The Arabic term for fasting is ‘sawm’. In essence, it is the same as "tabattul Ilal-Allah" that is detaching oneself from the world and devoting one’s life entirely to God (Quran,73:8). Fasting, along with most of the other rites of worship, was prescribed on a regular basis after the Prophet’s emigration to Medina (2 A.H) but it had been practiced even before Islam it in one form or the other.

According to Aishah, The Prophet’s wife, the Quraysh used to fast on the day of Ashura, in their days of Ignorance (before Islam) and the Prophet would also fast on that day (Sahih Muslim). So one night say that fasting marks the entrance to an Islamic life, if the Prophet’s stay in the cave of Hira before his receiving Prophethood is taken into account.When God decided to give His scriptures to Moses. He asked him to go the Mount Toor where, remaining apart from his people, he was to speed forty days in fasting and abstinence. Moses did so far forty days continuously. Only them did God speak to him. This is mentioned in verse 143 of chapter 7 of the Qur’an.

Before commencing his prophetic mission, the prophet Jesus had fasted for forty days in the desert. Only then was the word of god revealed to him. This is recovered in the Bible as the Sermon on the Mount. Likewise, the Final Prophet used to go to the cave of Hira before receiving his Prophethood. There he would fast in seclusion, engrossed in a world of worship and contemplation. Only after a long life of this inner purification, did the time come for him to be visited by an angel, so that he might receive the word of God.

Fasting is known as "Sawm" in The Islamic Shariah. The word `Sawm’ means to abstain. Literally; it means to abstain from walking around, speaking, eating and drinking. Al Khails as Saim, is a horse that has been detained at a stable and denied fodder. That is why the Prophet called the month of Ramadhan a month of patience. Harith ibn Malik describing one of his fasts to the Prophet said. "I withdrew from the world and was thirsty all day". The outer sign of fasting is abstention from food from morning till evening. But, in its real essence, it is to withdraw from all worldly attachments, and reduce all mundane necessities to a minimum. While fasting, one devotes much less time to conversation, social activity and sexual intercourse.

This reaches a climax during Itikaf, a total retreat conducted during the last ten days of Ramadhan. In Itikaf one is totally cut off from these pursuits. One retires from the human world and enters the world of God. The contact which the believer thus establishes with God should remain with him throughout his life. This is what the Prophet termed "Zuhd" (disattachment with detachment from the world) and has been made obligatory in the form of fasting during the month of Ramdhan. This renunciation or Itikaf, during the last days of the month of fasting is has been considered an extremely desirable form of worship. In Itikaf, one distances completely from the world and turns to God. Itikaf is the most complete fulfillment of Islamic requirements during the whole of Ramadhan, has been exhonerabled as concession for albeit less strictly practiced during the first part of the month (a concession made to devotees.)

The Benefits of Fasting:
What are the benefits sought in fasting? Its aim is to weaken the material aspect of man and strengthen the spirituality in him so that he may enter the higher realms of faith.

Two things make up a man: jos npdu and as indispendable for the performance of mundane tasks, it is his soul which will take him to the higher realities. The mind - as psychologists prefer to call it - must, therefore, be preserved in a state of purity. That means that just as the body requires physical nourishment, the soul must be nourished spiritually.

When one lifts oneself up from the material world and becomes attached to the spiritual world, one is astonished to apprehend a new door of truth opening before one. All those realities that were formerly invisible beneath a veil of matter now become plain for in to see. One reaches the lofhies station- The final stage in the ascent of man.

This is explained in the tradition:When a person has elevated himself the world, God endures him with wisdom, which emanated from his lips. He is shown the ills of the world, and their remedies. He is brought safely to the abode of peace.(Mishkat)

There comes a point on this path when one passes so far beyond the veil matter that one can see realities exactly as they are. Then one "worships God, as if one were seeing Him." (Bukhari)

Prophethood is the final stage of this path. But a common man can also elevate his soul to this degree. The difference is that a Prophet is one chosen by God. There is no obscurity in his vision of the divine world; it appears before him in absolute, certain form; it actually became a part of his consciousness. The Prophet thus is in a position to say: "I know that I know", while a common man can never reach this stage because he is not `chosen’. Unlike the Prophets, his contact with the divine world is neither absolute nor conscious.

Of the verses of the Quran prescribing the fast of Ramadhan, there is one which does not apparently seem to deal with fasting, but it is in this verse that the significance of fasting has been explained. And when My servants question you concerning Me, tell them that I am near. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls upon Me. (Qura’an 2:186)

The Prophets, because of their being chosen, are in direct contact with God through angels. For others, the Qur’an takes the place of the angel Gabriel. By fasting and abstinence, the Prophets cleansed and purified their souls or minds of all material stain, thus detaching themselves inwardly from the world. It was then that God’s angel descended to them and directly communicated to them the word of God. Others like to attain through the Qur’an must asks enable in fasting and abstinence in order to appreciate what they read. Although the Quran is with us today, preserved in written form as it was revealed, it enters one’s heart only when one is spiritually prepared to receive it by living a life of fasting and devotion.

The fact that Ramadhan fasting was prescribed in the month when starting of the Quranic revelations began is an indication that the purpose of fasting is to prepare the individual mentally and physically for whatever the Qur’an enjoins.

Just as the Prophet had to fast in the solitude of the cave of Hira in order to receive the Qur’an, so shall other believers have to do the same. Otherwise they will be , in the words of the Quran, like donkeys, laden with books". (62:15). The book of God will not have entered their hearts.

The Qur’an is the law of the universe, it is the voice of nature. One who is submerged in the depth of its meanings begins to hear its message in every heart beets. Every particle in the universe starts conveying its message to him. He eventually comes to see the Qur’an and nature as reflections of one another: "Now here are Signs self-evident in the hearts of those endured with knowledge and none but the unjust neglect Our Signs".

Fasting - the Path of Spiritual well-being
While decreeing the fast of Ramadhan, the Quran says:
God desires your well-being, not your discomfort (Quran 2:185).Man’s prior and most important need is food and drink. Abstinence from these things cannot but inconvenience him. Fasting, by its very nature, is sure to result in physical discomfort. The fact that God has said in the Quran that He desires you well-being, not your discomfort, shows indirectly that there is bound to be some physical inconvenience involved in fasting. Why, then, has it been called a path to comfort and well-being?

"Yusr", the word used in this verse, is the Arabic for ease, or well-being. It is used when an individual becomes so well prepared for a task that he finds it easy. The meaning of this verse is that fasting might appear to cause discomfort, but God has nothing to gain from causing human beings unnecessary trouble. Man may have been created such a way God that he must necessarily satisfy his material needs, but if he is discover the Quran on a truly intellectual level, it is also essential, at least for a few fixed days to retire from the material world in order to develop the spiritual part in himself, so that he may see far and beyond all material veils; only then he will be able to receive the word of God. This is the relevance of fasting to the Quran, because of which the month in which the Quran was revealed has been decreed a month of fasting.

The Reality of Fasting:
Some think that the most important thing about fasting is the breaking of it, so the whole day is spent in arranging for a variety of dishes and drinks. Others consider it to mean staying hungry all day, and reciting the whole of the Quran each day without stopping to ponder over its meanings. But such acts only serve to turn a purely Islamic worship into a form of Christian monasticism. As for what is mistakenly called "dhikr bil Jahr" (Loud remembrance of God)- repetitive recitation and shaking of the body - this contradicts the very purpose of fasting, which is spiritual seclusion. The true aim of fasting is withdrawal from everything except essential subsistence and vital responsibilities. During this period, one should reduce conversation, social life, movement, merrymaking and all kinds of worldly activity to a minimum. For a certain time, one should lead a life of quiet devotion, reading the Qur’an and pondering over its meaning. Abstinence from food symbolizes not only the eschewing of those forbidden things, which a believes should give up for his entire life, but also the renunciation even of lawful things for the devotion to the fast. In seeking meanness to God, the believes must cut himself off from all worldliness.

Although fasting, in its specific and definite form, is prescribed just once a year, the fasting engaged in for this one month should be a continuous, permanent state, if is to be done in the correct spirit. Fasting is cutting oneself off from the world and turning to God; not in a physical sense, but in one’s heart and mind to be continually directed towards God, whatever one’s bodily activity. Spiritually, one’s whole life should be a form of retreat at all time though not understanding this reality, people have fled to mountains and jungles in order to perfect their faith. But the perfection of faith is for one to fulfill one’s obligations in the turmoil of the world, while remaining in a state of inward "retreat" and remembrance of God. Abdullah Ibn Masud, one of the Prophet’s closest companions, addressed his contemporaries - those who grew up after the Prophet’s death - in these word:

You fast more than the Companions of the Prophet; you pray more than them, and strive more than them; but still they were better than you. People asked him why. "They were not so interested in this world as they were in the next", was Ibn Masud’s reply (Milyatul Awliya, V.I, P.136).
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