Fasting - Education and Social Reform
All obligatory acts ordained by Allah, the Exalted such as Fasting, Prayer, Hajj (pilgrimage) Zakat (poor-tax) etc., are not mere rituals as some are bound to misinterpret, but are an elaborate form of spiritual, psychological, physical and social education. Besides being a form of worship and a means by which the Muslim displays his submission to his Creator, they play a vital role in reforming and developing the soul and personality of an individual which in turn positively affects the society as an integrated whole.
The purpose behind fasting was not just to prevent eating, drinking and sexual intercourse during the prescribed hours but to i~frain from all acts injurious to one's self and fellow humans so as to help build a virtuous and progressive society. A narration from the Prophet says: "The easiest duty enjoined by Allah on a fasting person is to forego food and drink. " * Thus, fasting has two evolutionary aims. The first is to protect a person from all forbidden acts such as backbiting, calumny, envy, lying, vain discourses and the like. And the second is to encourage and enhance the
* ibid * AI-Hur aI-Amili. Wasa El ash-S h:'a, vol. 4. ,4bwab ,4dab as-Sawm.
moral and spiritual level by such recommended deeds as reciting the Holy Qur'an, giving alms, meditating on one's past life and a more righteous future course, remembering Allah's favours and greatness, helping fellow-humans and the doing of various other good that benefits the self and the society.
Fasting, therefore is an institution designed for educating the soul and casting it in an Islamic evolutionary mould. There are numerous Hadiths which guide a fasting Muslim towards divine bliss. Imam Ali ibn Abi-Talib (a.s.), quoting his cousin the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), says:
"Whoever fasts during the month of Ramadhan out of faith and seeking Allah's pleasure and guards his ears, eyes and tongue from harming people, Allah will accept his fasting, forgive his past sins...,,*
Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) relates the Prophet's advice to Jabir ibn Abdullah:
"o Jabir, whoever, fasts the days of Ratnadh an, stands for prayers in parts of its nights, guards his/her sexual desires, reins in his/her tongue, lowers his/her gaze and injures, not the feelings of others, will become free of sins as on the day he/she was born." *
Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.), on the authority of his illustrious forefathers, quotes his noble ancestor Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) as follows: "If a fasting person when abused, replies peace be upon you I will not abuse as you do, the Lord, the Exalted and Most High, says, By fasting, My servant has saved himself from the evil of My (other) servant, I grant him refuge against the fire." *
* Ahmad i bn Han bal and the compilers of Sunan have narrated the above with slight difference. * Sheikh Saduq. Thawab aL-AmaL p. 88. * aI-Kafi. a1-Kulayni.
".. Once the Prophet heard a fasting woman abusing her maidservant. He ordered some food and told her to eat'. lam fasting', she said. He replied Can you be considered fasting when you have just abused your maid. (Beware) Fasting does not mean only to abstain from(mere)eating and drinking'." * What follows is an advice from Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s.) to a fasting Muslim:
"When you fast, guard your hearing and sight against the forbidden, and your limbs and all other organs from the vile. Do not rm'e at or injure a sen'ant. Be dignified as a fasting person should, and keep silent and calm, except when remembering Allah. Do not regard your fasting day as an ordinary day and refrain from intercourse, kissing and loud laughter, because Allah dislikes that." * The Prophet says:
"Whoever backbites his Muslim brothers, his fasting will be invalid* and his ablution null. Should he die it, such a state, he will die like the one who decreed lawful what Allah has forbidden." *
Such, therefore, are the lofty ethics, fasting persons are exhorted to observe, as Ramadhan is a month for worship and for reforming one's self. As is clear the objectives of the great reformative duty called fasting cannot be fulfilled except by adhering to these lofty morals and ethics. If not, the act will turn out to be an exercise in futility with the fasting person gaining nothing except the pangs of hunger and thirst.
* ibid. * Wasa'il ash-Shia. al-Hur al-AmiIi. * Backbiting does not make the fast void but since it is a sin it negates the re)Iard a fasting person deserves. * Waco ii asjz-Shi'a al-Hur al-,4mili. vol. 4, ,4bwab ,ldab cs-Sawm.
Islam strives to reform both the individual and the society, and the starting point for this healthy transformation is the human soul. If the human soul reaches perfection and moulds itself according to the dynamic principles of Islam, then society will be reformed accordingly. How wonderfully the Glorious Qur'an confirms this fact:
"…Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition;..." Holy Qur'an (13 :11)
Ramadhan, the month of Allah affords us this chance for meditation and social reform. It is for us to seize this wonderful opportunity to repent, reflect over our past deeds, seek the Almighty's forgiveness and strive towards perfection, in morals and behaviour. Fasting has remarkable benefits. It not only refines an individual's conduct by instilling virtue, but also has similar impacts on the interest of the Islamic society as a whole. Because once a group of individuals acquires honesty, integrity, intellect and other lofty morals, their desire for reform and to refrain from all things perverse positively affects the march of the society.
Islam looks at the human being from two angles; as an independent individual, and as a part of a society affecting society and being influenced by it in turn. Consequently, all the rules, laws, regulations, morals and ethics conveyed through the message of Islam deal with the human being both as an independent entity and as part of an integrated whole.
Such being the case, these moral, social, economic and devotional aspects will certainly have political consequences as well because an individual's daily activities are interrelated and effect each other.
Thus, fasting could without doubt be considered as a great educational experience, because faith in Allah and the Day of Judgement has a profound influence not only on devotional and moral aspects but also in the economic and political spheres. So great is the reciprocal dynamism of these factors that if sincerely observed they hold the key to the perfection, bliss and harmony of both the individual and the society.
Narratives reaching us from Prophet Muhammad's (s.a.w.) Ahl-ul-Bait, wonderfully explain these facts.
How beautifully the eighth Imam of the Prophet's pro.geny All ibn Musa ar-Ridha (a.s.) expounds the philosophy of fasting,as a blessing from the Almighty, so that one becomes aware of the hardships of the poor and the needy and quite naturally feels obliged to pay out of what Allah has granted us. Moreover, he says. that by realizing the pangs of hunger and thirst one becomes aware of the Day of Resurrection when people will have to stand for timeless hours waiting their turn to be judged. In short, concludes the Imam, fasting builds up personality because the restraint over desires helps us acquire the virtues of modesty, self- control, humbleness of character, hope, kindness, generosity, forbearance etc.. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has been quoted as saying:
"Allah made fasting incumbent to make equity between the rich and the poor. A rich man does not feel the pains of hunger to have mercy for the poor, since he is able to obtain whatever he likes. (By enjoining fasting) Allah wanted to put His creatures on an equal footing by making the rich taste the pain of hunger, so that he may pity the weak and have mercy on the hungry..." *
Therefore, fasting is an all-ecompassing education whose social, spiritual, hygienic, economic and various other dimensiom which if properly observed guarantee blissful harmony for the human race.
Fasting - Key To a Good Health
Fasting also has its advantages from the point of view of health and hygiene. Islam wants a Muslim to be healthy, clean, alert, agile and energetic.
"Fast to be heaIthyy" had said the Prophet. And physicians today
acknowledge the many benefits of fasting that ensure health and the
* TVasa'iI aS/i-Shju. aI-Hur aI-Amili.
soundness of one's body and mind. Some of these positive points have a direct influence on psychology and physique of the fasting individual. Fasting has been found to be an effective treatment for psychological and emotional disorders. It helps a person to firm up his will, cultivate and refine his taste and manners, strengthen his conviction of doing good, avoid controversy, petulance and rashness, which all contribute towards a sane and healthy personality. Besides nurturing resistance and ability to face hardships and endurance, fasting reflects on outward physical appearance by cutting out gluttony and getting rid of excess fat.
The benefits of fasting on health do not stop there but are instrumental in alleviating a number of physical diseases, including those of the digestive systems, such as chronic stomach ache, inflammation of the colon, liver diseases, indigestion, and conditions such as obesity, arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, asthma, diphtheria and many other maladies.
A Swiss physician Dr. Barsilus noted that: The advantages of hunger as a remedy exceed those ingesting medicine several times. As readers are well aware, several physicians advise patients to skip meals, sometimes for a few days, before prescribing them a controlled diet.
Generally speaking, fasting hastens the destruction of the decaying tissues of the body by means of hunger, and then builds new tissues through nutrition. This is why some scientists suggest that fasting should be regarded as an effective means of restoring youthfulness and longevity. However, Islam exempts from fasting sick and old people whose health is bound to deter.
But fasting should have its regulations too, and not simply the unorderly skipping of meals, that is bound to harm health and stamina, rather than improving them. Here again Islam provides the answer, and in order to realize the benefits of fasting it recommends the late midnight meals called Sohour (before the formal start of a fast) and the breaking of the fast at the time prescribed. Of course to ensure good health one should abstain
from gluttony after breaking fast. *
How kind is Allah the Exalted Whose mercy to His creatures knows no limits. The All-forgiving has opened to us the gates of repentance, granting us the chance to return to His Grace, but it is we who stand to blame for our failure to avail forgiveness, because of our blind obstinacy. "Say: 0 my servants! who haie acted extravagantly against their own souls, do not despair of the mercy of Allah; surely Allah forgives the faults altogether; surely He is AU-forgiving, All-merciful." Holy Qur'an (39: 53)
Allah the Exalted knows that the human beings, due to their earthly constitution, are likely to sin and err. They, therefore, are in need of an opportunity enabling them to repent and reform themselves, and hence the chance of repentance in the month of Ramadhan. Divine forgiveness is an opportunity for reform. Repentance is a process of transformation in the manner of life and nature of behaviourl and intellectual changes. It is also the outcome of a new resolution undertaken by the repentant for a fresh way of life to which he decides to adhere. The repentant of his sins as such is as if he had committed no sins at all.
Part of the divine favours to mankind is to keep the doors of forgiveness and mercy always open. Ramad/zan is the month of pardon and forgiveness, the season for praying and remembering the Almighty's favours. It is for us to avail this wonderful opportunity of repentance and ask forgiveness for all faults in sincerity, with an intention not to repeat them again. We should allow it to be a time of self-criticism and self-reproach, so that one may begin a new course, ushering in a true change in soul and thought, through one's deeds of faith during this period. This month-long opportunity to lead an Islamic way of life will enable one to observe Allah's commandments and adhere to the straight path of righteousness and bliss.
The month of Ramadhan creates an atmosphere of congregational
* Medicine in the Glorious Qur'an. Dr. .lbdul-l-Iatnid Diyab and Dr.
worship, in which all Muslims feel they are living a new life and following a new direction. This stimulates a psychological state which helps them to repent, seek forgiveness and gain the blessings of the Almighty. In the process they witness a popular advancing towards Allah, while disdaining those who turn away from His straight path and His pleasure.
The opposite of these are those whose hearts are closed against the light of mercy, and their souls are irresponsive to the call of repentance. They do not even realize their own mistake when they see that collective procession moving towards Allah, the Exalted. They disregard all those reminders during the month of Ramadhan such as the obligation of fasting, the recommended reciting of the Qur'an, the gathering for invocation and preaching, and other rituals observing the sanctity of this montb. The Prophet described people who are unaffected by all this and have hearts full of cruelty, obstinacy and misery as:
"... indeed, miserable is the one who is deprived of Allah s forgiveness during this great month..." *