The purpose of fasting is not to make us hungry and thirsty, or to deprive us some of our comfort and conveniences. The real purpose of fasting is that we learn taqwa. Taqwa is highly emphasized in the Qur’an and Sunnah. There are more than 158 verses in the Qur’an on taqwa, and there are hundreds of hadiths on this subject. Taqwa is Islam itself. It is the sum total of all Islamic values and virtues. If one has taqwa one has achieved everything. Taqwa is the consciousness of Allah. It is to do one’s best efforts to live by His commands and to avoid His prohibitions. The Qur’an has used the word taqwa to mean consciousness of Allah, fear of Allah, worship of Allah, sincerity in faith, and avoidance of disobedience to Allah.
Fasting builds the character of taqwa if it is done in the right way. How does fasting build the character of taqwa? Let us look at some of the things that a fasting person is supposed to do, and see how they are related to the concept and spirit of taqwa.
1. Unlike prayers, charity, and pilgrimage, fasting is an invisible act. Only Allah and the person who is fasting know whether he or she is fasting or not. One may quietly eat or drink something and no one will notice and no one can find out. However, the fasting person has made this commitment for the sake of Allah and he or she wants to guard the purity of his or her fast for the sake of Allah. Fasting thus teaches sincerity, and it helps a person learn to live by the principles of his or her faith regardless whether others know or do not know. This is the very purpose and essence of taqwa.
2. Food and sex are two needs and desires that are essential for human survival and growth, but they can become easily corruptive and disruptive if they are not properly controlled and disciplined. Taqwa requires observing the rules of Allah when one eats and when one enjoys sexual relations. Fasting teaches how to control and discipline these desires.
3. The world is full of temptations. It takes a lot of discipline to say “no” to something that is very tempting but not good for us. During fasting we learn how to say “no” to things that are otherwise permissible and good, but are forbidden during fasting. When one learns how to say “no” to that which is generally permissible, then one can easily control oneself to avoid that which is forbidden. This is the spirit of taqwa.
4. People generally care for themselves and their families, but they often ignore the needs of others. Those who have do not even feel the pain and suffering of those who are hungry, homeless, and living in poverty. Through fasting we taste—to some extent—the pain and suffering of those who are poor and destitute. Fasting teaches empathy and sympathy, and it takes away some of our selfishness and self-centeredness. This is the spirit of taqwa.
5. When Muslims fast together in the month of Ramadan, it builds an atmosphere of virtues, brotherhood and sisterhood. We come closer to our Creator and we also come closer to each other. Unity, peace, harmony, brotherhood and sisterhood are the fruits of taqwa. In Ramadan we enjoy these fruits as we grow in taqwa.
There are some important things that we should do during Ramadan to take better advantage of this month and to achieve its real purpose, namely, taqwa. These are some reminders and they are all taken from the guidelines given to us in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
1. Niyyah (intention): Remind yourself again and again that you are fasting in obedience to Allah. Be sincere in your intention. You want Allah to accept your fasting. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
2. Sunnah: Observe the Sunnah in fasting. Take the sahur meal a little before dawn and end your fast at sunset. Observe all the rules of fasting.
3. Wara’ (avoiding everything haram or makruh): Be conscious to have halal food, halal income, halal relations. Avoid watching bad TV programs, videos, movies, etc., always, but especially during this month. Keep your body and mind very clean. Avoid wasting your time in useless things and pursuits.
4. Qur’an: Spend more time with the Qur’an. Read Qur’an every day. Try to finish the whole Qur’an at least one time during this month in your own personal reading. Read some Hadith and the books of seerah.
5. Prayer, supplication, and remembrance of Allah: Pray on time and observe all Prayers. Do not ignore the Tarawih Prayers. Make more supererogatory prayers. Do as much worship as you can. Do more dhikr (remembrance of Allah) and du`aa’ (supplication) for yourself and for others. Make tawbah (repentance) and istighfar (request for Allah’s forgiveness) as much as you can. This is the best time for devotion and seeking Allah’s forgiveness. Seek the Night of Qadar by special devotion during the last 10 nights of this month.
6. Zakah, charity, and generosity: Be very charitable and generous. Give more and more to help the poor and needy, and to help good social and community projects. Be good to your friends and neighbors also. Let your non-Muslim neighbors and co-workers know that this is your blessed and sacred time.
7. Good behavior and relations with others. Try to be extra kind and courteous during this month. Forget your quarrels and disputes. Reconcile and forgive. Do not get involved in backbiting, lying, cheating, and anything that is wrong. Be very good to Muslims and to all human beings.
8. Reflection: Think, reflect, and plan to improve the moral and spiritual condition of your own self and your family. Think about any wrong things and sins you may have been doing and correct yourself. Think about any deficiencies you have in your Islamic observances and plan to change yourself. Think what you can do for the Ummah and for humanity to make this world a better place for everyone.
It is reported in the Bible that the Children of Israel used to fast, but they complained to their prophet that they were not receiving God’s blessings. God was not answering their prayers. It is reported that God revealed to His prophet:
May Allah help us to take full benefit of fasting in this blessed month of Ramadan. May He keep us on the right path and bless us now and always. Ameen!
* Excerpted, with some modifications, from: http://www.pakistanlink.com/religion/11072003.html
** Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi is President of the Fiqh Council of North America.