The month of fasting (Ramadan), which has just started provides once again an opportunity to its believers to reinforce one’s faith in the Almighty through the process of self-purification. Fasting or “Roza” as practiced by Muslims is an elaborate process stretching over a period of one month every year. Why do Muslims observe ‘Roza’? The common answer is that the holy book “The Qur’an” ordains it. The‘ Qur’an says, “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you, as it was prescribed for those before you (i.e. Jews and Christians) so that you may (learn) self-restraint” (2:183).
Normally the fast should not affect the daily avocations, and it should not be a pretext for neglecting normal duties. Islam never approves, much fewer demands, of keeping vigil during the whole night and passing the following day in sleep and indolence. Fast means a greater effort to perform all the usual duties and something else, more prayers and more charity, and all this in the absence of food and drink. Fasting should make one remember the hunger and starvation of the poor and develop empathy for the deprived people. It is an opportunity to experience hunger so that people will understand the pain of the hungry and will go forward to help them. Ramadan fasting is also an exercise in self-discipline. For example, those who are chain smokers or who nibble food constantly, or drink coffee every hour, provide an opportunity to break the habit.
The human being is a creature of physical, emotional, biological, and spiritual parts. A balanced mix of these can lead to excellence. The fasting during the month of Ramadan orients the observer to the art of balancing the spiritual essentials with other parts. It helps curb the animalistic tendencies originating from the stomach, in full. It is an effective tool for sobering the mind and reconstructing our spiritual faculties.
Psychologically the effects of Ramadan fasting are also well observed by many in terms of inner peace and tranquility. The Prophet(SAW) advised those fasting, “If one slanders you or aggresses against you, tell him ‘I am fasting.”‘ Thus there is little scope for personal hostility during the month, and it remains minimal. Ramadan restrains you from using obscene language. The Prophet (SAW) as reported saying in a hadith by Abu Hurairah: “He who does not desist from obscene language and acting obscenely (during the period of fasting), Allah has no need that he did not eat or drink.” (Bukhari Muslim). We also observe that the crime rate in the Muslim world falls drastically during this month.
There are a number of healthcare benefits, which originate from the month of fasting. The basic among them is that Allah does not encourage overeating, the root cause of many diseases. Ramadan fasting is a sentinel against many diseases, provided the Rozadar- a person observing fast – follows the strict dietary rule: eat during fast-breaking and avoiding over-eating. It is categorically stated in Holy Quran’, “…Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not wasters.” (Al-Qur`an, 7:31). We also have additional prayers prescribed after dinner during the month of Ramadan. According to one estimate, using a calorie counter, the number of calories burnt during the special night prayer of Ramadan (tarawih) amounted to 200 calories. It is stated that this form of prayer as well as the five daily-prescribed prayers use all the muscles and joints and can be considered a suitable form of exercise for burning calories.
The practice of the concept of neighborhood is equally important. It has wider connotations than its literal meaning. The Prophet had said, “One should behave decently with the whole of humanity and foremost among them is your neighbor.” It applies to both one’s immediate neighborhood as well as humanity at large. If one connects it with the concept of fasting, an immediate implication is that a true Muslim cannot see any human being hungry, even if it means having to sacrifice ‘iftar’ and to continue fasting for the next day without eating and drinking anything. Similarly, a true Muslim cannot see a human being in pain or misery What we are witnessing around us in the name of Islam is not Islam. In essence, Islam in general and ‘Roza’ in particular teach a person to address human concerns and values.
More importantly, this month-long process is meant to mold the behavior and pattern of life of its practitioners in such a way that they turn out to be ideal human beings. It essentially means that a person observing fast will not only observe abstinence from eating and drinking but will get into a sublime state of mind in order to develop positive feelings. In order to achieve this one has to restrain oneself from listening, speaking, hearing, or thinking bad about others. The expectation is that if one passes through this process of self-restraint for a period of one month, its impact will at least last for the remaining 11 months when this process will be again repeated. Unfortunately, we take it as physical fasting only and do not achieve what is expected of this process of self-purification.
Prof. M. Aslam is a Sociologist and also served as Vice-Chancellor, IGNOU. He can be reached at [email protected]