“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may be God-conscious.” (Quran 2:183) The blessed month of Ramadhan in which Allah, the Almighty, has prescribed fasting is already here with us. The Arabic term for fasting is Sawm — literally means to refrain from something, and in the context of Ramadhan, it is meant to refrain basically from food, drink, marital relationship and more.
The purpose for which fasting is prescribed is to discipline our souls and teach us patience and self-control by breaking the grip of habit and creating a state of God-consciousness or piety (Taqwa). Thus, by acquiring the qualities of Taqwa, a person is trained to withstand adverse situations. The best way to understand Taqwa is to think when you traverse a narrow path which is covered with prickly bushes on either side, you gather together your clothes very tightly around yourself and walk very carefully… that is Taqwa. Thus we have to go through this life very carefully avoiding all pitfalls and temptations. In fact, in Islam, Taqwa is the purpose not only of fasting, but of all worshipping including prayers, charity and pilgrimage. The Quran enumerates many righteous deeds of the people who exhibit truthfulness (Siddiqin) and of God-consciousness (Muttaqin) and in this list are those who establish prayer and practice regular charity. But fasting helps a believer to cultivate in him or her God-consciousness. The act of fasting solely between an individual and his or her Creator. A person could pretend fasting but eat and drink secretly and no one would know, yet he or she is conscious that Allah Who is All-Knowing, All-Seeing and All-Hearing is overseeing and watching all our deeds. Thus, fasting creates this constant awareness of Allah. Unlike all other form of worshipping, fasting is invisible to others, thus, it saves us from showing off our piousness. Fasting creates Taqwa in our spirit and our thought. Fasting also enables us to have self-control on all our desires such as hunger, thirst, sleep and sexual gratification. Fasting is the mirror of Taqwa and therefore gives us clear interpretation and manifestation of the Islamic personality to a Muslim. Fasting not only creates Taqwa, makes a person Muttaqi (God-conscious) in his or her behaviour, but also in his or her outlook and thought. It provides a very comprehensive training for being God-conscious and produce a well-rounded personality. Fasting also gives proper meaning to piety. When we think of a person being Muttaqi we usually wrongly think of a person who is very strong in tempering his soul, but Islam requires Taqwa that helps a person to keep control of his or her carnal-self (al-Nafs al-Ammara) not to transgress the bounds kept by Allah. It does not mean that one should torture oneself in such a way to reduce one’s natural power or capability to be effective. Such excesses of piety may lead astray. Regulations with respect to fasting remind us to be moderate and to refrain from being over-zealous. For example, several Prophet Muhammad’s traditions (Peace Be Upon Him) bring out this message clearly by encouraging those who are fasting to have early morning meal (Suhur) and breaking fast (Iftar) promptly after sunset. As human beings, we are creatures of habit. The routine of our daily work helps us organise our lives systematically. Yet at times we become slaves of such self-imposed habits. We got used to having our meals at certain time, coffee breaks at certain times, work-out gyms at certain time etc. Any change of our routine upset us and we feel distraught. Thus, instead of our lives being regulated by us, we become slaves to our own habits. Fasting bring about a complete change in our daily routine. We eat and drink at different times, our schedule of sleep and rest is changed. We also bring more religious activities into our lives during Ramadhan such reciting the Quran, night (Taraweeh) and late-night (Qiyam) prayers, charity, etc. Instead of being slaves to our habits and our desires, Ramadhan gives us back control of our lives. This liberating feeling of being “masters of our own destiny” is achieved by fasting.