“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous” — Quran chapter 2 verse 183
Ramadan is a month of fasting. The significance of the month of Ramadan was that this was the month in which the Qur’an was revealed as it is stated:
“The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey — then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful.” — Surat Al-Baqarah 2:185
The month of Ramadan is observed by fasting for 30 days from the morning prayer (fajr) till Maghrib (late evening). During this a Muslim must abstain from eating, drinking, intimacy, backbiting, foul language and other sins which one may normally abstain from even outside of Ramadan.
The Arabic word for fasting is saum. In classical Arabic the word saum referred to the act of training ones horse for battles. The story is that a camel’s biological reality is as such that they can survive in harsh desert climates and can last without water, in the heat, for a very long time. This was not the case with horses, so what they did is they trained their horses to be able to survive in heat in order to prepare them for battles, so as to they may not give in during times of fighting or war.
The purpose of fasting
The purpose of fasting is very simple, and it is explicitly laid out in the Qur’an. It states in the same verse quoted at the very top “so you may gain righteousness (taqwa)”. This is precisely the the reason why we fast. Nothing more, nothing less. It is an act of worship ordained by Allah just like all other acts of worship such as the 5 daily prayers, Hajj, and more.
Meaning of taqwa
The Arabic word for righteousness used is “taqwa”. The word taqwa however has a very deep meaning, and this is what we are trying to gain during the month of Ramadan. Taqwa is defined in the English language as “God consciousness”. In Arabic, the linguistic meaning of the word taqwa is a shield. In this context, a shield against disobeying Allah.
One of the best ways to explain taqwa is the narration of Ubay Ibn Kab r.a when Umar ibn Khattab r.a asked him about taqwa. He (r.a) stated:
“Have you ever taken a thorny path?” Umar replied, “Yes I have.” Ubay then asked, “So how did you travel along this thorny path?” Umar replied, “I rolled up my garment and was cautious as to where I would tread to avoid being pricked by the thorns.” So Ubay responded and said, “This is Taqwa.”
In the above quote, the thorns are analogous with sins because sins are almost like thorns that hurt you spiritually. To explain further, it is to walk through this life as carefully as possible, and avoid sins while we are at it, the way we would avoid thorns in the above scenario as quoted by Ubay ibn Kab (r.a). The Qur’an states about the value of having taqwa as:
“Verily, the most honourable of you with Allah is that (believer) who has At-Taqwa. Verily, Allah is All-Knowing, All-Aware.”
It is this taqwa that we are trying to improve by fasting in the month of Ramadan.
How does Ramadan help us gain taqwa / God consciousness?
We have to look deeply into what we are doing when we are fasting. We are abstaining from basic necessities, food, water, and other sins and being extra careful. The question is, why?
The reason we are doing this, is because we are conscious of the fact that Allah exists, sees us in a way that befits him, hears us in a way that befits him, and should we do something that is against the commands of Allah, our fast will be broken. Hence why even when no one is looking, the thought of breaking the fast simply sends a sense of reluctance in our mind. This is the predisposition, our innate nature telling us not to disobey the command of Allah.
Taking into account the above explanation, couple that with the fact we are training this innate consciousness for 30 days. It is almost as if we are putting our desires (nafs in Arabic), our limbs, our intentions and our thoughts through a boot camp. A boot camp training of our soul for 30 days, in order to filter out the toxins (not physical toxins, spiritual ones here) to help us be conscious of Allah. As we do this, for 30 days our consciousness was trained enough, so that we can hold the same level of God consciousness, outside of Ramadan.
Lets also take into account how we are doing this. Abstaining yourself from sins is something one must do all year round as much as they can. However, in Ramadan not only are you abstaining from sins, you are also abstaining from what is normally permissible for you to do during these fasting hours such as food and water. The idea is if you can abstain from what is normally permissible for 30 days, while praying to Allah, doing kind acts, and much more for 30 days, then abstaining from what is normally impermissible whilst having the luxury of eating and drinking permissible foods and beverages as much as we want should not be so hard.
Benefits of fasting in the hereafter
- Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be pleased with him) said: The Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) said: “Every deed of the son of Adam will be multiplied between ten and seven hundred times. Allah, may He be glorified and exalted, said: Except fasting. It is for Me and I shall reward for it. He gives up his desires and his food for My sake.”
- “Only those who are patient shall receive their rewards in full, without Hisaab (without limit, calculation, and estimation).” — (Quran, 39:10), “Surely, Allah is with those who are As‑Saabiroon (the patient)” (Quran, 8:46) Fasting involves being patient which is a reward itself in the hereafter. We also see that Allah’s support is with us during our patience.
- The five (daily) prayers, and from one Friday prayer to the next, and from Ramadan to Ramadan are expiation for sins committed in between provided one stays away from the major sins. (Al-Bukhari)
- Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)
Benefits of fasting that we reap in this life
We must realize that the benefits also include practical benefits. They may not be the sole reason as to why we fast, because we fast in order to attain taqwa as mentioned before. However, this does not mean that we are deprived or we should ignore the worldly benefits we reap in this world. They are as follows:
- It is one of the benefits of fasting that we, as a bonus, get to count our blessings and be more gracious for the things we have, and come to a realization of the amount of sustenance (rizq in Arabic) we have and how we take them for granted.
- Self discipline. Going back to my boot camp example, it is a way for us to self discipline our desires. Self discipline is something that helps us not just in our spirituality, but this subconsciously trains our overall ability to have discipline.
- Compassion towards the poor. We put up with the hunger and thirst for some amount of time throughout the day knowing that we will get something to eat after a certain number of hours. This is not the case with the one who is poor throughout the year. They are putting up with more hunger and thirst not knowing when they will eat next. This may enable us to spend in the cause of Allah and give more charity to help the poor.
- It helps us reevaluate our eating habits, and our food choices. Umar ibn Khattab RA said: O People! Be aware of overeating, because it makes you lazy in your prayer, makes your body weak, and it makes you unhealthy.Allah dislikes the obese man. You should be modest in your food because that is closer to righteousness and further from excess and makes you stronger in worshiping Allah. You will perish when your desires become dearer to you then your religion. (by obesity, it is referring to an unhealthy body, not one who is obese due to a medical condition).
How to get the most out of Ramadan
- Increase the recitation of the Qur’an. Reading 4 pages after each of the 5 daily salah can help you finish the Qur’an in 30 days.
- Read and understanding the Qur’an whilst reading the tafsir. One of the easiest tafsir that can be found in English is Tafsir As Sa’di which can be found here for free: https://www.kalamullah.com/tafseer-as-sadi.html
- Don’t make Ramadan a burden upon yourself. If you feel you are doing too much, and it is becoming too much, make sure to find a balanced approach towards worship without giving up on the mandatory aspects. It states in the Qur’an “We did not reveal the Qur’an to you to cause you distress; it is only for him who fears Allah” — (Quran, chapter 20, verse 3–4)
- Give charity, if possible volunteer and do some community service. Again, do not make it a burden, do extra acts such as volunteering but not at the cost of sacrificing your focus on the mandatory acts.