In recent posts, I have written about the first two pillars of Islam, shahadah and salah. The third pillar of Islam is fasting the month of Ramadan, in Arabic saum Ramadan. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. During Ramadan, Muslims who are physically able are required to fast from dawn to sunset. Fasting means refraining from food, drink, smoking, and sexual intercourse. Basically, they do not take anything into their system during daylight hours. The month lasts either 29 or 30 days, at the end of which is a feast called Eid ul-Fitr.
Ramadan is significant because it is the month that the Qur’an was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad by the Archangel Gabriel in 610 C.E.:
Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an as a guide to mankind also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So everyone of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spent it in fasting, but if anyone is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful. (Chapter 2, verse 185)
Thus, Muslims spend more time throughout the month reading the Qur’an. The Qur’an is divided into 30 parts, so that it can be completed over the course of a month.
The night that the Prophet Muhammad first received the revelation is an auspicious night. This night is called the Night of Power, in Arabic laylatul Qadr, and occurs sometime in the last ten days. On the Night of Power the rewards of all acts of worship are multiplied. Chapter 97 in the Qur’an is about this night:
We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the night of Power: (1) And what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is? (2) The Night of Power is better than a thousand Months. (3) Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by Allah’s permission, on every errand: (4) Peace!… This until the rise of Morn! (5)
Fasting is required for several reasons. First, it is prescribed in the Qur’an, in verses 183-184 in chapter 2 as a practice of believers:
O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that ye may (learn) self-restraint.? (183) (Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the prescribed number (should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it (with hardship) is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more of his own free-will?it is better for him, and it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.
Second, as these verses underscore, fasting develops self control. While fasting, a Muslim is not only supposed to refrain from food and drink, but also from committing sins. The training of Ramadan should help a Muslim throughout the rest of the year.
Third, fasting makes believers reflect on the numerous blessings that they have been given and to have a sense of empathy for the less fortunate. Ramadan is time of reflection and meditation.
Although fasting is difficult, Ramadan is a joyous month filled with festivities. During the month, people will make special dishes and eat with family and friends. People also spend more time with each other at the mosque performing extra nightly prayers called taraweeh prayers. Moreover, in many countries, there is even special television programming during the month of Ramadan.
Fasting during Ramadan is meant to cultivate a higher sense of spirituality in the believer that is supposed to help them lead upright lives throughout the rest of the year.
Do you fast? What do you think are the benefits of fasting? What other faith traditions require fasting? Do you think fasting leads to spiritual growth? Please share your comments below.