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believe! fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed
to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint" (-
2:183). As this quotation from the Holy Quran indicates, the
institution of fasting is not new.
been in practice for ages, particularly as a means of appeasing
divine wrath or promoting divine compassion through self-denial.
It is said of fasting: "Its modes and motives vary considerably
according to race, civilisation and other circumstances, but
it would be difficult to name any religious system of any
description in which it is wholly unrecognised".
however, gave a new meaning to the concept in that it made
fasting a spiritual, moral and physical discipline, and raised
the institution to a much higher pedestal. It was in the second
year of Hijra that fasting during the holy month of Ramadan
was made obligatory for Muslims. It came after the institution
of prayer and is the third of the five pillars of Islam (the
other four are: faith in the oneness of Almighty God and the
last prophethood of Muhammad, prayer, Zakat and Hajj).
fast, unlike the fasts previously observed, is not meant for
self-torture. Although it is stricter than other fasts, it
also provides alleviation for special circumstances.
were merely a temporary abstention from food and drink, it
would be salutary to many people who habitually eat and drink
in excess. The instincts for food and drink are strong in
animal nature, and a temporary restraint from all these enables
one's attention to be diverted to higher things. This is necessary
through prayer, contemplation and acts of charity, not of
the showy kind, but by seeking out those really in need.
standards are prescribed, but much higher standards are recommended.
The Holy Quran says: "(Fasting) for a fixed number of days;
but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the prescribed number
(should be made up) from days later, for those who can do
it (with hardship) is a ransom, the feeding of one that is
indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will,
it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast,
if you only knew" (- 2:184). "Ramadan is the (month) in which
was sent down the Holy Quran, as a guide to mankind, also
clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and
one of you who is present (at his home) during that month
should spend it on fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a
journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) from days
later. "God intends every facility for you: He does not want
to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the
prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided
you ; and per chance ye shall be grateful" (- 2:185).
regulations are repeatedly coupled with an insistence on two
things: One, the facilities and concessions given and two,
the spiritual aspect of the fast without which it is like
an empty shell without a kernel. If we realise this we shall
look upon Ramadan not as a burden but as a blessing, and shall
be duly grateful for the lead given to us in the matter. T
of the holy month is manifest in the fact that Almighty God
chose it for the revelation of His scripture. It was therefore
in Ramadan that the first ray of Divine light fell on the
holy Prophet's mind, and Gabriel made his appearance with
the greatest Divine message.
month which witnessed the greatest spiritual experience of
the holy Prophet was thus considered to be the most suitable
time for the spiritual discipline of the Muslim community
which was to be effected through fasting. Fasting in Islam
is primarily a spiritual discipline in that it aims at attaining
nearness to Almighty God.
awakens in man new consciousness of a higher life, a life
above that which is maintained by worldly pleasures, and this
is the spiritual life. There is also a moral discipline underlying
fasting, for it is the training ground where man is taught
the greatest moral lesson of his life - that he should be
prepared to suffer the greatest privation and undergo the
hardest trial rather than indulge in that which is not permitted
has a social value, too. The commencement of the holy month
is a signal for mass movement towards equality which is not
limited to one vicinity or even one country but covers the
whole Islamic world.
a medical point of view, Ramadan is a blessing. Going without
food and drink is a sheer necessity for the human body which
helps man to keep himself fit.
of fasting is piety. The Muslim fast has a body as well as
a soul: the abstinence from food, drink and other pleasures
is the body; self-restraint and worship is its soul. If one
does not strive to nourish one's soul during fasting, one's
fast will be mere starvation. On the other hand, the soulful
fast must purify the heart and mind. The object is not persecution
of self, but its elevation.
fasting generates faith, love and fellow feeling and its essence
lies in keeping away from all evils, both in words and deeds.