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16th November 2001
With the Compliments of Banadir.Com

YE WHO believe! fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint" (- 2:183). As this quotation from the Holy Quran indicates, the institution of fasting is not new.

It had been in practice for ages, particularly as a means of appeasing divine wrath or promoting divine compassion through self-denial. It is said of fasting: "Its modes and motives vary considerably according to race, civilisation and other circumstances, but it would be difficult to name any religious system of any description in which it is wholly unrecognised".

Islam, however, gave a new meaning to the concept in that it made fasting a spiritual, moral and physical discipline, and raised the institution to a much higher pedestal. It was in the second year of Hijra that fasting during the holy month of Ramadan was made obligatory for Muslims. It came after the institution of prayer and is the third of the five pillars of Islam (the other four are: faith in the oneness of Almighty God and the last prophethood of Muhammad, prayer, Zakat and Hajj).

The Muslim fast, unlike the fasts previously observed, is not meant for self-torture. Although it is stricter than other fasts, it also provides alleviation for special circumstances.

If it were merely a temporary abstention from food and drink, it would be salutary to many people who habitually eat and drink in excess. The instincts for food and drink are strong in animal nature, and a temporary restraint from all these enables one's attention to be diverted to higher things. This is necessary through prayer, contemplation and acts of charity, not of the showy kind, but by seeking out those really in need.

Certain standards are prescribed, but much higher standards are recommended. The Holy Quran says: "(Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the prescribed number (should be made up) from days later, for those who can do it (with hardship) is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will, it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if you only knew" (- 2:184). "Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Holy Quran, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong).

So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it on fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) from days later. "God intends every facility for you: He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you ; and per chance ye shall be grateful" (- 2:185).

Thus the regulations are repeatedly coupled with an insistence on two things: One, the facilities and concessions given and two, the spiritual aspect of the fast without which it is like an empty shell without a kernel. If we realise this we shall look upon Ramadan not as a burden but as a blessing, and shall be duly grateful for the lead given to us in the matter. T

he glory of the holy month is manifest in the fact that Almighty God chose it for the revelation of His scripture. It was therefore in Ramadan that the first ray of Divine light fell on the holy Prophet's mind, and Gabriel made his appearance with the greatest Divine message.

The holy month which witnessed the greatest spiritual experience of the holy Prophet was thus considered to be the most suitable time for the spiritual discipline of the Muslim community which was to be effected through fasting. Fasting in Islam is primarily a spiritual discipline in that it aims at attaining nearness to Almighty God.

Fasting awakens in man new consciousness of a higher life, a life above that which is maintained by worldly pleasures, and this is the spiritual life. There is also a moral discipline underlying fasting, for it is the training ground where man is taught the greatest moral lesson of his life - that he should be prepared to suffer the greatest privation and undergo the hardest trial rather than indulge in that which is not permitted to him.

Fasting has a social value, too. The commencement of the holy month is a signal for mass movement towards equality which is not limited to one vicinity or even one country but covers the whole Islamic world.

Even from a medical point of view, Ramadan is a blessing. Going without food and drink is a sheer necessity for the human body which helps man to keep himself fit.

The basis of fasting is piety. The Muslim fast has a body as well as a soul: the abstinence from food, drink and other pleasures is the body; self-restraint and worship is its soul. If one does not strive to nourish one's soul during fasting, one's fast will be mere starvation. On the other hand, the soulful fast must purify the heart and mind. The object is not persecution of self, but its elevation.

Finally, fasting generates faith, love and fellow feeling and its essence lies in keeping away from all evils, both in words and deeds.

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