Introduction to Islam
by Dr. Zahid Aziz
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you (in earlier religions), so that you may guard against evil…. And when My servants ask thee (O Muhammad) about Me, surely I am near. I answer the call of the supplicant when he calls on Me.” (The Holy Quran 2:183,186)
What is fasting as prescribed by Islam?
Fasting is a form of training to refrain from all wrong-doing by learning to control one’s desires. It consists of giving up, for a fixed period of time, the most basic urges which human beings have, i.e. the urge to satisfy hunger, thirst and sexual desire, and devoting oneself to serving and helping others while disregarding one’s own needs.
How is fasting done in Islam?
During the month known as Ramadan in the Islamic calendar, every day from the start of daylight in the early morning till sunset, one must not eat or drink (or have sexual relations). You take a meal while it is still dark just before dawn breaks, and then do not eat or drink anything at all until sunset when the fast ends. During the hours of fasting, extra effort must be made to be kind, generous and helping to others, and to avoid doing anything bad or harmful to other people.
Does every Muslim have to fast in Ramadan?
Every healthy adult Muslim man or woman must fast during Ramadan. Those who happen to fall ill or be on a journey during any part of this month do not have to fast on those days and should complete the missed fasts after Ramadan. People who are permanently unable to fast, or those whose reasons for not fasting are prolonged, such as the very old, the longterm ill, and women who are pregnant or feeding babies, etc., can give in charity instead of fasting. This charity consists, at the least, of giving a day’s food to one poor person for every fast missed.
How does fasting enable us to give up the bad desires which lead to wrong-doing?
During the fast, a person feels the urge to have something to eat or drink, but he withstands this strongest of all desires, in obedience to God. This daily training, for a month, exercises and strengthens his ability to control bad desires in everyday life which lead to wrong-doing. This is just as physical exercise strengthens the body, and enables it to fight off illness more easily.
Are there any other moral benefits of fasting?
Yes. Firstly, man is drawn closer to God because when he feels hungry or thirsty during the fast it is the thought of the nearness of God which stops him from satisfying his desires. This makes him feel that God is always near at hand. Secondly, fasting teaches one to be patient and resolute in difficulties, for that is what one does during the fast. Thirdly, it makes us realize the great blessings of food and drink which are so easily available, but which we normally take for granted. Fourthly, it curbs the feelings of greed that develop in people when they have all that they need, and even more.
And what does fasting teach us about how to treat other people?
It makes us realize the suffering and the feelings of those who are deprived and destitute. A very important purpose of fasting is to learn to care about the needs of other people by being less concerned with oneself. This is why charitable acts of all kinds are especially encouraged during the month of fasting. By giving up your right to consume your own food and drink during the fast, you train yourself to be able to give up something that is rightfully yours, voluntarily and cheerfully, in order to help and serve others.