The institution of fasting manifested through the month of Ramadan is extremely important. It provides an opportunity to its practitioners to reinforce one's faith in the almighty through the process of self-purification as it cultivates the practitioner in almost every area of one's social and spiritual life. Among other things, a practitioner also learns through personal experience about what hunger, poverty, loneliness and discomforts mean to the less fortunate sections of our society.
Abstention from such practices during the month of Ramadan as are permissible in everyday life plays a constructive role in refining the human character. We can gather the maximum possible socio-spiritual benefits from this, provided we understand the meaning and significance of this month. This is the month of patience and perseverance. This is also the month of mutual love, sympathy, mercy and forgiveness.
I believe that the fast should not affect the daily avocations and it should not be a pretext for neglecting normal duties. Islam never approves, much fewer demands, of keeping vigil during the whole night and passing the following day in sleep and indolence. Fast means a greater effort to perform all the usual duties and something else-more prayers and more charity, and all this in the absence of food and drink.
Although the definition of fast indicates restraining the stomach, in essence, the tongue, eyes, ears and even heart are equally obligated to be restrained if the practitioner wants to gain the total rewards of fasting. This is why the Messenger of Allah (saas) has been reported as saying in a hadith by Abu Hurairah:
“He who does not desist from obscene language and acting obscenely (during the period of fasting), Allah has no need that he did not eat or drink.” (Bukhari Muslim)
Apart from helping to achieve purity of body and soul through this process of self-purification, addressing areas of social significance are bound to help people shed all those things which are not socially desirable. The practice of the concept of neighbourhood and charity are equally important. The Prophet had said, “One should behave decently with the whole of humanity and foremost among them is your neighbour. “
On charity, it is said that if one gives -say a charity of rupees ten during the month of Ramadan, he will get 70 times more blessings in return. This is a great motivation and in reality, an average middle-class Muslims do follow this more meticulously than others.
Additional prayers are prescribed after dinner, which helps metabolize the food. Using a calorie counter, when the calories burnt during the special night prayer of Ramadan (tarawih) were counted, it amounted to 200 calories. This form of prayer as well as the five daily prescribed prayers use all the muscles and joints and can be considered a mild form of exercise in terms of calorie output. The promise of immensely great rewards in exchange for common deeds of virtue during Ramadan was essentially made to them as a part of this exercise in self-discipline
One of the greatest advantages of observing the month of fasting is that its true observance inculcates in a person a habit of speaking truth, a commodity that is becoming very rare nowadays. As the Prophet (SAW) remarks in one of the hadith that “one who does not give up lying and associating partners with Allah, Allah is in no need of his giving up food and drink”.
If a person speaks the truth, practice the concept of hospitality and neighbourhood and gives charity as advocated above, he or she will certainly become a true ‘Insan' and will be bestowed with God's blessings and protection, which we all need so desperately in these modern times.
It is high time that the Muslims face the realities of the contemporary situation and demonstrate through the observance of ‘Roza' (in its totality), Islam's relevance in today's world.
(The author is Social Scientist and a Former Vice Chancellor of IGNOU based in New Delhi and can be reached at [email protected] )