We are currently in the Islamic holy month of Ramadan 2013 in which Muslims abstain from food, drink and sexual relations between the break of dawn and sunset. This year in the UK the period of fasting is around 18 to 19 hours and Muslims in other parts of the world, such as Scandinavia, fast for even longer. Many, Muslims and non-Muslims alike, will be asking why do this? Why avoid fulfilling the desires which are a fundamental part of our make up as humans?
To answer this question, I will firstly go to the Quran, which Muslims believe is the word of God. In the second chapter, He says:
"O you who believe! Observing the fast is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may become God-conscious." - (Qur'an 2:183).'
This verse explains that Ramadan is a month of training and a time for increasing a Muslim's closeness to God. As well as fasting, Muslims are also strongly encouraged to pay extra attention to their actions. Using bad language and talking badly of people are not permitted at anytime especially during Ramadan. More time is spent in prayer, most notably in the Teraweeh prayers after the normal night (Isha) prayer; reading and reciting the Quran and giving generously towards charity.
Throughout their lives, Muslims believe that everything they do, good and bad, is recorded and presented back to them as part of their individual accountability in the Hereafter. Ramadan is a time when the reward for each good deed is multiplied, encouraging Muslims to be on their best behaviour; striving to do good and better their character during the month.
At this point you may be thinking what has fasting got to do with becoming a pious person? I read a great article which explored the benefits of fasting. It discussed that urges for food, drink and sexual relations are some of the most pleasurable desires to fulfil yet at the same time can also cause great harm, in this life and in the Hereafter. Many of us will have heard about the increasing numbers of people who are obese in the UK and the detrimental impact this has on health. Serious illness and even deaths result from people eating too much. Promiscuity also brings its health risks along with the damage to relationships, families and ultimately wider society.
The goal is not to ignore these desires completely as Islam does allow us to fulfil them. However it is important to regulate them and ensure they are fulfilled appropriately and in a way that benefits us as individuals and as a society. Fasting helps us learn to control these desires and pay closer attention to our purpose and submit only to God.
As we come towards the end of this month it is important for Muslims to remain focused on the purpose of Ramadan. It is a time of training any progress made in self-development should be carried forward. Fasting doesn’t have to end when Ramadan is over; it can continue throughout the year, something which is encouraged twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays, as practiced by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). We should continue to recite and study the Quran and not allow it to gather dust and continue to observe our behaviour throughout the year.
I hope that your Ramadan has been beneficial so far and that we can all make the most of the final days, God willing.