By Amreen Pathan
‘Oh Allah, bless us in the months of Rajab and Sha’ban and let us reach the month of Ramadhan.’
Tomorrow evening marks the advent of Ramadhan 2021 whereby Muslims across the globe will embark on a month-long journey of what I like to call an interdisciplinary diet.
Diet – this is a term we associate with nutrition and this is precisely why I chose this word. Its main connotation is food of course and yes Ramadhan is all about abstaining from food. But Ramadhan is more than just about food.
Ramadhan is about mental nutrition. Ramadhan is about spiritual nutrition. Ramadhan is about moral nutrition.
In sum? Ramadhan is about abstaining from all of those things that bereft a person from spiritual and mental nourishment in a bid to right and strengthen the moral, spiritual and mental compasses of one’s inner self.
This is why Ramadhan is an interdisciplinary diet based on a wholesome regime of abstinence.
With any diet comes gain and below are some of the gains of fasting:
- Physical benefits
Fasting is a great contributor to the preservation of physical health. The science is that the body progresses through various stages of the fasting day which over a sustained period of time can contribute to a number of things:
- Regulation of weight and appetite
- Metabolic balance: fasting has scientifically been linked to lowered incidence of Type 2 Diabetes.
- Cardiovascular support: in layman’s terms, better heart health as fasting reduces ‘bad’ cholesterol.
- Reduced inflammation: while acute inflammation helps the body fight infections, inflammation could lead to illnesses like heart disease, diabetes and cancer.
- Gut support
- Autophagy: a cellular mechanism that facilitates the removal of unnecessary or dysfunctional components.
“Oh you who believe, the fasts have been enjoined upon you as they were enjoined upon those before you, so that you may be God-fearing.” (2:183)
Here, Allah Almighty Himself states the spiritual merits of fasting in terms of Taqwa.
Linguistically, Taqwa is defined as a ‘protective shield.’
Once, the great companion, Umar bin Khattab asked Ubayy ibn Ka’b about Taqwa. In reply, Ubay ibn Ka’b said to Umar (may Allah be pleased with them): ‘O leader of the believers, what do you do when you pass through a thorny road?’
Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) answered: ‘I lift my cloth up to my calves and watch my footsteps and take each step slowly from the fear of thorns lest they prick me.’
Ubayy ibn Ka’b (may Allah be pleased with him) responded: ‘This is Taqwa.’
This is a perfect example of Taqwa in context. When a person fasts in accordance with the injunction of Allah, they are creating a protective shield between themselves and Allah’s wrath or all of those actions that prescribe Allah’s wrath.
The month of Ramadhan then is a breeding ground for spirituality; an artist’s blank canvas; a boxer’s ring; a yogi’s mat; a student’s notebook; whichever analogy fits the shoe best.
By fasting, a person can acquire or at least work to acquire the following spiritual merits:
- God consciousness: when a person fasts, they do so only for Allah. No being besides Allah can really know if a person is truly fasting or not and this bring about the realisation of Allah’s presence and force.
- Regulating desires: just as fasting can curb the physical appetite, fasting can also curb human desires. As the ‘middle community’ (2:143), moderation is one of the many emblems of Islam; the neutral ground between two extremes: ifrat (excessiveness) and tafrit (negligence). Fasting teaches moderation in eating and drinking and good deeds and worship. It teaches moderation in money and materialism and intimacy.
- Humility: Fasting makes one weak. This removes any false sense of pride and prestige because all a weak person can do is turn to their Creator for all of their needs.
We cannot talk about the benefits of fasting without giving due diligence to the mental merits of fasting. So many individuals have a precarious relationship with food but whatever the intricacies, all living beings need food to survive. When this concept becomes restricted, the following factors come into play:
- Sabr or patience: in a tradition of the Prophet (peace be upon him) narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah, the Prophet is reported to have said: ‘It (Ramadhan) is the month of patience…’
Fasting is no easy feat. Those who regulate their diet or are restricted in some way will tell you the mental fortitude required to commit to their goal. The act of abstaining from food as well as other acts for the sheer pleasure of Allah tests the will and patience of the abstainers. This is why Allah promises an entire gateway to Paradise known as Ar-Rayyan for those who fasted in the month of Ramadhan.
- Empathy: walking in somebody else’s shoes as the saying goes, creates empathy. Hunger is the only medium in which the wealthy can feel the pangs of the poor and when this happens, a spirit of kindredness and kindness is created. This in turn promotes the quality of being grateful as well as inclinations to help those less fortunate on this earth.
- Time management: Wasting time and procrastination is one of society’s greatest illnesses and fasting works towards its erasure and expulsion from one’s life. When a Muslim fasts, every action becomes meaningful; sleeping to preserve strength and store energy for the night’s prayers, breakfast before dawn to refuel for the next fast, a meal at sunset to stave off starvation and so on. Everything is done on time and nothing is done that serves no purpose
We hear a lot about sustainability today, be this in fashion or food. Fasting in the truest sense of its word and meaning is the embodiment of sustainability in its long-term promotion and preparation of a strong character, excellent habits, charitable manner and moderate lifestyles.
May our month of fasting be meaningful and mindful and may it be a means of gaining Allah’s pleasure.
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Tags: Ramadhan; fasting; training; spiritual; religious; Muslims; charity; patience; empathy; time-management; God-fearing; Taqwa; health; diabetes; regulation; abstinence; diet; shield; interdisciplinary; gratefulness; sustainability; moderate