The wisdom & benefits behind fasting [Archives:2004/783/Culture]

October 21 2004

By Adel Al-Khawlani
Yemen Times Staff

Now that we are in the holy month of Ramadan, it is rather useful to present to our readers the true wisdom and benefit associating with fasting, which may seem a bit strange to non-Muslim readers, but is in fact a wonderful thing if one looks into its depth and meaning.
There are several reasons and great wisdom behind every single act in Islam, no matter how small. In time, we may know the wisdom for such acts, and for others we may never know. Salaat (act of worship in Islam), for instance, is a daily training to purify the believer and remind him that he is a member in a community of believers. Fasting, on the other hand, is an annual institution containing all conceivable attributes for human excellence. It is also training for the body and soul, a renewal of life, encouraging the spirit to share and give.

The following are some of the general benefits of fasting:

Self-Restraint (Taqwaa)
Allah (SWT) states: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, so that you may (learn) self restraint.” (Al-Qur`an, 2:183)
This verse indicates the first lesson or wisdom to be gained from fasting, which is self-restraint (Taqwa) or the fear of Allah (SWT). That is to say, fasting instills in the heart the essence of consciousness of the Creator, moral courage both in secret and manifest, guiding the heart, the seat of emotion from spoilage and moral indecency.
It has been reported that Abdul Malik bin Al-Asma'e was in Makkah when Ramadan came, so he decided to leave for Taif to escape its heat. On the way, he met a Bedouin, who told him that he was heading for Makkah. Abdul Malik asked him, “Aren't you afraid of Makka's heat in Ramadan?” The Bedouin replied, “It is from the heat (hellfire) I am running away.”
Fasting instills taqwaa, fear of Allah, and does so by controlling two parts of the human body, which are the root causes of human downfall, namely the stomach and lust. The human body is constructed with the need to please the two desires and, in the process, man transgresses the rights of others, fellow human beings, and the commandments of Allah are violated. Fasting is complementary to life, because with the level of taqwaa being raised, the person avoids sins, which are detrimental to life itself.

Change in Behavior
One of the most important things that fasting grants the individual is the ability to control or change his or her habits. To change or control a habit is to wage a war on your regular behavior. If jihaad is mandatory on every believer because it is the peak of the essence in Islam, and it entails changing habits, fasting is the training ground for the inevitable war to occur. The believer cannot wage a war and hope to defeat an enemy if he or she cannot wage war against his own soul that calls for sin. Thus, the faster is admitted to the compulsory training opened only in Ramadan, the learning in this school is mandatory and succeeding or scoring high is mandatory, otherwise it is like you never entered. The Prophet (SAAS) said: “Many a faster receives naught from his fast except the pain of hunger and thirst.”
If he scores high the reward is guaranteed: “Three people's prayers are not rejected-among them – the faster, until he breaks his fast.” (Ibn Hiban) Now, does a Ramadan fast control one's habits? Simple, two of the most important habits are eating and drinking. An average person eats three meals a day, 21 meals a week. The way the fast is structured, with its basic and drastic alteration of eating habits, a faster takes light meals early in the morning and late in the evening. If the believer can control these two habits, food and drink, it will undoubtedly be easy for him to control other habits, including the habits of smoking, drug abuse and sex illicit. Do you not see that, if you can control your tongue, hands and all other parts of your body, it will be easy for you to apply the same training for the rest of the year?

Heath Care
The benefits of fasting transcend guiding the faster from idle talk and indecent acts. It is a sentinel against disease and provids the faster follows the strict dietary rule: eat during fast breaking and avoid over-eating. Allah (SWT) states: “…Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not wasters.” (Al-Qur`an, 7:31)
A great deal of ailments originates from stomach indigestion. This is why the Messenger of Allah (SAAS) says: “The son of Adam will never fill a container with something worse and evil than his stomach. It will suffice him some morsels (food) that will keep him on his feet, otherwise, he should divide his stomach into three parts: one third for his food, the other for his drink and the other third for his breath.” (Ibn Hibban)
This hadith indicates that the stomach is the origin of illness. Even in the age of sophisticated machines, you can hardly find a machine so fragile but yet so remarkably durable and efficient like the stomach. This is the machine that receives food particles, processes and refines them, and distributes the products to different parts of the body. This is a lifelong operation. For the non-faster, the stomach will have no chance to rest. When the stomach is empty, as a result of fasting, it gets well-deserved rest to renew and rejuvenate its energy. Through fasting, the stomach is forced to go through a discharge whereby harmful residue are eliminated through perspiration as the body searches for food during fast.

Fasting helps in conditioning the heart, the soul, and the body on the virtues of patience, tenacity, and firmness in the face of adversity. Patience is the pinnacle of self-mastery, discipline and spiritual agility. Patience is to turn the phrase “I can't” into “I can.” It is to say, the difficult is easy. It is an inner and psychological demolition of things perceived by others as impossible. Fasting helps in all these shades for the virtuous, patient person. The conditioning is that if a believer can exercise patience, and forsake gourmet food and drink, and the exhilaration we enjoy while eating or drinking our favorites, as well as marital association, the gratifying of other normal appetites for a whole day, for a month the realization that the barrier between you and food is your consciousness of your Creator. This can better make you able to exercise patience virtually in everything in life.

Social Outlook
Socially, fasting is an expression of solidarity with the poor, the family and the whole society. This is a period in which the rich have first-hand experience of what it is to be poor; the pains the indigent suffers in normal living conditions. The process of disciplining resulting from Islamic fasting, instills in the rich the virtue of mercy, Rahmah, which is very important in terms of social well-being and proliferation of harmony. Allah bestows his mercy upon those who themselves are merciful to others. “Those who are merciful to others, the Merciful will have mercy upon them,” the Messenger said. He continued, “Have mercy upon those on earth, and those in heaven will have mercy upon you.” (Abu Dawud/Tirmidhi)

Family Ties
Fasting strengthens family ties, especially in that the family is an endangered institution in Western society. It helps the family gather together to break fast, at Iftar, and eat sahuur together at least twice a day for a month. The family even makes Salaat, together with the father as Imam.
Fasting enhances and energizes friendship, as Ramadan is known as the month of invitations and visitations. Friends, family members and neighbors extend invitations to each other to come to their homes to have Iftar together. The Messenger said, “When a believer invites you, you should respond.” Besides, Muslims gather together in the mosque for eve services.
Hence, one concludes that fasting in Ramadan is a true blessing, whose real meaning and benefits may never be fully realized. That is why we believe that as Muslims, we are lucky to have this obligation for a month every year. This indeed makes us different, unique, and blessed.