Ramadan: a month of training
F. I. Choudhury
Sighting of moon at the end of the lunar month of Sha’ban hails Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar when fasting for the entire month is obligatory for every healthy Muslim male and female. Abstaining completely from food, drink, sex, smoking from the break of the dawn till sunset during Ramadan is obligatory for every Muslim to conquer sins and lustful desires. The Holy Quran ordains, “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those who were before you, in order that you may imbibe ‘taqwa’ (piety)” (2:183).
‘Taqwa’ is an spiritual aspect in Muslim life. It refers to a quality that keeps a believer aware of the Unseen Almighty all the time. In other words, it is attaining a state of righteousness and consciousness of Almighty at all times. It needs utter patience to attain this higher stage. Fasting brings patience. Imam Al Ghazali said, fasting produces a semblance of the divine quality of ‘Samadiyah’ (freedom from want) in the humans.
One of the five pillars of Islam, viz., Shahada (Declaration of Faith), Salat (five-times Prayer), Zakat (annual Charity), Sawm (Fasting in Ramadan) and Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca once in a life-time), fasting defines the moral and spiritual characteristic of Islam.
As a pre-Islamic tradition, fasting existed in every human society and was observed basically as a symbol of atonement for sins. In Judaism, fasting is observed on days of penitence or mourning. Roman Catholics observe fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. Similarly Hindus observe fast on Ekadasi, Karwa Chauth, Navaratri, etc. Fasting is observed by other religions too. Islam radicalised fasting into an enlightened concept of triumph over the forces of evil by restraining oneself from human needs and desires which are otherwise lawful for him/her. Emphasising the importance of fasting, a hadith narrated by Bukhari says, “When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the Paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained.”
Islamic fasting is more than hunger and thirst. It is a month-long holy health camp restraining oneself from desires and evil. In other words, Ramadan is a month of self-regulation. The British Islamic scholar Marmaduke Pickthall said, “the fast of Ramadan, like all the rites and ceremonies of Islam, is disciplinary, not superstitious. It is absolutely meaningless without the thought which comes from our obedience, the thought of Allah”.
Fasting awakens the inner consciousness of an individual and builds inner power of self-control in the Muslim raising him to the state of ‘ihsan’ which means “perfection” or “excellence”. It is a matter of taking one’s inner faith (iman) and demonstrating it in action. It is narrated that the Angel Gabriel (Jibril) asked the Prophet (pbuh), “Tell me about excellence in faith (ihsan).” He replied: “It is to worship Allah as though you see Him, and if you do not see Him, He sees you.”
Apart from moral and spiritual aspects, researches have revealed that fast helps control numerous illness like cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, asthma, digestive disorders. It helps reduce thickening of blood and the formation of clots in the arteries what is medically known as ‘atheroma’. In short. it helps us to lead a healthy life.
The Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) in this month and this is the reason why Ramadan is observed as a holy month.
When the month-long Ramadan fast ends, the first day of the next month of Shawwal is “Eid-ul-Fitr”, the “festival of breaking the fast”, one of the two most important annual Islamic celebrations. Eid is considered a reward by Allah for those who spent the entire Ramadan fasting and praying. On this day people offer congregational prayer and enjoy feast with family and friends.
The author is advocate-on-record, Supreme Court of India. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.