Why I Fast
Last week, my fourteen-year-old nephew loudly proclaimed, “I can’t wait for Ramadan! Samosas, pakoras… all that nice food!”. I smiled, and looked at him. “Ramadan isn’t all about that nice food though darling,” I said. “Do you know why we actually fast?”
He looked at me blankly and then as if a light had switched on somewhere in the back of his head, he robotically mumbled, “Oh, to know what the poor people feel like.”
It’s funny, when I was his age and younger, I used to say the exact same thing. To know what the poor people feel like. Maybe it’s because that’s what I was taught in madrasa (Islamic school) and that’s all I had ever known without anyone telling me otherwise, or maybe it was just the easy response to give to a non-Muslim person when they asked, horrified, why I was starving myself. But today, I am deeply thankful to life for the experiences it has blessed me with to reach this point where I now truly know why I fast, and why now I would not have it any other way.
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic holy calendar and is comprised of 29-30 days of abstaining from food and drink, as well as other bodily needs/desires for Muslims during daylight hours. In the UK, that means currently our fasts last almost 20 hours a day, as our summer days are extremely long – and I’m sure you will agree, that’s a long time to go without any food or water. But you know what? Although the days are long, there is something so special and blessed about fasting during Ramadan which is quite indescribable; it’s like a newfound strength, or the returning of a sense of willpower which left you during the rest of the year, bringing with it glad tidings and immense joy.
Fasting is a great spiritual practice and every major religion of the world undergoes some process of fasting during the year, whether that is a Christian person during Lent, a Hindu person once or twice a week, or a Jewish person on Yom Kippur. These fasts require the faster to give something up or to abstain from something in the name of their Lord, and ultimately to better themselves as human beings in order to grow closer to God. So bearing all this in mind, why do Muslims fast for one month out of the year?
Well, I see it this way. Throughout the year, we can become victim to our own selfish desires, and sometimes those desires are harmful to us, our bodies and our own spiritual growth and development. These desires are things that we have been advised against in our holy book the Qur’an, but yet sadly, sometimes we choose not to follow that advice.
However in Ramadan, suddenly things that are lawful to us on a day-to-day basis such as food, drink and sexual relations with our spouses are made unlawful from sunrise to sunset. The effect of this is tremendous. We find ourselves willfully submitting to the act of abstaining from food, drink and other things because this is what is required of us during this holy month; we find ourselves saying no to normal things which are otherwise allowed, showing us the human capacity within ourselves to abstain from whatever we want. This just goes to show that we can say no to those things that the Qur’an advises us are harmful, on a normal day outside of the holy month – it’s about training the mind and the body, and Ramadan gives us the perfect time to do that.
Ramadan for me is also a wonderful time to concentrate further on my spiritual self, without the distraction of eating and cooking (which, let’s face it, the day revolves around). It removes all those physical wants and needs, allowing you the time and space to focus on the inner self: after all, we are not our bodies, or our clothes, or the food that we eat. We are infinite souls with such massive potential to reach a level of consciousness in our everyday lives to bring us closer to our Lord, and personally, Ramadan is a huge reminder of this. Through fasting we learn to understand our carnal selves, and by taming our physical appetites, desires and greed we begin to pave a path which elevates us from our physical being and up to the spiritual dimension of our being. Now, that’s beautiful.
Ramadan – if done and appreciated fully – teaches patience, perseverance, gratitude and humility. It allows a fresh start to those who may have found themselves falling and a new perspective to those who already thought they were on their way. Ramadan is a time of reflection, of soul nurturing and of personal spiritual growth and development, and that’s in addition to the amazing detoxing, healing and nurturing process the physical body undergoes as well.
The gift of Ramadan – because that is exactly what it is, a gift – stuns me to silence through it’s generosity and it’s beauty, and it’s perfect example of how we should try and live our lives every single day.
So, all of this and even more, is why I fast – and for me, it a complete honour and a privilege to do so.