The religious holiday calls for fasting from sunrise to sunset for about a month. It is then followed by the three-day celebration of Eid.
Talk Historyby Mehmet Ozalp, Associate Professor of Islamic Studies, Director of the Center for Islamic Studies and Civilization, and Executive Member of Public and Contextual Theology, Charles Sturt University
Intermittent fasting is becoming popular, with many promised health benefits. But Muslims have been practicing fasting during the lunar month of Ramadan for centuries.
Ramadan 2022 will begin on Saturday April 2 and will last approximately 30 days. It is then followed by the three-day celebration of Eid.
The importance of Ramadan in Islamic history
Before becoming a messenger of God, Muhammad used to retreat to the cave at the top of Hira mountain. He would meditate in solitude, away from the polytheistic culture of tribal Mecca for the entire month of Ramadan. We do not know if this retreat involved fasting at the time.
In 610, when he was 40 years old, he again went to the same peak to meditate. Several weeks into the retreat, he saw an angelic form appear before him, commanding him to read. He replied that he could not read. The angelic form hugged him tight and repeated the command to read. This continued three times, after which the first five verses of the Holy Quran were revealed:
Read in the name of your Lord who created man from a piece of flesh. Read, for your Lord is Most Generous. Who taught humans with the pen. Who taught humans what they don’t know.
Muhammad was still not able to read conventionally, but he understood that he was being asked to read the book of the universe and learn from it, and also to understand that it points to its creator.
This incident marked the beginning of Islam, the revelation of the Quran and the prophetic mission of the Prophet Muhammad.
In 624, when Muslims migrated to Medina to escape persecution, the month of Ramadan was declared holy by virtue of the beginning of the Prophet’s mission and the revelation of the Quran. Fasting was instituted this month as one of the five pillars of Islam as a way for believers to show their gratitude to God and to reflect on the teachings of the Quran and its importance for believers.
Who observes the Ramadan fast?
The Ramadan fast consists of stopping eating, drinking and having sex from dawn to dusk. Practitioners can engage in all of these acts once the fast is broken and resume fasting the next dawn. The cycle continues for an entire month.
Ramadan fasting is one of the most observed pillars of Islam, with 70-80% of Muslims practicing it. It is compulsory for all Muslims, men and women, from the age of puberty. Parents encourage their children to fast for half a day from the age of ten to condition them for fasting.
There are exceptions. Travelers, the elderly, the sick, pregnant women and nursing mothers are exempt from fasting provided they make up the missing days at an appropriate time after Ramadan. Elderly people and the chronically ill compensate for non-fasting days by making a small donation to charity for each day, if they can afford it.
Since fasting takes place from dawn to sunset, the duration of the fasting time changes depending on the season and where in the world a Muslim is located. Near the polar regions, the fast can last almost 22 hours in summer or only a few hours in winter.
Spiritual Meaning and Benefits of Ramadan Fasting
What to some may seem like a self-inflicted ordeal has deep meaning for human beings and God, and their relationship to each other. God shows the perfection of lordship, grace and mercy by making the surface of this Earth a table of blessing and by placing all kinds of food on this table for every creature to enjoy.
During Ramadan, believers perform a collective act of worship in the presence of the powerful and universal Mercy while awaiting the divine invitation to the table of blessings at the time of breaking the fast. As the Earth revolves around its axis, the jubilant calendar repeats itself continuously throughout the month.
Many people forget that God is the source of all sustenance. While they gladly thank the delivery agents, they forget to remember and thank God as the one who ultimately meets all their needs. God expects the price of thanksgiving for the sustenance He has provided.
True thanksgiving is knowing that all sustenance comes directly from God, recognizing its value, and feeling our own need and dependence on that sustenance.
A fasting person physically feels the value and need of basic nourishment when they feel the pangs of hunger and thirst. Since a believer fasts for God’s sake, he recognizes that food, which may be taken for granted, actually comes from God. Therefore, fasting in the Islamic tradition is the best way to show true and heartfelt thanksgiving.
Fasting tames desires. The constant exercise of the will not to eat, drink or have sex sends a strong message: it is the human will, therefore the mind, that controls.
Fasting is not just about staying hungry or thirsty, it is also about struggling to contain other harmful behaviors. Prophet Muhammad remarked:
One who does not give up lying and acting on lies while fasting, then God does not need him to give up eating and drinking.
Therefore, the fundamental spiritual benefit of fasting is to exercise willpower and achieve self-control, essential for success in all aspects of life.
Fasting has other personal and social benefits. Thanks to fasting, the rich know what it means to be hungry. Therefore, the wealthy will be more inclined to give charity when fasting. The annual Islamic almsgiving (zakat) are usually paid during Ramadan.
Muslims often invite friends and family members to join in the celebration of breakfast dinners (iftar). The rich organize dinners for the poor.
In recent decades, Muslim minorities in Western countries have begun to invite their non-Muslim friends to iftar dinners. Muslim organizations hold annual iftar dinners for their associates and supporters.
In Australia, the Premier of NSW, for example, held iftar dinners for members of the Muslim community and other religious leaders since 2004. Presidents of the United States have also hosted iftar dinners at the White House.
Ramadan has become a cultural event for everyone.
Ramadan ends with a three-day celebration (Eid al-Fitr), where Muslims offer a special morning prayer and then visit family and friends. Charity, called fitris given to the poor to ensure that no one is excluded from the celebrations and the joy of success that accompanies fasting.
This article is from The conversation, an independent, non-profit news organization dedicated to spreading the ideas of experts. Republished under Creative Commons license.