Monday, September 25, 2006

The Fourth Pillar of Islam

The  Fasting of Ramadhan

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks are due to Allāh, the Lord of the al-ā’lamīn. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, sallallāhu alayhi wa sallam, is His Messenger.

Description: The fast of Ramadhan is the fourth pillar of Islam. This part we deal its spiritual benefits, and the concept of fasting in world religions.

Fasting is not unique to the Muslims. It has been practiced for centuries in connection with religious ceremonies by Christians, Jews, Confucians, Hindus, Taoists, and Jainists.

Some primitive societies fast to avert catastrophe or to serve as penance for sin. Native North Americans held tribal fasts to avert threatening disasters. The Native Americans of Mexico and the Incas of Peru observed penitential fasts to appease their gods. Past nations of the Old World, such as the Assyrians and the Babylonians, observed fasting as a form of penance. Jews observe fasting as a form of penitence and purification annually on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. On this day neither food nor drink is permitted.

Early Christians associated fasting with penitence and purification. During the first two centuries of its existence, the Christian church established fasting as a voluntary preparation for receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism and for the ordination of priests. Later, these fasts were made obligatory, as others days were subsequently added. In the 6th century, the Lenten fast was expanded to 40 days, on each of which only one meal was permitted. After the Reformation, fasting was retained by most Protestant churches and was made optional in some cases. Stricter Protestants, however, condemned not only the festivals of the church, but its traditional fasts as well.

In the Roman Catholic Church, fasting may involve partial abstinence from food and drink or total abstinence. The Roman Catholic days of fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the United States, fasting is observed mostly by Episcopalians and Lutherans among Protestants, by Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and by Roman Catholics.

Fasting took another form in the West: the hunger strike, a form of fasting, which in modern times has become a political weapon after being popularized by Mohandas Gandhi, leader of the struggle for India’s freedom, who undertook fasts to compel his followers to obey his precept of nonviolence.

Islam is the only religion that has retained the outward and spiritual dimensions of fasting throughout centuries. Selfish motives and desires of the base self alienate a man from his Creator. The most unruly human emotions are pride, avarice, gluttony, lust, envy, and anger. These emotions by their nature are not easy to control, thus a person must strive hard to discipline them. Muslims fast to purify their soul, it puts a bridle on the most uncontrolled, savage human emotions. People have gone to two extremes with regard to them. Some let these emotions steer their life which lead to barbarism among the ancients, and crass materialism of consumer cultures in modern times. Others tried to deprive themselves completely of these human traits, which in turn led to monasticism.

The fourth Pillar of Islam, the Fast of Ramadhan, occurs once each year during the 9th lunar month, the month of Ramadhan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which:

“…the Quran was sent down as guidance for the people” [Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:185]

God in His infinite mercy has exempted the ill, travelers, and others who are unable from fasting Ramadhan.

Fasting helps Muslims develop self-control; gain a better understanding of God’s gifts and greater compassion towards the deprived. Fasting in Islam involves abstaining from all bodily pleasures between dawn and sunset. Not only is food forbidden, but also any sexual activity. All things which are regarded as prohibited are even more so in this month, due to its sacredness. Each and every moment during the fast, a person suppresses their passions and desires in loving obedience to God. This consciousness of duty and the spirit of patience help in strengthening our faith.

Fasting helps person gain self-control. A person who abstains from permissible things like food and drink is likely to feel conscious of his sins. A heightened sense of spirituality helps break the habits of lying, staring with lust at the opposite sex, gossiping, and wasting time.

Staying hungry and thirsty for just a day’s portion makes one feel the misery of the 800 million who go hungry or the one in ten households in the US, for example, that are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger. After all, why would anyone care about starvation if one has never felt its pangs oneself? One can see why Ramadhan is also a month of charity and giving.

At dusk, the fast is broken with a light meal popularly referred to as sahur. Families and friends share a special late evening meal together, often including special foods and sweets served only at this time of the year.

Many go to the mosque for the evening prayer, followed by special prayers recited only during Ramadhan. Some will recite the entire Qur’an as a special act of piety, and public recitations of the Qur’an can be heard throughout the evening.

Families rise before sunrise to take their first meal of the day, which sustains them until sunset. Near the end of Ramadhan Muslims commemorate the “Night of Power” when the Quran was revealed.

The month of Ramadhan ends with one of the two major Islamic celebrations, the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, called Eid ul-Fitr. On this day, Muslims joyfully celebrate the completion of Ramadhan and customarily distribute gifts to children. Muslims are also obliged to help the poor join in the spirit of relaxation and enjoyment by distributing zakat-ul-fitr, a special and obligatory act of charity in the form of staple foodstuff, in order that all may enjoy the general euphoria of the day.


 [ See: Fifth Pillar of Islam]

[ Via IslamReligion]

1 comment:

Mohamed Ameen said...

P.A.Mohamed Ameen

There is enough medical literature to support the benefits of fasting but many seem to be not knowledgeable about the spiritual aspects from the Islamic point of view.

Prophet Muhammad said as follows” God does not want a person to a person to fast and forsake food, drink and sex if he ( she) does not give up lying and falsehood.

The reason give in the Quran for fasting is very simple, it says “ SO THAT YOU MAY ACQUIRE TAQWA” The Arabic word Taqwa means a self correcting faculty within the human person.

It is there to warn you even before even you have actually gone off the course and help you come back if you happen to have strayed.

Of course ONLY IF YOU WANT, TAQWA is auxiliary and facultative, that is why the Quran says “ SO THAT YOU MAY…..In Islam’s scheme of autonomy and answerability, there is nothing automatic: NEITHER GOOD NOR EVIL; NEITHER REWARD NOR CONDEMNATION

The grace and mercy of God is there but ONE HAS TO STRIVE AND DESIRE.

Being hungry and abstaining from pleasure of sex is no pleasure in itself except when it is for the sake of GOD ALMIGHTY.

Other Islamic rituals are different from Islamic fasting.

People can show off going to Haj or paying charity but how can you show off suffering from hunger. It is easy to tell a lie that you fast but eat secretly.

Fasting helps to crystallize and heighten one’s closeness to one’s Creator. It is different from ascetic experience as in other religions. The denial (food and sex)is not an end itself.

The same food and the same sensual pleasure become permissible as soon as the sun goes below the horizon. Voluntary hunger and intensive disciplining produces a unique bringing together of feelings and attitudes and demolish all barriers of ego and inequality.

Dignity of a person enhances due to hunger. Fasting is meant to enable man to be closer to his Master and prepare him to take the challenges and responsibilities that face him beyond the cocoon of his ego.

Ideas borrowed from Ismail Faruqis writings