Social and Physical Values of Fasting in Ramadan
Al-Azhar Magazine – September 1975
The institution of fasting in Islam came after the institution of prayer. It was made obligatory and the month of Ramadan was chosen for this purpose. The practice of fasting has been recognised in all religions, though the forms and motives vary. Islam introduced a new meaning to fasting, as it is made a spiritual, moral and physical discipline of the highest order.
It will be seen from the words of the injunction that laid down in the Holy Quran relating to fasting in the month of Ramadan, that the choice of this particular month for this institution is for evident reasons. The Holy Quran says:
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)
It is well known that the revelation of the Holy Quran first began in the month of Ramadan. As the month which witnessed the beginning of the Great Divine message, Ramadan was considered to be the most suitable month for the spiritual discipline of the Muslim community. On the other hand it is due to the choice of a particular month, with its advent the whole Muslim world moved by one current from one end to the other. When they witness the tiny crescent of Ramadan they change the course of their daily lives; and there is a great mass movement in the Muslim world. This is due to the specification of a particular month for this institution.
A lunar month has been chosen for fasting because the advantages and disadvantages of the particular season in which it falls are shared by the whole world. A solar month would have given the advantages of shorter days and cooler weather to one part of the world, and burdened the other with the disadvantages of longer days and hotter weather. For these evident reasons, the lunar month is more in consonance with the universal nature for the teachings in Islam; and all people have the advantages and disadvantages equally distributed.
Referring to the object of fasting the Holy Quran says:
يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيۡڪُمُ ٱلصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبۡلِڪُمۡ لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَتَّقُونَ
“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, that ye may ward off (evil);” ( 2: 183)
أَيَّامً۬ا مَّعۡدُودَٲتٍ۬ۚ فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوۡ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ۬ فَعِدَّةٌ۬ مِّنۡ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَۚ وَعَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ ۥ فِدۡيَةٌ۬ طَعَامُ مِسۡكِينٍ۬ۖ فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيۡرً۬ا فَهُوَ خَيۡرٌ۬ لَّهُ ۥۚ وَأَن تَصُومُواْ خَيۡرٌ۬ لَّڪُمۡۖ إِن كُنتُمۡ تَعۡلَمُونَ
“(Fast) a certain number of days; and (for) him who is sick among you, or on a journey, (the same) number of other days; and for those who can afford it there is a ransom: the feeding of a man in need – but whoso doeth good of his own accord, it is better for him: and that ye fast is better for you if ye did but know” ( 2: 184)
It is evident that the Holy Quran enjoins fasting with the object of making man ascent the spiritual and moral heights. In addition to its spiritual and moral values, fasting as prescribed in Islam has also effective social values. The appearance of the moon of Ramadan is a signal for a mass movement towards equality which is not limited to one section or country but affects the Muslims everywhere.
The rich and the poor, the high and the low, the master and the servant, the ruler and the ruled, the black and the white, go through a similar experience for a whole month. When the rich are made to feel the pangs of hunger like the poor and go without food for a day, this course undoubtedly awakens sympathy for the poor in the hearts of the rich and thus a great social barrier that exists between the two classes will be removed. It is for this reason that the helping of the poor is especially enjoined in this month of Ramadan. Also this month brings together Muslims, rich and poor, big and small, in great numbers in the Mosques and other places to perform prayers. When they stand shoulder to shoulder, seeking the pleasure of Almighty God, they realise the terms of a healthy social relations and equality. Another aspect of social development of man by fasting is that he is thus taught to conquer his physical desires; he takes his food at regular intervals and that is no doubt a desirable rule of life, but fasting for one month teaches him the lesson that instead of being the slave of his desire he should be their master, being able to change the course of his life. The man who is able to rule his desires, to make them work as he likes, in whom will power is so developed that he can command himself. The exercise of abstaining from everything that is not allowed strengthens the moral side of his life. Fasting accustoms him to face the hardships of life, and increases his powers of resistance. The man who can face the hardships of life, is able to live at times without his usual comforts and can be fit for a healthy social life in all times and climes.
In addition to its social values fasting has many physical values. The rest given to the digestive organs for a whole month only gives the additional strength by rest. All organs of the body are so made that rest only increases their capacity of work. The better capacity of the digestive organ, the healthier is the physical growth of man.
Some ignorant have claimed that fasting hinders productive faculties for a month. But by widening the horizons of scientific research in every field it has been proved that fasting aims at the good of both individual and society, not only in its spiritual and moral value but in its physical value. Modern medicine has stated that after the increase that has taken place in the variety of dishes, that man eats and the diversification of the ways of cookery he should fast completely for a certain period. Some opinions have called for fasting a day in every week, others have limited fasting to a week in in every month, but it has been found that the best of these opinions agreed upon is fasting for a month every year.
Some of the world health resorts, in Germany and Switzerland and in other countries have been obliged to prescribe treatment by fasting. In this way science calls for fasting. In this way science calls for fasting. Medical studies have proved that the fasting may be considered as a protection and a form of treatment. It is protection against diabetes because it helps to prevent increase in weight.
It has been discovered lately that the increase of uric acid in the body causes many dangerous diseases to all the systems of the body. Fasting effectively restricts the increase of uric acid. It is also notable that fasting leads to the decrease of the harmful activity of intestinal microbes and restricts their secretion of poisons. Doctors always advise their patients to lessen the amount of food and try to reduce their weight. Fasting, as it causes the reduction of the quantity of water in the body, blood and skin, may be considered one of the important factors in the cure of skin diseases.
Fasting is also useful to increase the mental and intellectual activity of man. Modern science has proved that this activity can be increased by hundreds and man’s production with a full stomach. Because eating leads to the rushing of greater quantities of blood to the stomach and to the other parts of the digestive system to help in digestion. This process lessens mental and intellectual activities. It also lessens bodily activity, and this is why the doctors advise us to stop work when the stomach is full. So modern science calls for fasting and clarifies the fadct that the good of fasting is not limited to the perfection moral character of the man, but iti is also one of the most important means of perfection of the individual character. Fasting is one of the means which creates honesty in man’s life. The hungry man who sees food and dares not get near it, he finds himself thirsty and leaves water near untouched. It also creates honesty in man, for he fasts with no censorship but his conscience after God, then fasting is an effective means to cultivate honesty and to check the whims of the soul, and to lessen his agitation. And so the Quran calls for fasting to implant many good manners needed by man in life and called for by all educational means and scientific ways just as overlooking every unlawful or detestable thing; keeping out of hearing every hateful thing. Explaining the very purpose of the fasting the Prophet sates: “He who renounces not falsehood in speech and work, God needs not from him to leave his food and drink”.
The Quran and the sayings of the Prophet stress that the seeking of Divine pleasure should be the ultimate object in fast. The Prophet says: “fasting is a shield, so the faster should not indulge in foul speech…” He also said: “ if it is the fasting day of one of you, he has not to be fussy or excited, and he were insulted or attacked, by anybody, he would have to say ‘I am fasting’. Not the deepest devotion can develop that sense of the nearness to the God and of His presence everywhere, which fasting does. The Divine presence which may be a matter of faith to others, becomes a reality for him and this made possible by the spiritual discipline underlying fasting. He touches neither food nor drink, simply because he believes that it is the commandment of God that he should not do so. In the inner recesses of his house there is none to see him if pours down his dry and burning throat a glass of water, yet there has developed in him the sense of the Presence of God to such an extent that he would not put a drop of it in his tongue. Not only whenever a new temptation comes before him he overcomes it because just there is an inner voice “God is with me and He sees me “. Thus a new consciousness of a higher life, a life above that which is maintained by eating and drinking, has been awakened in him and this is the highest value established through fasting.