The ritual of fasting

The ritual of fasting, the third pillar of Islam, is observed each year by Muslims throughout the entire month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim, Hejry, calendar. The period of fasting each day lasts from the first light of dawn until sunset, thus obliging devotees to make radical changes in their entire daily routine. Since no food or drink whatsoever is to be consumed during daylight hours, they experience the sharp pangs of hunger and thirst, and the fatigue and weakness which accompany them. This abstinence, day after day, from the basic essentials of life teaches a lesson in endurance; it is this willing submission of devotees to the hardships of fasting which strengthen their capacity for patience and fortitude.

In spite of the physical handicaps imposed by fasting, they remain alert, discharging their duties and carrying out their responsibilities. When they see food and water before them, feel tempted to eat and drink, but then refrain from doing so, their will-power is strengthened each time they resist temptation. In this way, they prepare themselves to lead a disciplined and responsible life, in which they do what is right and eschew what is wrong. Despite the difficulties strewn in their path, they press on towards the achievement of the true Islamic goal of life.

God has bestowed innumerable blessings upon man in this world – the air, the light of the sun, the rain, the water of rivers, lakes and seas being the most basic to his needs. But because these things come to man with little or no effort on his part, he tends to take them for granted. He does not see them for the great blessings that they are. He does not pause to consider how all of them have been specifically created to meet his own precise needs. Were one of these amazing blessings to be completely withheld, life would become intolerable. It is only when he observes the ritual of fasting that he truly realizes their significance and has a proper sense of gratitude for them. It is when, in the evening, after a day of hunger, thirst, exhaustion and discomfort, a man consumes food and drink, that his awareness of God’s bounty is most intense. That is when he feels truly grateful to the Creator and Sustainer of life. Were he to give up his whole life to the service of God, he would feel that it was nothing compared to the limitless blessings bestowed on him by his Maker.

The life which a believer is required to live on earth is, from beginning to end, a life of patience. He must confine himself to what is lawful and keep his distance from what has been decreed unlawful by the Almighty. In adhering to the path of truth, he is bound to face difficulties in life. But he must bear with them, and avoid wasting precious time in reacting to the hurdles placed in his way by others. In this way he will be able to persevere in his life’s duties in spite of all obstacles. Impervious to the losses incurred by him in this world, he will press on in quest of the gains of the next world. Even when his pride is severely wounded, and the unpleasantness of events causes him great irritation, he refrains from displaying a negative reaction and continues to pursue positive ends. None of this can be achieved without the virtues of patience and endurance.

The path of Islam can be followed only by those who have unlimited reserves of patience, and it is precisely this virtue which is inculcated by the annual lesson of fasting. This lesson, painfully learned during the month of Ramadan, stays with devotees throughout their entire lives.

The whole life of a believer is, in a sense, a life of fasting: he is required to abstain not just from food and drink, but from anything which is wrong, such as negative thinking, ill-conceived and hastily executed initiatives, in fact, any practice which might prove injurious to others. He is also to refrain from attempting to make lawful that which God has disallowed. Abstinence of this nature comes more easily to those who have undergone the rigours of fasting, than to those who have led a life of unrestricted self-indulgence. Fasting, in short, chastens the soul and strengthens the will to do good.


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