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Sawm (Fasting) means abstaining from dawn to sunset from eating, drinking, and sex. Like the Salah (Prayer), this act of worship has been given to all prophets. Their followers fasted as we do. However, the rules and the number of days, and the periods prescribed have varied from one shariah to another. Today, although fasting remains a part of most religions in one form or another, people have changed its original form by accretions of their own.

"O Believers! Fasting is ordained for you, even as it was ordained for those before you." (Al-Baqarah 2:183)

Life of Worship

Islam aims to transform the whole life of man into a life of worship. One is born a slave; and to serve one’s Creator is one’s very nature. Not for a single moment should we live without worshiping, that is surrendering to Him in thoughts and deeds. We must remain conscious of what we must do to earn the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and what to avoid. We should, then, walk on the path leading to Allah’s pleasure, and avoids what leads to His displeasure. Our entire lives must mold to this concept of continuous worship. Allah (SWT) says, "I have created jinn and man for no other reason than to worship me"

Rituals Lead to a Life of Worship

The real purpose of ritual act of worship – Salah, Zakah, Sawm and Hajj – is to help us come to life of total worship. Never think that we can acquit ourselves of what we owe to Allah (SWT) only if we bow and prostrate ourselves five times a day, suffer hunger and thirst in the days of Ramadan and if wealthy, give alms to the poor. Then perform pilgrimage to the house of Allah (SWT). Doing all these acts does not release us from the bondage of Him, or make us free to do whatever we like. Rather, one of the underlying purposes of enjoining these rituals upon us is to develop us so that we can transform our whole lives into the Ibadah of Allah (SWT).

How does the Fasting prepare us for this lifelong act of worship?

How Does Fasting develop us?

Exclusively Private Worship

All acts of worship include some outward physical movement, but not the Fasting. In the Prayer we stand, sit, bow down and prostrate ourselves; all these acts are visible to everybody. In Hajj we undertake a long journey and travel with thousands of people. Zakah, too, is known to at least two persons, the giver and the receiver. None of these acts can remain concealed; if we perform them then other people will come to know about them.

But the Fasting is a form of Ibadah, which is entirely private. The All-knowing Allah (SWT) alone knows that His servant is fasting. We are required to take food before dawn (Suhur) and abstain from eating and drinking anything till the time to break the Fast (Iftar). But, if we secretly eat and drink in between, nobody except Allah (SWT) will know about it.

Sure Sign of Faith

The private nature of the Fasting ensures that we have strong faith in Allah (SWT) as the One who knows everything. Only if our faith is true and strong, we will not dream of eating or drinking secretly. We will keep our Fast for one full month only because of our profound belief in the reward and punishment of the Hereafter. If we had a slightest doubt in that we will meet our Maker, we would not complete such a fast. With doubts in hearts, no such resolves can be fulfilled.

Month-long Training

The Fasting is both a trial and training. If you deposit anything on trust with somebody, you are testing his integrity. If he does not abuse your trust, he not only passes his test, but also develops greater strength to bear the burden of greater trusts in future. Similarly, Allah (SWT) puts our faith to severe test continuously for one month, many long hours a day. If we emerge triumphant from this test, more strength develops in us to refrain from other sins. This the what the Quran says; "O believers! Fasting is ordained for you, even as it was ordained for those before you, that you might attain to God-consciousness" (Al-Baqarah 2:183).

Practicing Obedience

The Fasting has another characteristic. It makes us obey the injunctions of the Shariah with sustained intensity for prolonged periods of time. Salah lasts only a few minutes at a time. Zakah is paid only once a year. Although the time spent on Hajj is long, it may come only once in a lifetime and for many not at all. In the school of the Fasting, on the other hand, you are trained to obey the Shariah of the Prophet Muhammad, blessing and peace be on him, for one full month, every year, day and night. We are then sent back to continue our duties for eleven months so that the training we have received may be reflected in our conduct, and if any deficiency is found it may be make up the following year.

Communal Fasting

The month of Ramadan is earmarked for all Muslims to fast together, to ensure similar results. This measure turns individual Ibadah into collective Ibadah. Just as the number one, when multiplied by thousands, becomes a formidable number, so the moral and spiritual benefits resulting from the Fasting by one person alone are increased a millionfold if a million people fast together.

The month of Ramadan suffuses the whole environment with a spirit of righteousness, virtue and piety. As flowers blossom in spring, so does taqwa in Ramadan. Everyone tries extra hard to avoid sin and, if they lapse, they know they can count on the help of their many other brothers who are fasting with them. The desire automatically arises in every heart to do good works, to feed the poor, to clothe the naked, to help those in distress, to participate in any good work being done anywhere, and to prevent evil. Just as plants have their season of flowering, so Ramadan is the time of year for the growth and flourishing good and righteousness.

For this reason the Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "Every good deed of a man is granted manifold increase, ten to seven hundred times. But says Allah (SWT): Fasting is an exception; it is exclusively for Me, and I reward for it as much as I wish" (Bukhari).

Where are the Results?

You are now probably saying to yourselves: We do observe the Fasting and perform the Prayers but the promised results are nowhere to be seen. The main reason is our understanding of the ‘Ibadah. Our belief that mere abstention from food and drink, from morning till evening, amounts to ‘Ibadah; and once we have done all these things we have worshipped Allah (SWT). Ninety-nine percent or even more among us are unmindful of the true spirit of ‘Ibadah that should permeate all of our actions. That is why the acts of ‘Ibadah do not produce their full benefit. For everything in Islam depends on intention and understanding.

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