Ustaz Ridhwan is a member of the Asatizah Youth Network. Trained in social sciences & Islamic thought, he spent 13 years of education in local madrasahs, before pursuing his Political Science degree at the National University of Singapore. He then furthers his postgraduate studies on Islamic Political Thought at the International Islamic University Malaysia.
Ramadan is a special month for Muslims. It is the month where we seek to increase our spirituality and get ourselves closer to God. Fasting marks a significant act of worship that defines the month-long spiritual experience. However, beyond abstaining from thirst and hunger from dawn to dusk, what exactly is the significance of fasting? In this article, we breakdown four ways to internalise the essence of fasting in Islam and the significance of Ramadan.
1. Fasting is not uniquely a Muslim tradition
The act of fasting practised by Muslims worldwide is, in essence, a practice that is neither unique nor exclusive to the faith of Islam. In ordaining the Muslims to fast, God had described that indeed this act of fasting had been practised by the people of the other traditions. Muslims believe that fasting had been prescribed to the followers of the previous Prophets, including the people of Moses, Jesus, Noah (peace be upon them) and others.
Allah s.w.t says in the Quran,
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
“O YOU who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God”
Fasting is indeed a shared tradition in the history of human civilisation. It is a practice we Muslims share with other spiritualities and religions. Different religious traditions manifest the act of fasting differently. It differs generally on the duration of fasting and on what an observant religionist can do or cannot do while fasting. However, what is common to a fasting person is the act of abstaining from something, for a specific duration, as defined in his or her religious tradition.
2. Fasting is not just abstaining from food and drinks
Not even water? Often, as Muslims, we are being asked that question. The answer is yes, we cannot even drink while fasting. However, the act of fasting is beyond abstaining from food and drink, from dawn to dusk. Fasting is beyond observing the physical abstention. A fasting person is reinforced to refrain from saying anything hurtful or non-beneficial. For instance, Muslims must not speak ill, spread lies or even pass unnecessary comments.
In today’s digital age, the online world may lead us to do things that may affect our fasting. Therefore, we need to exercise self-restraint, both online and offline. Refrain from being preoccupied with unnecessary matters and affairs that have nothing to do with us. Only provide positive comments, and if there we have nothing beneficial to share and express, silence should be our default action. The Prophet s.a.w. reminded us that, “He who believes in Allah and the Last Day must either speak good or remain silent.” (Hadith narrated by Imam Muslim) In observing our fast, we are also required to control our anger.
Indeed, fasting is hence a test of patience and emotional endurance. It requires us to recognise our limits with humility and to change ourselves for the better.
3. Fasting has its social dimension
The act of fasting also includes the social dimension, besides improving and benefiting oneself inwardly. Fasting should lead one to improve our relations with others. It is in the fasting month of Ramadan where meals are shared and family, friends and neighbours gather for iftar together (breaking of the fast). It is an opportune moment to forge new relationships and friendships, and to strengthen existing ones. We are blessed to have the opportunity to gather to break our fast together.
Islam emphasises that a good Muslim is a good neighbour. Muslims are thus commanded to maintain good neighbourly relationship. The more affluent among us are encouraged to share food with our neighbours, and it is during the month of Ramadan that this practice is being reinforced. To be aware of our neighbors’ well-being and welfare is a commendable act. This is, in fact, our enduring endeavour as Muslims in following the footsteps of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., whom we regard as the paragon of virtues and morality. In one of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad s.a.w., he mentioned that “those who believe in God and in the hereafter, should show hospitality to their neighbours.” (Reported in Sahih Bukhari and Sahih Muslim). We are called to do good to our neighbours regardless of their religious and ethnic background. We can invite our neighbours to join us for our break fast and forge closer neighbourly relations.
In the month of Ramadan especially, where rewards for good deeds are being multiplied, Muslims are encouraged to make charitable contributions to the less fortunate and the needy. This month of Ramadan, Muslims strive to seize the opportunity to radiate compassion to humanity. As a pro-active member of the society, we are thus reminded in this month not to forsake the plight of the less fortunate and the needy. We are told to show care and concern, to share and to empathise. There are endless opportunities to do good this Ramadan. There are many organisations that run their charity drive and several welfare organisations that call for volunteers to assist with their projects.
4. The fasting month is a spiritually-energizing month
The month of Ramadan, the month where Muslims fast during the day, and increase prayer during the night, is in essence a month that calls for Muslims to rethink our day-to-day conduct. A month of discipline, a month that serves as an annual training period to reinforce good behaviors and exemplary conduct. It is also a month that we identify as the month of mercy and forgiveness. A month that provides opportunities for spiritual enhancement. A month of deep devotion and reflection.
Ramadan is the only month where the special tarawih are observed every night. It is also the month where we increase our qiyam (late night prayers). Ramadan is also a month that is closely associated with the Quran. After all, the first of the final revelations to humankind were revealed in the month of Ramadan. We use the opportunity of this sacred month to recite the Quran more than in any other months. Beyond reciting, Quran is a scripture that calls for us to internalise its meanings and practice its values. Therefore, we should take this opportunity to get close to our sacred text and ponder upon its messages and manifest them in our lives today.
Allah s.w.t says in the Quran,
لَوْ أَنزَلْنَا هَذَا الْقُرْآنَ عَلَى جَبَلٍ لَّرَأَيْتَهُ خَاشِعًا مُّتَصَدِّعًا مِّنْ خَشْيَةِ اللَّهِ وَتِلْكَ الْأَمْثَالُ نَضْرِبُهَا لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَفَكَّرُونَ
“If We had sent down this Quran upon a mountain, you would have seen it humbled and coming apart from fear of Allah. And these examples We present to the people that perhaps they will give thought.”
This blessed month of Ramadan is also a month where we forgive and get closer to one another. It is also a month where we Muslims seek forgiveness from Almighty God on all the wrongdoings and humble ourselves before Him as His servant, in our service to humanity.
Ramadan is indeed a month that provides splendid opportunities for spiritual enhancement and social upliftment. It is is a month of renewal, a month of transformation, a month of resolution. May Allah s.w.t. bless us with the rahmah (mercy) of Ramadan, and may we be among His servants to spread this rahmah to others. Amin.