Thursday, 26 June 2014

Why fast in Ramadan?

Ramadan is around the corner again! Naturally, Muslims around the globe are excited about this month and eager to welcome it. Some of my non Muslim friends might be confused as to why we are so excited about a month where we basically keep off food and water for a good chunk of the day. I have been asked this question a few times before so I thought I'd write a post just to explain it for those who might be interested.

Ramadan is one of the holy months for Muslims. Fasting in this month is obligatory for all adult Muslims who are physically able to do so (pregnant women, nursing mothers and the sick are exempt from it). It constitutes the third pillar of Islam.

"It was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur'an was revealed as a guidance for the mankind, clear messages giving guidance and distinguishing between right and wrong. So any one of you who sees in that month should fast, and anyone who is ill or on a journey should make up the lost days by fasting on other days later. God wants ease for you, not hardship. He wants you to complete the prescribed period and to glorify Him for having guided you, so that you may be thankful." [Qur'an, 2:185]

Fasting was prescribed to us as a spiritual and physical cleanser. I find this month all the more meaningful in the current context where we are increasingly subjecting our minds to the toxic trash propagated by pop culture and our bodies to harmful processed "foods". The physical act of fasting from food is coupled with the mental exercise of fasting from negativity, anger, and self-destructive rhetoric. We are asked to be patient and restrain ourselves from letting our emotions rule our actions. It's a month that acts as a springboard for physical and mental self discipline. Ramadan is the ideal opportunity to break an addiction or at least get started on the journey.

Fasting in Ramadan is a lesson in empathy. When we go through the day knowing there is food right in front of us that we could just grab and eat but can't, we are reminded of millions of our poor brothers and sisters around the world whose everyday reality is hunger and thirst. We are reminded of children born into poverty with hunger as their sole companion and of parents who give away a part of themselves each day in their quest to provide their young ones with a square meal a day. Fasting forces us to empathise and then works as a call to action. It tells us "now you know what hunger feels like. So do something for those who fast involuntarily everyday." It tells us charity is not our benevolence but rather our responsibility to humanity.

Fasting leads to gratitude for what we have, no matter how little it is. That moment when after 16-18 hours of fasting you see the sun set and take that first sip of water-you feel this wave of gratitude and relief wash over you. And nothing can ever replace that feeling of gratefulness as cool liquid cascades down your parched throat and quenches your thirst. Nothing comes close to the feeling of gratitude as you sit around a table with your family sharing a delicious meal lovingly put together by your mother. It sounds really outlandish, but keeping away from food and water throughout the day helps put into perspective all the small blessings in our life that we take for granted- like the privilege of having a loving family, a warm community, a healthy body and a million other things that go unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of everyday. It's hard to encapsulate that feeling in mere words, the feeling of a kind of joyful exhaustion, Of solace in the knowledge that this is not in vain, that this abstinence will lead to growth. Who knew that keeping away from physical nourishment would lead to replenishment of the soul?! 

Ramadan is about reevaluating our life and reconnecting with our goals. It's a sad reality that life gets in the way of our aspirations and dreams. Work, education, and now even social media get in the way and slowly erode our vision for ourselves. Don't get me wrong, there's nothing wrong in working for that perfect job or struggling for that degree. But at what cost? I often feel that as a society we place undue emphasis on material success. But the tradeoffs to reach "the top" are just not worth it. Fasting helps us put these things into perspective. It gives one the time to acknowledge what truly matters- our sense of self, our family and friends, our community- and motivates us to work towards solidifying those aspects rather than jumping blindly into the rat race to nowhere.

Above all, fasting is a spiritual exercise that makes one conscious of God as they go about the day. No one forces 1.5 billion people to go hungry and thirsty from dawn till dusk for 30 days, and yet we still do it. Why? Why fast when no one can really determine if you are actually doing it or not? Just one answer-for God. Fasting is for God. And what is one month of fasting really when we look at the other 11 months that the One blesses us with? God doesn't need us to fast, but we still do it for the million blessings sent our way. Not even a lifetime of fasting is enough to repay the blessing of being able to see, of the sense of touch and the ability to tell hot from cold, of being loved and loving back.
I realize this has evolved into a mini essay, but it's hard not to be excited! If you have any questions about Ramadan, please feel free to message me and insha Allah I'll try to help. In a world where people are increasingly alienated from each other, efforts to understand each other and what makes us will hopefully benefit us in more ways than we can imagine.


  1. Thank you very much for this informative post.You have very clearly explained the immense benefits one will derive by fasting for one whole month. Yes,it will fortify not only our spirit, but our whole being as well.

  2. My Muslim friends here in the Philippines are very excited for Ramadan 2014. They said if it wouldn’t start tomorrow, then it would be on Sunday depending on the moon sighting. I respect how much they cherish this occasion and also enjoy it, especially their Muslim delicacies. :D Happy Ramadan to everyone, dear friends and may your purpose be done. Cheers!!

  3. An informative and a very well written article. Keep up the good work!

    Have a blessed Ramadan. JazakAllah! :)

  4. An informative and a very well written article. Keep up the good work!

    Have a blessed Ramadan. JazakAllah! :)