Muslim community across the world consider holy month of Ramadan as most auspicious time of the year and observe it with full enthusiasm. Ramazan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and falls after the end of Shaban month. During the 29-30 days of Ramadan, Muslims across the globe spend their time fasting, praying, giving back to the community and introspecting. This year, the month of Ramadan begins from April 3, 2022, however, the dates may vary in accordance to the Moon sighting. According to the teachings in Islam, Ramadan holds greater importance as it is the first time when Allah SWT (God) revealed the Quran (Holy book of Muslims) to Prophet Muhammad PBUH. The fasting during this month is considered as one of the five pillars of Islam. The five pillars of Islam are Shahada (profession of faith), Salat (Prayer), Zakat (Almsgiving), Sawm (Fasting) and Hajj (Pilgrimage). During this holy month, Muslims across the world observe fasts between dawn and dust. Fasting has been made compulsary on adult Muslims except if your are seriously ill, pregnant, suffering from a severe disease and menstruating. During this period Muslims across the world devote their time to reciting the Holy Quran and also perform nightly prayers. According to the teachings in Islam, the ‘sawab’ (rewards) multiply during the month of Ramadan and you get 7 times more ‘sawab’ for every good deed. Muslims, during Ramadan, avoid sinful behaviour and instead focus on reciting Quran, prayers, charity and taqwa, which is hightened awareness of Allah SWT. Muslims believe that when the month of Ramadan arrives, the gates of Jannah (Paradise) are opened and the gates of Jahannum (hell) are locked up and devil is put in chains. During Ramadan, Muslims starts their day with Suhoor or Sehri, which is the predawn meal before the morning prayer, Fajr. During the day, Muslims recite Quran and perform prayers. In the evening, people feast on Iftar, which is the nightly meal that breaks the fast after the evening prayer, Maghrib. Usually, Muslims break their fast by eating dates and drinking water followed by a lavish meal. After breaking their fast, special night paryers, know as Taraweeh, are held during which the Quran is recited. In the last 10 days of the month, intense prayers take place during the Laylatul Qadr or the Night of Power, which is believed to be the holiest night of the year. The Laylatul Qadr may fall on the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th night of the month. The Laylatul Qadr is a commemoration of the night when the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhamad (PBUH). The end of Ramadan is marked by Eid-ul-Fitr. All over the world, Eid is celebrated by Muslims with a lot of enthusiasm, where people buy new clothes and visit their friends and relatives. Many think that Ramadan is a month of fasting and giving charity. But is it just for that? What is the actual reason for believers being commanded to observe fasting during this month? These are important questions and their answers will help anyone to utilise this time in a way that will benefit both believers as well as all of humanity.The Quran says that it was during Ramadan that its revelation took place: “The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion.” 2:185. There is no Ramadan without the Quran. It is an anniversary of the Book of guidance, which transformed the illiterate Arabs into the most cultured and civilised people within a short period — the shortest in human history. There was no magic. There were the guidelines sent through the Quran by Allah. Its first command was not to perform five times prayer or any spiritual activity. It was: “Read in the name of thy Lord who has created..” 96:1 to 5. The Quran, in another part, tells that those who have knowledge and those who do not have knowledge are not equal. The Quran deals with practically every subject related to human life and all branches of knowledge. Spending resources on the path to acquiring knowledge is encouraged as an act of worship. If one has to travel to seek knowledge, he can even combine and shorten his five prayers or postpone the compulsory fasting. The Prophet taught that the word of wisdom is the lost property of a believer and wherever he finds it, he is most deserving of it. This means that a believer should search for knowledge in every place possible. The following saying of the prophet encourages the pursuit of knowledge: “One who proceeds on a path in pursuit of knowledge, God makes him proceed therewith on a path to Paradise. And verily, the angels spread their wings for the seekers of knowledge out of delight. Verily, every creature of the heaven and the earth asks forgiveness for the seeker of knowledge, even the fish in the ocean. The merit of the learned over the devout is like the merit of the moon over the stars on a full moon night. The learned are the heirs of the prophets, for the prophets did not leave behind a legacy of wealth but that of knowledge.” Teaching someone is considered as an “ongoing charity” — such a person gets rewarded continuously even after his death. Teachers and learned scholars are held in high regard in Islamic societies. The Quran doesn’t differentiate between worldly and spiritual knowledge. The longest verse in the Quran talks about the procedures to be followed and the importance of documentation while lending or borrowing money (2:282). There are many verses in the Quran that can be used as foundations for different branches of knowledge such as astronomy, economics, politics, law, ethics, philosophy, biology, environmental science, geography, zoology, sociology, history and medicine. This is in addition to the guidelines and commands on spirituality and worship. Any branch of knowledge, as long as it benefits mankind, is considered holy. The Quran asks man to ponder and research the wonders of nature. “Do they not observe the camels: How they were created? And the sky: How it was raised high? And the mountains: How they were fixed? And the earth: How it spread out?” 88: 17 to 20. Ramadan is the time to revisit the verses of the Quran and do more research on how to boost the world economy after the pandemic passes, as well as other issues facing the world. “Fasting in Ramadan develops in a person the real spirit of social belonging, of unity and brotherhood, and of equality before God. This spirit is the natural product of the fact that when people fast they feel that they are joining the whole Muslim society (which makes up more than one fifth of world’s population) in observing the same duty, in the same manner, at the same time, for the same motives, and for the same end. Fasting inculcates in us patience, unselfishness, and gratitude. When we fast we feel the pains of deprivation and hunger, and learn how to endure it patiently. The meaning of this powerful experience in a social and humanitarian context is that we are much quicker than anybody else in sympathizing with the oppressed and needy around the world, and responding to their needs. “It is the month to visit the poor, the sick, and the needy to share their sorrows. It is the month where the food, sustenance and the earnings of a believing Muslim increases and they are blessed,” says the Final Prophet of God, Muhammad (peace be upon him), a man who was known for his noble humanitarian causes, for social justice, and for being the first to respond to other’s needs, despite the fact that he himself lived a very simple and humble life. It is only during such a trying time as Ramadan that we can reflect on the condition of those in this world who may not be as fortunate as us. Fasting in Ramadan enables us to master the art of mature adaptability and Time-Management. We can easily understand this point when we realize that fasting makes people change the entire course of their daily life.
When they make the change, they naturally adapt themselves to a new system and schedule, and move along to satisfy the rules. This, in the long run, develops in them a wise sense of adaptability and self-created power to overcome the unpredictable hardships of life! A person who values constructive adaptability, time-management, and courage will appreciate the effects of Fasting in this respect as well.It cultivates in us the principle of sincere Love, because when we observe Fasting, we do it out of deep love for God. And a person, who loves God, truly is a person who knows what love is and why everyone on this Earth should be loved and treated justly, for the sake of God.Fasting elevates the human spirit and increases our awareness of God. It strengthens our will-power as we learn to rise above our lower desires. The institution of fasting is both unique and a shared experience in human history. From the very beginning of time, humans have struggled to master their physical and psychological selves: their bodies and their emotions. Hunger is one the most powerful urges that we experience. Many, through over- or under-eating or consumption of unhealthy foods, abuse this urge. Thus, when a person purposefully denies something to their own self that it craves, they are elevating their mind above their body, and their reason and will above their carnal passions. “A fasting person empties his stomach of all the material things: to fill his soul with peace and blessings, to fill his heart with love and sympathy, to fill his spirit with piety and Faith, to fill his mind with wisdom and resolution,” says H. Abdalati in Islam in Focus. The person who can rule their desires and make them work, as they like, has attained true moral excellence.With the clarity of mind and absence of distractions, also comes a greater focus. As students, the period of fasting, especially early during the day, serves as a tool to focus our minds on our academics. In the month of Ramadan, many Muslims try to avoid watching TV, listening to music, and some other leisure activities, which spares them more time and energy to be spent on more productive activities such as academics, intense study of Islam, voluntary prayers, social and humanitarian causes, and a quality time with the family, to name a few. It is a reminder of our duty to God, our purpose and higher values in life, as God Himself describes the purpose of fasting as follows, “O you who Believe! Fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may develop consciousness of God” (Quran 2:183).Fasting has numerous, scientifically proven, benefits for our physical health and mental well-being. The time, length and nature of the Islamic Fast all contribute to its overall positive effect. One of the medical benefits is a much-needed rest to the digestive system. The reduced food intake during the day allows the body to concentrate on getting rid of harmful dietary toxins accumulated as natural by-products of food digestion throughout the year. The length of the Islamic Fast itself (around 12-14 hours) is in sync with the ‘transit time’ of food from the mouth to the colon of the large intestine, ensuring that no stimulus reaches the stomach or digestive system while it remains in homeostasis. Therefore, for the vast majority of healthy individuals fasting poses no medical risks but in fact provides many health benefits, such as: an increase in serum Magnesium, essential for cardio-vascular health and prevention of heart complications; improvement in the quality and depth of sleep; improvement in memory and slower skin aging over time; increased production of growth hormone, etc. Also, as a general note, it has been observed that underfed animals live longer than their heavily fed counterparts and suffer fewer illnesses during their lives. The month of Ramadan provides us with a sort of “Boot camp.” It is a month of intense moral training. Since we know that Fasting is a special duty prescribed by God, we learn that any sins may spoil our record of fasting with God, so we go through great lengths making sure we are on our best behavior. Many people who experience fasting in this month, feel the impact that this intense training has on their habits, and realize the power of this transformative tool designed to make us better human beings- the ultimate goal of any spiritual exercise. The entire Ramadan atmosphere provides the driving force for this positive change. It makes us realize the reality of life and death. Fasting makes us realize how dependent our lives are on things that we often take for granted, such as food and water. It makes us think about our dependence on God and God’s mercy and justice. Moreover, it reminds us of the life after death, which itself has a great impact on our character and our world-view.Ramadan is a blessed month for a special reason: It is actually the month in which God first revealed His final message and guidance for mankind to our beloved Prophet Muhammad. This message has been perfectly preserved both orally and textually in the form of a Book, called the Qur’an (The Reading/Recital). Therefore, Muslims try to do an intense study of the Quran in this month especially, and evaluate their lives according to the standards and guidance contained in it.After the month of Ramadan is over, Muslims celebrate one of the two most important holidays in the Islamic year: EID-UL-FITR, or the Festival of the Fast Breaking. It is a day to thank God for the blessing and training that He provides us with throughout the month of Ramadan. EID-UL-FITR is marked by praying in a huge congregation at an Islamic center or mosque, and by giving a small donation to the poor in the community. The adults give the donation on behalf of their children as well. Dinner parties, family outings, fairs, carnivals, and great joyous celebrations follow the prayer and charity. In short, even though the real purpose of the dynamic institution of Fasting is to discipline our soul and moral behavior, and to develop sympathy for the less fortunate, it is a multi-functional and a comprehensive tool of change in various spheres of our lives, including: social and economic, intellectual and humanitarian, spiritual and physical, private and public, personal and common, inner and outer —all in one!
(The authors write regularly on Islamic topics exclusively for “Kashmir Horizon”. The views, opinions, facts, assumptions, presumptions and conclusions expressed in this article are those of the author and aren’t necessarily in accord with the views of “Kashmir Horizon”.)
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