The Wisdom of Fasting

Tajuddin Shu’aib

There are reasons and wisdom behind every single act in Islam, no matter how small. In time we may know the wisdom for behind some acts, and for others we may never know. Solat, for instance, is a daily training for purifying the believer and reminding him that he is a member in a community of believers.

Fasting of Ramadhan, on the other hand, is an annual institution containing all conceivable attributes for human excellence. It is training for the body and soul, a renewal of life, encouraging the spirit of sharing and giving. The following are some of the general benefits.

Self-Restraint (Taqwa)

Allah SWT states: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may (learn) self restraint.” (Al-Baqarah, 2:183)

This verse indicates the first lesson or wisdom to be gained in fasting is self-restraint, (Taqwa) or the fear of Allah SWT. That is to say, fasting instills in the heart the essence of consciousness of the Creator, moral courage both in secret and manifest, guiding the heart, the seat of emotion from spoilage and moral indecency.

It has been reported that Abdul Malik bin Al-Asma’e was in Makkah when Ramadhan came, so he decided to leave for Taif to escape its heat. On the way, he met a Bedouin who told him that he was heading for Makkah. Abdul Malik asked him, “Aren’t you afraid of Makkan heat in Ramadhan?” The Bedouin replied, “It is from the heat (hellfire) I am running away.”

Fasting instills taqwa, fear of Allah, and does so by controlling two aspects of the human body, which are the root causes of human downfall, namely the stomach and the private parts. The human body is constructed with the need to please the two of them and, in the process, man transgresses the rights of others, fellow human beings, and the commandments of Allah are violated. Fasting is equivalent to life, because with the level of taqwa being raised, the person avoids the sins which are detrimental to life itself.

Correction of the Behavior.

One of the most important things fasting affords the observer is helping him control or change his or her habits; the reason being human life is an embodiment of acquired habits. To change or control a habit is basically to wage a war against you, yourself. If jihad is mandatory on every believer because it is the peak of the essence in Islam, and it entails changing habits, the fasting is the training ground for the inevitable that will occur. The believer cannot wage a war and hope to defeat an enemy if he or she cannot wage war against his soul. Thus, the faster is admitted to the compulsory training opened only in Ramadhan, the learning in this school is mandatory and succeeding or scoring high is mandatory, otherwise it is like you never entered. The Prophet SAW said: “Many a faster receives naught from his fast except the pain of hunger and thirst.” (Muslim)

If he scores high the reward is guaranteed: “Three people’s prayers are not rejected-among them – the faster, until he breaks.” (Ibn Hibban) Now, does a Ramadhan fast control one’s habits? Simple, two of the most important habits are food and drink. An average person eats three meals a day, 21 meals a week. The way the fast is structured, with its basic and drastic alteration of eating habits, a faster takes light meals early in the morning and late in the evening. If the believer can control these two habits, food and drink, it will undoubtedly be easy for him to control other habits, including the habits of smoking, drug abuse and illicit sex. Do you not see that, if you can control your tongue, hands and all other parts of your body, it will be easy for you to apply the same training for the rest of the year?

Heath Care

The benefits of fasting transcend guiding the faster from idle talk and indecent acts. It is a sentinel against disease, provided the faster follows the strict dietary rule: eat during fast breaking and avoiding over-eating. Allah SWT states: “…Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not wasters.” (Al-Qur’an, 7:31)

A great deal of ailments originates from stomach indigestion. This is why the Messenger of Allah SAW said: “The son of Adam will never fill a container with something worse and evil than his stomach. It will suffice him some morsels (food) that will keep him on his feet, otherwise, he should divide his stomach into three parts: one third for his food, the other for his drink and the other third for his breath.” (Ibn Hibban)

This hadith indicates that the stomach is the origin of harmful bacteria. Even in the age of sophisticated machines, you can hardly find a machine so fragile but yet so remarkably durable and efficient like the stomach. This is the machine that receives food particles, processes and refines them, and distributes the products to different parts of the body. This is a lifelong operation. For the non-faster, the stomach will have no chance for rest. When the stomach is empty, as a result of fasting, it gets well-desired rest, to renew and rejuvenate its energy. With the fasting, the stomach is forced to go through a discharge whereby harmful residue is eliminated through perspiration as the body searches for food during fast.

During fast, the system of secretion is organized, and this in turn benefits the blood pressure, inhibiting hardening of the arteries. The heart and kidney functions are enhanced as the work load tapers off. The fast helps to correct the problem of obesity and diabetes. Doctors over the years have used fasting as a prescription for certain ailments.

There was a discussion between Ali Bin Husain bin Waquid RA and a Christian physician to the Khalifah, Harun Ar-Rasheed, about Islam’s outlook on the science of medicine and health care. The physician said to Ibn Waquid: “There is not in your Book, Al-Qur’an, anything about medicine. For if Al-Qur’an is a book of science, what about this science? Aren’t there two kinds of sciences: the science of the body and the science of the soul?” Ibn Waquid responded: “Allah, the Most High has combined both sciences in half of a verse, when He states: “…Eat and drink but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters.” (Al-Qur’an, 7:31)

The physician said: “Why, then, has nothing been mentioned about medicine from the mouth of your Messenger?” Ibn Waquid replied: “Our Messenger (saas), has combined the sciences about medicine in a few words when he says: “The stomach is the house for disease and prevention is the essence of medicine.” The Christian physician then said: “Then your book, Al-Qur’an, and your Prophet Muhammad left nothing about medicine for Juliennes (a famous physician of the ancients).” [Arkanul Arba’ah by Abul Hasan Nadwi].

A physician published a report on fasting and its benefits saying: “It is mandatory on every person who is sick to restrain from food certain days in a year whether he be wealthy or poor because if bacteria can find food in abundance in the body, it will grow and multiply. But with fasting it becomes weak.” He then praised Islam. It should be considered as the wisest religion, for as it mandated fasting it has mandated health care. He continued: “Indeed, Muhammad, who brought this religion, was the best physician who succeeded in his teachings, for he called for prevention before ailment, that is apparent in fasting and the nightly prayer (Tarawih) that Muslims observe after fast breaking every day of Ramadhan, for these physical acts contain big benefits in digesting food.” [Arkanul Arba’ah by Abul Hasan Nadwi]

Patience

Fasting helps in conditioning the heart, the soul, and the body on the virtues of patience, tenacity, and firmness in the face of adversity. Patience is the pinnacle of self-mastery, discipline and spiritual agility. Patience is to turn the phrase “I can’t” into “I can.” It is to say, the difficult is easy. It is an inner and psychological demolition of things perceived by others as impossible. Fasting helps in all these shades for the virtuous, patient person because, the conditioning is that if a believer can exercise patience, and forsake gourmet food and drink, and the exhilaration we enjoy while eating or drinking our favorites, as well as marital association, the gratifying of other normal appetites for a whole day, for a month the realization that the barrier between you and food is your consciousness of your Creator, can better make you able to exercise patience in virtually everything in life.

Social Outlook: Merciful and Compassion.

Socially, fasting is an expression of solidarity with the poor, the family and the whole society. This is a period in which the rich have first-hand experience of what it is to be poor, the pains the indigent suffers in normal living conditions. The process of disciplining resulting from Islamic fasting instills in the rich the virtue of mercy, Rahmah, which is very important in terms of social well – being and proliferation of harmony. Allah bestows his mercy upon those who themselves are merciful to others. “Those who are merciful to others, the Merciful will have mercy upon them,” the Messenger said. He continued, “Have mercy upon those on earth, and those in heaven will have mercy upon you.” [Abu Dawud & Tirmidzi]

Family Ties

Fasting strengthens family bond and ties, especially in that the family is an endangered institution of society. It helps the family gather together to break fast, at Iftar, and eat sahur together at least twice a day for a month. The family even performs Solat, together with the father as Imam.

Fasting enhances and energizes friendship, as Ramadhan is known as the month of invitations and visitations. Friends, family members and neighbors extend invitations to each other to come to their homes to have Iftar together. The Messenger said, “When a believer invites you, you should respond.” Besides, Muslims gather together in the Masajid for Tarawih and ta’aleem.

©MSA

About Md Radzi Ahmad
A retired Malaysian civil servant. Served the Malaysian government for thirty-one years. Posted to London, Rangoon, Johannesburg, Pretoria and Bangkok. Born in Kampong Hutan Kandeh, Alor Star, Kedah. Educated at Sultan Abdul Hamid College, Alor Star and University of Malaya, Kuala Lumpur. Currently resides in Subang Jaya, Selangor Darul Ehsan,Malaysia.Blessed with three children, a son, two daughters, daughter in law and two grandaughters.

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