I saw a photo of a child wearing a cap before Friday prayers, on The Times of September 20, page 24, which drew my attention to the need to write something about Ramadan and Muslim fasting. It is obligatory for Muslims to fast one month every year in the month of Ramadan. The Holy Quran states: “O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed for you during a fixed number of days as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may safeguard yourselves against every kind of ill and become righteous.”
The true purpose of Ramadan, as of all forms of Islamic worship, is to draw people closer to Allah and closer to mankind. Though normal pursuits and occupations are carried on as usual, the emphasis on moral and spiritual values and concentration on them are intensified, and everything is subordinated to the main purpose. The hearing, the sight, the tongue, the mind are all under stricter control. For instance, not only vain talk, but much talk is also eschewed, so that there should be greater concentration on remembrance of Allah and reflection upon His attributes.
Fasting in Islam begins everywhere at the first appearance of dawn, and ends with sunset. During this period one is expected to abstain from all food and drink completely.
It is not just physical hunger and thirst that constitute the Muslim fast, but the nights prior to the beginning of the fast acquire a far more important character and play a central role in the institution of fasting. The Muslims wake up many hours before dawn for individual prayer and the remembrance of God.
Also the Holy Quran is recited in every Muslim house much more than in ordinary days. A greater part of the night is thus spent in spiritual exercises which make up the very essence of fasting. During the day, apart from restraining oneself from food and water, all Muslims are particularly exhorted to avoid vain talk, quarrels and fights, or any such occupation as is below the dignity of a true believer.
In Islam, alms-giving and care for the destitute is so highly emphasised that it becomes part of a Muslim’s daily life. However when it comes to Ramadan, the month of fasting, Muslims are required to redouble their efforts in this field. It is reported of the Holy Prophet that spending in the cause of the poor was a routine daily practice with him which has been likened unto a breeze, never ceasing to bring comfort and solace to the needy. However during Ramadan, the reporters of the Ahadith – the sayings of the Holy Prophet (Peace be on him) – remind us that the breeze seemed to pick up speed and began to blow like strong winds. Alms-giving and care for the destitute are so highly emphasised, that in no period during the year do Muslims engage in such philanthropic purposes as they do during the month of Ramadan.
The institution of fasting is extremely important because it cultivates the believer in almost every area of his spiritual life. Among other things, he learns through personal experience about what hunger, poverty, loneliness and discomfort mean to the less fortunate sections of society. Abstention from even such practices during the month of Ramadan as are permissible in everyday life plays a constructive role in refining the human character.
Laiq Ahmed Atif
Ahmadiyya Muslim Association Malta, Ta’Xbiex
The Times of Malta