O Believers, Observe Saum — the fasting, it is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you (Jews and Christians), that you may become Al-Muttaqun — the God-concious, the pious ones.
Ramadan offers this central theme for Muslims: complete submission of mind and body to seek closeness to God in order to attain piety and consciousness of our Creator, ourselves and the creation around us.
Ramadan, which begins this week, is also significant because it fulfills one of the five pillars of Islam. Saum means fasting or abstaining. It is an obligatory form of worship for Muslims. In almost all traditions fasting was observed by abstaining or giving up something — food, water, personal pleasures — or parting with their wealth as charity. In some cases, giving up speaking to attain solitude and silence. However, the purpose of this worship in Islam is to prepare an individual to be a virtuous and upstanding person who will discharge his duties to his Creator on one side and to the society on the other.
During Ramadan, Muslims fast from dawn to sunset — no food or water; no sexual relationship; no thoughts of carnality, connivance, plotting or scheming against others. The heart is purified from lust, bigotry and hate, shielding all other faculties from indulging in lies, cheating or deceit and any other form of ill will toward others.
This season allows Muslims to seek a spiritual asylum into their inner being in order to reflect upon life and the purpose of their existence, which is complete submission and obedience to Allah (God) and to seek His pleasure — nothing less. It is an opportunity for introspection, discipline, patience, charity, compassion and solitude. The month-long self-imposed deprivation of sleep, eating no food from dawn to sunset and living in conscious resistance to vices, while advancing virtues, instills discipline.
Ramadan is the month of inward and outward consciousness. In today’s society, where we have become extremely unconscious consumers of our time, life, resources and relationships, Ramadan brings us back to become conscious of ourselves and of the universe around us. This consciousness creates a character without ego and judgment.
Ramadan is the month for soul searching and modifying the behavior to become the best of the creation. It is the month to ask forgiveness for mistakes and rectify the future behavior. It is the month of prayers and good wishes. God Almighty promises that He accepts the prayers of His servants more than other times in this month and grants them what they wish for.
Fasting liberates the self from the self. It helps formulate the ideal Islamic character in a believer who abides by the divine commands to abstain, even in private, with no witnesses other than omnipresent God. He develops a sense of duty to respect the Unseen Authority; it is a test of resolve to choose between material and spiritual benefits; between the pleasures of this world and the rewards of the Hereafter — all for the pure pleasure of God.
It is training the human soul to let go of instant gratification and work for the long-term good that brings about the positive change in our communities
Thirty days of fasting is a radical reform for human soul. It is a time for charity, to attend to the relatives, the weak and the vulnerable in the community. Fasting is a means of testing man’s determination and will power, and an important aspect of man’s relationship with God. It is a discipline that teaches man how to rise above his physical needs and overcome the pressure of temptation in order to earn God’s blessings and reward.
Rabia Khan is a resident scholar at the Islamic Foundation of South Florida and a member of the Coalition of South Florida Muslim Organizations.