiplies it and grants an enormous reward” (Surah 4- Verse 40).

إِنَّاللَّهَلَايَظْلِمُمِثْقَالَذَرَّةٍوَإِنتَكُحَسَنَةًيُضَاعِفْهَاوَيُؤْتِمِنلَّدُنْهُأَجْرًاعَظِيمًا 

Then it is mentioned that the gates of hell are closed, which indicates, on the one hand, the will of our Lord to forgive his servants for all the sins committed, which normally lead to the abode of his wrath: hell. On the other hand, the closing indicates that all the inhabitants of the graves are temporarily pardoned during this blessed month. Finally, the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) tells us that the devils are chained during the holy month of Ramadan.

Spiritual significance

Ramadan is not only about abstinence from food – from sunrise to sunset – but more about a spiritual journey where the Muslim seeks to get closer to excellence by purifying his soul from his evil inclinations. This month is also the month of generosity and sharing; if Islam reminds us of the benefits of generosity towards one’s fellow man in general, the month of Ramadan is an opportunity to surpass oneself.

For Hatim I. Belfkih, Ramadan has important spiritual essence: (14)

“The true meaning of fasting is to curb one’s negative impulses, to bring one’s ego to break with its habits, to attenuate the ardor of one’s desires in order to prepare it for what will bring it happiness and felicity, to make it accept what will help it to purify its heart.

Indeed, behind fasting lies the whole logic of getting closer to God. There is a reality which is no secret to anyone but which tends to be hidden by habit. This reality lies in the presence of a direct link between the condition of the body and the life of the heart. The first brings it back to its material origin, brings it down to earth, the other sends it back to its spiritual source, elevates it by the Primordial breath.

The Infinite Wisdom of God wanted Man to be the conjugation of spirit and matter. One cannot be separated from one or the other. But the search for balance between the two is not easy, because there is no symmetry in the management of these two entities. Indeed, we live in the sensory universe, it is imposed on us, we cannot escape it. “

Ramadan is a true spiritual source which nourishes the soul, accentuates faith and piety. This month increases the divine rewards linked to religious practice tenfold, it brings Muslims closer together and revives faith imane. A Ramadan without prayer or reading the Qur’an has no value in itself: fasting is certainly a condition, but religious practice is inseparable from Ramadan. Sharing takâful, generosity, love of one’s neighbor are the intrinsic values of a Muslim, and this blessed month is an opportunity for him to highlight them by inviting the poor to his home to break the fast, or to give of his time for charities.

Fasting is related to the nature of the human being as taught in the Qur’an. The human being, in the Qur’an, consists of an entity of material essence and an entity of spiritual essence. The human being is the conjunction of the cells in his body and the values in his soul. (15)

The quest for consciousness is an essential project of the soul. The soul by its very nature carries values and is nourished by ethics. In its “association” with the body entity, the human soul is comparable to a rider on his mount. The rider is not the mount. But what is a rider without a mount? The fact is that our five senses are continuously solicited by the natural needs of the genetic entity. This demand is pressing and continuous. It is capable of filling a human existence with the risk of putting the soul to sleep and diverting it from its project.

By abstaining from food, drink and voluptuousness from sunrise to sunset, the Muslim fasting man counteracts natural inclinations of his body. By curbing superfluous speech and initiatives, he disciplines his mind. He reaffirms his will for taqwa, for he sees his impulses dawning and disposes himself to apprehend them in order to channel them properly.

Certain physical needs being sublimated, contained and postponed in time, the fasting person escapes their grip and becomes better available to the spiritual experience. During this sacred month, the Muslim intensifies his spiritual exercises and meditation, recollection, charity are his priorities.

The Islamic system establishes five daily moments of respite called the salât, the Muslim prayer. It is a spiritual exercise with a coded ritual, whose purpose is to remind the soul of its spiritual project. The fasting of the month of Ramadan is an exercise that fits in this perspective.

Mealtime, the iftâr, sounds a victory, the flavor of which is deeply intimate. Neither a diet nor a nightly racket, the Ramadan fast is not a mortification of the body. It is meant to be a month of intensive training, where the genetic entity is weakened, cut off from its sources of energy, and the spiritual entity is invigorated, nourished by acts of piety. This is why Qur’anic symbolism cites ar-Rayyân, one of the gates of Paradise especially reserved for fasters!

Ramadan, according to al-Ghazali

What is the role of this annual diet, which is also one of the five pillars of Islam? Answer with al-Ghazālī (1058-1111) (16), one of the most important Muslim theologians, who was the pugnacious opponent of philosophers too quick, in his opinion, to value reason on a par with faith. (17) For him, Ramadan is ultimately about detachment from the world and openness to God. Ready for a mystical journey? (18)

The theologian Abu Hamid Muhammad ibn Muhammad al-Ghazālī (sometimes referred to in the West as Algazel) has written at length about Ramadan, in The Secrets of Fasting in Islam in particular, of which he distinguishes three meanings, three quite distinct practices: (19)

The Ramadan of ordinary people: “This one consists of preventing the stomach and the private parts from satisfying their desires.” (20) Overcoming hunger and renouncing sexuality: escaping, in short, the most biological instincts – self-preservation and the perpetuation of the species.

Ramadan of the chosen: “The fast of the elect consists in keeping the hearing, the sight, the tongue, the hands, the feet and all the other members of the body free from sin.” (21) It is, in short, to resist evil in all its forms by a hygiene, a purging, a discipline of our different ways of access to the world and to others (which are so many opportunities to sin).

The Ramadan of the chosen among the chosen: Al-Ghazālī considers this third and loftiest practice as the fast of “the prophets, the veracious, and those who are near to God” (22), in other words “The fasting of the chosen among the chosen is through the heart; one must fast from worldly concerns and worldly thoughts, and completely abstain from thinking about anything other than God.” This highest degree of Ramadan, then, consists of “turning away from what is other than God […] and being completely enveloped by the meaning of his words.” (23) It is no longer just a question of disciplining our earthly life, but of detaching ourselves, as much as possible, from it, because all our preoccupations here on earth, even if they are good, form an obstacle to our relationship with the divine.

In these three forms, Ramadan is for al-Ghazālī an effort of self-purification. It is about freeing oneself from all that distracts from an authentic understanding of oneself – to emancipate oneself from needs, desires, and even senses, which transport one outward and thereby would prevent one from recollecting oneself within. By stripping himself of what attaches him to earthly life, the fasting person discovers that he is little compared to the infinity of God, whose creature he is.

Ramadan is therefore, at the same time, a return to oneself and a renunciation of oneself, since it leads only to God. This sacrifice is all the more demanding because it is based on nothing other than faith, and is therefore never assured. The heart of the one who breaks the fast remains in suspense, between fear and hope, because he does not know if his fast has been accepted or rejected by God.

On al-Ghazali’s reflections on Ramadan, Tamim Mobayed writes: (24)

‘’Al Ghazālī marks the opening of this book by highlighting the sheer importance of fasting, covering ideas such as fasting being half of patience, with patience being half of faith, and so fasting equalling one quarter of faith. More stirringly, he reminds his reader about the exceptionality of fasting in relation to other acts of worship, due to its status as being for God (“It is for Me and I reward it”). This status might be related to the fact it is an unobservable form of worship: “Fasting is abstention; giving something up, by its very nature, is concealed, with no observable action”. Thus, fasting enjoys the unique status amongst the pillars of Islam as being an act of omission rather than commission. Al Ghazālī also grants significance to fasting on the grounds of it being a mean to overpower “God’s foe”, as Satan “works by means of the appetites”. The relationship between fasting and self-control is well documented, as well as the relationship between self-control and a raft of life attainment and satisfaction measures, including ills such as drug addiction, maladaptive relationships and both physical and psychological illness.

Al Ghazālī goes on to provide a useful overview of the core principles that must be adhered to for fasting Ramadan to be accepted, according to his Shafi’i school of jurisprudence. While these principles are critical, and certain discussions pertaining to them are illuminating and intricate, their core are widely known.

While there is no flower without roots, to truly attain the sweetness of the scent, and the beauty of the nectar, there is a need to strive for adornment. Zayn al-Din offers his readers some means to attain more from this month, to allow their fasts to blossom into a spiritual practice that goes beyond hunger, thirst and tiredness. He offers a path for those seeking to deepen what the month means to them, by way of tightening their practice and adding further components to their worship.’’

The benefits of Ramadan

Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam. It is a religious obligation that all eligible Muslims must perform during the ninth Hegira lunar month: the month of Ramadan.

A crecent moon can be seen over palm trees at sunset in Manama, Bahrain, marking the beginning of the Muslim month of Ramadan. Photo Credit: Ahmed Rabea, Wikipedia Commons
A crescent moon can be seen over palm trees at sunset in Manama, Bahrain, marking the beginning of the Muslim month of Ramadan. Photo Credit: Ahmed Rabea, Wikipedia Commons

In Islam, fasting is not a simple individual act of piety, performed occasionally, by a few pious believers as it is the case in other religions, but an obligation prescribed to the whole community, with a few exceptions. Fasting does not consist in a simple food deprivation, but in the observance of a coherent set of prescriptions of a dietary, physical, spiritual and moral nature which affects the behavior of the individual and transforms the habits of the community.

And as if to make the believers aware of the importance and necessity of this prescription, God tells them that fasting is a good whose effects they should and could understand:

Fasting is a good for you. Perhaps you will understand it“(Surah 2, Verse 184).

وَأَنتَصُومُواخَيْرٌلَّكُمْإِنكُنتُمْتَعْلَمُونَ

As such, the beneficial effects of fasting and the purposes of fasting recognized by all are as follows:

  • Strengthening one’s will and conditioning oneself to patience:

Fasting in Ramadan, as prescribed by Islam, is the best way to learn patience. This obvious and concrete truth for all those who perform the fast, is clearly underlined in the sacred texts which present this cultic obligation as synonymous with patience. Indeed, according to a divine Word revealed to the Holy Prophet (ﷺ), God said:

All the good deeds of the descendants of Adam are rewarded from ten to seven hundred times their merit except for patience, for which I decide the reward Myself. Now patience is fasting.” 

The Holy Prophet (ﷺ) himself said of the month of Ramadan that it is:

The month of patience, which is rewarded with Paradise“. (26)

Imam Jacfar as-Siddiq advised:

If a man should fall victim to a great evil, let him fast, for God has said: ‘Ask for the help of patience…’, that is, fasting.” (27)

In fact, schematically speaking, fasting consists of abstaining – for a relatively long time – from satisfying a pressing natural and legitimate need that one is used to satisfying normally – and that one can easily satisfy – as soon as it arises. Such an abstention, whose only motivation is the moral commitment taken by the “fasting” person to respect it, necessarily requires a renewed will and patience during a “long day” that is repeated during a “long month”. (28)

  • Freeing oneself from daily habits

Fasting is the expression of submission to the judgments of God, and of the interruption of the subjection to the imperatives of certain needs of the body, which are usually legitimate and legal. It constitutes a screen against current customs and a temporary commitment to an austere life which makes the one who commits himself to it feel hungry and thirsty, with the intention of educating and disciplining his soul.

To learn to resist such stubborn habits as satisfying thirst and hunger when they arise is to free oneself from the grip of habit, which generally shackles man and limits his freedom of initiative.

Getting used to food discipline

Doctors and dieticians agree on the need to respect a certain order in the timing of meals and not to subject them to the whim of sensation and appetite. Fasting consists of abstaining from eating and drinking from a specific time and taking meals at more or less specific times. During a month, the fasting person learns to control his or her sense of hunger and thirst and discovers that it is very possible to avoid them. This will generally help him to put his eating habits in order and, occasionally, to support and respect a diet without difficulty when his health condition requires it.

  • Cleansing the body

The Prophet said:

To everything a Zakat (purifying alms), that of the body is fasting.” (29)

لِكُلِّشَيْءٍزَكَاةٌوَزَكَاةُالْجَسَدِالصَّوْمُ

And

Fast, you will be healthy.

These few words summarize the hundreds of studies done around the world to highlight the many beneficial effects of fasting on our body. (30)

It is not our intention to deal here with medical details that are too technical for our presentation, but we can recall some generalities on this subject. It has been established that hunger and thirst, caused by fasting, generally provoke the secretion of acids from various glands – which acids work to destroy many disease-carrying germs – and reactivate other glands whose proper functioning has been put on hold because of a monotonous and unvarying diet for years.

In other words, fasting provides us with the opportunity to rehabilitate the function of the natural mechanism that triggers the sensation of real hunger and thirst, after this mechanism has been altered, over the course of days and years, by eating habits that respond less to the actual needs of the body, than to gastronomic whims and imperatives of a social, family, psychological nature, etc. This being said, we know that nowadays, many doctors prescribe hunger and thirst as a treatment to cure certain diseases and to prevent others.

  • Getting used to honesty

Fasting is prescribed to the Muslim from the age of puberty. He is therefore subjected to a severe test, he is alone, the supervisor and the judge. The only thing that prevents him from doing so is his faith in God and his conscience. Apart from God, there is no one to witness his observance of abstinence. From a young age, the fasting Muslim practices honesty and moral commitment, despite material temptations and the pressure of his desires and senses.

Fasting tests the honesty of the believer, the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) said in this regard:

“Fasting is a deposit. So safeguard what is entrusted to you.’’

  • Refixing the sincerity of our faith in God

The Prophet’s daughter, Fatimah az-Zahra, said in an oration at the time of her father’s death: “Fasting is the fixing of sincerity.’’

Indeed, fasting tests the sincerity and solidity of the believer’s faith in God, and helps to consolidate this faith. For it is a struggle between the legitimate need to appease pressing natural sensations (hunger, thirst, sexual pleasure …) and an intimate feeling, a spiritual desire inciting to obey the Will of God which wants one to resist these sensations. God being the only witness of this trial, the permanent resistance to these sensations strengthens the faith of the fasting person in Allah and allows him to concretely see the sincerity of his faith.

  • Establishing a close relationship with God and the Day of Judgment

God says in the Qur’an about the privileges that the fasting of Ramadan brings to the Believer:

When My servants ask you about Me, I answer the call of him who calls upon Me, when he calls upon Me. So let them answer My call; let them believe in Me…” (Surah 2, Verse 186)

إِذَاسَأَلَكَعِبَادِيعَنِّيفَإِنِّيقَرِيبٌأُجِيبُدَعْوَةَالدَّاعِإِذَادَعَانِفَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوالِيوَلْيُؤْمِنُوابِيلَعَلَّهُمْيَرْشُدُونَ

This means that God is particularly attentive to the worship, call and prayers of His servants during the month of fasting.

It was narrated that Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said: Every deed of the son of Adam will be given a ten-fold reward, up to seven hundred. Allah says: ‘Except fasting, for it is for Me, and I shall reward for it, for he gives up his desire and his food for My sake…’ and the fasting person has two joys, one joy when he breaks his fast and another when he meets his Lord. And the smell from his mouth is better before Allah than the fragrance of musk.” (31)

This divine presence with the fasters, the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) emphasizes in the speech where he epilogue on the countless benefits of the blessed month of Ramadan:

It is a month in which you are God’s guests, in which you are among those who are honored by God. It is a month in which your breaths are glorification, your sleep is worship, your action is accepted, your supplication is answered”, and “The hunger and thirst that you experience should remind you of the hunger and thirst of the Day of Judgment.

During this month of repentance, redemption, reparation and recollection, where an atmosphere of individual and social piety reigns, the fasting person imagines with joy and quietude the presence of the Lord and the atmosphere of the Day of Judgment.

  • Consoling the needy 

The Prophet described the month of Ramadan as, among other things, the month of consolation. This is apt because fasting is a real institution for helping the needy. The lmam al-Bâqer said in this regard:

God has prescribed the obligation of fasting so that the rich man may feel the affliction of hunger and feel sorry for the poor“.

His son, the Imam al-Qadiq, takes up this explanation and expands it:

God has prescribed fasting so that the rich and the poor live on an equal footing, for, the rich has no occasion to experience hunger to think of the poor, since he can eat whatever he wants and whenever he wants. Therefore, God wanted to put His creatures on an equal footing by forcing the rich to experience hunger and its affliction so that He would feel sorry for the weak and sympathize with the hungry“.

Thus, the sensation of hunger is enough in itself to remind the rich man of the affliction of the hungry and to incite him to be voluntarily generous towards the poor. It is a reminder that could not be more concrete and without eloquent speech. It is worth a thousand sermons.

However, Islam did not merely prescribe fasting as an incentive for the rich to feed the poor. It also promised rewards at least equal to, if not greater than, the fast itself, for every act of generosity associated with the fast. The Holy Prophet (ﷺ) said in this regard:

Whoever offers the meal of Iftâr (the end of fasting) to a fasting person will have a reward equal to that of fasting and that of piety performed by the strength of that meal.”

Imam as-Siddiq paraphrases this saying of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) in the following terms:

Offering your brother the meal of Iftâr and making him experience this joy, is better rewarded than your fasting itself“.

As for Imam al-Bâqer, he said on the same subject:

Any believer who has offered the meal of Iftâr to another believer, God will reserve for him a reward equivalent to that of freeing a slave“.

And to add:

And if he offers him this meal during the whole month of Ramadan, God will reserve for him the reward of the one who frees thirty believing slaves, and in this way his Prayer will be answered by God“.

Does hunger have any virtues?

For Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan, fasting is a way to get closer to God. A pillar of Islam, it follows an explicit Qur’anic prescription. Fasting is also seen as a way to detach oneself from one’s material concerns, and to put oneself in the place of the most modest. Similarities can be found in the fasting preceding Lent for Christians. And most of the world’s great religions propose periods of food deprivation, for various reasons.

But beyond religious and spiritual questions, is fasting really worthwhile? For a few years now, “fasting and hiking” courses have been multiplying worldwide, promising well-being and serenity. In various parts of the world, hospitals and doctors have taken up this practice for therapeutic purposes. But many of them also call for caution, nevertheless. And for good reason: fasting is not a miracle solution to all ills, and it is not practiced just any old way. What are its virtues and how to benefit from it? 

A rebalancing for the body. When the body goes a long time without eating, it draws on its reserves: in the first four to six hours following the last meal, it will assimilate the nutrients ingested, then it will start to draw on the sugars stored in the liver, in the fats in our body, in the proteins in our muscles and, when the fast is very long, it will even seek energy in the bone marrow. (32) However, when the body draws from its reserves, it eliminates (in part) what could be toxic. (32) “The liver and the walls of the intestine regenerate, the pancreas and the stomach are put to rest and the intestinal flora is rebalanced“, explains in Françoise Wilhelmi de Toledo, nutritionist and director of a specialized clinic in Überlingen, in southwest Germany. From this process, many benefits can be derived:

– A reduction in sebum production is, therefore, a skin that regenerates, becomes smoother. The hair is also strengthened;

– A digestive system in working order, and; 

– A loss of weight and, therefore, a reduction of cardiovascular risks.

Kawa News reports that: (34)

‘’In case of prolonged fasting (more than 15 days), nutritionists argue that since the body has completely adapted to fasting, key organs such as the colon, the liver, or the kidneys are in full detox (the skin as well). According to Dr. Razeen Mahroof, consultant in anesthesia and intensive care medicine at Addenbrooke’s Hospital in Cambridge, this could even have concrete applications at the cognitive level: “Your memory and concentration could improve and you could have more energy“’’

A feeling of lightness for the mind. When the body is hungry, the brain also produces acetone, a powerful stimulant that promotes alertness and cognitive faculties. And according to Françoise Wilhelmi de Toledo, after two or three days of fasting, the feeling of hunger disappears. “We are no longer in the classic cycle ‘I am hungry, I eat, I am satisfied’. We enter a state of contentment and we feel serenity,” she explains. (35)

This feeling of “serenity” or “lightness” is also at the heart of the promises of federations that organize “fasting and hiking” courses (see below). The Moscow Institute of Psychiatry even uses fasting to treat various mental illnesses, such as depression or obsessive-compulsive disorders. Several hospitals in Japan also offer it to their patients as part of psychotherapy. (36)

“The human body is much better adapted to a lack of food than it is to an excess of it,” summarizes Yvon Le Maho, director of biological research at the CNRS, in Psychologies magazine. Several researchers are also studying the possibility of using fasting in the treatment of certain diseases: joint diseases, cases of chronic inflammation and allergy, cardiovascular diseases, liver and digestive tract disorders, chronic fatigue. Others even consider fasting as a means of supporting chemotherapy against certain cancers: conclusive tests have been carried out on mice by the American researcher Valter Longo.

Ramadan is about sharing

Practicing fasting every day during Ramadan puts you in the shoes of those who have nothing to eat. It is empathy and a kind of lesson for oneself. One can understand when one has gone through a trial. At the same time, it is a way to educate our children to respect food. Ramadan is also the month of sharing, conviviality and forgiveness.

Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah, peace and blessings be upon him, said:  (37)

“Whoever relieves the difficulty of a believer in this world, Allah will relieve his difficulty on the Day of Resurrection. Whoever helps to relieve a person in difficulty, Allah will make it easier for him in this world and in the Hereafter. Whoever conceals the faults of a Muslim, Allah will conceal his faults in this world and in the Hereafter. Allah helps the servant as long as he helps his brother. Whoever walks a path in search of knowledge, Allah will make the path to Paradise easy for him. Whenever people gather in the houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it together, tranquility will descend upon them, mercy will cover them, angels will surround them, and Allah will mention them to those who are close to Him. He who is slow in good deeds will not be quickened by his lineage. “

مَنْنَفَّسَعَنْمُؤْمِنٍكُرْبَةًمِنْكُرَبِالدُّنْيَانَفَّسَاللَّهُعَنْهُكُرْبَةًمِنْكُرَبِيَوْمِالْقِيَامَةِوَمَنْيَسَّرَعَلَىمُعْسِرٍيَسَّرَاللَّهُعَلَيْهِفِيالدُّنْيَاوَالآخِرَةِوَمَنْسَتَرَمُسْلِمًاسَتَرَهُاللَّهُفِيالدُّنْيَاوَالآخِرَةِوَاللَّهُفِيعَوْنِالْعَبْدِمَاكَانَالْعَبْدُفِيعَوْنِأَخِيهِوَمَنْسَلَكَطَرِيقًايلتمسفِيهِعِلْمًاسَهَّلَاللَّهُلَهُبِهِطَرِيقًاإِلَىالْجَنَّةِوَمَااجْتَمَعَقَوْمٌفِيبَيْتٍمِنْبُيُوتِاللَّهِيَتْلُونَكِتَابَاللَّهِوَيَتَدَارَسُونَهُبَيْنَهُمْإِلاَّنَزَلَتْعَلَيْهِمُالسَّكِينَةُوَغَشِيَتْهُمُالرَّحْمَةُوَحَفَّتْهُمُالْمَلاَئِكَةُوَذَكَرَهُمُاللَّهُفِيمَنْعِنْدَهُوَمَنْبَطَّأَبِهِعَمَلُهُلَمْيُسْرِعْبِهِنَسَبُهُ

Ramadan is a joyous time for most of us but unfortunately not for everyone. Entire families under the yoke of hunger, thirst and sickness, are waiting for a boost that would allow them to fully enjoy this holy month.

Ramadan is not only about deprivation; it is also about patience. During the month of Ramadan, the day is devoted to asceticism with a strict prohibition on eating or engaging in addictive or pleasure-seeking practices. The nights are a time of conviviality and sharing between relatives, where great attention is paid to the purity of the food that constitutes the iftâr and the suhûr, the two nightly meals.

Generosity towards others does not stop at the family and friendly circle. Huge free public feasts called mawâ’id ar-rahmân are organized by charitable institutions and non-governmental organizations in Muslim countries to feed the poor and orphans.

According to the narration of Abû Mûsa al-Ashcarî, the Prophet (ﷺ) said:  (38)

“Give food to the hungry, visit the sick, and release (set free) the one in captivity (by paying his ransom). “

أَطْعِمُواالْجَائِعَ،وَعوُدُواالْمَرِيضَ،وَفُكُّواالْعَانِيَقَالَسُفْيَانُوَالْعَانِيالأَسِيرُ

Sociologically, fasting is an expression of solidarity with the poor. It is manifested through the concept of charity, neighborliness and hospitality. In addition to contributing to the purification of the body and soul through the process of self-purification. Addressing these areas of social importance can only help people get rid of anything that is not socially desirable.

Charity is strongly encouraged during the month of fasting. This includes helping the poor by giving them sadaqah alms. It is estimated that if a person gives even a small amount during this month, he or she will receive 70 times more blessings in return.

Ibn ‘Umar said: The Messenger of Allah(ﷺ) commanded us that the end of Ramadan when the fasting is closed sadaqah (alms) should be paid before the people went to prayer. ‘Abd Allah b. ‘Umar used to pay it one or two days before. (39)

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ النُّفَيْلِيُّ، حَدَّثَنَا زُهَيْرٌ، حَدَّثَنَا مُوسَى بْنُ عُقْبَةَ، عَنْ نَافِعٍ، عَنِ ابْنِ عُمَرَ، قَالَ أَمَرَنَا رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم بِزَكَاةِ الْفِطْرِ أَنْ تُؤَدَّى قَبْلَ خُرُوجِ النَّاسِ إِلَى الصَّلاَةِ ‏.‏ قَالَ فَكَانَ ابْنُ عُمَرَ يُؤَدِّيهَا قَبْلَ ذَلِكَ بِالْيَوْمِ وَالْيَوْمَيْنِ ‏.‏

Relevance of Ramadan

The importance of the month of Ramadan, is primarily due to the fact that the Qur’an was revealed to the Prophet (ﷺ)  during this blessed month, during which, explains Malek Chebel, (40)

“the believer is asked to be as good as possible, considerate tolerant because the month of fasting is first and foremost a time of great piety. A fervor seizes all Muslim homes, cities and peoples, so that the confident and encouraged fasting person manages to deploy an unexpected energy.”

Paradoxically, this period of daytime deprivation has become synonymous with great joyous celebrations and lavish spending. This month is also the most precious of the year because it contains, on the 27th day, the best night of the year, Laylat al-Qadr, the Night of Destiny, during which the fervor of the faithful increases significantly; they read the Qur’an aloud, for it is said that the wishes expressed in faith to the Lord will be fulfilled during this night. 

On this occasion, the mistress of the house, anticipating the joy of the children prepares sweets and cakes for them to be served on the first day of breaking the fast.

The month of Ramadan is no ordinary month for a believer. It contains precious treasures that the Muslim enjoys in this world and in the Hereafter. The Holy Prophet (ﷺ) said: 

’When the month of Ramadan comes, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, while the demons are chained.’’ (41)

حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ بُكَيْرٍ، حَدَّثَنَا اللَّيْثُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي عُقَيْلٌ، عَنِ ابْنِ شِهَابٍ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنِي ابْنُ أَبِي أَنَسٍ، مَوْلَى التَّيْمِيِّينَ أَنَّ أَبَاهُ، حَدَّثَهُ أَنَّهُ، سَمِعَ أَبَا هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ يَقُولُ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ إِذَادَخَلَرَمَضَانُفُتِّحَتْأَبْوَابُالْجَنَّةِ،وَغُلِّقَتْأَبْوَابُجَهَنَّمَ،وَسُلْسِلَتِالشَّيَاطِينُ ‏”‏‏.

Fasting in the month of Ramadan is an excellent way to attract Allah’s mercy and forgiveness, as evidenced by the words of the Holy Prophet (ﷺ): 

Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan with faith, relying on the divine reward, his sins will be forgiven.” (42)

حَدَّثَنَا ابْنُ سَلاَمٍ، قَالَ أَخْبَرَنَا مُحَمَّدُ بْنُ فُضَيْلٍ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا يَحْيَى بْنُ سَعِيدٍ، عَنْ أَبِي سَلَمَةَ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، قَالَ قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم ‏ “‏ مَنْصَامَرَمَضَانَإِيمَانًاوَاحْتِسَابًاغُفِرَلَهُمَاتَقَدَّمَمِنْذَنْبِهِ ‏”‏‏.

The Holy Prophet (ﷺ) said, (43) “(Allah said), ‘Every good deed of Adam’s son is for him except fasting; it is for Me. and I shall reward (the fasting person) for it.’ Verily, the smell of the mouth of a fasting person is better to Allah than the smell of musk.”

حَدَّثَنِي عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مُحَمَّدٍ، حَدَّثَنَا هِشَامٌ، أَخْبَرَنَا مَعْمَرٌ، عَنِ الزُّهْرِيِّ، عَنِ ابْنِ الْمُسَيَّبِ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ ـ رضى الله عنه ـ عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ كُلُّعَمَلِابْنِآدَمَلَهُ،إِلاَّالصَّوْمَفَإِنَّهُلِي،وَأَنَاأَجْزِيبِهِ،وَلَخَلُوفُفَمِالصَّائِمِأَطْيَبُعِنْدَاللَّهِمِنْرِيحِالْمِسْكِ ‏”

Moreover, fasting is a strong protection against fire, for the Holy Prophet (ﷺ) said: 

Fasting preserves one from Hell like a shield in battle.’’ (44)

أَخْبَرَنَا قُتَيْبَةُ، قَالَ حَدَّثَنَا اللَّيْثُ، عَنْ يَزِيدَ بْنِ أَبِي حَبِيبٍ، عَنْ سَعِيدِ بْنِ أَبِي هِنْدٍ، أَنَّ مُطَرِّفًا، – رَجُلٌ مِنْ بَنِي عَامِرِ بْنِ صَعْصَعَةَ – حَدَّثَهُ أَنَّ عُثْمَانَ بْنَ أَبِي الْعَاصِ دَعَا لَهُ بِلَبَنٍ لِيَسْقِيَهُ فَقَالَ مُطَرِّفٌ إِنِّي صَائِمٌ فَقَالَ عُثْمَانُ سَمِعْتُ رَسُولَ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم يَقُولُ ‏ “‏ الصِّيَامُجُنَّةٌكَجُنَّةِأَحَدِكُمْمِنَالْقِتَالِ.

On the Day of Judgment, Allah will invite the fasters to enter Paradise through the ar-Rayan gate, which is exclusively reserved for them. To obtain this reward, it is not enough to abstain from eating, drinking and having intimate relations. This month of Ramadan must be fasted with sincerity for Allah.

Here is a summary of the most important aspects of fasting: 

  • Bad speech during Ramadan: fasting of the tongue

The tongue is the organ of the body that causes the most damage. Much sharper than a sword, it is the cause of many problems and disputes. During the fasting month of Ramadan, the Muslim must hold his tongue even more than usual. He should not speak vulgar words, talk for nothing, slander, lie, etc. When one of you fasts, he should not speak obscene words or raise his voice. If someone insults him or challenges him to a fight, let him only answer: “I am fasting.’’ 

The Prophet (ﷺ) as saying: ‘’Fast is a shield; when one of you is fasting, he should neither behave in an obscene manner nor foolishly. If a man fights or abuses him, he should say: I am fasting, I am fasting.’’ (45)

حَدَّثَنَا عَبْدُ اللَّهِ بْنُ مَسْلَمَةَ الْقَعْنَبِيُّ، عَنْ مَالِكٍ، عَنْ أَبِي الزِّنَادِ، عَنِ الأَعْرَجِ، عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، أَنَّ النَّبِيَّ صلى الله عليه وسلم قَالَ ‏ “‏ الصِّيَامُجُنَّةٌإِذَاكَانَأَحَدُكُمْصَائِمًافَلاَيَرْفُثْوَلاَيَجْهَلْفَإِنِامْرُؤٌقَاتَلَهُأَوْشَاتَمَهُفَلْيَقُلْإِنِّيصَائِمٌإِنِّيصَائِمٌ

  • Lowering one’s gaze during Ramadan: the fasting of the eyes

Allah said: 

Tell the believers to lower their gaze and keep their chastity. It is purer for them. And Allah is fully aware of what they do.” (Surah 24 – Verse 30). 

قُللِّلْمُؤْمِنِينَيَغُضُّوامِنْأَبْصَارِهِمْوَيَحْفَظُوافُرُوجَهُمْذَلِكَأَزْكَىلَهُمْإِنَّاللَّهَخَبِيرٌبِمَايَصْنَعُونَ

Allah tells us to guard our eyes. He sees what we see in secret and in public.

  • The fasting of the ears

Allah also says: 

“And pursue not that of which you have no knowledge. The hearing, the sight and the heart: about all these, verily, one will be questioned.” (Surah 17 – Verse 36). 

وَلَاتَقْفُمَالَيْسَلَكَبِهِعِلْمٌإِنَّالسَّمْعَوَالْبَصَرَوَالْفُؤَادَكُلُّأُولَئِكَكَانَعَنْهُمَسْئُولًا

The Muslim must guard against evil words. Even if he does not say them, he must also be careful not to hear them. He must not turn his heart away from the worship of Allah by going to what can weaken the heart: listening to vulgar music, slander, gossip, foul words, futile words, etc.

  • Fasting the whole body

The fasting must restrain nafs (being), by fighting against laziness. Our nafs does not like efforts. We must not give it reason and increase the acts of worship during this month. Also, fasting must educate the heart, by depriving it of the love of the world pleasures and wealth, and by encouraging it to indulge in the love of God. Attachment to worldly possessions makes it difficult to attach to the Creator of these possessions. Finally, we must educate the limbs to perform only those actions that are pleasing to Allah. By refraining from offensive gestures, by going only to places that are pleasing to God (mosques, visiting the sick…)

In this regard Huda Jawad Argues, quite rightly, in Islamic Insights: (46)

’…fasting is comprised of much more than just avoiding food. Among the more ascetic and ethical aspects of fasting is refining our Akhlaq (manners). Although by fasting we are completing one part of our faith, we must not neglect the others. The Holy Prophet warned of depreciating the importance of manners and piety,“It may be that a fasting person receives nothing from his fast except hunger and thirst.” Rather, the Prophet placed emphasis on piety and manners: “The most (important) things that cause people to reach Heaven are divine piety and a good temper.”’’

Self-reform and self-discipline

Fasting is an elaborate process of self-reform and self-discipline that involves a wide range of responsibilities on the part of those who observe it.  It also strengthens the powers of self-control, abstaining from man’s natural impulses by exercising one’s capacity for self-restraint, which leads to self-improvement. On the spiritual level, it allows one to reach the proximity of God. It is a form of self-training in the hope that these qualities will extend beyond this month and remain with the worshipper throughout the year.

Psychologically, it is the belief that this month-long process is the best instrument for shaping the behavior of its practitioners so that they become ideal human beings.  This essentially implies that the person observing the fast not only abstains from eating and drinking, but also puts himself in a sublime state of mind in order to develop positive feelings. Therefore, fasting strengthens impulse control and helps to develop good behavior. This purification of the soul and body harmonizes the inner and outer spheres of an individual. Observance leads to a sense of inner peace and tranquility, so necessary during the period of confinement.

In addition, one must refrain from listening, speaking, hearing or thinking negatively about others. If one applies such restraint and goes through this self-purification process for a period of one month, one expects its impact to last for at least the remaining 11 months, when this process is repeated again.  Unfortunately, we consider it only a physical fast and do not strive to achieve what is expected from this great and important month.

Ramadan is all about self-control and restraint, as Anisa Mehdi states in Forbes: (47)

“No matter where a fasting Muslim may be, Ramadan is a call for an internal spiritual and physical cease-fire. The point of the fast is to worship the Divine by demonstrating control over earthly desires — typically food, drink, tobacco and sex — during daylight hours. It is also an opportunity to demonstrate “high road” values — being gracious, generous and gentle — toward others no matter how cranky or irritated you might be, especially when your blood sugar plummets and your mouth is too dry to speak. The combination of physical and spiritual self-awareness is a test of character: When your stomach growls from hunger will you snap at your pesky child? Your thoughtless neighbor? A careless colleague? The boorish driver who cut you off? Or will you remain peaceful, practicing the patience and graciousness you promised yourself and your Creator? A practice it is, replete with discoveries and acknowledgements of imperfection and abounding with opportunities to ask forgiveness and try again. “

Conclusion

Different types of fasting (siyâm) are present in Islam. Fasts of an expiatory nature repair a fault committed. There are those who replace a religious duty that one is unable to perform. And the fasts which are practiced voluntarily within the framework of an asceticism. Ramadan fasting is different from these, as it is at the very foundation of Islam as a religion. It is instituted as a manifestation of homage to God and therefore has a sacred, obligatory and festive character.

Fasting increases devotion and brings the Muslim closer to the Creator. It allows us to recognize that everything we have in this life is a blessing from God. It teaches self-control, restraint, good manners, good speech and good habits.

Great merits and great rewards – both physical and spiritual – can be gained from fasting. The physiological effect of fasting includes reduction in blood sugar, cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure. In fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for the treatment of mild to moderate, stable, insulin-free diabetes, obesity, and essential hypertension.

As it is said in the Holy Quran, Allah promises forgiveness and a great reward to a person who fasts (Surah 33 – Verse 35):

Certainly, men who submit (to Allah) and women who submit (to Allah), men who have faith and women who have faith, men who are obedient and women who are obedient, men who are truthful and women who are truthful; men who are steadfast and women who are steadfast, men who humble themselves (to Allah) and women who humble themselves (to Allah), men who do alms and women who give alms, men who fast and women who fast, men who keep their chastity and women who keep their chastity, men who remember Allah a lot and women who remember much from Allah: for them Allah has prepared forgiveness and a mighty reward.”

إنالمسلمينوالمسلماتوالمؤمنينوالمؤمناتوالقانتينوالقانتاتوالصادقينوالصادقاتوالصابرينوالصابراتوالخاشعينوالخاشعاتوالمتصدقينوالمتصدقاتوالصائمينوالصائماتوالحافظينفرجهموالحافظاتوالذاكريناللهكثيراوالذاكراتأعداللهلهممغفرةوأجراعظيما

And when combining these meritorious acts such as prayer, fasting and charity (three of the five pillars of Islam) during the month of Ramadan, which is described as a month of blessing when the Holy Quran was revealed, Allah promises immense rewards.  (48)

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: (49)

The Holy Prophet (ﷺ) said, “He who observes fasting during the month of Ramadan with Faith while seeking its reward from Allah, will have his past sins forgiven.”

وعن أبي هريرة رضي الله عنه عن النبي صلى الله عليه وسلم قال‏:‏ ‏”‏ منصامرمضانإيمانًاواحتسابًا،غفرلهماتقدممنذنبه ‏”‏

You can follow Professor Mohamed Chtatou on Twitter: @Ayurinu

End notes:

  1.  Adelkhah, Fariba, & François Georgeon, ed. Ramadan et politique. Paris: CNRS Éditions, 2000.http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/2886
  2.  Georgeon, François. “Présentation”. Adelkhah, Fariba, et François Georgeon. Ramadan et politique. Paris : CNRS Éditions, 2000, pp. 11-17. http://books.openedition.org/editionscnrs/2899
  3.  Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’Understanding Ramadan, its History, and Original Meaning’’, Morocco World News, April 27, 2020. https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2020/04/300806/understanding-ramadan-its-history-and-original-meaning
  4.  Meaning of tarâwîh: The term tarâwîh is the plural of tarwiha, which literally means moments of pause and rest. In several hadiths, the Prophet recommends that the believers devote part of the night to prayer in the same way that they fasted during the day. He says: “Whoever fasts the days of Ramadan out of conviction and seeking Allah’s pleasure will have all his sins absolved” (al-Bukhari) and: “Whoever prays the nights of Ramadan with conviction and seeking Allah’s pleasure will have all his sins absolved” (al-Bukhari).
  5.  Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim.
  6.  Muslim Vol. 4, Hadith 6264.
  7.  Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’Ramadan is Not About Boulimia but About Caring and Sharing’’, Morocco World News, May 14, 2019. https://www.moroccoworldnews.com/2019/05/273058/ramadan-boulimia-islam-caring-sharing
  8.  Schimmel, Annemarie. Mystical Dimensions of Islam. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1975.  
  9.  Schielke, Samuli. “Being Good in Ramadan: Ambivalence, Fragmentation, and the Moral Self in the Lives of Young Egyptians.” The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, vol. 15, 2009, pp. S24–40, http://www.jstor.org/stable/20527687. 
  10.  Reported by Hakim.
  11.  Reported by Tirmidhi.
  12.  Reported by Muslim.
  13.  Reported by Tirmidhi.
  14.  Belfkih, Hatim I. ‘’La dimension spirituelle du mois de Ramadan’’, Oumma, August 11, 2010. https://oumma.com/la-dimension-spirituelle-du-mois-de-ramadan/
  15.  Jawad, Huda. ‘’The Spiritual and Ethical Dimension of Ramadan”, Islamic Insights. https://www.islamicinsights.com/religion/the-spiritual-and-ethical-dimension-of-ramadan.html
  16.  Chtatou, Mohamed. ‘’Abou Hamed al-Ghazali, défenseur et rénovateur de la foi islamique’’, Oumma, March 1, 2021. https://oumma.com/abou-hamed-al-ghazali-defenseur-et-renovateur-de-la-foi-islamique-2/
  17.  Pisani, Emmanuel. « Abū Ḥāmid al-Ġazālī (m. 1111) », Archives de sciences sociales des religions, 169 | 2015, pp. 287-305. http://journals.openedition.org/assr/26763 ; DOI : https://doi.org/10.4000/assr.26763
  18.  Al Ghazālī, A. H. The Mysteries of Charity and the Mysteries of Fasting (M. A. Fitzgerald trans.). Louisville: Fons Vitae, 2018, p. 79.
  19.  Ibid.
  20.  Ibid., p. 93.
  21.  Ibid. 
  22.  Ibid. 
  23.  Ibid. 
  24.  Mobayed, Tamim. ‘’The Mysteries of Fasting (Reflections on Al Ghazālī’s Kitāb Asrār al-Siyyām)’’, CILE, April 20, 2020. https://admin.cilecenter.org/resources/articles-essays/mysteries-fasting-reflections-al-ghazalis-kitab-asrar-al-siyyam
  25.  Reported by Ibn Majah.
  26.  Ibid.
  27. https://iecoc.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/Ramadan_Hadith.pdf
  28.  Al-Bostani, Abbas Ahmad. Le Jeûne de Ramadhãn: sa signification et ses statuts. Montréal : La Cité du Savoir, 1998.
  29. Abu Huraira reported God’s messenger as saying, “There is zakat applicable to everything, and the zakat of the body is fasting.” Ibn Majah transmitted it.وَعَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ رَضِيَ اللَّهُ عَنْهُ قَالَ: قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صَلَّى اللَّهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ: «لِكُلِّشَيْءٍزَكَاةٌوَزَكَاةُالْجَسَدِالصَّوْمُ» . رَوَاهُ ابْن مَاجَه Mishkat al-Masabih 2072, Book 7, Hadith 115.
  30.  http://globalagemagazine.kipscss.net/ArticleDetail/2018/June/fasting-is-beneficial-for-health
  31.  Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 5927; Muslim, 1151.
  32.  Wilhelmi de Toledo, Françoise et al. “Safety, health improvement and well-being during a 4 to 21-day fasting period in an observational study including 1422 subjects.” PloS one vol. 14,1 e0209353. 2 Jan. 2019, doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0209353
  33. https://kawa-news.com/en/ramadan-2021-what-are-the-benefits-of-fasting/
  34. https://kawa-news.com/en/ramadan-2021-what-are-the-benefits-of-fasting/
  35.  Wilhelmi de Toledo, Françoise et al. “Safety, health improvement and well-being during a 4 to 21-day fasting period in an observational study including 1422 subjects.” Op. cit.
  36.  Cohen, Patrice. ‘’Les musulmans diabétiques face au jeûne du Ramadan : quelques réflexions anthropologiques. Commentaire’’, Sciences sociales et santé, vol. 26, no. 2, 2008, pp. 105-112.
  37. Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim 2699. https://www.abuaminaelias.com/dailyhadithonline/2012/01/15/allah-helps-brother/#:~:text=Abu%20Huraira%20reporter%3A%20Le%20Messager,monde%20et%20dans%20l’au-delà
  38. Sahih al-Bukhari 5373, Livre 70, Hadith 1. Web reference USC-MSA (English) : Vol. 7, Livre 65, Hadith 286.https://sunnah.com/bukhari/70
  39.  Sunan Abi Dawud 1610. In-book reference: Book 9, Hadith 55., English translation: Book 9, Hadith 1606.
  40.  Le Divellec, J & de La Morandais, A. M. À table avec Moïse, Jésus et Mahomet. Paris: Solar, 2007.
  41.  Reported by al Bukhari and Muslim. Sahih al-Bukhari 3277, Book 59, Hadith 86. 
  42.  Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim. Sahih al-Bukhari 38, Book 2, Hadith 31.
  43.  Reported by al-Bukhari. Sahih al-Bukhari 5927, Book 77, Hadith 142.
  44.  Sunan an-Nasa’i 2230, Book 22, Hadith 141.
  45.  Sunan Abi Dawud 2363, Book 14, Hadith 51. English translation: Book 13, Hadith 2356. 
  46.  Jawad, Huda. ‘’The Spiritual and Ethical Dimension of Ramadan”, op. cit.
  47.  Mehdi, Anisa. ‘’The Importance of Ramadan’’, Forbes, June 1, 2017. https://www.forbes.com/sites/stratfor/2017/06/01/the-importance-of-ramadan/?sh=4620d82743b2
  48.  Djéridi, Hinda. L’âme du Ramadan. Self Scriptum, 2018.
  49.  Reported by al-Bukhari and Muslim. Riyad as-Salihin 1219, Book 8, Hadith 229.

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou

Dr. Mohamed Chtatou is a Professor of education science at the university in Rabat. He is currently a political analyst with Moroccan, Gulf, French, Italian and British media on politics and culture in the Middle East, Islam and Islamism as well as terrorism. He is, also, a specialist on political Islam in the MENA region with interest in the roots of terrorism and religious extremism.

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