The Holy Month of Ramadan connotes abstinence, understanding the meaning and concept of human values and feeling the tinge of hunger, which is why, Muslims observe fast from dawn to dusk.
Fasting forms the core of the Holy Month and in the countries of the Islamic world, all public eating places including restaurants, fast-food and take away outlets and other organisations are allowed to open only after the Iftar prayers are announced at the end of each fasting day. Muslims distinguish three types of Fasting-ordinary, special and extra-special.
Ordinary Fasting means abstaining from food, drink and sexual satisfaction.
Special Fasting denotes keeping one’s ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet and all other organs free from sin.
Extra-special Fasting means fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but God, Great and Glorious is He. This kind of Fast is broken by thinking of worldly matters, except for those conducive to religious ends, since these constitute provision for the ‘Hereafter’ and are not of this lower world. Those versed in the spiritual life of the heart have said a sin is recorded against one who concerns himself/herself all day with arrangements for breaking his/her Fast. Such anxiety stems from lack of trust in the bounty of God, Great and Glorious is He and from lack of certain faith in His promised sustenance.
To this third degree belong the Prophets, the true ‘Awliya’ and the intimates of God. It does not lend itself to detailed examination in words, as its true nature is better revealed in action. It consists in utmost dedication to God, to the neglect of everything other than God. It is bound up with the significance of His words: ‘Say: “Allah (sent it down): then leave them to play in their vain discussions. (Al-An’am, 6:91)”
As for Special Fasting, this is the kind practiced by the righteous. It means keeping all human organs free from sin and six things are required for its accomplishment: ‘See not what displeases God.’
A chaste regard, restrained from viewing anything that is blameworthy or reprehensible or that distracts the heart and diverts it from the remembrance of God, on him be peace:
“The furtive glance is one of the poisoned arrows of Satan, on him be God’s curse.
Whoever forsakes it for fear of God will receive from Him, Great and Glorious is He, a faith the sweetness of which he will find within his heart.”
Guarding the tongue
Guarding one’s tongue from idle chatter, lying, gossiping, obscenity, rudeness, arguing and controversy; making it observe silence and occupying it with remembrance of God, and with recitation of Quran. This is the fasting of the tongue. Said Sufyan: “Backbiting annuls the Fast.”
Mohammed the Prophet (Peace Be Upon Him) said: “Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is Fasting he should not use foul or foolish talk. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say: ‘I am Fasting, I am Fasting!’”
An anecdote narrated often in the Middle East brings home the true spirit of fasting during the Holy Month. Two women were fasting during the Holy Month. They were so fatigued towards the end of the day from hunger and thirst that they were on the verge of collapsing. They therefore sent a message to the Prophet, requesting permission to break their Fast. In response, the Prophet sent them a bowl and said: “Tell them to vomit into it what they have eaten.” One of them vomited and half filled the bowl with fresh blood and tender meat, while the other brought up the same so that they filled it between them. The onlookers were astonished. Then the Prophet said: “These two women have been Fasting from what God made lawful to them and have broken their Fast on what God, Exalted is He, made unlawful to them. They sat together and indulged in backbiting, and here is the flesh of the people they maligned!”
Hearing the good
Closing one’s ears to everything reprehensible; for everything unlawful to utter is likewise unlawful to listen. That is why God equated the eavesdropper with the profiteer thus:
“Listeners to falsehood, consumers of illicit gain (Al-Ma’idah, 5:42).”
“Why do their rabbis and priests not forbid them to utter sin and consume unlawful profit [Al-Ma’idah, 5:63)?”
Keeping all other limbs and organs away from sin, hands and feet from reprehensible deeds and the stomach from questionable food at the time for breaking Fast are also embedded in the Islamic teaching. It is meaningless to Fast, to abstain from lawful food, only to break one’s fast on what is unlawful. A man who fasts like this may be compared to one who builds a castle but demolishes a city. A person might well give up excessive use of medicine, from fear of ill effects but he would be a fool to switch to taking poison. The unlawful is a poison deadly to religion, while the lawful is a medicine, beneficial in small doses but harmful in excess.
The object of fasting is to induce moderation. Said the Prophet: “How many of those who fast get nothing from it but hunger and thirst!” This has been taken to mean those who break their fast on unlawful food. Some say it refers to those who abstain from lawful food but break their fast on human flesh through backbiting, which is unlawful. Others consider it an allusion to those who do not guard their organs from sin.