Fasting : an Institution for Moral Elevation and Spiritual Development

Al-Azhar Magazine October 1973

Fasting is a universally recognised religious instituition. It was enjoined upon all nations and prescribed in all scriptures before Quran. This universal character of the institution of fasting is made clear in the Holy Quran ( Verse 183, Chapter 2). It does not mean that the fasts observed by the different religious communities are alike in number of days, the time or manner of fasting, or in other incidents; but it only means that the principle of self-denial by fasting is not a new one.

Islam has introduced quite a new meaning into the institution of fasting. Although the Muslim fast is stricter than other fasts, it also makes easier in special circumstances. Fasting in Islam meant an institution for the improvement of the moral and spiritual character of man. The object is that man may learn how he can shun evil, for one who is able to renounce the lawful satisfaction of his desire in obedience to the Will of God, certainly acquires the power to renounce the unlawful satisfactions.

If it was merely a temporary abstention from food and drink it would be salutary to many people who habitually eat and drink to excess. In fact abstention from food is but a step to make a man realise how more expedient it is that he should refrain from evil. Fasting is , infact, like a sort of training of man’s faculties, for as every faculty of man requires training to attain its full force, the faculty of submission to Divine will should also require to be trained.

One must abstain during every day of the month of Ramadan from eating, drinking and smoking from dawn to sunset, he must likewise abstain from thinking of carnal and other pleasures. It appears a rigorous discipline, but one can get accustomed to it very soon if he shows good will and inclination. The fast extends over a lunar month. The result is that the month of fasting (Ramadan) rotates turn by turn through all the seasons of the year, summer, winter, autumn and spring. In this way one undergoes all these experiences as a spiritual discipline in obedience to the Will of God.

In order to subjugate the body to the spirit, it is necessary to break the force of the body and increase that of the spirit. It is evidenced by the experience that nothing is as efficacious for this purpose as hunger, thirst, renunciation of carnal desires, and the control of the tongue, the mind with its thoughts and other organs. Nature sometimes rebels, and its behaviour at other times is one of submissiveness. It has been remarked that the over power of animal nature hinders the perfection of the human spirit, and fasting brings comfort of the mind and purification of the soul.

It is worth to be observed that neither eating nor drinking is the characteristic of the Angels; and in imposing this habit, man makes himself resemble the Angels, and his actions are intended to conform to the commands of God. The ultimate result of this systematic practice may be more amd more approach to obtain the nearness of God and His pleasures which is the supreme aim of purposeful life on this earth, and the highest grade of spiritual development.

The instituition of fasting in Islam has the legitimate object of restraining the passions, by abstinence for a limited and definite period, from all the gratifications of the senses, and directing the overflow of the animal feelings into a moral channel. This rule of abstinence is restricted to the day time. In the night time the Muslim is allowed to refresh the system by partaking in moderation of food and drink and otherwise enjoying himself lawfully.

During the fast abstinence of mind from all bare thoughts is as incumbent as the abstinence of the body unnecessary mortification of the human body is condemned in Islam. Fasting is prescribed to the able-bodied person as a means of chastening the spirit by imposing restraint in the body. For example, the sick, the traveller, the weak and the women in their ailments are allowed to do not keep fast in the month of Ramadan, and they may fast an equal number of other days.

The rules and wisdom of the institution of fasting are summerised in the following verses of the Quran:

شَہۡرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلۡقُرۡءَانُ هُدً۬ى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَـٰتٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡهُدَىٰ وَٱلۡفُرۡقَانِ‌ۚ فَمَن شَہِدَ مِنكُمُ

ٱلشَّہۡرَ فَلۡيَصُمۡهُ‌ۖ وَمَن ڪَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوۡ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ۬ فَعِدَّةٌ۬ مِّنۡ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ‌ۗ يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ بِڪُمُ ٱلۡيُسۡرَ وَلَا

يُرِيدُ بِڪُمُ ٱلۡعُسۡرَ وَلِتُڪۡمِلُواْ ٱلۡعِدَّةَ وَلِتُڪَبِّرُواْ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَٮٰكُمۡ وَلَعَلَّڪُمۡ تَشۡكُرُونَ (١٨٥)

(The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you; and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure ye may be thankful.) (2:185)