What Does Ramadhan Teach Us? Is It Just a Change in Eating Habits? [Archives:1997/52/Health]

December 29 1997

Ramadhan is sacred because it was in this month that the angel Gabrielle brought the first Message of Allah to the prophet Muhammad, may God’s peace rest on him. Thus, it is the month of the Revelations, compiled as the Holy Quran. This is why this month was chosen for fasting. The month, like all other lunar months, begins with the first re-appearance of the moon and comes to an end with the next moon, in the month of Shawal. Therefore, it sometimes lasts for 29 days and sometimes for 30. Muslims are required to start the fast with the sighting of the new moon. Thus the search starts on the 28th of the preceding month, Sha’aban. If the sighting is not confirmed on the 29th of sha’aban, then the preceding month is completed to its 30th day, following which Ramadhan starts. Muslims fast during the length of dayling. This means that the fast begins at daybreak, and it ends with the setting of the sun. In Arabic, “fasting” means abstinence from doing something. According to religious scholars, it is abstinence from food, drink, sexual intercourse,and wrong-doing that is observed from dawn till sunset for the purpose of gaining God’s content. This simple and well known piece of information about fasting is not all there is to share with the readers. The most important point has to do with the wisdom behind fasting. Why do we keep away from food, drink, wrong deeds and sexual intercourse? Why does Allah want us to abstain from all these? Allah wants us to fast in order to protect ourselves against wicked and evil motives. Fasting safeguards the person as an individual and the society as a whole. It protects the person from turning into a beast, living according to the law of the jungle; it also protects society by preparing individuals to work for the general welfare, thus, living as human beings, not as a wild greedy beast only in search of self satisfaction and sustenance. Allah says in the Holy Quran: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those (who lived) before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint”. “That ye here, may bear the sense of preparation and readiness.” The way fasting transforms the spirit of those who fast in devotion to God, is manifested in many aspects, the most important of which is the following: – As a personal affair, fasting is left to the conviction of the adult who fasts him/herself, with no human agency to check whether or not one he/she is fasting. – When the person who fasts obeys Allah’s commands by rejecting the appeals and desires of the flesh, or when he/she trains him/herself to be patient, he/she comes closer to God and rejoins Him in unity. – A person who fasts has God watching over him/her. But this feeling that God watches over a person has two sides. On the one hand there is the peace and protection that comes with it. On the other hand, the person keeps away from temptations and stays out of shameful situations as Allah is watching. When a person is this careful for a full month, his/her purified performance becomes a normal part of his/her behavior. – Fasting makes the individual who fasts more moderates and less violent, if at least simply because a fasting person is hungry (read, weak) during most of daytime. To this effect the prophet declares: “O ye young people! Those of you who can afford marriage, let them marry, for it confines eyes to modesty and protects wombs (of women) from evil intention. Those of you who cannot do this, let them fast because fasting breaks off their lusts.” Thus, the mere abstinence from food and drinks is not the real objective and meaning of fasting that God enjoined on the righteous. The prophet declares: “God does not accept the fasting of those who do not restrain themselves from telling falsehood or from doing wrong deeds”. Now, let me go back to the title of this article “What Does Ramadhan Teach Us?” Yes, what do we learn from it? What are the virtues and benefits of fasting? To both the individual and society, fasting has many virtues and benefits. Let me enumerate some as follows: 1- Feeling of sympathy for the poor: When a well-to-do person fasts, he/she feels hungry. Thus he.she can relate to the poor people who go hungry most of the time. This way, they can become more sympathetic to the needs of the poor. 2- Equality: Fasting establishes equality among the rich and the poor. In a way, it is a compulsory experience of poverty in that it is meant to make all people share hunger. They can sympathize with one another through a collective sense of pain, not through a discord or diversity of desires. 3- Breaking the power of habits: With some people, the dictates of habit have reached the extent of enslavement. Smoking, coffee first thing in the morning, afternoon tea, qat chewing, are among the habits that Ramadhan puts off. Of course, the addicts go back to their habits at night, but their standard rythm is broken giving them a chance to break off the habit. 4- Spirit control over the body: Fasting sharpens one’s will-power. A German professor once wrote a book on the strengthening of will-power, the basis of which he considers to be fasting. In his book, he maintains that fasting is an effective means to establish spiritual control over the body. Human beings must have full control over themselves, not to be slaves to their physical inclinations or needs. Real Fasting Once again, fasting does not mean that we should only keep away from eating, drinking, and smoking. Fasting means that we should try to have noble thoughts and do good to people. In the ‘Hadith’ it is said: “The Holy prophet was the most charitable man, but during Ramadhan his charity was even greater than on the other days.” It is said also in another Hadith that when the month of Ramadhan arrived, the prophet (P) used to free slaves and prisoners and spend money on charity to help poor people. That is why in the month of Ramadhan, the doors of heaven remain wide open. The meaning is that a person who fears God does great good to humanity during Ramadhan. If he/she is wealthy, he/she spends money on charitable purposes. If he/she is a person of knowledge, he/she gives his/her knowledge more freely. If he/she knows some art, he/she uses it for the good of people. Charity does not mean feeding beggars and giving money to idle persons. Such charity does more harm than good. Charity means doing things which promote human welfare, raising the educational, cultural, and moral level of the people, and making this world a better place to live in. Unfortunately, Ramadhan is understood by some people as an occasion for spending more money on food. Some people think they should over-eat and over-drink after they have broken their fasts just because they were fasting during the day. This, of course, defeats the very purpose of fasting. Fasting should not make us spend-thrifts. It should teach us rather, to spend more on others, on those who deserve our help. But if during Ramadhan, our personal expenses increase instead of going down, and we spend more on luxuries, how can we HELP THE POOR?
By: Nasser Murshid Al-Rabi’