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Fasting in Faith – the month of Ramadan

August 13, 2010

In today’s shrinking world we cannot but bump into each other. It therefore becomes important to know one another. Different faiths have evolved over the centuries. Religion has been a balm to human kind but it is also perhaps the one reason for strife and discord. It therefore becomes incumbent on the citizen of this shrinking world in the 21st century to educate oneself about the other. It is true that one must not always go by the book and what is propounded in the scriptures may be at variance with how the adherents behave. It is what we experience from the adherents of different faiths that form our perception about that faith. It is however intriguing that fasting is one observance that is common to most faiths.

Jame 'Asr Hassanil Bolkiah, Brunei

Faiths around the world have proposed the observance of fasts. The duration and methodology may differ, but it is the way most faiths propound fasting that has an element of uniformity. The Jewish population observes fasts during Yom Kippur. The Christians of various denominations fast during various times. One better known Christian fasting time is during Lent. In the Baha’i faith fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset during the Bahá’í month of `Ala’ (March 2-March 20). Hindus have a strong tradition of fasting. They generally fast on Thursdays. Some in North India fast on Mondays. Hindu women fast for the health and well being of their husbands on Karvachauth. In UP and Bihar the women fast for their husbands during Chath. Fasting has been associated with the cleansing of body and soul. Gandhi used to fast regularly and also fasted as a means to protest.

In Islam, however, fasting is seen as the forth pillar of the five pillars of the faith. The holy month of Ramadan (Ramzan in South Asia) is the time when the faithful observe fast from dawn to dusk. It is believed that the Quran was revealed during the month of Ramadan. It is also believed that Ramadan precedes Islam and fasting in Islam was taken from the Jewish ritual of fasting during Yom Kippur. The Quran has this to say about fasting during Ramadan:

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious).

(Fasting) for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (should be made up) from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (i.e. an old man, etc.), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a poor person (for every day). But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for him. And that you fast, it is better for you if only you know.” (2:183-84)

“The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan), he must fast that month, and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number (of days which one did not fast must be made up) from other days.

Allah intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you. (He wants that you) must complete the same number (of days), and that you must magnify Allah for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him” (2: 185).

Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It also includes abstaining from any falsehood in speech and action, from any ignorant and indecent speech, and from arguing and fighting, and lustful thoughts. Therefore, fasting strengthens control of impulses and helps develop good behavior.  During the sacred month of Ramadan, believers strive to purify body and soul and increase their taqwa (good deeds and consciousness of the Almighty – Allah). This purification of body and soul harmonizes the inner and outer spheres of an individual. Muslims aim at improving their health by reducing food intake and maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Overindulgence in food is discouraged and eating enough to silence the pain of hunger is encouraged. Muslims should be active, tending to all their commitments and never falling short of any duty. On a moral level, believers strive to attain virtuousness and apply them to the problems of daily life. They try to show compassion, generosity and mercy to others, exercise patience, and control their anger. In essence, Muslims try to improve their moral character and cultivate good habits. Fasting also inculcates a sense of fraternity and solidarity, as Muslims feel and experience what their needy and hungry brothers and sisters feel. Those who are already poor and hungry are often exempted from fasting. In that the observance of fast is also a sign of prosperity in the Muslim community.

Ramadan is divided into three ten-day parts, or ashra (Arabic for ten). They are named Rahmat (mercy of God), Maghfirat (forgiveness of God), and Najat (salvation), respectively. Laylat al-Qadr, which falls during the last third, commemorates the revelation of the first verses of the Qur’an and is considered the most holy night of the year. Ramadan ends with Id ul-Fitr, on which feasts are held. During the month following Ramadan, called Shawaal, Muslims are encouraged to fast for a further six days.When the festival of Ramadan finishes and the month of Shawwal begins, Muslims have a three-day celebration. The celebration is held in the holiday called Id-ul-fitr. On this holiday people exchange gifts and family and friends gather to pray in congregation and sumptuous community feasts. In some Muslim cities they celebrate by having a fair for the end of Ramadan.

Ramadan has become a month long festival when the school and college timings are truncated. People wait for the sun to set so that they can break their fast (roza kholna – in Urdu). The onus is on eating a hearty meal after the day-long fast. It is thought of as impolite if one drinks tea, coffee or has his meal in front of someone during daytime who is observing Ramadan fast. So one finds people asking each other whether they are fasting! Special dishes are prepared. Dates are a favourite for most to break the fast. Vermicelli cooked in milk with dry fruits is another common dish during this time. Mothers spend a lot of time in the kitchen preparing lavish spread for the evening meal. In Saudi Arabia people mingle and socialize till wee hours of the morning over cups of tea and smoking sisha (hookah). Shops are open till late in the night. This is also a good time for business.

Any festival is a burden for the poor. These are times when the difference between the haves and the have-nots becomes even more glaring. The tradition of giving alms (zakat) is prevalent among Muslims during this holy month.

The month of Ramadan culminates in Id-ul-Fitr which is one of the main festivals of the Muslims.

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4 Comments leave one →
  1. Khalil permalink
    August 14, 2010 1:12 pm

    Good info…

  2. August 22, 2010 8:32 pm

    interesting one

  3. sharma24 permalink*
    August 14, 2010 9:23 am

    Thanks!!

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