What does fasting during the month of Ramadan mean?
The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root word, “Ramad,” which means “excessive heat”. People in the past used to fast during summer when the heat was at its climax. This year Ramadan fasting will take place in August, in which the intensity of the summer heat reaches its climax here in Kuwait. It should be noted that over the last few years people around the world have been complaining of excessive heat that hasn’t been experienced for decades. However, this doesn’t absolved them from fasting. Sometimes fasting is observed in winter because the Gregorian calendar is eleven or twelve days ahead of the Islamic lunar calendar, which means that Ramadan cycles through a complete year in about 35 years. Ramadan is the 9th month of the Islamic lunar calendar, which comes immediately after the month of “Sha’ban.”
What does fasting mean in Islam?
Siyaam (fasting) literally means: to refrain from. From the Islamic context it means: refraining from food, drinks, smoking and conjugal rites from dawn to sunset. Fasting is not only abstaining from the aforementioned things. It also means abstaining from all mischievous acts, vices and bad behavior. Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) says: “Whoever does not abandon falsehood and acting upon it, there is no need for him to abstain from eating and drinking.” In addition to the aforementioned things that a fasting person has to abandon, he should also abstain from the following:
a. Backbiting and scandal mongering
b. Sleeping during the day and staying awake at night
c. To waste food and drinks
d. To eat excessively
e. Being lazy so much so that one doesn’t execute his work as required.
Fasting in Ramadan
Fasting is not a new practice; people used to fast even before the advent of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) – early Egyptians, Romans and Greeks used to fast. Prophets such as Adam, David, Joseph, Moses and Jesus, et al (Peace be upon them all) used to fast. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) told us thus about the fasting of David (PBUH): “The best form of prayer is the prayer of David, and the best way of fasting is the way of David; for he used to fast on alternate days.” (Reported by Bukhari and Muslim)
Prophet Joseph (PBUH) used to fast as well and when fasting, he would say: “I am afraid to fill my stomach with food and forget the poor and indigent people.” One of the aims for him to fast was to experience the poor people’s ordeal when they went/go hungry so that it motivates him to sympathize and empathize with them and thus help them. We should be more generous during the month of Ramadan.
Reasons for Fasting
Before the advent of Prophet Muhammad people used to fast for the following reasons:
a. Expiation for their sins
b. As a means of purifying their hearts
c. Whenever afflicted with calamities, to mention but a few.
God says: “O you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may learn self-restraint…” (2:183)
Benefits of Fasting:
The following are some of the benefits of fasting:
1- God consciousness (Taqwa)
2- To train a fasting person to be sincere to God – not only while fasting, but also when doing any other act of worship. For it is very easy for someone to claim he/she is fasting but eat in secrecy.
3- Forgiveness of sins.
4- To train a fasting person that it is easy to control his desires, passions and emotions if there is a will and desire. The maxim goes: where there is a will there is a way.”
5- Patience; not every day would one be in position to get his normal meals. Therefore, whenever it becomes difficult for him to get them, he should be able to endure hunger.
6- To ingrain into people kindness and sympathy; for when they experience hunger they remember their brothers in humanity who do not necessarily get their regular meals.
7- Equality between the rich and the poor, the subordinate and their masters – No one can say: “Because I am rich I will not fast but will rather pay someone to fast on my behalf.”
8- Abundant rewards from God Almighty.
9- To realize the value of food and thus be grateful to God. When we enjoy some blessings we tend to take them for granted. It is only when they disappear that we realize their value.
10- It is a cure to some diseases such as rheumatism, cardiac problems and hypertension- among others. It also helps in weight management, giving a rest to the digestive system, and lowering lipids (organic substances that include fats and waxes)..
11- To strengthen relationships with each other and learn mutual respect.
12- Fostering good behavior as the fasting person is not allowed to abuse anyone or react negatively on whatever is said or done to him.
Points to put into consideration:
1- Muslims do not fast because of medical benefits in the first place, but because it has been enjoined upon them in the Holy Qur’an. The medical benefits of fasting are as a result of fasting. Moreover, fasting during Ramadan is a command from God and not a prescribed imposition by doctors or physicians. However, we do believe that everything God (Allah) enjoined upon us is beneficial to us in various ways whether on this earth or in the hereafter.
2- One of the differences between fasting in Ramadan and total fasting – often prescribed by doctors – is the aim of fasting and the timings of food in-take. During Ramadan, Muslims basically take an early pre-dawn meal and miss lunch until sunset when they break the fast. Abstinence from drinking water during this period is not harmful at all because the body has its own water conservation mechanisms.
3- Many medical researchers amongst Muslims and non-Muslims have confirmed that due to the fact that fasting helps in lowering fats in the body, it then cuts down the percentage of cholesterol. In 1994 there was a conference held in Casablanca, Morocco where more than 50 doctors and physicians shared their findings about fasting in Ramadan and on other occasions. They unanimously agreed that fasting is beneficial to the health of those who fast. God says: “… and it is better for you that you fast, if ye only knew.” (2: 184). Therefore, in Ramadan by depriving the body, Muslims enrich the soul. Thus Ramadan fasting should be viewed as a blessing and not as a burden.
4- If the fast in the first place is without any spiritual significance then it is like an empty shell without a kernel. If we realize this, we shall then look at Ramadan not as a burden but as a blessing and thus be duly grateful to God.
5- Although fasting is beneficial to a person in many ways, there are special considerations for any one intending to fast. He should be healthy and not travelling especially if the journey is long and very strenuous.
Breaking the fast:
Prophet Muhammad urged Muslims to break the fast on dates. He said: “Whenever anyone of you breaks the fast, let him/her break it on dates; for they are a blessing from God.”
Following are some of the benefits of dates:
1- They provide the body with glucose, which is the best diet for the brain cells and nerves all of which depend on it.
2- They free a fasting person from the conditional and functional nervous tension.
3- They regulate the level of glucose intake in the blood stream; this makes the fasting person’s stomach partially full.
4- They soften the digestive process – among other benefits.
Who is exempted from fasting?
2- Mentally retarded (Nothing is obligated for them to make up for not fasting)
3- The sick/ill
5- Menstruating, pregnant and suckling women (Should fast an equivalent number of days afterwards.)
6- The aged
7- The chronically ill ( should donate a meal to the needy)
Eid Al-Fitr In Kuwait – after the end of Ramadan
There are two Eids during the year and they constitute major holidays in Kuwait. The celebration of Eid al-fitr, which follows Ramadan, usually takes place over three days. Throughout the Eid, the people will dress in their finest clothes and families will exchange visits and entertain children with outings and monetary gifts or other types of gifts that are not monetary.
Eid Al-Ad’ha, which follows the pilgrimage season, is celebrated in similar fashion, for three days families exchange visits, share meals and treat children to gifts , fun and games.
The Meaning of Eid
In its purest sense, the Arabic word “Eid” refers to something that returns and is repeated. It is known as the celebrations that follow two of the major acts that characterize a Muslim – the fast of Ramadan and the pilgrimage (Hajj). The Eids are unique festivals when Muslims celebrate their spirituals progress with worship, charity, socialization and festivity.
Eid Al-Fitr, (Festival of Breaking the Fast,) is the celebration that follows Ramadan. After a month of abstaining from food, drink, smoking and conjugal relations from dawn to sunset, Muslims celebrate with congregational prayer, charity and joyful social exchanges. Eid begins on the first day of Shawwal, the 10th month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Following the dawn prayer, the Muslim prepares for the Eid prayer which takes place shortly after sunrise. He showers, wears his best clothes and has a bite to eat to begin celebrating. All the while, he may hear around him the people repeating the “takbeer”, (praises of God), on their way to the Eid prayer. Then he goes to a large open area of congregational prayers followed by a short sermon. He is joined by men, women and children from his neighborhood. There is a great joy in Eid Al-Fitr, and any Muslim would agree that the joy of breaking the month-long fast is secondary to many other feelings, such as thankfulness, remembrance, achievement and peace, etc.
The celebration of Eid begins with remembering God first and foremost. The congregational Eid prayer is a time to glorify Him, remember His blessings and generosity, and pray for forgiveness for any shortcomings in one’s fast.
Every Muslim who completed the fast of Ramadan has a tremendous sense of achievements. When he abstains from satisfying the most basic needs and powerful urges of life all day, each day for an entire month, both in public and in private, he develops a level of patience and self-discipline that cannot be achieved easily in any other way. After the fast, he feels he can meet any challenge with resolve, patience and faith.
The discipline and spiritually of Ramadan leaves in the Muslim a profound feeling of peace and satisfaction. This comes from the willful submission to God’s Law and from the blessing which emanate from that submission.