by Mehol K. Sadain
“Sawm” in Arabic means fasting. Hence, the most famous of the Qur’an verses on fasting, verse 183 of Surah Al-Baqarah, declares: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you (Kutiba ‘alaykumu s-Siyaamu) as it was prescribed to those before you (kamaa kutiba ala l-ladhiina min qablikum). What is the purpose of fasting? The verse continues: That you may learn piety and self-restraint (La-allakum tattaquun). In short, it is to achieve taqwa, which is a state of piety and self-restraint arising from our awe of the Incomparable Supreme Powerful God. One who has acquired taqwa is called a muttaqeen.
The other significant information we derive from the verse is that fasting was also a divine prescription for those who received earlier revelations. This means that revelations from time immemorial directed people to fast so they can also achieve the piety that translates to taqwa among the Muslims. This is unity in spiritual practice and goal, and serves as a point of convergence of the different faiths; which in turn means that other faiths should not really find the Muslim fast unusual nor extraneous. Fasting, after all, is a religious devotion that cleanses the self physically (as doctors will now say) and spiritually (as preachers have always said).
Fasting is therefore an activity that is designed to benefit man. It may be an act of devotion ordered by God and directed at God, but its ultimate and real beneficiary is man. Hence, verse 185 of the same Surah tells us that in fasting, God “intends every facility for you” (Yuriidullaahu bikumul yusra), and “does not want to put you in difficulty” (Wa laa yuriidu bikumu l-‘usr). This is because “He wants you to complete the (fasting) period” (Wa litukmilul-iddata), and “He wants you to glorify Him in that which He has guided you” (wa lituk-abbirullaaha ‘alaa maa hadaakum). For what purpose? That “perchance, you shall be grateful” (Wa la-allakum tashkuruun!)
Verse 185 of Surah 2 of the Noble Qur’an is a verse of shukr, and it is the other lesson (aside from taqwa) that the fast of Ramadan wants to inculcate in the Muslims. Gratitude for what? Gratitude for God’s Mercy (for giving us the cleansing fast) and for God’s Forgiveness (for providing us the means to wash away our sins, and escape hellfire). Hence, it is said that the month of Ramadan is one where “the beginning is mercy, the middle forgiveness, and the end deliverance from the fire” — reasons enough for a fasting faithful to be grateful to God.
There are many glorious teachings about fasting in Ramadan, but the one I like best is the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (SAW), reported by Abu Hurayrah, which goes this way: “Fasting is an armor, with which one protects himself, so let not him who fasts utter immodest speech, nor let him act in an ignorant manner; and if a man quarrels with him or abuses him, he should say twice, ‘I am fasting’. And by Him in whose Hand is my soul, the odor of the mouth of a fasting man is sweeter to Allah than the fragrance of musk. (Allah will say), ‘he gives up his food, and his drink and his desire for My sake. Fasting is for Me, and I will grant his reward, and a virtue brings a reward ten times like it!’” [Bukhari, 30:2]
Piety, gratitude, mercy, forgiveness, and a reward that God Himself will confer on the fasting person in the month of Ramadan. What more can he or she ask for? No wonder, a Muslim always anticipates the coming of the month of Ramadan, and grieves over its ending. MKS