Sarah Waseem, London
‘And when My servants ask thee about Me, say: ‘I am near. I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he prays to Me. So they should hearken to Me and believe in Me, that they may follow the right way.’ (2:187)
The blessed month of Ramadan is here once again. Millions of Muslims around the world will be abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset as an act of worship. They do so because fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. The Holy Qur’an states:
O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous. (2:184)
Fasting is not unique to Islam. All the other major faiths practice fasting to varying degrees. Fasting is an integral part of the Hindu faith, but can take many forms. This is similar for Buddhism and in both faiths, there is flexibility in the length of fasts – some being for 24 hours , while others may be shorter. Some will abstain from food and water, while others will abstain from certain foods only.
The teachings of the Judaism also incorporate fasting, both obligatory and voluntary, the most significant being the day of Yom Kippur – the Day of Atonement. This is a 25 hour fast to seek forgiveness from sins and to cleanse the soul.
In Christianity too, the major fasting period consists of the 40 days of Lent. Again, how this is observed, may be interpreted differently by people, some choosing to abstain from foods, and others depriving themselves of various luxuries.
This commonality of fasting across the major faiths is not surprising given that God has been sending His Prophets to mankind since the time of Adam. In Islam, we see the practice of fasting at its most detailed. All healthy men and women who can fast are required to do so. However exempt from this are pregnant and breast feeding mothers, menstruating women, those who are ill, on a journey, and children and teenagers who are still growing. Islam is a religion of ease and there are also some exemptions for those who find the fast too hard to bear. Instead they are asked to make an expiation in lieu of their inability to fast this.
There is a hadith (saying of the Holy Prophet Muhammad peace and blessings be upon him) that God states every deed of son of man is for himself apart from fasting. God states, ‘fasting is for Me’.
The fast provides a special opportunity to gain nearness to God, to improve one’s standards of worship and to seek His forgiveness for our sins. To help us in that task, another Hadith relates that during Ramadan, God opens the door to Paradise and shuts down the doors leading to Hell and restrains Satan.
So, the fast is seen to be of benefit to the one fasting, and not an act of deprivation. Equally important is how we conduct ourselves during this month. Another hadith relates that fasting is like a shield. If someone tries to quarrel with one who is fasting, his response should be simply; ‘I am fasting’.
The month of Ramadan is part of lunar calendar and its date changes every year on the Gregorian calendar. Lunar months last between 29 to 30 days depending on sighting of the moon. Ramadan is construed as consisting of 3 parts or Ashras. The word Ashra is an Arabic word which means ten. The first Ashra: (First ten days of Ramadan) are days of Mercy, the second ten days are the days of Forgiveness, and the last ten days, those of seeking refuge from Hellfire.
For Muslims then, we have been given an opportunity to benefit from the spirituality of this month and enter Paradise from as many doors as we can. It is a month to increase the standard of our worship, our reading of the Holy Qur’an and alms-giving.
It is reported of the Holy Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) that spending in the cause of the poor was a routine daily practice with him which has been likened unto a breeze, never ceasing to bring comfort and solace to the needy. However, during Ramadan, that the breeze seemed to pick up speed and blow like strong winds.
Ramadan then is a means to attain the high standards of spirituality This is a most special month of acceptance of prayer and the greatest prayer is when God’s nearness is sought, and communion with Him is prayed for. And the greatest joy for the believer is when he or she finds that and then all of one’s other wishes and desires are taken care of.
May this month of Ramadan be very blessed for all!