The wisdom behind fasting
By Said bin Salim -THERE is a wisdom behind
every act in Islam, no matter how big or small. In time we may know the
wisdom behind some acts, and for others we may never know.
Salaat, the five daily prayers for instance, is a daily training for purifying a believer and reminding him that he is a member in a community of believers. Fasting, on the other hand, is an annual institution containing all conceivable attributes for human excellence. It is a training for the body and soul, a renewal of life, encouraging the spirit of sharing and giving. The following are some of the general benefits:
Taqwaa (self-restraint): Allah states: O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may learn self-restraint. (Al Quran, 2:183)
This verse indicates the first lesson or wisdom to be gained by fasting. Self-restraint, (Taqwaa) or the fear of Allah, instils in the heart the essence of consciousness of the Creator, which leads to moral courage both in self and in public, by guiding the heart (the seat of emotions) from spoilage and moral indecency.
Fasting instils Taqwaa by controlling two aspects of the human body, which are the root causes of downfall — the stomach and the private parts. The human body is constructed with the need to please the two of them and, in the process, man transgresses the rights of other fellow human beings, and even violates Allah’s Commandments. Fasting raises the level of Taqwaa, thus, eliminating the chances to commit sins, which are detrimental to life itself.
One of the most benefiting factors of fasting is that its observer is able to control or change his or her old or so-called ‘unbreakable’ habits. The reason being that human life is an embodiment of acquired habits. To change or control a habit is to wage a war on oneself.
If jihad is mandatory on every believer because it is the peak of the essence in Islam, and it entails changing habits, then fasting is the training ground for the inevitable that will occur. The believer cannot wage a war and hope to defeat an enemy if he cannot even wage a war against his own desires.
Thus, the fasting person is admitted to the compulsory training only in Ramadhan. The learning in this school is obligatory and succeeding or scoring high is mandatory. The Prophet, Peace be upon Him (PBUH), said: Many a faster receives naught from his fast except the pain of hunger and thirst.
How does Ramadhan fasting help control habits? The answer is simple. The two most important habits are eating and drinking. An average person eats three meals a day, 21 meals a week. The way the fast is structured, with its basic and drastic alteration of eating habits, a fasting person takes only light meals early in the morning and late in the evening.
If a believer can do that then it will undoubtedly be easy for him or her to control other habits, including the habit of smoking, drug abuse and illicit sex. If one can control his tongue, hands and all the other parts of the body for a month then it will be easy for him to apply the same training for the rest of the year.
Fasting is a sentinel against disease, provided that the faster follows the strict dietary rule: eat during fast breaking and avoid over-eating. Allah states: Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters. (Al Quran, 7:31) A great deal of ailments originates from stomach indigestion. This is why the Messenger of Allah says: The son of Adam will never fill a container with something worse and evil than his stomach. It will suffice him some morsels that will keep him on his feet, otherwise, he should divide his stomach into three parts: one-third for his food, the other for his drink and the other third for his breath. (Ibn Hibban). This hadith indicates that the stomach is the origin of harmful bacteria. For the non-faster, the stomach will have no chance for rest.
When the stomach is empty, as a result of fasting, it gets well-desired rest, to renew and rejuvenate its energy. With the fasting, the stomach is forced to go through a discharge whereby harmful residues are eliminated through perspiration as the body searches for food during fast. During fast, the system of secretion is organised, and this in turn benefits the blood pressure, inhibiting hardening of the arteries. The heart and kidney functions are enhanced as the workload tapers off. Fasting helps to correct the problem of obesity and diabetes. Doctors over the years have used fasting as a prescription for certain ailments.
There was a discussion between Ali bin Husain bin Waquid and Caliph Haroon Ar-Rasheed’s Christian physician about Islam’s outlook on the science of medicine and healthcare. The physician said to Ibn Waquid: “There is nothing in Quran about medicine. If Quran is a book of science, what about this science? Aren’t there two kinds of sciences: the science of the body and the science of the soul?”
Ibn Waquid responded: “Allah, the Most High has combined both sciences in half of a verse, when He states: Eat and drink but waste not in excess, for Allah loves not the wasters. (Al Quran, 7:31) The physician then said: “Why, then, has nothing been mentioned about medicine?”
Ibn Waquid replied: “Our Messenger, has combined the sciences about medicine in a few words when he says: The stomach is the house for disease and prevention is the essence of medicine.”
The physician then said: “Then your book, Quran, and your Prophet Mohammad left nothing about medicine for Jalienas (a famous physician of the ancients).” (Arkanul Arba’ah by Abul Hasan Nadwi)
An American physician published a report on fasting and its benefits saying: “It is mandatory on every person who is sick to restrain from food certain days in a year whether he be wealthy or poor. Because if bacteria can find food in abundance in the body, it will grow and multiply. But with fasting it becomes weak.”
He then praised Islam. It should be considered as the wisest religion, for as it mandated fasting it has mandated healthcare. He continued: “Indeed, Muhammad, who brought this religion, was the best physician who succeeded in his teachings, for he called for prevention before ailment. That is apparent in fasting and the nightly prayer (Taraweeh) that Muslims observe after breaking the fast every day in Ramadhan. These physical acts contain big benefits in digesting food.” (Arkanul Arba’ah by Abul Hasan (Nadwi)
Fasting helps in conditioning the heart, the soul and the body on the virtues of patience, tenacity and firmness in the face of adversity. Patience is the pinnacle of self-mastery, discipline and spiritual agility. Patience is to turn the phrase “I can’t” into “I can.” It is to say the difficult is easy. It is an inner and psychological demolition of things perceived by others as impossible.
Fasting helps all the virtuous and patient. Since the condition is that if a believer can exercise patience and forsake gourmet food and drink and all its exhilaration, as well as marital association for a month with the realisation that the barrier between you and food is the consciousness of his Creator, then he is able to exercise patience in virtually everything.
Socially, fasting is an expression of solidarity with the poor, the family and the whole society. This is a period in which the rich have first-hand experience of what it is to be poor. They experience the pains that the poor and needy suffer in normal living conditions.
The process of disciplining resulting from Islamic fasting instils in the rich the virtue of mercy, which is very important in terms of social well-being, and proliferation of harmony. Allah bestows His mercy upon those who themselves are merciful to others. The Messenger said: Those who are merciful to others, the Merciful will have mercy upon them. He continued, Have mercy upon those on earth, and those in heaven will have mercy upon you. (Abu Dawud/Tirmidhi)
Fasting strengthens family ties, especially because the family is an endangered institution in the modern society. It helps the family gather together to break fast at Iftar, and then eat sahuur (food before fasting) together at least twice a day for a month. The family even makes Salaat together with normally the head of the family as an Imam.
Fasting enhances and energises friendship, as Ramadhan is known as the month of invitations and visitations. Friends, family members and neighbours extend invitations to each other to come to their homes to have Iftar together. The Messenger said, When a believer invites you, you should respond. The Muslims gather together in the mosque for the Taraweeh prayers every night for a month.