Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam. The holy month of Ramadhan is a sort of refresher course period for Muslims to strengthen their relationship with the Creator by sticking to the commandments of the Lord and abstaining from all things prohibited. Also the believers are exhorted to do good deeds, particularly during this sacred month, with the expectation that this training for one full lunar month, throughout the day and the night will generate piety among Muslims so as to make them able to achieve nobleness of conduct throughout the year. This holiness will be reflected in their general conduct i.e., abstaining from doing any wrong such as telling lies, bloodshed, exploitation, fornification, hurting others, breaking familial ties, indulging in immorality, usurping others’ wealth or property or appropriating an orphan’s property, giving false evidence or accusing a man or woman falsely. Along with these don’ts, there are several do’s which a Muslim is supposed to do positively such as offering prayers, giving alms, helping the needy, speaking the truth, honouring one’s promises, helping relatives travellers, widows, orphans and the destitute.
Observance of Fast
Every adult Muslim, man or woman must fast from dawn to sunset during the whole month of Ramadhan. The sick and the travellers can defer fasting during the Ramadhan and make up for it later. The very purpose of fasting is to enable Muslims to control their passions, so that they become persons of good intentions and deeds. Fasting can also bring anger under control. Fasting develops self-control and helps us to overcome the evils of selfishness, greed, laziness and wasting time in the wicked pastime of picking other’s faults. In fasting, one experiences hunger and thirst. We then can better appreciate the hunger and thirst of others devoid of means of fulfilling their needs. This develops a soft corner for the suffering, helpless brethren not having the wherewithal of life.
Concept of Ibadah
The concept ibadah in Islam is different from that in other religions and quite diverse in its forms. Prayer, remembrance of God, calling people towards good deeds and restraining from the path of evil, imparting education to the unlettered, and giving instructions to the lost and gone astray or men of wayward conduct are noble deeds indeed. These are categorised as ibadah based on speech i.e., good deeds performed by the use of tongue. There are some other forms of ibadah which are visible in action such as offering prayers (salah) and zakah or alms giving or helping the needy. Yet another form of ibadah is a mixture of bodily and financial efforts (sacrifice) to please the Almighty.
Different Forms of Ritualistic Ibadah
Quite different from these forms involving use of the tongue and money in performing an ibadah is observance of fast during the month of Ramadhan in accordance with the Qur’anic injunction of Surah Al Baqarah, verse 183 which says, “O Ye who believe; Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you (earlier Ummahs) that ye are expected to be truly obedient”. A truly obedient Muslim is called a muttaqi and his true obedience or piety – developed through sawm – is known as taqwa. It keeps a man from sin and further gives him strength to fight evil.
But the fasting as a from of ibadah is quite different from other forms in so far as while other forms of ibadah are visible and have externally perceptible form, sawm (fast) is the name given to one’s abstinence from the acts of eating, drinking and indulgence in conjugal co-habitation with wives from the dawn to dusk. Having fulfilled the obligations, the fast comes to an end with the sunset. Then there is the obligation of offering additional prayers after Isha during which whole of Qur’an is recited during the Ramadan.
PromotING Love and Fear of Allah
Fasting prepares and refreshes us for carrying out our duties towards Allah, the Creator and the Sustainer. Fasting teaches us to control our love of ease and comfort. It also helps us to control our sexual desires. The important thing about fasting is that whereas food, drink and other forms of enjoyments are available but still we abstain from these because of God’s injunctions. Hunger, comfort and sex are three factors which must be kept under control so as to show that Muslims behave as Allah’s servants and are not driven by their desires. Surely this conduct of a Muslim pleases the Lord. Since the duty of fasting is only for Allah’s sake, there is a very pleasing and fascinating reward for this ibadah in the world hereafter. Indeed the reward for keeping from all bad actions during the fasting ought to be very uncommon unique and most spectacular.
What Nullifies Fast
The following acts cause the fast to be broken if they occur during the fasting hours:
(i) Deliberate eating or drinking.
(ii) Anything entering the body through the nose or mouth; this includes smoking or sniffing any powdered substance.
(iii) Having any conjugal relations.
An intravenous nutritional injection is not allowed during fasting but an injection in the muscle is allowed. Unintentional eating or drinking does not break the fast. In addition to the compulsory fasting in Ramadhan, one may fast on other days of the year except four days i.e., Eid-ul-Fitr and 10th, 11th and 12th of Zil Hijja (days of sacrifice during Eid-ul-Azha). Muslim women should not fast during menstruation. They are required to make up for these days afterwards.
. Abu Y’ala bin Shaddad bin Aus relates the Holy Messenger (peace and blessings of Allah be with him) as saying: “A wise person is one who keeps a watch over his bodily desires and passions, and checks himself from that which is harmful and strives for that which will benefit him after death; and a foolish person is one who subordinates himself to his cravings and desires and expects from Allah the fulfilment of his futile desires.” (Tirmidhi)
Human Resource Development through Fasting
These days it is quite common for government departments/private companies to have human resource content of their employees refined and improved. This is with a view to imbibe the spirit of team work, fraternity, punctuality, patience and confidence. It helps to achieve the desired result, i.e., to make a success of the efforts to realise one’s objectives. Also, yearly refresher courses, sometimes called orientation courses are conducted to make the personnel aware of the objectives of the organisations and help them achieve success and good results. We can analyse the advantages of fasting in the light of the above as to how those noble objectives of human resource development are achieved through fasting:
It is a common observation that trade, commerce and industry, howsoever intelligently managed, may sometimes prove a failure. Likewise most capable players do come across defeats and lose the game. Howsoever diligently done, agriculture suffers loss due to unforeseen factors, beyond human control. In politics celebrated personalities lose elections and thrown out of government. When the circumstances, failure of efforts and their disappointing results cause heart-breaks, it is the strength of character in the form of virtue of patience and fortitude, and surrender before the will of God which comes to rescue to the broken hearts and shattered lives. Fasting prepares man for this and thus raises human beings to higher moral stature.
Avoidance of Anger
Fasting trains us to overcome our anger even in the face of gravest provocation. It encourages us to work with cool mind which is an essential quality required of a good and successful leader. Not only organisations and society appreciate and admire good-natured, soft-spoken and anger-free persons even individuals love such persons. On the other hand short-tempered persons, losing temper at the slightest provocation are avoided as nobody is sure when they would erupt like a volcano. The unique quality of patience is developed due to observance of fast because a fasting Muslim is exhorted not to speak fowl even when instigated. He simply avoids quarrels, saying that he won’t fight as he is observing a fast. The cool nature promoted by fast generates a personality which is much sought after in the world.
Development of Self-Confidence
Fast generates self confidence. A man may be all alone in the house; he is able to eat anything without anybody knowing this. Yet he does not gulp down his throat even a morsel of food or a drop of water. He does this because he fears God from whose sight he cannot go undetected. This creates fear of God and self confidence in him and promotes self control which is essential to achieve any worthwhile result. He remains firm and unwavering in the rigid observance of the fast. This confidence to stand like a rock in adverse conditions leads to strengthening of confidence which is a prerequisite for success in every sphere of activity in life. Self-confidence prompts Muslims to undertake fast even during summers when the entire duration of fast sometimes extends to 17 long hours or even more. Surely fasting helps in cultivating a confident personality. Some people wonder why not all the Muslims are blessed with the virtue of self-confidence alike. It is the same way as all people receive light and heat from the sun but some competent people use sun rays for getting solar energy. Let us behave as intelligent persons to derive maximum advantages of the sawm.
Fasting makes us punctual and develops in us the capacity for sticking to the time schedule. Starting the fast at a fixed time and then terminating it at the appointed hour, imbibes punctuality in us. And it is no secret that punctuality is one important factor contributing to success in life. Those who value times are valued by time, too. All the famous personalities of the world have been punctual. Offices, companies, firms and concerns attach great significance to observance of time schedule. All the managers and administrators know it very well that completion of projects behind the schedule causes over-run of time which invariably results in cost over-run. This is a very dangerous situation as the delay in completion of a project escalates the cost, delays the flow of benefits of the project, thus derailing the entire planning. Fast is like a shield which protects us from evil in all its manifestations – thoughts, words and actions. It encourages us to bear every difficulty, adverse circumstances, hardships, physical pain, adversity of weather, intensity of burning sun, fatigue and discomfort due to empty belly. It is an essential ingredient of a person’s character that he must be able to withstand onslaught of all such circumstances which make the weak-spirited to deviate from the right path. The difficulties of life must not let our patience and fortitude to be lost or diminished as continuous striving for the attainment of the objective ultimately leads to success. Someone has rightly said that “harder the road, greater the effort, sweeter the success”. Thus armed with humility and patience, one is bound to cross every barrier to achieve success. Lives of all great men remind us of this fact. It has been accepted that team work helps a lot in achieving results as it develops cooperation in achieving a common goal through mutual understanding. The rise of a nation is considered the cumulative result of the work of individuals. Someone has rightly said, “National progress is the sum total of an individual’s labour, honour, honesty and sympathy. Similarly nation’s downfall is the cumulative result of the individual’s laziness, selfishness and other weaknesses of character. The example of the success of Japan, China and America amply demonstrates this fact. Fasting teaches us a lesson of ‘equality’ as it promotes the atmosphere of Allah’s obedience in the same duration for all the observers, irrespective of their being young or old, educated or uneducated, man or woman, rich or poor. It is not that if a labourer is required to fast for the full period, there will be concession for the learned in duration of the fast. The duration of fasting, time of sehr and iftaar and the number of fasts are alike for all. Nor is a woman required to observe the fast for longer or shorter duration than that prescribed for man. The slogan of ‘equality’ given by the West is a hollow one when compared with the actual equality exhorted by Islam and visible among Muslims, at least during Ramadhan. Besides good effect on health, a fast bestows following virtues:
Revelation of Qur’an
Great importance of Ramadhan is also due to the fact of revelation of the Holy Qur’an during this month, the book showing the right path to the humanity to achieve success in both the worlds. The Qur’an’s revelation is the greatest boon to mankind as any other path is bound to deviate man from the divinely chosen path