Fasting is as popular today as it has been in the history of humanity. Today people are fasting for health reasons and for spiritual growth and experience. But it seems that people are more weight conscious today than they have ever been, and many are fasting to lose weight. In Islam, fasting has its own special meaning—a meaning that is natural in the religion. It is a meaning that is understood by religious people all over the world who truly practice divine worship.
Fasting in Islam is no new institution or new practice. With the following quotation from the Holy Quran, we can see that Prophet Muhammad, to whom the Quran was revealed, did not at any time claim to be offering any new fundamental teachings in religion to the religious world:
"O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint, . . ." Holy Qur’an; Sura II Verse 183
This verse clearly tells us that fasting was prescribed in other revealed books before the revelation of the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad of Arabia (upon whom be peace), and that fasting is no new institution for the religious world. The proper practice of fasting in religion has withstood many threats to take it over and to corrupt it.
Dualism has threatened the meaning of the fast in religion. Also it has been threatened by the belief that the carnal life should be punished. Today, in our time, it is somewhat threatened by vanity. People who are selfish and vain take up the fast only as a passing fad and they fast to present or to keep themselves physically attractive.
No dualism is in Islam. In Islam, creation is one, Creator is One, and that creation of the Creator is His wonderful works.
We do not fast to merely fight the enemies of the spiritual man. We fast to fight the enemies of the total man. We fast for God's pleasure. While fasting we are conscious of the need to appreciate and to respect both man and the outer world as’ creation of the Almighty God. Those who are to fast during the month of Ramadan are those Muslims who are physically able, who are adults, and who have sound minds.
Both male and female are to fast. However, during the period called the menses, the women are exempt but they are to make up an equal number of missed days when the period is over. By this, the sister is able to continue her fast and complete 30 days of fasting.
Fasting is among the discipline practices in Islam. The entire month, day and night hours is given to the forceful self-discipline. The habit-formed life that is called by us “daily routine” usually allows moral sleep and too much selfish indulgence.
Ramadan fast is enforced as a periodic adjustment in our lives for proper human balance. It follows the lunar calendar. The book by Muhammad Hamidullah titled "Introduction to Islam" on page 59, section 173 reads:
"The fast extends over a whole month and, as is known, it is the purely lunar month that counts in Islam. The result is that the month of fasting (Ramadan) rotates turn by turn through all the seasons of the year (autumn, winter, spring and summer) and one gets accustomed to these privations in the burning heat of summer, as well as the chilling cold of winter."
I have quoted from Hamidullah on fasting because I find it very significant that Ramadan is regulated; that is, this calendar is regulated by the lunar phases. Islam is a universal religion and a religion recognizing Divine: that is the Divine plan and the Divine law working throughout the creation.
With the discipline of the inner body, Muslims read 1 /30th of the Holy Quran each day so as to complete the Quran over this 30 day month fast period. Those who are unable to read should get with one who can read and repeat to oneself so that only the reader's voice is heard on a pleasing but moderate sound level, thus keeping the practice of Prophet Muhammad (on whom be peace).
Many Muslims complete the recitation with the prescribed daily prayers within the 30 day period. Such very outstanding reciters of the Holy Quran are rewarded the title "Hafis."
One booklet talking about prayer says that the Muslim prayer service is un-equaled.
Study the Muslim's way of worship and you will agree with me that there is no better way of Divine worship. Why? For one thing, the Muslim always washes himself before communicating with God (God). In other words, he first cleans his own body and then invites the clean holy spirit to come into his body.
That is the best state of body, as well as of mind, in which to say one's prayer.
Among the things to avoid during the fast period is the tendency to be spiritually idle or morally absent minded and the lazy tendency to miss daily prayers with no acceptable excuse. Also, avoid the self-righteous tendency and the self-enrichment spiritual efforts which overlook the crying needs sounding out in others near and distant. And avoid the desire to see God over the human need to emulate the Divine attributes as a worshipful and obedient slave (servant).
As many of you know, among those things to abstain from during the daylight hours of Ramadan are the taking of anything into the mouth such as food or drink; carnal or physical pleasures ,with wife or husband during the daylight hours; mental mastication, which responds to the above appetites. It is permissible to be with one's wife or husband during the night hours.
The fact that the entire month of Ramadan is a month of strenuous discipline should be constantly among our thoughts on God's pleasure, which serves to increase the growth and human excellence.
Every one of you who is present at your home during that month should spend it in fasting. But if anyone is ill or on a journey, the prescribed period should be made up later. God intends every facility for you. He does not want to put you through difficulty. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him in that He has guided you and, perchance, you shall be grateful.
The whole month of Ramadan is a month of fasting.
During this month period, Muslims are not to overeat, over drink, oversleep, or overindulge for selfish pleasure. Your daily meal should be the meal of a poor person.
Muslims should sacrifice time from their usual past-times of pleasures to give time to Islamic growth. The extra time is to be spent praying, reading the Quran, and helping the propagation (spread) of Islam.
If you eat expensive cuts of meat, etc., you will miss one of the important benefits of the fast, which is to bring to your mind the hardships of the less fortunate ones in our community so that we will be aware and more sympathetic to the needs of others.
The Ramadan fast has been divinely ordered by God. If you deviate in any way from the strict instructions, you break the fast. You are to eat after sunset prayer time and you are to take light food before morning prayer time. During the daylight hours, you are to abstain from, food, drink, sex, and non-Islamic activities.
If you fast in excess of the stated time (hours) for fasting (eating every other day or missing whole days), you are ignoring the discipline of the fast. Then you are guilty of setting up and following your own rules, thus breaking the fast. It is not how much or how long you can fast, it is how well you can follow the guidance of God.
Any food that is "halal" (permissible) for consumption in the Holy Quran is permissible to eat during Ramadan. Remember, however, that it is expected for you to stay away from expensive food, or "rich people's food."
The thoughts of all Muslims should constantly be on God during the Ramadan season. You should show the love and the unity that we have as brothers and sisters.
Loudness of voice (talk), excessive talk, gossip, and aggravating others is strictly forbidden during the fast.
Fasting, or abstaining from food and drink, is easy if you keep your mind on something that is worthwhile. During Ramadan, the Muslim keeps his mind or her mind on things that are valuable, important, good, and clean.
If you don't keep your mind on God and on the higher values of life, fasting will be hard for you. If you keep your mind on God, on the higher values of life, and read the Holy Quran as we have suggested in our articles fasting will not be that difficult for you.
Remember, the Ramadan fast is not just a fast of physical food; it is a fast of the whole human body (whole human being). It is not just a fast for spiritual benefit; it is a fast for the benefit of the total person-physically, spiritually, mentally.
In keeping your mind on God and the higher values of life, force yourself to take time from something you have been doing during the day (listening to the radio, watching television, etc.) and read the Holy Quran.
The great benefit of fasting is the development of self-mastery. It is hard for us to make ourselves do what we know is good for self and others because we are weak. Prayer, right thinking, and fasting helps us to overcome this weakness. Fasting gives us the strength to overcome the drive of physical hunger.
Almost the whole life of the animal world is ruled over by the drive to overcome hunger. That is the drive of the flesh for something to satisfy the flesh. If you can control that very powerful drive, it not only gives you the power to with-stand the flesh, but it helps you in every way because everything in the universe is related. The body affects the mind, the mind affects the body, morality is affected-all these things influence each other.
In the Holy Quran, God says that fasting is for Him. The power of hunger drives animals and humans to kill and to eat other animals. Yet the Muslim man and woman lives with that hunger, denies it, and moves about peacefully without grumbling. It drives an animal mad, but the Muslim is spiritual and happy containing it.
The Muslim on the Ramadan fast thanks God and reflects on the wisdom and the beauty of God. With the hunger that drives the world mad the Muslim acts as though he is in heaven. Under the power of God and under the power of His truth, the Muslim thinks on God's wonders, on the truth of creation that supports the heavens and on the design and the order of creation.
By thinking on God's great wonders, we are kept powerful and very much alive. Our mind (the inner being) is awakened and it makes us stand up independent of the outer body. Though the outer body is crying for food, the inner being can't hear it. It has separated itself from the outer body and it is living in the world of the higher form then.
This kind of fasting should not be done for extensive periods of time. We are just to fast during Ramadan through the daylight hours. If you fast for more than that time, you have broken the fast. As long as we are free to do things as we want to do them, we will destroy the benefit of discipline and order. Take the Ramadan fast exactly as it is prescribed and you will get the benefit.
At the end of Ramadan, those who have kept the fast will receive their benefits very soon. Not only will you see a change in your personal life, but you will also see a change in the community of Islam.