Aug 11, 2010
Ramadan (or Ramazan) is the most beautiful month in the Islamic calendar. There can be absolutely no doubt as to its blessedness, importance, significance and its austere charm. It is the month that invokes in every Muslim the virtues of piety, abstinence and utmost devotion to God. The world, though not entirely forgotten, takes a backseat and what takes place is a spiritual rejuvenation, a reiteration of one’s faith in the Almighty. Ramadan in its true spirit brings about a wonderful feeling of closeness to Allah.
The purpose behind the fasting goes much beyond mere experience of physical hunger. In fact, staying hungry is only a means to achieve the goal, and that goal is the development of a sense of empathy with the poor, the less fortunate who endure hunger not out of choice but poverty. The goal is also to impose strict self-discipline, a self-control borne out of a fear as well as unlimited reverence for Allah (called ‘Taqwa’). The experience of fasting is truly a humbling one – it makes the believer realize how fortunate he/she has been to be blessed by Allah with food and other luxuries which not everyone is lucky enough to enjoy. It is the time to count one’s blessings, which are indeed numerous, and feel grateful to Him for being so kind and generous, despite our sins. It is His way to give us another chance at amending ourselves, for repenting our sins and following the path of righteousness that we so easily wander away from during the rest of the year. It then becomes the duty of every Muslim to take maximum benefit of this opportunity, for one never knows what may happen tomorrow.
Though I am pretty sure my non-Muslim brothers and sisters do know about the way fasting is observed, let me elaborate it anyway. Fasting is from sunrise to sunset, and before it begins, there is the ‘sehri’ when the believers have a breakfast of sorts. The food taken at sehri is meant to give the body the energy to go about the day doing one’s routine work. It must be kept in mind that fasting does not put breaks on one’s everyday activities like going to college/work, and the worst way to spend the day of fasting would be to sleep for hours together. Till the fast is broken at sunset (iftaar), the person has to keep away from water, food, injections and anything that gives the body nourishment and even from physical contact with one’s spouse. But abstinence is not just from these, but all things that may tempt us, and even from misdeeds like lying, swearing (even in the mind), violence and so on. Hence, during Ramadan, even the not-so-conservative Muslims will be found to abstain from watching movies, or even television for that matter though watching news is allowed. Though fasting is an obligation on all Muslims, there are some exceptions – one may forego fasting during sickness and travelling, provided one makes up for it during the rest of the year or feeds the needy in accordance to the number of days missed.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, and it was during the month of Ramadan, the ninth in the Islamic calendar, that the holy Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammed (pbuh). The last ten days of the 30-day fasting are especially blessed. The night of Lailatul-Qadr, which falls on one of these last ten days, is believed to be equal to thousand nights, and the believer who spends this night in sincere worship is forgiven all his/her previous sins. Another pillar of Islam, that of giving Zakaat or charity, is practiced with double zest during this month. No beggar is turned away without alms, and a part of one’s income is distributed among the needy. Thus it is not just about one’s own rejuvenation, but a community feeling that is inculcated through fasting. Generosity, empathy, self-control, and most importantly, faith in Allah – these are the virtues that embody the spirit of Ramadan.
The practice of fasting also has a scientific base. It is not just the mind that is cleansed but also the body, which is reinvigorated as it gets rid of all excess waste, and blood is purified. In fact, I came across an interesting article which stated that fasting was experimented on mice and the result was that it led to increased resistance to injury and stress, and improved memory and learning capacities. Nutritionists often speak of moderate intake of food as the best way to stay healthy and fit as well as lose weight, and this is what is practiced during Ramadan. Eating heavy either at sehri or iftaar is not advised, and in fact, Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) used to break his fast with just water and dates. Even to this day, you will find dates on the platters of most Muslim households at the time of iftaar.
Another aspect of Ramadan is the abundance of rewards that one reaps by fasting and doing good deeds. An act of obligation during this time is equal to the reward of 70 such acts, and an optional good deed like helping somebody in trouble brings double the reward. In effect, the believer gets an opportunity to add to the quota of good deeds and strengthen his/her chances of attaining Allah’s mercy as well as a peaceful after-life.
The holy month has begun; let us pray that we have the strength and the vigour to pursue the path of righteousness by observing Ramadan in its true spirit. Let us develop a consciousness of God and get closer to Him. Let us also take this opportunity to amend ourselves and the world through noble deeds, love for our fellow beings and abstinence from all that is evil. May the Almighty bless us all and forgive us.