When we study the history of religions we find plenty of commonalities among different religions of the world. One commonality is fasting for the sake of the Almighty God, the Creator and Lord of the entire universe.
Remembrance of God the Almighty and pondering over His attributes helps man in refining his spirit, bringing it more into harmony with the nature of God. Man who was created on the image of his Lord and he must ever strive to gain closeness to Him. Man is supposed to adopt the attributes of God and he should reflect them in his personality and in everyday life. If we think about it we can see that those who develop a close relationship with God, those who think according to His will and try their best to act like Him within the limitations of the human sphere constantly improve in their relations with all other human beings and even other forms of life.
Fasting is a great form of worship found universally in the world religions. Although there are vast differences regarding the mode of fasting and the conditions applied to it, the central idea of fasting is present everywhere. Where it is not mentioned clearly, it is likely that it may gradually have either been discontinued or petered out through gradual decay in practice.
The people of all the religions of the world give great importance to this worship because, on the one hand, this worship will bring man close to his Lord and, on the other, it will provide an opportunity for him to think about the vulnerable and needy human beings and, thus, establish a great relationship with God and mankind.
The institution of fasting is extremely important because it cultivates the believer in almost every area of his spiritual life. Among other things, he learns through personal experience about what hunger, poverty, loneliness and discomfort mean to the less fortunate sections of society. Abstention from even such practices during the month of Ramadan as are permissible in everyday life plays a constructive role in refining the human character.
Muslims are going through the month of Ramadan when they fast each day from dawn to the sunset. The Quran states: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.”
The very basic and primary essence of the fast is not to experience hunger and thirst but the main purpose is to get closer to God and better oneself as human beings.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him, said: “Many people who fast get nothing from their fast except hunger and thirst and many people who pray at night get nothing from it except wakefulness.”
It means that just being hungry and thirsty is not enough. One must spend all the days of Ramadan observing all the conditions in both letter and spirit. One has to struggle a lot, make sacrifices that go much beyond hunger and thirst, worship one’s Creator and serve and help His people.
During the fast, apart from resisting food and water, Muslims are required to abstain from all evils, vain and immoral talks, abuse, fights, quarrels, causing harms to others and from committing any such action unbecoming the dignity and honour of a true believer in God.
They are required to spend as much time as possible in prayers, worship, seeking the everlasting paradise of His pleasure, asking for His forgiveness and begging for His blessings and bounties. Fasting is a spiritual practice to attain the love of God. Prophet Muhammad, peace be on him said: “If a person does not eschew falsehood and false conduct, Allah has no need that he should abstain from food and drink.”
Alms-giving and care for the destitute is also one great objective of fasting and Islam gives a lot of importance to it. Zakat (charity) is one of the five pillars of Muslim faith but in Ramadan Muslims are expected to spend even more on charity.
They are required to double their spending in aid of the poor, the vulnerable and those in need.
In brief, Ramadan is a month of self purification, attaining everlasting pleasure of the Almighty God, establishing a close relationship with the Creator, helping and serving humanity and enhancing sincerity for mankind.
This is the month which gives us the opportunity to seek peace with God, to spread peace in the world and to take care of society.
This is the time to find real peace of mind, which lies in the remembrance of Allah the Almighty and in the service of humanity.
The author is president of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Jamaat Malta.