Why Ramadan, Why Fasting?
Ramadan is a season of worshipping peculiar to one month every year in which we are ordered to perform fasting, which is one of the pillars of Islam. Fasting is a kind of worship that has many benefits like making us notice that we are slaves, understanding the value of the bounties, educating our souls, understanding the state of the needy people in the community and being a means of diet for the body. We will evaluate some of those benefits in items:
1. Fasting in Terms of Noticing the Bounties
God Almighty created the earth in the form of a table containing limitless bounties. He surrounded man, who is the most valuable guest in the universe, with the bounties that He created in this table and presented him bounties “from sources he never could imagine”.
The honeybee, which is a poisonous insect, makes honey that is much more than it needs for the benefit of man acting upon the revelation of Allah; the silkworm, which has no hands, eats leaves and weaves silk for man acting upon the revelation of Allah. Allah put all of the realm of the beings under the service of man so that we will understand his providing sustenance and lordship.
However, man cannot usually notice those bounties of Allah since he is heedless and since causes function as veils; he can think that things take place based on causes without associating them with Allah.
In Ramadan, all Muslims wait for the order,“Help yourselves!..” until the evening like guests that have been invited to the feast of their Sustainer. While waiting, they avoid eating, drinking and sexual intercourse, virtually acting like angels. Thus, they have the opportunity to notice the bounties that we have mentioned above and to understand how valuable they are, and they try to fulfill their duty of thanking. The whole earth virtually eats and drinks together like an army, worshipping universally.
I wonder if those who prefer eating and drinking like animals in this lofty season of worshipping instead of spending time worshipping like angels deserve to be called humans.
2. Fasting in Terms of Fulfilling the Duty of Thanking for the Bounties
One of the wisdoms behind fasting in Ramadan is that it is a means of understanding the value of the bounties and thanking for them.
Bounties reach us through various ways. For instance, let us think how an apple reaches us. An apple goes through various means like the person who grows and picks it, the person who sells it, etc before it reaches us.
We usually think that bounties are given to us by those agents and we do not see God Almighty, the real owner of those bounties. Instead of thanking God Almighty, the one that really deserves thanking, we thank the person who gives us the apple.
In fact, the whole universe was made work for that apple because the sun is necessary, the world has to rotate, the wind has to blow and the clouds have to work for the production of that apple. A lifeless seed that enters the lifeless, colorless, tasteless and odorless soil turns to a living plant and yields sweet aromatic fruits. That is, these unconscious creatures show us God Almighty, who has knowledge, will and power, in the background by acting like conscious beings.
The state of a person who does not see the real owner of the bounties in the bounties that are sent to him through various means can be understood better through the following example:
Suppose that a sultan sent you some presents through an envoy. If you thank the envoy that gives you the presents and do not heed and think about the sultan at all, it will be a wrong act.
All of the means that bring the bounties to us are like that envoy. The real owner of the bounties is God Almighty. He wants us to thank Him in return for the bounties He gives us. To thank Him means to know that the bounties come from Him, to appreciate those bounties and to need those bounties.
Fasting in Ramadan is the key to a real and sincere thanking because under normal conditions people do not feel the real hunger if there is not an obligation. Therefore, the value of the bounties is not understood if one is not hungry. Those whose stomachs are full and especially if they are rich, do not understand the degree of bounty there is in a piece of dry bread .
At the time of iftar, that piece of dry bread is a very valuable divine bounty in the eye of a Muslim and its taste is appreciated. Everybody, from the sultan to a very poor person, thanks God spiritually by understanding the value of those bounties in Ramadan.
Since eating is prohibited during the day, they will say,“Those bounties do not belong to me. I am not free to eat them, for they are another’s property and gift. I await His command.”, appreciating the bounty and thanking.
Thus, fasting is in many respects is like a key to gratitude, which is man’s fundamental duty.
3. Benefits of Fasting in Terms of Social Life
One of the wisdoms behind the order of fasting is that it helps different layers of the community to understand the lifestyles of one another better.
Human beings have different livelihoods. Some of them are rich whereas some lead a poor life. As a consequence of the difference, God Almighty invites the rich to assist the poor through zakah and sadaqah. In fact, under normal conditions, the rich cannot truly understand the pains and hunger that the poor suffer. They can feel it only by fasting. If there were no fasting, there would be many self-indulgent rich people unable to perceive just how grievous hunger and poverty are and how needy of compassion those who suffer them are.
Compassion for one’s fellow men is an essential of true thankfulness. Everybody can find someone poorer than himself in some respect; he is enjoined to be compassionate toward that person. If he were not himself compelled to suffer hunger, he would be unable give the person, by means of compassion, the help and assistance that he is obliged to offer. And even if he did, it would be deficient because he would not truly experience the state of hunger himself.
4. Benefits of Fasting in Terms of Training the Soul
One of the wisdoms behind the order of fasting is that it is the ideal kind of worship for the training of the soul. The soul regards itself free and wants to act freely. It even thinks it has a kind of lordship. It does not want to admit that it is being sustained and trained through innumerable bounties. Especially if it possesses wealth and power in this world, and if heedlessness blinds it, it will devour God’s bounties like a usurping, thieving animal without thinking about the Creator that gives those bounties.
Thus, in the month of Ramadan, the soul of everyone, from the richest to the poorest, understands that it does not own itself, but is totally owned, that it is not free, but is a slave. It understands that if it receives no command, it is unable to do the simplest and easiest thing; it cannot even stretch out its hand towards water. Its imaginary lordship is therefore shattered; it performs its worship and begins to offer thanks, its true duty.
Besides, fasting in Ramadan strikes direct blows at the soul’s pharaoh-like front, shattering it. It demonstrates its impotence, weakness, and poverty, making it realize that it is a slave.
Among the narrations of Hadith is the following:
“God Almighty said to the soul:
‘What am I and what are you?’
The soul replied: ‘I am myself and You are Yourself.’
Then, He punished it and put it into Hell, then asked it again. Again, it replied: ‘I am myself and You are Yourself.’ No matter how He punished it, it did not give up its egoism.
Finally He punished it with hunger. That is, He left it hungry. Then, He asked it again: ‘Who am I and who are you?’
The soul said, ‘You are my Compassionate Sustainer and I am your impotent slave.’”
5. Benefits of Fasting in Terms of Making Man Understand His Weakness
Fasting has many benefits in terms of making man understand how poor he is when the plenitude of his needs are taken into consideration and that he is too weak to meet those needs. One of those benefits is as follows:
Man may forget himself through heedlessness. He does not see or does not want to see what a weak, poor and erring creature he is. However, man has endless spiritual needs like love and compassion along with his endless material needs like air and water. He can meet very few of those needs himself. He needs rain for water. Man cannot make it rain. If man wants to eat bread it is necessary for the sun to work, the world to rotate and the clouds function, etc. We all know very well that man is too weak to do them.
Man does not think of just how weak he is, and how subject to transience and to disasters he is, nor of the fact that he consists merely of flesh and bones, which quickly decline and are dispersed. Simply, he assaults the world as though he possessed a body made of steel and imagined himself to be undying and eternal. He hurls himself onto the world with intense greed and voracity and passionate attachment and love. He is captivated by anything that gives him pleasure or that benefits him. Moreover, he forgets his Creator who trains it with compassion, and he does not think of his aim of creation; he does not think of the eternal life; and he wallows in dissipation and misconduct.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan awakens even the most heedless and obstinate to their weakness, impotence, and poverty. By means of hunger, they think of their stomachs; they understand the need therein. They realize how unsound their weak bodies are, and perceive how needy they are for kindness and compassion. So, they abandon the soul’s pharaoh-like despotism, and through recognizing their utter impotence and poverty, perceive a desire to take refuge at the Divine Court. And they prepare themselves to knock at the door of mercy with the hands of thankfulness so long as heedlessness has not destroyed their hearts!
6. Ramadan is the month of the Quran
Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed. Fasting was ordered in this blessed month in which the Quran was sent down in order to welcome this divine call in the best way.
In this month, man resembles angels by shunning the lower demands of the soul and trivialities and by abstaining from food and drink. He can read and listen to the Quran as though it was just revealed, listen to the Divine address in it as if it was being revealed that very moment, attaining a lofty state. Some people with lofty spirits can even listen to that address as though hearing it from the Messenger of Allah (pbuh), from Jibril, or even from God Almighty Himself, attaining that same holy state. Man can act as an interpreter and convey this divine message to others, spending this time period in accordance with the aim of his creation and with the month in which the Quran was sent down.
In the month of Ramadan, the whole Islamic world becomes like a mosque. In every corner of that mighty mosque, millions of those who know the whole Quran by heart cause the dwellers on the earth to hear the heavenly address. Each Ramadan displays the verse, “It was the month of Ramadan in which the Qur’an was bestowed from on high” in a luminous shining manner. It proves that Ramadan is the month of the Quran. Some of the members of the vast congregation listen to the reciters with reverence, while others read it themselves.
Following the appetites of the soul and quitting that luminous condition through eating and drinking in a time period when the whole Islamic world turns the earth to a mighty mosque is truly loathsome, as it is expressed in the following example:
If someone plays a game instead of performing prayers in the mosque and sings a song instead of listening to the Quran, he shows great disrespect; similarly if someone eats and drinks in Ramadan, when the whole Islamic world performs fasting and reads the Quran, he shows great disrespect toward the Quran and those who worship.
7. Ramadan is the Best Time Period for the Hereafter Trade
Man was sent to this world to cultivate and trade for the hereafter. The month of Ramadan is the most appropriate time period for this trade because the reward for actions in the month of Ramadan is a thousand fold. Each word of the Quran has ten rewards when it is read and will yield ten fruits in Paradise. In Ramadan, each word bears not ten fruits but a thousand, and verses like Ayat al-Kursi thousands for each word, and on Fridays in Ramadan, it is even more. And on the Night of Power, each word is counted as thirty thousand rewards.
Indeed, the Quran, each of whose words yields thirty thousand eternal fruits, is like a luminous Tree of Tuba that gains for believers in Ramadan millions of those eternal fruits. So, come and look at this sacred, eternal profitable trade, then consider it and understand the infinite loss of those who do not appreciate the value reading the Quran.
The month of Ramadan is an extremely profitable display and market for the trade of the hereafter. It is an extremely fertile piece of land for the crops of the hereafter. For the growth and flourishing of actions, it is like April showers in the spring. This meritorious period of time is like a brilliant holy festival for the parade of the believers’ worship to the other creatures in the universe and their Creator.
Therefore, man was ordered to fast so as not to heedlessly indulge the animal needs of the soul like eating and drinking and not to indulge the appetites lustfully and in trivialities. Thus, it becomes possible for man to be freed from bestial needs and assume the angelic state.
The month of Ramadan comprises and gains a permanent and eternal life in this fleeting world and brief transient life. Certainly, when it is spent truly, a single Ramadan can produce fruits equal to that of a lifetime of eighty years of worshipping since it contains the Night of Power.
For example, a monarch may declare certain days to be festivals during his reign, and on those days, he favors his subjects. Similarly, the All-Glorious Monarch of eighteen thousand worlds, who is the Sovereign of Pre-Eternity and Post-Eternity, revealed in Ramadan the illustrious decree of the Quran, which looks to the eighteen thousand worlds. It is a requirement of wisdom, then, that Ramadan should be like a special Divine festival, a dominical display, and a spiritual gathering.
Since Ramadan is a divine festival, man was commanded to fast so that he would be disengaged, to a degree, from base and animal activities. The most excellent fasting is to make the human senses and organs, like the eyes, ears, heart, and thoughts, fast together with the stomach. That is, to withdraw them from all unlawful things and from trivia, and to urge each of them to their particular worship.
For example, to ban the tongue from lying, backbiting, and obscene language and to make it fast and to busy it with activities like reciting the Quran, praying, glorifying God’s Names, asking for God’s blessings on the Prophet, and seeking forgiveness for sins make the tongue perform a perfect fast. And for example, to prevent the eyes from looking at members of the opposite sex outside the stipulated degrees of kinship, and the ears from hearing harmful things, and to use the eyes to take lessons and the ears to listen to the truth and to the Quran, is to make other organs fast too.
8. Benefits of Fasting in Terms of Man’s Personal Life
Fasting in Ramadan has many benefits in terms of man’s material and spiritual life. Fasting is a healing physical and spiritual diet of the most important kind. When man’s soul eats and drinks just as it pleases, it is both harmful for man’s physical life from the medical point of view, and when it hurls itself on everything it encounters without considering whether it is licit or illicit, it quite simply poisons his spiritual life. Furthermore, it is difficult for such a soul to obey the heart and the spirit. It willfully takes the reins into its own hands, and then man cannot ride it, it rather rides man.
Decreasing eating and drinking, and spending time worshipping have an important role on the training of the soul applied by some saints. Fasting in Ramadan helps us train our soul and make it obey the truths.
The stomach that continuously works at normal times by being crammed with food before the previous consignment has been digested takes a rest. And by abandoning eating and drinking, which are licit actions, as it is commanded, the spirit and the soul of man will acquire the ability to listen to the commands of Allah. Thus, his spiritual life becomes more organized.
Moreover, the great majority of the mankind frequently suffer from hunger. Man needs hunger and discipline, which are training for patience and endurance. Fasting in Ramadan is patient endurance of a period of hunger that continues for fifteen hours, or for twenty-four if the pre-dawn meal is not eaten, and it is a discipline and a training. That is to say, fasting is also a cure for impatience and lack of endurance, which increase man’s afflictions.
Furthermore, man has many material and spiritual organs that are connected to the stomach. If the stomach does not rest for a month every year, the organs connected to the stomach will forget their particular duties and be engaged in eating and drinking. Therefore, saints have accustomed themselves to discipline and to eating and drinking little in order to be elevated spiritually.
Through fasting in Ramadan, the workers of the factory of the body understand that they were not created for eating and drinking only. In return for the delighting in the lowly amusements of the body, the spirit and spiritual faculties of man take pleasure in angelic and spiritual amusements in Ramadan.
Therefore, in Ramadan the believers experience enlightenment, fruitfulness, and spiritual joys depending on their degrees. Their subtle faculties, such as the heart, spirit, and intellect, make great progress and advancement in that blessed month by means of fasting. They laugh with innocent joy in spite of the stomach’s weeping. They laugh with innocent joy in spite of the stomach’s weeping.
al-Hawbawi, Durratu’l-Waizin, p. 11.
” al-Baqara, 2/185
Tirmizdhi, Fadailu’l-Quran, 16; Majmau’z-Zawaid, 7/163.
Daylami, Musnadu’l-Firdaws, 3/130.
see al-Qadr, 97/3.
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