Monday, August 1, 2011 marks the beginning of the holy month of Ramadan for Muslims. Muslims all over the world will be observing fast during this holy month.The concept of fasting is not new to Islam.
Fasting is mentioned in the Bible, the Old Testament and the New Testament as well as Mahabhatara (Hindu Holy Book). In Judaism, fasting is observed in several annual days, primarily on days of penitence (such as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement) or mourning.
In Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, they used to observe a 40-day fast during Lent, a spring period of penitence before Easter, and during Advent, a penitential period before Christmas. Among Roman Catholics the observance has been modified with mandatory fasting only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during Lent. Protestant churches generally leave the decision to fast to individual church members.
In Hinduism fasting is commonly practiced on New Moon days and during festivals such as Shivaratri, Saraswati Puja, and Durga Puja (also known as Navaratri). Women in North India also fast on the day of Karva Chauth.
As is evident, fasting is prescribed in most world religions. In Islam, the ordinances relating to the fast are clearly stated and defined. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. It is a month of rejuvenation and cleansing. The true purpose of Ramadan, as of all forms of Islamic worship is to draw people closer to God. Muslims intensify their worship, self-reformation and charitable donations during this month.
The Quran states: “O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteousThe prescribed fasting is for a fixed number of days, but whoso among you is sick or is on a journey shall fast the same number of other days; and for those who are able to fast only with great difficulty is an expiation — the feeding of a poor man. And whoso performs a good work with willing obedience, it is better for him. And fasting is good for you, if you only knew.” (2: 184-185)
It is evident from the above Quranic verse that not everyone is required to fast. Fasting is obligated on adults not children. Women who are on their menstrual cycle, pregnant or nursing are not required to observe fast during this time. They, however can makeup those days after the month of Ramadan is over. Similarly, those on a journey are not required to fast, but they must make up the missed days at a later time.
Muslims fast from dawn till dusk. It is customary and is considered desirable that a light breakfast should be taken immediately before the commencement of the fast. The breaking of the fast after sunset should not be made an occasion for gorging oneself with food and drink. Fasting for Muslims means completely abstaining from food and drink, including water. The basic teaching in all religions is to develop a relationship with God and fasting is one way of achieving it because when we fast, we are telling God that we appreciate the bounties that he has provided for us like water and food and we also learn what it is like to live without food. This way we can become more compassionate toward our fellow human beings who might not have the basic necessities of life.
The founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community and the Messiah of this age, Mirza Ghulam Ahmad has said that “fasting is about forsaking one kind of nourishment (food) to seek the other kind of nourishment which is for the soul. Allah (God) opens up ways of guidance and spiritual discernment for those who seek Him with truthfulness of heart.” Ramadan Mubarak!