Fasting in one form or the other does exist in almost all the religions. However, fasting or ‘Roza’ as practiced by Muslims is an elaborate process of self-purification. The Qur’an says, “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint (Qur’an, A-Baqara, 2:183). The month of fasting or Ramadan involves a wide range of responsibilities on the part of those who observe fasting.
Normally, the fast should not affect the daily avocations, and it should not be a pretext for neglecting normal duties. Islam never approves, much less demands, of keeping vigil during the whole night and passing the following day in sleep and indolence. Fast means a greater effort to perform all the usual duties and something else, more prayers and more charity, and all this in the absence of food and drink. Fasting should make one remember the hunger and starvation of the poor and develop empathy for the deprived people. It is an opportunity to experience hunger so that people will understand the pain of the hungry and will go forward to help them. Ramadan fasting is also an exercise in self-discipline. For those who are chain smokers or who nibble food constantly, or drink coffee every hour, it is a good way to break the habit.
The human being consists of physical, emotional, biological and spiritual parts. A balanced mix of these can lead to excellence. The fasting during the month of Ramadan orients the observer of the fast to the art of balancing the spiritual essentials with other parts. It helps curb the animalistic tendencies originating from the stomach. It is an effective tool for sobering of a mind and reconstruction of our spiritual faculties.
There are a number of health benefits which originate from the month of fasting. The basic among them being that Allah does not encourage overeating, the root cause of many diseases. The Ramadan fasting is a sentinel against disease, provided the faster follows the strict dietary rule: It is categorically stated, “…Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not wasters” (Al-Qur’an, 7:31). We also have additional prayers prescribed after the dinner during the month of Ramadan. According to one estimate, using a calorie counter, the amount of calories burnt during the special night prayer of Ramadan (tarawih) amounted to 200 calories. It is stated that this form of prayer as well as the five daily-prescribed prayers use all the muscles and joints and can be considered a mild form of exercise in terms of calorie output.
Concepts of hospitality, neighbourhood and charity
The concepts of hospitality, neighbourhood and charity are important virtues apart from self-purification, which the month of Ramadan is expected to imbibe among the followers of Islam. The Prophet had said, “Those who become happy on hearing the sound of the footsteps of a guest, God will forgive their sins”. It is thus a great incentive to practice the concept of hospitality.
The practice of the concept of neighbourhood is equally important. It has wider connotations than its literal meaning. The Prophet had said, “One should behave decently with the whole of humanity and foremost among them is your neighbour.” If one connects it with the concept of fasting, an immediate implication is that a true Muslim cannot see any human being hungry, even if it means having to sacrifice ‘iftar’ and to continue fasting for the next day. Similarly, a true Muslim cannot see a human being in pain or misery. It applies to both one’s immediate neighbourhood as well as humanity at large. What we are witnessing around us in the name of Islam is not Islam. In essence Islam in general and ‘roza’ in particular teaches a person to address human concerns and values.
On charity it is said that if one gives, say, a charity of ten rupees during the month of Ramadan, he will get 70 times more blessings in return. This is a great motivation and in reality an average middle class Muslims do follow this more meticulously than others. The rich on the other hand do it for the sake of fame & name. A Muslim is also expected to take stock of his personal wealth, both cash and kind, every year and calculate ‘Zakat’ which is to be earmarked for distribution among the poor and needy.
Of the greatest advantages of fasting in the month of Ramadan is that its true observance inculcates in a person a habit of speaking the truth: a commodity that is becoming very rare nowadays. If a person speaks the truth, practices the concept of hospitality and neighbourhood and gives charity as advocated above, he will certainly be entitled to God’s blessings and protection, which we all need so desperately in these modern times.
The writer is a Sociologist and has served as Vice-Chancellor of IGNOU. He can be reached at: [email protected]