When I was about seven or eight years old, I started fasting during Ramadan. Not because I was asked or had to, but because I genuinely wanted to. It was something that the “grown-ups” did. I started off fasting only a couple of times during the month, and within a few years, was fasting every single day of Ramadan. It felt like a rite of passage.
The only thing missing was knowing why I was doing it. Why was I staying hungry and thirsty all day long? Was it to appreciate the blessing of food and drink? To cleanse my body? To feel a sense of community?
I saw people all around me who were fasting from the crack of dawn until sunset, but sleeping through the afternoon prayer time. People who were reciting the Qur’an so quickly I could barely make out the syllables, and even they didn’t know what it meant — as if it was something to get out of the way. People who were refraining from watching TV and listening to music, but were still backbiting their community members and cursing their siblings, children or spouses.
There are physical benefits to fasting, but first and foremost, Ramadan is a time for spiritual purification.
With all of these conflicting messages around me, I had a hard time coming to a firm conclusion about what this month meant. After many years of long fasts and empty rituals, I finally turned to the ultimate source of guidance for the answer: the Word of God, the Qur’an.
“Those of you who have imaan, fasting has been written upon you as Law, just as it was written on those who came much before you, so that you may attain taqwa (become cautious of Allah)… The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Qur’an was sent down — a guidance for all people, and there are clear proofs that it is guidance and a distinguisher between right and wrong. Whoever among you witnesses the month, he should fast all of it, and whoever had been sick or was in the middle of a journey, then he has to make it up in other days. Allah wants ease for you, and He doesn’t want difficulty for you. And [He gave you this] so you can complete the account, and so you can declare the Greatness of Allah, based on how He guided you, and so that, hopefully, you’ll become grateful.” [Qur’an 2:184-185]
Fasting during Ramadan is the perfect time to regain our sense of God-consciousness, or taqwa. A deeper meaning of the word is that we become aware of God in a way that prevents us from disobeying Him out of fear of His punishment, and are inclined to live the way He wants us to in order to earn His pleasure.
So this Ramadan, let’s keep the real purpose in mind: to purify your heart and soul and bring yourself closer to the obedience of God. There are physical benefits to fasting, but first and foremost, Ramadan is a time for spiritual purification.
May Allah accept our fasts and allow them to be a means of purification for us. Ameen.