Praise be to Allah (SWt). We thank Him, the Most High, and seek His Help and Forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allah (SWT) from the evils within ourselves and that of our bad deeds. He whom Allah (SWT) guides, is truly guided, and whom Allah (SWT) leaves to stray, none can guide him. We bear witness that there is no god but Allah (SWT) and that Muhammad (PBUH) is His final Prophet.
Dating back to 624 CE, the first ever Ramadan was observed in the city of Medina in today's Saudi Arabia, according to the Gregorian calendar. In the vicinity of deserts, where food and water sources were scarce, the first Muslims in Medina learned to fast all day long under Prophet Muhammad’s (SAW) guidance. Allah (SWT) says in the Glorious Qur'an, "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may ward off evil"-Al-Baqarah 2: 183. Literally, the word “Fast” means to abstain or refrain from something. Technically, it means to refrain from food, drink, sexual intercourse, and all that which breaks the fast from dawn to sunset, intending to do so in obedience to Allah (SWT).
Ramadan is a month of discipline, self-control, patience, and inculcating good behavior. In Ramadan, Muslims are expected to gain the fruits of Fasting; namely piety and being conscious of Allah (SWT). In this context, Ramadan serves as a religious catalyst for individuals to refine their behaviors and improve their relationships with both Allah (SWT) and those with whom they interact most closely, including and especially, family. We learn in this month how to discipline ourselves for the sake of Allah (SWT). In the morning and evening, we follow a strict schedule of eating and drinking. We are constantly aware that even in such mundane activities as eating and drinking, we must remain under divine injunctions. We change our habits in our daily routine because we learn that we are not the servants and slaves to our habits, but always the servants of Allah (SWT). Then after Ramadan, we should keep this spirit of discipline in other modes of our life and must continue with our submission to the commands of Allah (SWT).
Ramadan renews our enthusiasm to worship and be devoted to Allah (SWT). In this month we are more careful of our daily prayers and perform special prayers at night. There is no religion without prayer and Muslims learn in this month how to strengthen and deepen their religious life. Ramadan and the Qur’an are linked together from the beginning. It was in this month that this divine message was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him). Fasting prepares the believers' hearts to learn the Word of Allah (SWT). It is the most suitable condition for our spiritual and mental communication with the Qur’an. The Muslim Ummah (nation) pays more attention to the Qur’an in this month. This renewed contact with the Qur’an helps us to follow its message.
Ramadan is not only an individual experience, but it is a community experience as well. The whole Muslim Ummah fasts together in one and the same month. We identify with one another in our obedience to Allah (SWT). This gives us a new sense of togetherness and association. Ramadan teaches us that the Muslim Ummah is the community of piety and being devoted to Allah (SWT) and its members derive their strength from each other through deeds of piety and virtue. The bonds that are based on piety and virtue are the strongest bonds and it is these bonds that prove good for mankind. The strength of the Muslim community lies in its commitment to the values of goodness, morality and piety. Ramadan leaves an imprint of all these values upon the Muslim Ummah.
Ramadan teaches to practice self-discipline, self-control, sacrifice, and empathy for those who are less fortunate, thus encouraging actions of generosity and compulsory charity (zakat). Muslims also believe fasting helps instill compassion for the food-insecure poor. But fasting is not imposed on everyone without exceptions. The Quran, which has always promised to maintain a middle path for believers to make their life straightforward and fair, brought exceptions to people like the very old, sick, pregnant women and children to exempt themselves from fasting, the professor says.
Fasting in the month of Ramadan helps us to understand the suffering and the pains of the poor and needy. By our voluntary hunger and thirst we realize what it means to be deprived of the basic necessities of life. Ramadan is called the month of charity and sympathy. We learn how to be more kind and generous in this month. Many Muslims also pay their Zakah in the month of Ramadan. Fasting prepares one for hardships and sacrifice. Muslims learn in Ramadan how to struggle against the forces of evil in their own selves, in the society around them, and in the world at large. Ramadan is most importantly a time of prayer and personal renewal. The act of fasting is said to redirect the heart away from worldly activities, its purpose being to cleanse the inner soul and bring it closer to spiritual awareness.
Aside from the religious obligations upon Muslims during the Holy month of Ramadan, fasting has countless health benefits, too. From improved weight management and healthier blood cell regeneration to better heart function and vascular wellbeing, fasting has become quite the go-to method of keeping young, fit and healthy. The health benefits of fast include: Reduces Hypertension, Increases Brain Function, Improves Body Composition, Fasting Reduces Cancer Risk, Stimulates Autophagy, Lowers Inflammation, Regulates Sleep Patterns, Normalizes Ghrelin Levels. By not eating throughout the day during Ramadan we’ll find that our metabolism becomes more efficient, meaning the amount of nutrients we absorb from food improves. This is because of an increase in a hormone called adiponectin, which is produced by a combination of fasting and eating late at night, and allows our muscles to absorb more nutrients. This will lead to health benefits all around the body, as various areas are able to better absorb and make use of the nutrients they need to function.
By not eating or drinking throughout the day our body will be offered the rare chance to detoxify our digestive system throughout the month. When our body starts eating into fat reserves to create energy, it will also burn away any harmful toxins that might be present in fat deposits. This body cleanse will leave a healthy blank slate behind, and is the perfect stepping stone to a consistently healthy lifestyle. Because we will be fasting during the day, Ramadan is the perfect time to ditch your bad habits for good. Vices such as smoking and sugary foods should not be indulged during Ramadan, and as we abstain from them our body will gradually acclimatize to their absence, until your addiction is kicked for good. It’s also much easier to quit habits when we do so in a group, which should be easy to find during Ramadan.
To summarize all the moral and spiritual gifts of Ramadan, we can say that Ramadan gives us the great gift of taqwa (piety). Taqwa is the overall result of an Islamic life. It is the highest virtue in Islam. It means God-consciousness, piety, fear and awe of Allah (SWT) and it signifies submission to Allah (SWT) and total commitment to all that is good, and rejection of all that is evil and bad. Thus, every Muslim should strive hard not to miss the opportunity of obtaining multiple rewards in these blessed days. One should draw nearer and nearer to Allah (SWT) to get His blessings in this holy month.
(M Ahmad is from Srinagar, Kashmir, J&K and is a regular writer for this newspaper and can be reached at email@example.com)