Ramadan and its Significance

Observing Fasting in its True Spirit / Importance of self-reform and abstention from base desires

The Light & Islamic Review (US), March/April 1992 Issue (Vol. 69, No. 2, pp. 4–5)

Editor’s Note: By the time readers receive this issue, the month of Ramadan will have commenced, and therefore it is timely to reiterate the teachings of Islam as to the true significance of fasting and its real sense.

  1. یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا کُتِبَ عَلَیۡکُمُ الصِّیَامُ کَمَا کُتِبَ عَلَی الَّذِیۡنَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِکُمۡ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تَتَّقُوۡنَ“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil” (The Holy Quran, 2:183).
  2. “And when My servants ask you (O Prophet) about Me, surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way” (The Holy Quran, 2:186).
  3. “And swallow not up your property among yourselves by false means, nor seek to gain access thereby to the authorities so that you may swallow up other people’s property wrongfully while you know” (The Holy Quran, 2:188).
  4. “He who does not give up uttering falsehood and acting according to it, God has no need of his giving up his food and drink” (The Holy Prophet Muhammad [pbuh]).
  5. Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, and explained it by saying: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:2–4). Moses also fasted forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28).

Purpose of fasting in Islam:

  1. To develop and strengthen our powers of self-control, so that we can resist wrongful desires and bad habits, and therefore “guard against evil” (extract no. 1). In fasting, by refraining from the natural human urges to satisfy one’s appetite, we are exercising our ability of self-restraint, so that we can then apply it to our everyday life to bring about self-improvement.
  2. To attain nearness and closeness to God so that He becomes a reality in our lives. As we bear the rigours of fasting purely for the sake of following a Divine commandment, knowing and feeling that He can see all our actions however secret, it intensifies the consciousness of God in our hearts, resulting in a higher spiritual experience (see extract no. 2).
  3. To learn to refrain from usurping other’s rights and belongings. In fasting we voluntarily give up even what is rightfully ours; how can then we think of taking what is not ours? (See extract no. 3)
  4. Charity and generosity is especially urged during Ramadan. We learn to give, and not to take. The deprivation of fasting makes us sympathise with the suffering of others, and desirous of alleviating it; and it makes us remember the blessings of life which we normally take for granted.

Fasting in Islam does not just consist of refraining from eating and drinking, but from every kind of selfish desire and wrongdoing. The fast is not merely of the body, but essentially that of the spirit as well (see extract no. 4). The physical fast is a symbol and outward expression of the real, inner fast.

Fasting is a spiritual practice to be found in all religions (see extracts no. 1 and 5). The great Founders of various faiths (Buddha, Moses, Jesus, etc.) practised quite rigorous fasting as a preliminary to attaining their first experience of spiritual enlightenment and communion with God. This kind of communion is indicated in extract no. 2.

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad says:

“People are unaware of the true nature of fasting. The fact is that no country or realm can be described if one has not been there. Fasting is not just the state of remaining hungry and thirsty. Its nature and effect can only be discovered by experience. The human makeup is such that the less food is consumed the greater is the purification of the soul and the development of the powers of inner vision. God’s purpose is that you should reduce one kind of food (physical) and increase the other kind (spiritual). The person fasting must remember that the aim is not simply to remain hungry; he should be engrossed in the remembrance of God so as to attain severance from worldly desires. The object of fasting is that a person should abstain from the food which nourishes the body and obtain the other food which satisfies and brings solace to the soul. Those who truly fast for the sake of attaining to God, and not merely as a custom, should be absorbed in the praise and glorification of God, and in meditating upon His Unity.”

Maulana Muhammad Ali:

“The real purpose of fasting is to attain righteousness. A person who undergoes hunger and thirst, but does not behave righteously, has done nothing. If someone is told the aim and object of doing a certain duty, and he does that duty but does not attain the required aim and object, it is as if he has not done that duty.”

The Maulana used very strongly to urge the members of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Community to say the tahajjud prayers during the month of Ramadan:

“You have to rise early in any case to begin the fast; rise even earlier (by half an hour or an hour) and say tahajjud prayers”.

One of the several prayers he advised us to say is as follows:

“O God! the spreading of Your name in the world is that mighty work for which You have always been raising Your special servants, and it was with Your help that they succeeded in achieving that great end. It was one such servant who set us on this work. But we are few, we are weak, we have no resources. Those who oppose us are not only those of other creeds, but even our own put obstructions in our way. Help us through Your mercy, give us the strength You gave Your righteous ones, and illumine our hearts with the light with which You illumined their hearts.

“O God! the most difficult work is the spreading of Your name in the world. Whenever it has happened, it has not been brought about by the strength of a man or an army but by Your succour and aid. So, we beseech You for Your help and aid which You grant to Your righteous ones.”