Thursday, August 11, 2011

The Meaning of a Muslim Fast

It is Ramadan. A month in which the Muslims observe fasts. It is among the five obligatory acts which constitute the foundation and are called the five pillars of Islam namely 1)saying the kalma through which one acknowledges the Unity of Allah and that Mohammad (peace be upon him) is the last messenger; 2)Prayers; 3)Zakat or alms; 4)Performing Haj or pilgrimage; 5)Fasting.

The Muslim fast starts from sunrise and it ends when the sun sets. During the period of fasting from sunrise to sunset, Muslims abstain from eating and drinking any kind of food and liquid including water. Apart from the apparent attempt of staying away from food, is the attempt to stay clear of telling lies, backbiting, intimacy, profanities and other commonly practised unkind acts during the fast from sunrise to sunset. Some friends have expressed shock over having no intimacy but it is allowed with your spouse after the fast is ended at dawn.

I have heard from people why a Muslim would undergo such hardship and that it is foolish but there is tons of logic behind the Muslim fast. When a person fasts, he is drawn to noticing small things, details that he otherwise missed. An empty stomach compels you to think of others that spend their life in search of food and only live by a morsel of food. It compels you to think of how you waste your food and throw generously your food away declaring it left overs. A thirsty person is forced to think of the thirst of others who cannot find clean water or water at all. The conscious attempt to stop lying and backbiting, arguing and scheming brings you back to your pure being, self. When one is fasting he is humbled naturally.

Ramadan is the month of sharing and giving. A simple meal passes for a lavish one and is devoured hungrily. This is a month where one is disciplined; where everyone is taught to with-hold and control wants, desires, and to turn towards self-righteousness. The delights of simplicity in everything is noticed and appreciated through a minuscule of suffering. At the end one emerges feeling purified and relieved and is more appreciative of everything than before. A bit of suffering reminds one of how to appreciate and how to be content which is necessary for a healthy life. Consider all the rich people in the world that have money to buy whatever they wish but finding no content in their lives. That is because getting what they want is always at their fingertips minus the denial. Thus it becomes a routine for them. Ramadan offers a break from the monotony of routine in life; relationships, habits. It is a time to reflect and reset. A reminder to go back to the humble roots is required every now and then and that is when Ramadan holds its meaning and importance.

The end of Ramadan, the completion of the 30 day fast is celebrated with a scrumptious meal shared with near and dear ones after the Eid prayers. I call Ramadan a 30 day training period which strengthens us spiritually, morally and physically.

Photo from calledtocolombia.org

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