The Philosophy of Saum

Islam wants to transform the entire life of man into ibadat (worship). Islam demands that, each and every moment of man’s life should be devoted to worship. After reciting the kalmia “La Ilaha Il Lal Lah” it becomes imperative that man becomes a slave of God. In fact worship means becoming a slave of God.

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Islam wants to transform the entire life of man into ibadat (worship). Islam demands that, each and every moment of man’s life should be devoted to worship. After reciting the kalmia “La Ilaha Il Lal Lah” it becomes imperative that man becomes a slave of God. In fact worship means becoming a slave of God. Apparently this (recital of the kalima) seems something trivial that can be done with ease, but to change one’s entire life with all its aspects into worship is not that simple. It requires immense training. For that it is necessary to strengthen ones character and mould one’s thinking, traits and habits. And then one must not stop at merely reforming one’s individual character but a collective system must be established that can prepare people for that complete transformation. That collective system must aid and support the individual and help him overcome his weaknesses. This is the only reason why Islam has made Salat, Saum, Zakat and Hajj obligatory. But calling them ibadat does not mean that Islam holds Salat, Saum, Zakat and Hajj exclusively as worship. No, they should be treated as a means to achieve an end and that is to prepare man for turning his entire life into the worship of God. They (Salat, Saum, Zakat, Hajj) are a necessary training course which produce that special belief and character, create those special traits and habits and lay down the foundations of that collective system that transforms the entire life of man into complete worship. Other than these four there is no other means to achieve that transformation. It is on this basis that they have been termed the pillars of Islam on which rest the foundations of an Islamic life.
Unlike Zakat and HajjSaum (fasting) does not enjoy a uniquely separate position, but shares its temperament with Salat (prayer) and compliments it beautifully. It strengthens the effects of Salat on human life. Salat is a system of daily training which takes man under its control five times a day with small doses of training. Saum is an annual Special Training Course which grips man for 720 hours continuously so that the fading effects of daily training may once again intensify and become permanent.
The real objective of Islam is to create a community (Jamaat) of righteous souls who lay the foundations of human civilization on the basis of piety and virtue. But Islam does not stop at creating a civil society merely formulating public rules and regulations but also ensures the preparation of individuals for running that collective system. Thus the morals, character and thinking of every individual is in complete harmony with society and the individual conforms to (those rules and regulations) in letter and spirit with selfless dedication and strength of one’s character.
In this scheme Fasting achieves the following:
Regulating personal liberty: Every individual of the community becomes ready to forgo and renounce his personal freedom for the commandments of his Creator and thus becomes trained to maintain his entire life according to the Divine laws.
No external force: Every individual acknowledges that God is the Absolute Knower of the Unseen and is watching all the affairs of man and that one will be questioned by God in the Hereafter. This belief is achieved through practice and rigour and becomes part of his personality in such a way that man is inclined towards virtue and starts obeying the Divine laws on his own without any external force.
Exclusive worship: Every individual rejects all kinds of worship and obedience except Allah and is not at all inclined to recognise man made laws and powers which have no sanctity from the Creator.
Character building: The moral training of every individual helps him gain practical control on all his desires. He is now able to exercise so much control on all his body parts that he can use them according to his beliefs and creed. Man gains patience, persistence, fortitude and develops his reliance on God. This focus produces the much required power in his character to help him take on external temptations and the unlawful cravings of the self.
This is the objective for which Islam made fasting compulsory in Ramadhan for every member of the Muslim community. Every sane and grown-up person man or woman is supposed to fast.  Those exempted from this command are the sick, the traveller and the one who has some genuine excuses (sanctioned by the Shari’ah). As they are unable to keep the fasts, they have to keep compensatory fasts later on or feed the poor. If anybody wants to remain within the boundaries of Islam then he cannot abscond from this important pillar of Islam. Thus the system of training achieved through fasting produces the most desirable of all characteristics in man. The specialty of this way of training is that these traits can only be produced by this method of training and there is no parallel or replacement for achieving the same.
If anyone observes this system of fasting truthfully then he is forced to acknowledge that there is no other collective system in this world other than Islam which trains people on such a grand scale that entire populations come under its control and undergo exemplary moral training. Then anyone who does not fast automatically becomes conspicuous and prominent in a righteous society where everyone is following the rules and regulations imposed by fasting through wilful obedience. The moment a person does not fast without any genuine excuse, he immediately becomes well known and people know that we have a hypocrite in our midst who does not obey the commandments of God and has become a slave of the beast within him. Thus society is alerted in time of a rotting body part and gets a chance to cleanse itself of its poison. Islam has definitely made all arrangements to point out the hypocrites and has given a chance to the Muslim society to become aware of their existence. It is now up to the Muslim society to either reform those hypocrites or expel them. Now it is altogether a different matter that an indifferent and ‘name-sake’ Muslim society does not take advantage of this opportunity and not only nurtures such pretenders in its lap but also props these hypocrites cheering them on.
[Adapted by Arshad Shaikh from Syed Abul Ala Maudoodi’s essay “Swaleh Fard aur Ijtema mein Rozey ka kirdaar”]