O who believe, fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you; perchance you will guard yourselves.
“The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was sent down, a guidance for the people, and clear verses of guidance and criterion.” [The Qur'an, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 183]
Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam. It has been an integral part of all major religions. The Prophet Jesus (peace be upon him) fasted for forty days before he was called to prophethood (Matthew 4:2). Similarly Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) fasted for forty days and nights before he was given the Law (Exodus 24:18).
Purpose of Fasting
Fasting in Ramadan is a part of the broader program that Islam prescribes for man to fulfill his moral and spiritual destiny in this world and in the Hereafter. It is the special worship designed to develop in man the ability to exercise self-restraint and patience for the pleasure of Allah, man's Creator, Lord and Nourisher. Its objective is to give man the power to keep in check his unruly desires and tendencies that make him prone to greed, revenge, anger, provocation and fear; that make him commit various sins, acts of aggression, cruelty and oppression. It seeks to free the human soul and lends it the moral and spiritual strength to promote beauty, harmony, kindness, peace, compassion and justice.
The Qur'an says: "We sent Our Messengers with clear signs and sent down with them the Book and the balance (of right and wrong), that men may stand forth in justice." (The Qur'an, Surah Al-Hadid, 57:25)
Fasting for Taqwa....
Prescribing fasting the Qur'an says: "O you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint." (The Qur'an, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:183)
The original Arabic word translated here as self-restraint is taqwa, which has a much broader significance. It symbolizes that basic mortal quality that demarcates the line between morality and amorality, and distinguishes humans from animals as moral beings. It represents love of good with an eagerness to respond to it, and a strong desire to keep away from what is evil and harmful. Those who are neutral or immune to questions of good and bad, justice and injustice, compassion and cruelty, loyalty and treachery are in the words of the Qur'an like the blind, deaf, and dumb cattle, whose only concern in life is to fill their stomachs. "They have hearts wherewith they understand not, eyes wherewith they see not, and ears wherewith they hear not."
This moral quality is nourished and can be developed only by controlling and keeping in check one's desires, impulses, and emotions and that is precisely what fasting is prescribed to achieve.
The Arabic word for fasting used in the above verse is siyam which means to leave something or to avoid it. In the light of this Islamic fasting may be defined as the worship in which man willingly forsakes his quite legitimate needs like eating, drinking and other lawful pleasures in compliance with the commandment of god, every day for a whole month, Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Thus Islamic fasting is not merely leaving all that is evil.
The Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said: "When one of you is fasting and someone abuses him or fights with him, he should tell him `I cannot respond to you for I am fasting.'" On another occasion he said "He who does not leave evil only gets thirst and hunger from fasting."
Through fasting we seek closeness to God by obeying him sincerely and carrying out his will in our daily life, our actions and thoughts, till our days and nights bear witness that He is dearer to us than anything else. Look at the time schedule of a believer during this month; getting up early before dawn for a light snack, stopping all eating and drinking all day, being anxious to devote himself to prayers and adoration of God, eagerness to do good and eschew evil, and during the nights of this month to stand in prayer for hours, sacrificing sleep and comfort, offering special extra prayers: more or less like one of a soldier under rigorous training. The only difference here is that it is not just one physical battle he is training for, but an all-comprehensive and continuous war against evil, both from within and without.
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