By: Laiq Ahmed Atif, President Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta – firstname.lastname@example.org: Malta Independent
Who can understand the importance of food and water more than those who have ever passed through hunger, thirst or any kind of famine during their lifetime? The month of Ramadan is also an exercise for having such hard and difficult experiences. And these experiences, at one side provide the opportunity to reform the spirituality and to increase in the love of God, and on the other, they are also a time to understand the sufferings and problems of those who do not have sufficient food or water for their life; and to develop great feelings for the vulnerable and destitute people of this planet. Indeed, the Ramadan is a clear understanding of the two basic principles of religion – rights of God and rights of people.
Fasting is a form of worship found universally in the world religions; for religious and spiritual reasons it has been a part of human custom since pre-history. Although there are differences regarding the mode of fasting and the conditions applied to it, the central idea of fasting is present everywhere. Fasting is clearly mentioned in the Holy Bible, in the Holy Quran as well as in the Mahabharata (Hindu Holy Book). Fasting in Judaism means completely abstaining from food and drink. Fasting is also a very integral part of Hinduism.
In Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, they used to observe a 40-day fast during Lent, a spring period of penitence before Easter, and during Advent, a penitential period before Christmas. Among Roman Catholics the observance has been modified with mandatory fasting only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during Lent.
Islam also emphasises a lot on fasting, and it is obligatory for Muslims to fast one month every year during 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.” (2:184)
The true purpose of fasting 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.
It is indeed God’s promise that He guides those to Him who come towards Him with absolute sincerity, He runs to those who at least walk towards Him. A great source to attain nearness to God is fasting. Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, said that Allah puts a distance of more than 70 years (Arabic idiom meaning a great deal) between the face of a person who fasts in the way of Allah seeking His blessings and the hell-fire. Indeed it is vital to fast in the quest of God’s grace and if the attainment of His pleasure is the sole objective, He not only saves one from the fire but also grants the paradise of His pleasure, in this world and the Hereafter.
And one who makes a solemn endeavour to seek Allah never fails. Because, if we can feel compassion for a student who works hard for school exams, how could God not have mercy and compassion to allow one who endeavours to seek him to come near Him? Certainly not!
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. Sacrificing self-desires and needs for the sake of the pleasure of God, and individual and congregational prayers, obligatory as well as optional, are very important factors of fasting. And it is not just physical hunger and thirst that constitute the fast, but it is expected to fill the nights with prayers and supplications. And 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.
Through fasting one learns what hunger, poverty, loneliness and discomfort mean to the less fortunate sections of society. Thus, one develops a great sense of sacrifice, almsgiving, helping those in need and serving the destitute and vulnerable fellow human beings. Therefore, charity and almsgiving are highly emphasised during Ramadan and it is required that those who help the needy during other periods of the year should try to redouble their charities for the needy.