Why We Fast
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) was a guide for humankind. While the Holy Quran is the oral communication between the Creator and the created, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is said to be the living Quran. For Muslims, the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) embodied the values of the Holy Scripture. He imparted the following wisdom to Muslims during the Month of Ramadan. Here we learn that fasting is tied to a very different kind of charity.
Everything has a charity and the charity of your body is your fast. …
Fast to be healthy.
— Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
Healthy and Helpful in Many Ways
There are many benefits for the fasting person, including the physical, psychological, spiritual, and social domain. Islam is very careful to encourage Muslims to be moderate in all things, to strive to find the correct balance in life. The human body is an incredible instrument and therefore Islam believes in keeping this carrying case for the soul as pure as can be. A key concept in Islam is to cleanse oneself from physical impurities before prayer through a ritual wash. The logical mind can also deduce that the cleansing of the inner body is as important as the outer body. The fast in many ways can be thought of as the “inner cleanse.”
These days the West is borrowing many of the Eastern ideas of health such as bowel cleansing with health experts commenting daily on the benefits of such practices. When a person fasts, the gastrointestinal tract is allowed to rest, which is important especially in a society that suffers from obesity. Cholesterol levels may be lowered as a result of a decrease in fatty snacks, hydrogenated oils, fast food, and high fructose syrups that drench our daily diets. Our bodies rest from caffeine and refined sugar intake. Our lungs and respiratory tract are able to recuperate from the heavy intake of cigarette smoke and addictive nicotine since smoking is also prohibited during the fasting hours. The physical body needs a time out and that is exactly what the All-Knowing Creator ordered.
A person finds that fasting exercises the brain and decreases the cravings we have for sugar and habitual snacking after the first three days. The brain is a selfish organ interested in self-satisfaction and self-survival. Fasting exercises our willpower to boost our brainpower by utilizing the concept of mind over matter. God clearly recognizes this effort and challenge to refrain from food and drink and compensates the fasting person. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) teaches us God’s mercy in this next wisdom as we see how God obligates Himself to each observant faster.
For the person who is barred from food he loves due to his observance of fast, it will be mandatory upon God to provide him from the food and drink of heaven.
— Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
Exercising a person’s will power to refrain from the everyday dependency on food, drink, smoke, sex and other basic human needs teaches our very selfish brain to be that which it is not – disciplined! Having the ability to say “NO” teaches the lesson of self-control. Self-control is paramount in having a morally mindful and God-conscious personality. Health-care providers have been using behavior modification techniques quite a bit in recent years, especially for weight control, drug abuse, and other physical, mental, or emotional disorders. However, God has ordained fast as a behavior modification for thousands of years in our human history.
Fasting is more than refraining from food and drink. It is also a moral commitment to enjoin good and forbid that which is bad at the personal, family and community level. These principles encourage a sense of inner growth and development as you feel the cultivation of your spirit expand. This small story gives us a glimpse of how important the spirituality of the fast is to our well-being.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) heard a woman swearing and cursing her servant. He called upon someone to bring food and said to her, “Eat.”
Quite shocked by the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) request, she replied, “I cannot eat for I am fasting O Messenger of God.”
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) replied, “How can you be fasting when you just cursed your servant? Fasting is not only from food and drink but God also ordains that fasting is to guard yourself against sins whether in your actions or in your words.”
The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) then continued imparting wisdom by saying this:
“How few are those who truly fast and how many are those who know only hunger.
There could be those that would gain nothing from the rewards of their fast except for hunger and thirst.”
The spiritual benefit is profoundly different for each person. This depends on your spiritual ladder toward self-development. It is in this month that each person regardless of their station in life, gender, age, knowledge, accomplishments, wealth, or poverty should focus on exercising their spiritual self through repentance, self-reflection, and dialogue with God. No matter what condition a person is experiencing in life during the Holy Month of Ramadan there exits an open door called supplication or the act of invoking God’s mercy.
This means that a person takes the time to sit quietly and dialogue with the Divine. Alternatively, for the better-developed Muslim spirit, this is a constant state of the heart. It becomes an almost unconscious language that goes on all day as the soul whispers lovingly and converses with the Creator. It is highly advised by God to take advantage of the divine mercy and love that is so abundantly raining down from the heavens during this holy time. The Holy Month of Ramadan is truly the new year from which resolutions should be born and the human spirit strengthened.
This is the time for spiritual alignment for anyone seeking a new direction or the sublime dimension of “self building,” a spiritual phrase commonly used in Islam. During the fast one is working on their daily struggle to submit to this Divine alignment through one’s own free will and intellect. Hence the true definition of Islam is the peace-fulfilling submission to the worship and will of God in His Infinite Glory and Manifestation.
Consider the following wisdom:
Your sleeping is worship, even your silence is glory, and your supplications are heard and your deeds are multiplied, and at the moment of your breaking of fast, your requests and prayers are heard.
— Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
The fasting spirit of the heart is greater than the fasting of the tongue, and the fasting of the tongue is greater than the fasting of the stomach.
— Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said to his companion Jabir, “Oh, Jabir this is the Month of Ramadan. Whomever shall fast the daytime of Ramadan and spend the night time in prayer, and guard their stomach and physical urges (sexual desire and genitalia) from that which is forbidden (during the fasting hours) and protects their tongue (from gossip) – leaves behind their sins as someone leaves behind the passing Month of Ramadan.”
And so replied Jabir, “What a beautiful wisdom.”
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) replies, “Oh Jabir…What difficult conditions.”
Benefits to the Community
The Month of Ramadan is known for the blessings that exist in the unity of community. Family and friends share a common experience for an entire month creating a bond that all look forward to year after year. There is a greater commitment to give charity to the needy and less fortunate. Often the month is filled with good deeds that outweigh the deeds for an entire year.
This charitable sense of stewardship gathers people in hundreds and even thousands to raise money for benevolent causes such as poverty and the plight of orphans around the world. That which is most rewarding and truly awesome is that the fasting person grows outside their immediate network and becomes part of a global unity. This feeling is intensified when one remembers that Muslims live in every country on earth, and fasting is happening throughout the world twenty-four hours a day as some people wake up to begin their fast, while others, on the other side of the world sit to break their fast.
This connection and collective remembrance of each other is a powerful unit in the fabric of Muslim life. The individual participates with humanity in praising, loving, sharing, and sacrificing for God. At the same time, each individual is the sole benefactor of God’s mercy, kindness, and justice. God once again speaks to humankind through the revelation of the Holy Quran.
When my servants ask thee concerning Me, I am indeed close to them: I listen to the prayer of every supplicant when he calleth upon Me: Let them, also with a will listen to My call and believe in Me: that they may walk in the right way.
— Quran, Chapter 2, The Cow, Al Baqarah, Verse 186