Long before I grew up and learned of the physical benefits and spiritual significance of Ramadan, it was a month that held a special place in my heart. I have fond memories of my mother waking me and my siblings for suhoor, the pre-dawn meal, and the special sweetmeats she’d prepare for iftar, the meal eaten at sunset, upon breaking the fast.
As the fourth pillar of Islam and the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, fasting in Ramadan is an obligation upon all sane and healthy Muslims who’ve reached the age of maturity. For pre-teens and younger children, practicing the fast with their family can be a lot of fun. I remember starting with baby steps, beginning with a few hours and progressing until I could go an entire day without food and drink. The main lure then was the goodies eaten upon breaking the fast and the gifts I would be given when we celebrated the Eid festival at the end of the month.
Looking at Ramadan through the lens of an adult is a little different from that of a child. You no longer have the laxity of fasting at your own pace but must now observe the rules in order for the fast to be accepted. If you’ve had practice before puberty, you don’t find the transition difficult. For new Muslims or those who are fasting for the first time, it’s an act of worship that can be challenging. By and large, once they cut their teeth on their first Ramadan, it gets progressively easier.
Fasting is not unique to the religion of Islam. It’s practiced by other faith traditions around the world. The method and times may differ but the rationale remains the same: to derive physical and spiritual benefits. According to www.thrivestrive.com, some physical benefits of fasting are: increases life span, increases body’s resistance to stress, improves brain function, may aid in preventing cancer, improves the immune system, improves insulin sensitivity, raises growth hormone levels and helps in weight loss.
There can be a few misconceptions about this month too. Once, I told a co-worker that I was fasting for Ramadan. She then asked how long it lasts for. When I told her for a month, her eyes became wide with surprise and she exclaimed, “A whole month without food?!” I then had to explain that we do eat before dawn and at sunset every day. Her next question was, “You’re allowed to drink water, right?” I told her no, we’re not allowed to drink anything. This was too much for her to wrap her head around. She rolled her eyes and went on her way.
For those outside the fold, the length and intensity of Ramadan may seem like an extreme form of self-denial. But for us Muslims, when food and drink become forbidden from dawn to sunset, the fuel of faith keeps us going.
So, what’s so motivating about this month that millions of Muslims around the world welcome it with joy and shed tears upon its passing?
First and foremost, it’s a direct command from Allah (God) for those who practice the religion of Islam. In the Qur’an, we are told, “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain taqwa (God-consciousness).”
When it comes to following the commands of Allah and the example of the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him), our response is always, “We hear and we obey.” We have firm belief that what has been enjoined upon us is good for us and what has been forbidden is detrimental to our health and wellbeing. From this command, we know that fasting is beneficial for us and is a means of bringing us closer to our Creator.
In a Hadith, the Prophet (pbuh) said, “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.” In another Hadith, one of the companions asked the Prophet (pbuh) to tell him of an action by which he may enter Paradise. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Take to fasting, there is nothing like it.”
So, how can we raise the stakes this Ramadan to help us make the most of the month? It’s imperative that we begin it with the right intention. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “It (Ramadan) is the month whose beginning is mercy, its middle forgiveness and its end, emancipation from the hellfire.” Our actions are a mirror of our attitude and if we’re apathetic from the onset, then our fasting will become just an empty endeavor, devoid of the blessings and rewards. To reap the full benefits of the month, we’ve got to begin it with the right mindset and a proactive approach.
When the pangs of hunger hit us, it must remove the veils from our eyes and make us cognizant of the fact that many go without food and drink in the world today. Day after day, we’re bombarded with news that brings tears to our eyes and pain to our hearts. We see bleeding, burning, war-torn countries and emaciated children with empty eyes.
Their struggles for survival should serve as a catalyst for our collective consciences. It must spur us into action to do whatever we can to alleviate their suffering. Lacking the means to help, the least we can do is to pray for them.
When the pangs of hunger hit us, it should make us grateful and thankful for all that we have. Those of us who’ve been blessed with a comfortable living doesn’t have to wonder where our next meal is coming from. We know it will be there, waiting for us at the end of the day when we break the fast.
We wear beautiful clothes, sleep on soft beds and travel the world on vacations. While there’s nothing wrong with enjoying these blessings, we shouldn’t forget those who have no roofs over their heads and are at the mercy of the elements. If not for the grace of Allah, it might have been us and not them.
When the pangs of hunger hit us, let it help us with our discipline and self-control. The Prophet (pbuh) said, “Fasting is a shield, so when one of you is fasting, he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise his voice in anger.
If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say, “I am fasting.”
We live in precarious times today because many don’t safeguard themselves against hurting and harming others. They give free rein to their tongues and their actions, with no thought to the consequences. The earth has become a battleground, with heinous and contentious crimes being committed every day. May Allah protect us from the evil around us.
When the pangs of hunger hit us, we must be patient and remember that it’s a temporary phase just like the world is a temporary place. We’ve been created to worship our Lord and to be his vicegerents on this earth. Whatever test and trials we’re undergoing will bring us closer to Him and cleanse us of our sins. We mustn’t lose sight of the fact that death awaits us around the corner and there’s no escaping it. Let’s set our priorities straight and be mindful of the direction we’re heading in.
When the pangs of hunger hit us, we must remember that the reward for holding fast to our faith is no less than Paradise, the abode of bliss where no hurt will ever touch us again. Living in lands where our religion is looked upon with suspicion and scorn, we have to stick to the beautiful principles of love, compassion, and forgiveness no matter how difficult it gets. We’ll see and hear much that will grieve us but we must take comfort in the thought that all injustices will be settled on the Day of Judgment.
Let this Ramadan help us to unlock the doors to all that is good and rid us of the illnesses that plague us. May its sweetness bring solace to our hearts in these uncertain times. Have a wonderful Ramadan!
Written by Farah Zaman,
Her blog: //farahzamanauthor.com/