Fasting-reasons & benefits

In the name of Allāh,
the Beneficent, the Merciful.
Peace and Blessings of Allāh on Mohammad.
DEDICATED TO
Allāh–the Glorious and the High,
Lord of the worlds
AND TO
Mohammad–who brought the world
to our feet and eternity to our arms
*

FASTING–REASON & BENEFITS

A non-Muslim had asked why do Muslims fast?

   Islam consists of five components (1) Unity of Allāh, God    (2) Prayer (3) Zakaat/Charity, (4) Fasting (5) Hajj/Pilgrimage.
   Muslims fast because it is a Divine injunction; which was also enjoined on others before the advent of the Prophet Mohammad: “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil”–(Qur’an 2:183).
   Jews fast; Jesus fasted, and gave guidelines to his people in their fast–(Matthew 4:2; 6:16-17); Christians and Hindus also fast, though their fasting is not as rigorous as that of Muslims. 
   This Muslim’s fast –abstinence from food, drink, and conjugal relations from dawn to sunset (Qur’an 2:187)– in the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar), depends upon one’s health and travel situations:

(Fasting is) “For a certain number of days. But whoever among you is sick or on a journey, (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days. And those who find it extremely hard may effect redemption by feeding a poor man. So whoever does good spontaneously, it is better for him; and that you fast is better for you if you know. The month of Ramadan is that in which the Qur’an was revealed….So whoever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein, and whoever is sick or on a journey, (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days…”–(Qur’an 2:184-185).

   The highlighted words fast is better for you in the above verse clearly show that there are benefits in the Divine prescription of fasting. The benefits of fasting are four-fold –physiological, physical, moral, and spiritual (perhaps the medical scholar or intellectual knows of more and/or greater benefits):

   (a) The physiological benefits of fasting are many, such as regenerate the organs, eliminate toxins and purify the blood, improve health.
  (b) The physical benefit of fasting: it makes us experience the hunger of the starving; it conditions us to endure long periods without food, drink, and to control carnal passions.
   (c) The moral benefit of fasting: it makes us more aware of God as one is more likely to be conscious of God when suffering or in distress. Also, one who voluntarily gives up those things which are lawful will not (or should not) indulge in those things that are unlawful; for instance, eating pork, gambling, intoxicants, illicit relations. 
  (d) The spiritual benefit of fasting: because of one’s constant remembrance of Allāh, it brings (or should bring) him/her closer to Allāh, God. And Allāh rewards the fasters.

As stated, Islam is made up of five components (1) Unity of Allāh, God (2) Prayer–five times daily, (3) Zakaat/Charity, (4) Fasting for the entire month of Ramadan, (5) Hajj/Pilgrimage to Makkah. These five principles are Divinely revealed in the Qur’an, and explained by the Prophet Mohammad.  

   1. Unity/Purity of Allāh, God:

   -Allāh, God, is One and Only; the Eternal, Absolute; on Whom all depend; He does not eat, drink, sleep, washroom or tire

   -having no consort and being Eternal and the Last and thus having no need for any to succeed Him He begets not

   -being the First and Creator of all and thus could not have a mother He is not begotten

   -being the First and the Last, the Manifest and the Hidden1 and only One with Divine Attributes there is none like Him; 

-being Omnipotent, Omniscient, and Omnipresent He does not incarnate or have or need any associate or helper

   -being Just and as He does not judge people by their race or color –factors in which they had no choice– and as one is best only by his belief and deeds He has no chosen people to the exclusion of others, nor transfer the sins of one person to another, nor execute the pious for the impious

   -being The Beneficent and The Merciful He needs no blood sacrifice to forgive sins; and as He forgives sins and rewards every good up to seven-hundred-fold there is no equal and opposite reaction to every action. Allāh is so merciful He implores us in loving compassionate terms to forgive us our sins; He instructs the Prophet Mohammad to convey to us:“Say, O My servants who have sinned against their souls, despair not of the mercy of Allāh; surely Allāh forgives all sins. Verily, He is Most Forgiving, Ever Merciful”–Qur’an 39:53).

   2. Salah/Prayer:  

There are five statutory salah/prayers per day. These prayers were enjoined by Allāh–(Qur’an 2:43, 110, 177; 6:72). Allāh does not need anything from us. These prayers are for our own moral and spiritual elevation: “Surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil; and certainly the remembrance of Allah is the greatest (force). And Allah knows what you do.” (Qur’an 29:45). “And enjoin prayer on thy people, and steadily adhere to it. We ask not of thee a sustenance. We provide for thee. And the (good) end is for guarding against evil”–(Qur’an 20:132).

The five daily prayers have been enjoined at fixed times by Allāh: “Prayer indeed has been enjoined on the believers at fixed times–(Qur’an 4:103; and 11:114; 17:78; 20:130; 30:17-18). These timings and method or prayer –standing, ruku, sujood etc;– were shown to the Prophet Mohammad by the Angel Gabriel–(Bokhari Vol. 1, # 500; Vol. 4, # 444).

Even without the above references, prayer and their timings are still to be followed as practiced by the Prophet seeing that we are mandated by Allāh to obey the Prophet and to take what he gives us–(Qur’an 3:32, 132; 4:13, 69; 59:7, which shows that the practice of the Prophet is an integral part of Islam); and as he is the best exemplar–(Qur’an 33:21; 68:4).

   3. Zakaat–loosely called charity:

Allāh tells us in His Qur’an 9:60 “(Zakaat) charity is only for the poor and the needy, and those employed to administer it, and those whose hearts are made to incline (to truth), and (to free) the captives, and those in debt, and in the way of Allåh and for the wayfarer — an ordinance from Allåh. And Allåh is Knowing, Wise.”

   Zakaat is Purification of wealth. In Islam the poor has a 2.5% right in the wealth of the rich. Apart from being benevolent to the poor, another object of zakaat is the moral upliftment of the giver. The object being that whoever sincerely offers of that which he/she lawfully owns would unlikely take of property that does not belong to him or her, or cheat (in business), steal etc.

   4. Fasting:

“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil”–(Qur’an 2:183).

   Fasting in the month of Ramadan (the ninth month of the Islamic calendar), depending on one’s health and travel situations. To restate. The benefits of fasting are four-fold –physiological, physical, moral and spiritual:

   (a) The physiological benefits of fasting are many, such as regenerate the organs, eliminate toxins and purify the blood, improve health.

   (b) The physical benefit of fasting: it makes us experience the hunger of the starving; it conditions us to endure long periods without food, drink, and to control carnal passions.

   (c) The moral benefit of fasting: it makes us more aware of God as one is more likely to be conscious of God when suffering or in distress. Also, one who voluntarily gives up those things which are lawful will not (or should not) indulge in those things that are unlawful, for instance, eating pork, gambling, intoxicants, illicit relations.

   (d) The spiritual benefit of fasting: because of one’s constant remembrance of Allāh, it brings (or should bring) him/her closer to Allāh, God.  

   5. Hajj/Pilgrimage to Makkah:

“And when We made the House a resort for men and a (place of) security. And: Take ye the place of Abraham for a place of prayer. And We enjoined Abraham and Ishmael, saying: Purify My House for those who visit (it) and those who abide (in it) for devotion and those who bow down (and) those who prostrate themselves”–(Qur’an 2:125).

“Certainly the first house appointed for men is the one at Bakkah, blessed and a guidance for the nations. In it are clear signs: (It is) the Place of Abraham; and whoever enters it is safe; and pilgrimage to the House is a duty which men owe to Allāh — whoever can find a way to it. And whoever disbelieves, surely Allāh is above need of the worlds”–(Qur’an 3:96-97).

And when We pointed to Abraham the place of the House, saying: Associate naught with Me, and purify My House for those who make circuits and stand to pray and bow and prostrate themselves. And proclaim to men the Pilgrimage they will come to thee on foot and on every lean camel, coming from every remote path: That they may witness benefits (provided) for them, and mention the name of Allåh on appointed days over what He has given them of the cattle quadrupeds; then eat of them and feed the distressed one, the needy. Then let them accomplish their needful acts of cleansing, and let them fulfill their vows and go round the Ancient House” –(Qur’an 22:26-29).

   The Hajj is a once in a lifetime pilgrimage to Makkah, depending on affordability and health. It is the international gathering of Muslims commemorating certain aspects of the lives of the prophet Abraham, his wife, Lady Hajra, his son Ishmael, and the Prophet Mohammad. The Hajj/Pilgrimage is the only Divinely ordained pilgrimage for man.

   Prayer, Zakaat/Charity, Fasting and Hajj are nutrients for the soul.

   Islam is the world’s greatest liberating force. Islam liberates physically, socially, morally, spiritually, and intellectually:

physically: by proclaiming that bondage is worse than slaughter

socially: in decreeing that the exacting of one’s rights is equal to the executing of the rights of others

morally: it not only laid down precepts for good conduct but instituted the machinations to compliment these precepts. The institution of prayer keeps one from indecency. The institution of fasting makes one aware of the suffering of those who are without; it conditions one to withstand periods of deprivations, and also guards against evil. The person who willingly abstains from what is lawful for him –food, drink, conjugal pleasure– will not seek what is unlawful. The institution of charity in which a person is to give freely a portion of his acquisition to the poor, such a person will not take from others what does not belong to him

spiritually: it frees man from the worship of man, and of objects of nature, and of things created by man. It instills in man that the only object greater than himself is the Creator.

intellectually: it informs man that all things are created for his use, and exhorts the pursuit of knowledge in order to make these creations subservient to him. It frees us from the irrationality of polytheism, degradation of idolatry, and the humiliation of superstition.

The cardinal doctrines of Islam are blessed with the Divine allure of reason, the factor in which God calls on man to govern himself:

“Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool”–(Isaiah 1:18).

   “Call to the way of thy Lord with wisdom and goodly exhortation, and argue with them in the best manner. Surely thy Lord knows best him who strays from His path, and He knows best those who go aright”–(Qur’an 16:125).

BLIND FAITH IS NO PASSPORT TO PARADISE
REASON IS THE DOOR TO GOD!

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NOTES

1. Allāh God revealed in His Qur’an 57:3 that “He is the First and the Last and the Manifest and the Hidden, and He is Knower of all things.” Muhammad Ali commented: “The Holy Prophet has thus explained the four attributes of the Divine Being mentioned here: “Thou art the First, so that there was nothing before Thee, and Thou art the Last, so that there is nothing after Thee, and Thou art the Manifest, or the Ascendant over all, so that there is nothing above Thee, and Thou art the Hidden, the Knower of the hidden things, so that there is nothing hidden from Thee” (Ms. 48:13).