Why do Muslims Fast? It is not simply about keeping away from food and water from dawn to sunset for one month.
Aligning Ourselves to the Natural Order of the Universe through Fasting
By Dr. Zahid Parvez
Fasting during the blessed month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam and an important act of worship (Ibadah). Ibadah in Islam, if performed with sincerity and devotion, helps in developing inner strength required to align our whole being to the natural order of the Universe that has been set by Allah, the Creator and Lord of all that exists. According to Islam, everything in the Universe is a Muslim – that is, everything submits and follows the order set by Allah. This is why we see perfect coordination, peace, and harmony in the Universe. However, humans have been given freedom in this matter - to either follow or reject what Allah has set. If we endeavour to align our hearts, minds, souls, and limbs, both individually and collectively to what Allah wishes for us, we will find true peace, happiness and be in harmony with ourselves, with other fellow human beings, and with the rest of the Universe. However, if we decide not to align ourselves to Allah’s Will, then we will not be in peace and harmony with the rest of Creation and therefore bring misery into our lives and create disorder in the world around us. Our actions will inevitably disturb the order and balance set by Allah causing economic, environmental and social problems in our society and world.
Allah, our Merciful Lord, wants our wellbeing and happiness. He has therefore sent guidance for humans to help us align ourselves to His Will like the rest of the Universe. This guidance (the Qur’an) focuses on our human nature, explaining what is good and what will bring us harm and misery; how we can fulfil our purpose of creation; and what will cause us to lose in this life and the life hereafter.
To be successful, Allah has prescribed a clear and balanced path for us based on a universal moral code, a legal framework to ensure order and justice in family and society, and guidance for all aspects of our lives, individual and collective. If we follow this path, we will become well-balanced people, develop good, peaceful, and just societies, and be successful in this world and the hereafter.
The prescribed acts of worship in Islam, if performed correctly and with sincerity and devotion, would generate inner conviction, motivation and strength to help align ourselves to Allah’s Will – the natural order of the Universe. One of these prescribed acts of worship is fasting during the month of Ramadan (the 9th month of the Islamic lunar year).
Like the other acts of Ibadah, fasting helps to produce and nurture a whole range of positive values and qualities in people (through restraining from food and water from dawn to sunset). Some of these qualities include God-consciousness and love for Him as we are fasting in obedience to Him, piety, self-discipline, endurance, fortitude and patience, and compassion and generosity for others (as we feel for the hungry in our world). These qualities consequently motivate us towards a moral life and nurture a sense of justice and social responsibility, which help to build strong brotherhood/sisterhood and community cohesion. All of this is essential for building good people and a good and just society.
Thus, fasting is one of the prescribed acts of worship to help us align ourselves to the Will of Allah so that we can become better people, build a just and peaceful society and remove all forms of oppression and unjust and exploitative practices that cause disorder and imbalances in the world around us.
Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) reminded people in many different ways of the real purpose of fasting. He has said:
‘Many are the fasters who get nothing from their fast except hunger and thirst, and many are those who pray during the nights but gain nothing from their prayers except for wakefulness’. (Daarimi).
‘If one does not give up falsehood and actions based on it, God does not need that he/she should give up food and drink. (Bukhari).
It is therefore important not to lose sight of the real purpose of fasting and the great qualities that can be produced in people through this act of worship. Fasting should directly impact our lives. It should strengthen our relationship with Allah and motivate us to strive for building a just, peaceful, and balanced society. Fasting should not be seen as an objective in itself, but as a powerful means for fulfilling the Islamic purpose in human life and society.