Delaying the gratification of the body’s various appetites has always been an effective means of strengthening the soul and freeing it from the entanglements of worldly desires
Ramaḍān is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, which is a lunar calendar. As a natural phenomenon, lunar months are either twenty-nine or thirty days. As such, the timing of the month of Ramadan moves 10 to 12 days earlier each Gregorian calendar year.
Fasting the month of Ramadan is an obligation in Islam. Fasting means to abstain from eating, drinking and sexual relations during daylight hours (between dawn and sunset). To assist in the fast, it is recommended by the Prophet, peace be upon him, to have a pre-dawn meal known as Suhur. Fasting for the day comes to an end when the sun sets below the horizon. It is recommended to break the fast, known as Iftar, promptly with dates and water as was the Prophet’s custom. Sharing meals and feeding others is another encouraged practice during this month. The Prophet said that the one who feeds a fasting person gets a reward equivalent to the one who fasted, without diminishing the reward of the one who fasted. Later, after the evening prayers, mosques are lit up with the presence of eager souls profiting from the blessings and discipline of the holy month to perform the tarawih prayers, read the Quran, and give charity. Through worship, the days and nights of Ramadan are brought to life. It is a month of great joy and giving for Muslims throughout the world.
THE PURPOSE OF FASTING
Delaying the gratification of the body’s various appetites has always been an effective means of strengthening the soul and freeing it from the entanglements of worldly desires. God says in the Quran,
“O you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those before you in order that you may be Godfearing.”
As the individual abstains from food, drink, and sexual relations throughout daylight hours, he or she experiences the pangs of hunger, thirst, and want. By ignoring the growls of the appetite, the body is taught that there are higher goals more important than the satisfaction of its desires. In the process, the ego is tamed and becomes submissive to God’s will, while laziness in worship is removed from the servant’s limbs and replaced with spiritual determination.
Furthermore, whereas other acts of worship are outward acts that are prone to ostentation, and therefore pride, fasting is a private affair between the person and their Lord; it is a mark of sincerity and genuine devotion, and thus it has a special status with God.
Fasting also engenders empathy towards the poor and needy, as the Muslim comes to experience what it means to go without a meal for a day. The fast of Ramadan is therefore concluded with a form of obligatory charity (Zakat) that must be given to the poor and needy. It also helps a person to be grateful for the blessings God has given them. Despite the effort required and the experience of abstinence, there is a sweetness to Ramadan that engenders eagerness and anticipation in all who await this blessed month to observe its rites.