Fasting is not something practised or observed exclusively by Muslims. It is a feature of many religions with varying degrees of content and significance. Ramadan is not just about starving for the whole day but it tries to seek the purity of inner self which in Islamic terminology is known as Taqua. This inner-self and outer-self is not to be understood in a dichotomic sense but as dependent and complementary to each other.
The Ramadan fast is exclusively for Allah. Since it is an act of worship that is not manifest to others, it is only known to Allah. Allah the Almighty says, “Those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure” (Az-Zumar, 10).
Patience is of three kinds:
1. Patience to endure the obedience of Allah;
2. Patience to abstain from what Allah has prohibited;
3. Patience to endure pain and hardships.
As we know, Islam has marked two kinds of duties for a Muslim. One is Haquq-Ullah, which means duties towards Allah, and the second is Haquq ul ibad, duties towards fellow men. Observing fasts in the month of Ramadan, saying prayers and so on can be placed in the former, and helping others, visiting sick, uninterested love and care for every human being, etc, can be placed in the latter.
Ramadan, thus, is a training period for us to understand the problems of our fellows, develop a social bond with them, and help them overcome their difficulties. Ramadan seeks to inculcate in us the values of fraternity, tolerance, equality, patience, and goodwill for others. It attempts to enable us to understand the plight of the downtrodden and the marginalised. It prepares us to face any challenge in life with courage, patience and confidence.
During fasting when one feels hunger or thirst, it establishes a link between our inner-self and outer-self to make us stand with justice and resist every kind of cruelty and oppression. Since man’s social instinct creates a plethora of wishes and desires in him, Ramadan tries to control or limit these instincts and seeks to create a balance.
On medical grounds also, health specialists are of the view that by observing fasts, one’s immune system is strengthened, the digestive power of the body increases, and several diseases are prevented.
Elderly people, sick people, pregnant women, and persons on long journeys are excluded from the obligation of fasting. Except the elderly, all others have to observe the same number of days which they lost in the month of Ramadan in the subsequent months or feed the hungry as determined by the Islamic code Shariah. This showcases how much Islam as a way of life is flexible.
Fasts in Ramadan are observed by the whole Ummah (the Muslim community). This seeks to imbibe in us the doctrine of unity and respect for each other. People following different schools of thought (Maktb fikr) may not necessarily see eye to eye with each other but this blessed month teaches them that they can respect each other, keeping differences aside. Instead of accusing each other, Ramadan intends to develop means of discussion and debate to reach a consensus.
One must remember that when Ramadan seeks to unite all Muslims together to ask for the forgiveness of their sins from Almighty, at the same time it seeks to establish communal harmony and tolerance with the followers of other religions.
The writer is a PG student at Department of Politics and Governance, Central University of Kashmir. [email protected]