The blessed month of Ramadhan is here.
Once again the Muslim Ummah all over the world is “fasting” – abstaining from food, drinks, committing of sinful acts and many other acts like fulfillment of lawful sexual desires etc., from shortly before fajr (morning prayers) to the time of Maghrib.
Many Muslims, honour this month and try their best to follow the conditions for fasting. However sadly, majority of the Muslims take Ramadhan as a custom and tradition. There are those who don’t fast, while others remain hungry and thirsty as a custom, trying to kill time by sleeping from dawn to noon and keeping awake at night killing their time in vain activities. Yet others kill time by playing card games. Many others traditionally recite the Quran and take pride in its completion from cover to cover only to read it as a parrot, not understanding a single word.
Then there are the housewives who consider it as a month of partying, practicing their cooking skills in making various mouth watering dishes for their family to be eaten at Iftaar time. And then comes Eid as a climax to the whole month. A time of rejoicing for the believers who thank their Lord for guiding them and making them accomplish the goals of this month. For the majority, the Eid comes as a day to revert back to their normal lives and a passport to sinning again.
The Disease of ‘Surfacism’
In this article we would like to understand why we fast in the month of Ramadhan and what is aim of fasting in Islam. For the sake of example, compare Islam with an orange. An orange has an outer rind or covering, while the fruit – inner core – lies inside. Obviously if you want to eat the fruit you will peel of the rind of the orange and throw it away, as your actual aim is the inner core. Peeling the outer rind is a means to the actual aim, which is to eat the fruit.
Prayers, Fasting, going to Mecca to perform the pilgrimage or Hajj, giving charity or Zakaat, doing Jehaad or fighting with your desires and with external enemies are all like the peel of an orange. This means that they are a means or a road to achieving the aim. A person who throws the orange after peeling it can be considered foolish or even insane. A person who spends so much time just peeling the orange can also be considered foolish or ignorant. Yet this is what we do with fasting. We pay so much attention just performing the rituals, that we don’t achieve the actual “fruit” of fasting. This disease is typical of us Muslims. It is called the disease of “Surfacism”. We practice only the surface of our religion without reaching the aim or core of it.
What is the core aim of fasting?
Many of us don’t understand the beauty of Islam. We think that by fasting, we shall please Allah and that is all. Really Allah doesn’t need our fasts. There is a tradition or hadith, which says that if all the world worshipped Allah, He wouldn’t benefit anything and if all the world didn’t worship Allah, He wouldn’t be in a loss.
So what are we fasting for? Really all rituals in Islam have a purpose. The purpose of fasting is to develop a great quality all human beings need to be successful. This great quality is calledWILL POWER. We have a brain or intellect, which guides us and shows us difference between right and wrong. We also have desires which pull us towards mistakes and errors. Although we know what is right or wrong but we often sin and cause damage to ourselves, others and environment around us. What can make us choose and act on the right? Only a strong will power or self control. Since Allah our Creator knew this as He has created us and knows what parts and characters we are made up of. He also knew that to develop a strong will power we need to undergo some training. Thus He, the Merciful,  prescribed fasting. Holy month of Ramadhan is a training camp to develop our will power. It is a deliberate attempt to put us in a situation where by we have to practice control. Just look at the philosophy or wisdom behind it! Eating drinking, lawful sexual acts, which are normal on other days, arerestricted from dawn to dusk in Ramadhan.
Will power, a quality no school can give us..!
By exercising will power and self control we develop in our self a quality no school or university can give us. Will power is needed to attempt any act, for example studying hard, abstinence from drugs, doing your work faithfully, etc.Are not these qualities that build great civilization? It is only when self control is lost that civilizations decline. All these famous people we admire around us, exhibited strong will power to reach their goals.
Even a footballer has to train several hours a day, which needs abstinence from alcohol, cigarette smoking and rigorous training. People admire film stars, but these film stars have a very long schedule each day. Every thing needs effort and all effort needs will power.
Lack of will power makes us loose our tempers and causes big fights in society and families. Lack of will power causes people to loose jobs just because they couldn’t resist stealing money or are too lazy to work hard. Yet again lack of will power has reduced us to live like animals, submitting to adultery, drinking alcohol, taking bribes, mismanaging money to be used for the oppressed society around us. From the president up to be poorest man all need a will power in-order to prevent destruction.
And Islam is gifting us a free crash course each year to develop our will-power in all stages. Indeed fasting is not only abstinence from food and drinks, but an abstinence from sins of the eye, ears, legs hands, etc. Thus our will power and self-constraint will be exhibited for the development of patience, honesty, loyalty, efforts, charity, etc.
As you know everything in the world is difficult in the beginning. As you practice the act e.g. riding a bicycle, typing, etc. becomes easy. These acts become easy as the will power (IRADA as called in Arabic) is the fountain head of all habits.
Thus Allah (swt) aims that in the month of Ramadhan abstinence from eating drinking which are normal on other days will increase our will power. The abundance of will power obtained in Ramadhan should now be used in the remaining months for our achievements.
How should we then spend our Ramadhan?
How should we spend the month of Ramadhan after understanding the philosophy? We should abstain from sinning and practice our will. We should attempt good things no matter how difficult they may seem, e.g. giving charity, using time constructively, etc.
A lady once came to be prophet (s.a.w.w) and stated that she was fasting. The Prophet (s.a.w.w.) asked her to break her fast. She was surprised and wondered why was she being told to break her fast. The Prophet (s.a.w.w.) said: “Did you not say bad words to your maid? Well you didn’t have self control and thus your fast has broken.”
Thus, if we understand the aim of fasting, we shall use the time in Ramadhan in exercising and developing our will. In short all that we are tempted to do and which is a sin should be avoided by practicing your will and self constraint. Instead of killing time by sleeping or playing card games, we should use time doing useful things for ourselves and the Muslim nation. We should observe all our defects and improve them by exercising our will. If we are in the habit of lying, we should remove it in this month. Once we have developed a considerable amount of will power, we should use it and develop it further in other months.
Looking at Ramadhan from this angle we see that it is deliberate attempt by Allah to put us in asituation where we shall all be practicing things together. Acts which are done socially are easy and become lighter in burden, then when done individually.
Also Ramadhan provides us an opportunity to have a rare glimpse into the life of the poor and hungry and to make us understand that the hunger which we shall overcome or Iftaar is something the poor undergo each day. What a better way to understand things?
Fasting is a prescription that frees us from slavery to desires by developing our will power, a vital ingredient that builds civilizations.