Islam: Change in the mind and life of Muslims by Ramadan fasting

By Dr. Abdul Ruff

“In the Name of God, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”

Educating Muslims on Fasting 

Another month of Holy Ramadan has arrived and Muslims have already begun the fasting from dawn to dusk maybe more as a mere routine formality than a serious spiritual exercise to strengthen Islamic faith for life time.

Unfortunately, not many appear to be thinking in terms of spiritual or at least religious benefits they get from the strict fasting effort they undertake now and year after. As we have set in a fresh fasting now, we have to pose a question to ourselves. Do we think we are now sufficiently purified thanks to our fasting and prayers last year? If the answer is yes, we can be sure of reaping real benefits this year as well and always hereafter – not necessarily in wealth or money but above all these that make the believers dear and close to God.

Are we good humans, if not genuine Muslims now? Fasting and prayers guide the Muslims to a higher level of human consciousness and thinking as Muslims. If we have remained the same hollow Muslims after regular payers and fasting, then, something is wrong with us.

Why are the Muslims not at all serious about their rigorous fasting for about 12 hours day after day for one full month? Conversely, why should they deliberately waste their time in the name of fasting, not knowing why do they indeed fast all instead of using the time for making more money, if they don’t think they are fasting to please the God almighty?

Of course, it is one of the most embarrassing questions every Muslim has to answer with a fair amount of honesty. When a Muslim loves hypocrisy, falsehood and mischief as the basis of their way of life, keeps truth and honesty away from life even while fasting, only Islamic values fall a hapless victim. In place of truth and honesty if we try to compensate all our prayers by some other “gifts”, fasting etc won’t be able to purify us.

Every fasting day we must pose the question to ourselves: Have we purified ourselves after the fasting for a full month? Has any change taken place in our thinking and life after the fasting and have we ever made any conscious effort to illuminate our lives according Islamic traditions by respecting truth and honesty?

The mosques have the responsibility to teach the importance of fasting in the life of Muslims before the onset of the holy month of Ramadan so that Muslims, its youth particularly understand the real value of fasting as they begin the fasting. Knowledge of spiritual value for the fasting would help people to welcome and observe the fasting with purpose.

Generally, only during the Holy month some lectures are arranged by the mosque committees to tell Muslims about the virtues of holy Ramadan but such lectures are also given before the Holy Ramadan month begins they would have some impact on the thinking and life of Muslims which in due course would benefit entire the Muslim community in a big and purposeful way.

Sacred Month

Ramadan month is sacred. The ruling to observe fasting during Ramadan was sent down 18 months after Hijra, during the month of Sha’aban in the second year of Hijra in 624 CE. The predominant practice during Ramadan is fasting from dawn to sunset. The pre-dawn meal before the fast is called the suhur, while the meal at sunset that breaks the fast is the iftar. Considering the high diversity of the global Muslim population, it is impossible to describe typical suhur or iftar meals.

The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Quran; a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful.

The Holy Quran was first revealed to Muhammad during the month of Ramadan which has been referred to as the “best of times”. The first revelation was sent down on Laylat al-Qadr (The night of Power) which is one of the five odd nights of the last ten days of Ramadan. According to hadith, all Holy Scriptures were sent down during Ramadan. The tablets of Ibrahim, the Torah, the Psalms, the Gospel and the Holy Quran were sent down on 1st, 6th, 12th, 13th and 24th Ramadan respectively.

Laylat al-Qadr, which in Arabic means “the night of power” or “the night of decree”, is considered the holiest night of the year. This is the night in which Muslims believe the first revelation of the Quran was sent down to Muhammad stating that this night was “better than one thousand months [of proper worship], as stated in Chapter 97:3 of the Qu’ran. Also, generally, Laylat al-Qadr is believed to have occurred on an odd-numbered night during the last ten days of Ramadan, i.e., the night of the 21st, 23rd, 25th, 27th or 29th. The Dawoodi Bohra Community believes that the 23rd night is laylat al Qad.

Holy month of Ramadan is sacred period for Muslims who would stay pure in body, thoughts, deeds, relationships with others. Though it is not period for extravaganza celebrations, Muslims do welcome the Holy month happily in their ways but without making loud noises. This light celebration is meant to the days of arrival of Holy Qu’ran to the world through the holy Prophet. Muslims do not however overdo anything that is beyond the minimum marking that would be making sense.

Muslims engage in increased prayer and charity during Ramadan. Ramadan is also a month where Muslims try to practice increased self-discipline. This is motivated by the Hadith, especially in Al-Bukhari and Muslim that When Ramadan arrives, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of hell are locked up and devils are put in chains.

Tarawih refers to extra prayers performed by Muslims at night in the Islamic month of Ramadan. Contrary to popular belief, they are not compulsory, many Muslims pray these prayers in the evening during Ramadan. Some scholars maintain that Tarawih is neither fard’ or a Sunnah, but is the preponed Tahajjud (night prayer) prayer shifted to post-Isha’ for the ease of believers. But a majority of Sunni scholars regard the Tarawih prayers as Sunnat al-Mu’akkadah, a salaat that was performed by the Islamic prophet Muhammad very consistently.

What is fasting?

Ramadan is observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad according to Islamic belief.[ This annual observance is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month lasts 29–30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon, according to numerous biographical accounts compiled in the hadiths.

Fasting the month of Ramadan was made obligatory (wājib) during the month of Sha’aban, in the second year after the Muslims migrated from Mecca to Medina. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, and the month in which the Quran was revealed. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The month is spent by Muslims fasting during the daylight hours from dawn to sunset.

It is important to note that Fasting in Arabic is called, “Sawm”, which literally means ‘to be at rest.’ Fasting in the month of Ramadan (the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar) is one of the Five Pillars upon which the “house” of Islam is built. Sawm or rest is needed from usual and routine life of lies and mischief.

During this month, every able-bodied Muslim is required to fast, everyday from dawn until dusk. According to the Holy Quran, fasting was also obligatory for rich and prior nations, and is a way to attain taqwa, fear of God. God proclaimed to prophet Muhammad (SAS) that fasting for His sake was not a new innovation in monotheism, but rather an obligation practiced by those truly devoted to the oneness of God. The pagans of Mecca also fasted, but only on tenth day of Muharram to expiate sins and avoid droughts.

How does the fasting of Muslims in Ramadan differ from the fasting of other faiths? Why should one ‘torture’ one’s body in the first place? What do you really gain from fasting in the end?”…These are a few questions that a number of non-Muslim friends and colleagues often ask us, usually out of fascination with this spiritually-uplifting practice of Islamic faith, and at times out of pity and sympathy for us, thinking, why should anyone suffer from hunger and thirst like Muslims? We wouldn’t be surprised if many of today’s Muslims shared the same negative perception of Fasting.

In some Muslim countries today, lights are strung up in public squares, and across city streets, to add to the festivities of the month. Lanterns have become symbolic decorations welcoming the month of Ramadan. In a growing number of countries, they are hung on city streets. The tradition of lanterns as a decoration becoming associated with Ramadan is believed to have originated during the Fatimid Caliphate primarily centered in Egypt, where Caliph al-Mu’izz li-Din Allah was greeted by people holding lanterns to celebrate his ruling. From that time, lanterns were used to light mosques and houses throughout the capital city of Cairo. Shopping malls, places of business, and people’s homes can be seen with stars and crescents and various lighting effects, as well.

The fast (sawm) begins at dawn and ends at sunset. In addition to abstaining from eating and drinking, Muslims also increase restraint, such as abstaining from sexual relations and generally sinful speech and behavior. In addition to fasting, Muslims are encouraged to read the entire Quran. Some Muslims perform the recitation of the entire Quran by means of special prayers, called Tarawih. These voluntary prayers are held in the mosques every night of the month, during which a whole section of the Quran (juz’, which is 1/30 of the Quran) is recited. Therefore, the entire Quran would be completed at the end of the month. Although it is not required to read the whole Quran in the Tarawih prayers, it is common.

An Iranian iftar meal in Ramadan. (Photo by Sayyed Shahab-o- din Vajedi: Courtesy of WikiCommons)
An Iranian iftar meal in Ramadan. (Photo by Sayyed Shahab-o- din Vajedi: Courtesy of WikiCommons)

The holiday of Eid al-Fitr marks the end of Ramadan and the beginning of the next lunar month, Shawwal. This first day of the following month is declared after another crescent new moon has been sighted or the completion of 30 days of fasting if no visual sighting is possible due to weather conditions. This first day of Shawwal is called Eid al-Fitr. Eid al-Fitr may also be a reference towards the festive nature of having endured the month of fasting successfully and returning to the more natural disposition (fitra) of being able to eat, drink and resume intimacy with spouses during the day. Common greetings during Ramadan are “Ramadan Mubarak” or “Ramadan Kareem”, which wish the recipient a blessed or generous Ramadan.

As the nation with the world’s largest Muslim population, Indonesia has diverse Ramadan traditions. On the island of Java, many Javanese Indonesians bathe in holy springs to prepare for fasting, a ritual known as Padusa. The city of Semarang marks the beginning of Ramadan with the Dugderan carnival, which involves parading the Warak ngendog, a dragon-like creature allegedly inspired by the Buraq. In the Chinese-influenced capital city of Jakarta, fire crackers were traditionally used to wake people up for Morning Prayer, until the 19th Century. Towards the end of Ramadan, most employees receive a one-month bonus known as Tunjangan Hari Raya. Certain kinds of food are especially popular during Ramadan, such as beef in Aceh, and snails in Central Java. The iftar meal is announced every evening by striking the bedug, a giant drum, in the mosque.

Once 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.

Reasons to fast

Fasting is an institution for the improvement of moral and spiritual character of human being. The purpose of the fast is to help develop self-restraint, self-purification, God-consciousness, compassion, the spirit of caring and sharing, the love of humanity and the love of God. Fasting is a universal custom and is advocated by all the religions of the world, with more restrictions in some than in others. The Islamic Fast, as opposed to mere starvation or self-denial, is an act of worship and obedience to God, thanksgiving, forgiveness, spiritual training, and self-examination.

Ramadan gives us a break and provides us with a rare opportunity to think about our own selves, our future, and our families. It is a time to give ourselves a mental break and to temporarily forget about the hundreds of worries and stresses we are constantly bombarded with. In hectic times, such as ours, and in places like the West, this valuable time to think about our lives, on individual basis, is a luxury and is desperately needed! It is a unique month of self-analysis, and of taking stock of one’s moral and spiritual ‘assets and liabilities’.

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 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.

Muslims should be helped to realize the worth and significance of fasting for their own lives and they should watch how much they have changed in their Islamic life patterns. For instance, while fasting from dawn until sunset, Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids, smoking, and engaging in sexual relations with one’s spouse. But Muslims should also know what good these difficult things do to their soul. Muslims need to be instructed to refrain from sinful behavior that may negate the reward of fasting, such as false speech (insulting, backbiting, cursing, lying, etc.) and fighting. Food and drink is served daily, before dawn and after sunset. Spiritual rewards (thawab) for fasting are also believed to be multiplied within the holy month of Ramadan. Fasting for Muslims during Ramadan typically includes the increased offering of salat (prayers) and recitation of the Holy Quran. This gives an idea about the value of fasting.

Objective of Fasting

Heaps of articles have been written on the subject and hundreds of books have been published to educate Muslims about the purpose of fasting during the Holy Month but unfortunately, there has been no visible impact on the thinking and life of Muslims who fast regularly as a formality.

Fasting 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). “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.

Islamic fasting makes every Muslim to be responsible for the onward spiritual march of Islam and accountable for their actions. Fasting should help Muslims to love fellow Muslims and come forward to help them in whatever manner they can in Islamic ways. The person who can rule their desires and make them work, as they like, has attained true moral excellence.

Fasting indoctrinates us in 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.

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.

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 the minds. In the month of Ramadan, many Muslims try to avoid watching TV, listening to unIslamic music, and some other leisure activities, which spares them more time and energy to be spent on more productive activities such as intense study of Islam, voluntary prayers, social and humanitarian causes, and a quality time with the family, to name a few.

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. No sociologist or historian can say that there has been at any period of history anything comparable to this powerful institution of Islam: Fasting in the month of Ramadan. People have been crying throughout the ages for acceptable ‘belonging’, for unity, for brotherhood, for equality, but how echoless their voices have been, and how very little success they have met…” says Hammudah Abdalati, in Islam in Focus.

Ramadan gives us a break in and provides us with a rare opportunity to think about our own selves, our existence, our future, and our families. It is a time to give ourselves a mental break and to temporarily forget about the hundreds of worries and stresses we are constantly bombarded with. In hectic times, such as ours, and in places like the West, this valuable time to think about our lives, on individual basis, is a luxury and is desperately needed! It is a unique month of self-analysis, and of taking stock of one’s moral and spiritual ‘assets and liabilities’.

In a nutshell, 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!

Muslims should not be like match fixers in cricket or international frauds with bats while the state cum military cum media backing them to mint money and purchase awards and honors in the country and abroad.

Muslims are with a spiritual goal and Holy Ramadan only helps them. Let us ask ourselves if there is any change taking place in the life of Muslims after the Ramadan fasting. We have keep asking this question to ourselves until we find credible change in our lives for the better!

Marines from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment and district government officials enjoy Iftar or ‘breaking of fast,’ which is the nightly meal during the month-long Islamic holiday Ramadan, Aug. 8. Marines from 1/3 are regularly invited to Iftar with their Afghan National Army and Police counterparts during Ramadan. (Photo by Cpl. Colby W. Brown: Courtesy of WikiCommons)
Marines from 1st Battalion, 3rd Marine Regiment and district government officials enjoy Iftar or ‘breaking of fast,’ which is the nightly meal during the month-long Islamic holiday Ramadan, Aug. 8. Marines from 1/3 are regularly invited to Iftar with their Afghan National Army and Police counterparts during Ramadan. (Photo by Cpl. Colby W. Brown: Courtesy of WikiCommons)

Spiritual value

When they embark on the holy month fasting they should know the difference between Islamic fasting routine fasting for hours once in a while in other religions but they drink but don’t take ‘hard food’. Muslims should know why they are fasting at all. Is it just for merely practicing life without food and drinks or the fasting has got something more than that?

In fact, one can call the fasting as holy fasting in order to stress the spiritual value of the fasting. We have to know that it is not just fast for a month and resume all evilish activities after the holy month.
For most Muslims- if not for all- fasting is just a formality to be observed just like that without any serious concern for spiritual aspect of it.

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.

None other than Muslims observe fasting for a month as no other religion has this important pillar of faith Muslims are required to undertake.

If the answer is in the negative, perhaps there was something wrong with our fasting effort and we must revise out fasting and post fasting habits next year. We must hope to change, after all life depends on our genuine hopes.

Any Muslim who thinks they will not change but only fast just like that, they are wasting their fasting, thereby harming their hereafter and earn wrath of God almighty as well.
Lies, cheating, deceptive techniques and betrayal etc are not Islam. Muslims, therefore, should avoid kicking the fasting even while observing it.

God’s mercy and justice

Muslims seek mercy of Allah. The faithful Muslims seek justice from Allah during the Holy month of Ramadan more forcefully by fasting and leading a pure life. Ramadan month is the time for all Muslims of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the soul by freeing it from harmful impurities. Ramadan also teaches Muslims how to better practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate; thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity (zakat)

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.

The mosques have got sacred duty to help Muslims undertake fasting sincerely. Muslims should be told that they fast not for obtaining or increasing wealth but for self purification in mind, heart and soul as preparation for making life Hereafter easily and happily. Muslims should know that even non believers and Allah haters and Islam haters also get wealth and power. Everyone knows it.

Let every Muslim be ready to welcome Holy month of Ramadan for further purifying ourselves, our thoughts, hearts, deeds, among other virtues so that we live good and honest humans.
Let others learn from Muslims! But if Muslims even while offering regular prayers and fasting according to Islami laws, also behave like others and do and talk exactly or even worse than others how others do, where is the difference between them and others?

There is exactly where Muslims have to ponder over as they undertake the fasting in the holy month!
There are Muslims who do not hesitate to use the holy Ramadan Month to make money and increase wealth by immoral and illegal means. Are they not anti-Islamic frauds? What can they contribute to Islam, except making it appear to be religion of frauds just like the terrorists making Islam a terrorist religion?

Let us make this Holy Ramadan month a fruitful one in the real sense!

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Abdul Ruff

Dr. Abdul Ruff is an independent analyst; columnist contributing articles to many newspapers and journals on world politics; expert on Mideast affairs, chronicler of foreign occupations & freedom movements (Palestine, Kashmir, Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Xinjiang, Chechnya, etc.); Chancellor-Founder of Center for International Affairs (CIA); commentator on world affairs & sport fixings, former university teacher and author of eBooks/books

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