“O PEOPLE! The month of the Almighty has come. This is month is the best of all months in the reckoning of the Almighty. Its days are the best of days, its nights are the best of nights, its hours are the best of hours. This is a month in which you have been invited by Him. You have been given the opportunity in this month to receive the honors from the Almighty, the Merciful” – Prophet Muhammad
Exactly what are the benefits derivable from fasting in the month of Ramadan? As at the last time I ruminated over this question, I discovered nothing less than twenty lessons and benefits of this month for the Muslim Ummah and indeed the world at large. Now let us begin from the “beginning”. The most important consideration in embarking on fasting, as is true in any act of devotion in Islam, is to seek nearness to the Almighty; to seek His pleasure and Forgiveness. Thus a Muslim who fasts conscientiously, a Muslim who embarks on the fast of the elite in line with our suggestion last week would ultimately attain a status of piety. He would walk “with” and work “in” Almighty. When a Muslim works “in” and walks “with” Almighty, he becomes the beloved of the Almighty. The Prophet says that whenever a servant of the Almighty becomes the beloved of the Almighty, He, the Almighty becomes his hand with which he holds onto things – whatever he holds becomes strong; whatever he does becomes sanctioned by the Almighty. When a Muslim observes fasting and other extra acts of worships like nawafil, he becomes the beloved of the Almighty such that He, the Almighty becomes his tongue with which he talks – whatever he says becomes encoded with divine gravitas; his wishes become the wish of the Almighty.
Thus fasting during the month of Ramadan provides us all with the opportunity to examine our spiritual status. A Muslim who forsakes the pleasure of food and drinks and embarks on this fasting, a Muslim who creates the conditions of hunger and thirst for herself, simply in obeisance to the will of the Almighty is actually and indirectly involved in sharpening his weapon of survival on the terrestrial earth where survival has become simply difficult if not impossible. Thus a Muslim who fasts is like a hunter who takes time off hunting in order to sharpen his weapon of hunt.
Thus he who fasts conscientiously becomes an unassailable and an-inimitable fortress against the devil and its agents; you cannot be the beloved of the Almighty and still become a prey to earthly principalities.
Brethren through the act of fasting we create an artificial or temporary scarcity and want. This is meant to awaken us to the value of the bounties of the Almighty, which we often take for, granted. We consequently become better aware of His blessings over us; we derive greater reason to be grateful to Him. In other words, whenever we settle down at dusk to break our fast, the meal on our table should remind us of the perpetual scarcity and want in which some of our fellow human beings are presently steeped. Each morsel we put in our mouth at iftar during this month should remind us of the life of penury and want in which some Muslims in parts of the world are presently manacled. It should inculcate in us the important ethic of moderation; that the Almighty would be pleased with us when we exhibit a life of moderation and restraint, not in over indulgence; not in stuffing our stomachs with food and drinks.
In other words, fasting is like a school in which the Muslim is expected to receive training and skills in endurance, perseverance and compassion. Fasting teaches the Muslim how to not quit when the going gets tough; that the war of life is won not through resort to escapism. When we fast, when we forsake the luxuries which Almighty has endowed us with, we are indirectly affirming the slippery nature and essence of this world; that in-between life of prosperity and austerity is a distance which is as long as the movement of our eyelids. A Muslim who fasts is preparing for possible changes in life; he is affirming that nothing is life is ever permanent.
Thus fasting, one of teachers reminds us, develops in the Muslim the ideals of courage, fortitude, and a fighting spirit to surmount the heavy odds in life with a cool and tranquil mind.
It sharpens our power of concentration and steels our will power and resolve. Ramadan comes every year with that opportunity for our leaders, particularly those who are Muslims, to conquer their hedonistic and libidinous excesses. It provides the servant with the mechanism to overcome anger; it seeks to imbue us with self-control. Is it not true that the vigorous effort required to put up with hunger and thirst can well be extended to conquer other infirmities of human character that often lead to error and sin?
Brethren, fasting inculcate a spirit of tolerance in man to face unpleasant conditions and situations without turning his fellow human being to victim of his wrath. Many people, when facing discomfort and deprivation, often become irritable and annoyed. This anger is then visited on those around them. Fasting helps a man become more tolerant despite his own discomfort. The Prophet says when a Muslim who is fasting is abused he should say: “I’m Fasting”. Thus it instills in us the spirit of forgiveness towards others, as we seek forgiveness of Almighty for us iniquities.
What about time management? Ramadan reminds us of the fact that everything in the cosmos is dated and timed; that to trifle with time is to trifle with our existence. Like the five daily prayers, fasting during this month therefore serves as a constant reminder for believers that our existence is fated for expiration; the same way fasting is for a specified number of days, our life on earth is equally for a specified but highly knowable number of days.
Brethren, in line with the comprehensive nature of Islam, Ramadan comes with a lot of health benefits for the worshippers of the Almighty. This occurs because the act of fasting functions in cleansing the human system of the accumulated impurities of uninterrupted eating throughout the year. Thus it reenergizes our organs, sharpens our intellect and enhances well being. Remember Mahatma Gandhi. He says in The Story of My Experiments With Truth, ‘if physical fasting is not accompanied by mental fasting, it is bound to end in hypocrisy and disaster’.