Understanding the benefits of Fasting and ways to achieve.

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Abstract: This article is dedicated to researching the action of the Prophet Muhamad(pbuh) with respect to observing Fast in Ramadan for our understanding about the benefits of Fasting that Allah has mentioned in the Quran : “ To Fast is the beneficial for you, if you only understand” ( 2 : 184)

Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said : “Islam is based on Five Principles and to observe ‘Fast’ during the month of Ramadan is one of them” (Bukhari).

There are four verses  ( chapter 2 : verse 183, 184, 185 and 187 ) in the Quran where Allah has discussed the purpose and regulations of fasting in the month of Ramadan.

Allah says ( 2 : 183 ) : “ Believers ! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous ( in fear of Allah).” This verse sets the righteousness as the  goal of fasting. This means all activities related to fasting are directed to achieving the qualities of Taqwa ( righteousness). Believers need to focus on all activities in this month in  a way that they achieve the qualities of Taqwa and use this Taqwa in every activity throughout the year.

After fixing ‘Taqwa’ as the objective of Fasting, Allah says in next verse : “ To Fast is the beneficial for you, if you only understand” ( 2 : 184 ).  Therefore, understanding of ‘how fasting is beneficial’ for us is very important for getting benefit from fasting.

First action towards understanding the benefit from fasting is to have a clear concept about Taqwa because Allah has set it as a  goal for mankind to benefit in this world and in afterlife.

What is Taqwa ?

‘Taqwa’ is an Islamic terminology, which is translated in English as consciousness of Allah, fear of Allah, love for Allah, restraint etc. Generally, it means; ‘consciousness in obeying Allah in His fear and love’.

For pursuing Islamic way of life, Taqwa is so important that Allah has discussed about this in the Quran with its derivatives more than 250 times. All these discussions cover different aspects of Taqwa for better understanding of it by the believers. For example, Taqwa refers to Trust ( 2:283), faithfulness ( 3 :186 ), Patience ( 3:186), speaking truthfully ( 33 :70), dutifulness to Allah ( 4:131), obeying Order of Allah and abstaining from whatever He has forbidden ( 3 : 102), paying obligatory charity, fulfilling contracts, performing prayers, and spending for relatives, orphans, and the needy ( 2 :177 ) and so on. It covers everything of life. In one simple sentence we can say, ‘ Sincerely obeying Allah in all affairs of life  is Taqwa’. A practical example of practicing Taqwa in real life activities are as follows : Omar (RA), the second ruler of Islamic world after Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) asked  an eminent companion, Ubbay ibn Kab (RA) about the true meaning of Taqwa. In reply, he asked Omar ( RA); have you ever walked along a thorny road ? Yes , certainly ; Omar ( RA) replied. Ubbay (RA) asked him again: “ How did you manage to get through it”. Omar (RA) replied : “ I gathered up my clothes and tried my best to avoid the thorns”. “That is precisely what  God fearing ( Taqwa) is like” said Ubbay (RA). By this discussion we understand  that life faces harm from many wrong paths like a traveller faces in journey on a thorny road. We  have to avoid these wrong paths carefully and walk on the right path of life – Al Quran given by Allah. If we do so in every affairs of life , then we are following the principle of Taqwa. This type of Taqwa Allah wants us to achieve through fasting and only this type of Taqwa throughout the year  can deliver benefit of fasting in Ramadan.

Leaving the wrong path and staying on the right path in the course of work is not that easy. Life’s temptations instigated by devil continuously attracts on the wrong paths and acts like thorns in the journey of life on the road of Islam. During fasting, continuous one-month long practices of self-control and self-discipline by sacrificing physical and mental desire; a believer becomes fit to walk on the path of Allah  ‘Al- Quran’ throughout the year. Off- course, that depends on firm consciousness about the objective of fasting. To facilitate this consciousness, we are stating here few references from the teaching of Prophet (pbuh) regarding fasting in Ramadan :

* Prophet (pbuh) said : “It (Ramadan) is the month of  Patience  and the reward for patience is heaven “ ( Ibn Khuzamah). Patience is needed for pursuing self-control and self- discipline. Also, it is needed to overcome difficulty in doing good deed and difficulty in controlling temptation for wrongdoing. Month long enduring hardship in controlling food, drink and sexual desire helps to develop habit to keep patience and avoid exceeding the limit set by Allah throughout the year.

*Prophet (pbuh) said : “ Whoever does not give up false statements and actions on those lies and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving food and drink”       ( Bukhari ). False statements, and actions on those lies and evils destroys peace and safety of mankind. Believers are trained for one full month to avoid these so that they can protect themselves from evil of these throughout the year after Ramadan.

*Prophet (pbuh) said : “ Fasting is a shield. So, the person observing fast should not behave irrationally, and rudely, and if someone fights with him or abuse him, he should tell twice, I am fasting” ( Bukhari). Irrational behavior, abusing, fighting etc. destroys peace and harmony in the society. Month long training to abstain from these develop habit in the  believers to avoid these throughout the year. Imagine ! How great benefit mankind is getting throughout the year only by this training in Ramadan.

* Prophet (pbuh) said : “ Whoever fasts during Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s reward, then all his past sins will be forgiven” ( Bukhari ).

“The time between the five prayers, two consecutive Friday prayer, and two consecutive Ramadan are expiations for all that has happened during that periods provided that one has avoided the grave ( major) sins” (Muslim). By avoiding sins and seeking forgiveness throughout a month, believers develop habit to avoid sins. As a result crime reduces throughout the year.

* Prophet (pbuh) said : “ It (Ramadan) is a month of charity” (Ibn Khuzamah). Continuous charity like giving food to the needy, inviting friends, relatives and poor to Iftar ( opening fast) throughout the month for the satisfaction of Allah develops habit of sacrificing for the needy and create love for each other throughout the year. This is a great act for self purification indeed ! Allah says :          “ Who gives away from his wealth, purifying himself” ( Quran 92 : 18). Feeding the poor is so important that Allah has given it equal to the rank of fasting for a person who can not fast because of health condition ( ref. Quran chapter 2 verse 184). The spirit of feeding people that Muslims practice in Ramadan if continues throughout the year, none will starve. This is a great benefit for the society.

* Night prayer :

Prophet (pbuh) said: “He who prays during the night in Ramadan with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven”(Muslim). “The best prayer after the obligatory prayers is the night prayer ( Tahajjud , Taraweeh )” ( Muslim).

These prayers can bring the believers closer to Allah and enrich their Taqwa if it is so focussed. Otherwise, we will finish the prayer without achieving its objective : “ Establish prayer for My remembrance”( Quran 20:14). “ Surely, prayer (salat) keeps one away from immorality and wrongdoing”( Quran 29 :45).

Therefore, we should remain cautious throughout the year to remember Allah always and avoid wrongdoing. This is key to achieving  the objectives of righteousness (Taqwa) through night  prayer in Ramadan.

Above few references of activities in Ramadan gives an idea about how  Taqwa is achieved through these activities and how  the believers need to use Taqwa at their practical life throughout the year for their own benefit. Regarding this type of fasting, Imam Sayeed Qutub writes in his great Tafsir, ‘ Fizilalil Quran’ : “ Fasting when observed in obedience to Allah and in pursuit of His pleasure, instills and revives this quality in the human heart and also acts as a safeguard against evil and wrongdoing. Fear of God, then is to have a sensitive conscience, clear feelings, a continuous concern, vigilance and alacrity, and yearning for the correct path”.

Thus, when human soul is decorated with Taqwa through fasting and eagerly waits for correct path of life, the night of power ( Laylatul Qadr)  appears with the Final message of Allah, the absolute correct path of life for mankind – Al Quran.

Al Quran and Ramadan :

After essence of Taqwa is achieved thus, a believer starts living on the path of the Quran. His success in the world and in afterlife totally depends on the guidance of the Quran. Allah says :“ We have sent down this book ( Quran), which is perfect blessing, so follow this and adopt God fearing attitude so that mercy may be shown to you” ( Quran 6 :155). “As for those who reject it ( Quran), they are indeed loser” ( Quran 2: 121).  “We have left out nothing in this Book” ( Quran 6:38).These verses and many other verses and hadith confirms that everything in life must be done according to the Guidance of Quran for a blessed life.  Rejecting or partially following the Quran will be a cause of punishment in the world and in the afterlife ( ref. Quran 2:85 ). Due to this fact, Allah has dedicated a complete month of Ramadan for education and training on Quran so that the believers can live throughout the year as per its guidance. “ Angel Gabriel used to meet Prophet (pbuh) every night in Ramadan. The Prophet (pbuh) used to recite the Quran to Gabriel” ( Bukhari ).

From Prophet’s (pbuh) time  till now the system of Quran study in Ramadan continues throughout the Muslim world.  Reading  and listening to recitation of  the Quran continues day and night. In fact , Ramadan is an annual event for revision of the Quran by Muslims for following it in real life activities throughout the year after Ramadan. Fasting and Quran study goes in parallel during Ramadan. Fasting helps to achieve Taqwa and Taqwa helps to follow Quran in the activities in the world. Both together, make the life of a believer successful.

To understand relation between Quran, Fasting, Ramadan and Laylatul Qadr we  are stating here few references from the Quran :

* “ This is the Book( Quran ) about which there is no doubt that it is a Guidance for those who fear Allah ( Taqwa)” ( Quran 2:2 ).

* “ The month of Ramadan is that in which we sent down the Quran, as a guide for mankind and a clear proof of the guidance , and a criterion  to determine right and wrong” ( Quran 2 :185 ).

* “By the Book ( the Quran) that makes things clear ! Surely we revealed it during the blessed night to warn mankind. Whereon every matter of wisdom is made clear. A command from Us , surely, we are the sender of Messages, as a mercy from your Lord. Your Lord is the One, Who hears and knows all( Quran  44 : 2-6 ).

* “ Indeed, We revealed the Quran in the Night of destiny and power . What will make you comprehend what the Night of Destiny and Power is ? It is better than a thousand months. On this night, the angels and Gabriel descend by the permission of their Lord with His Decree. This night is all peace until emergence of dawn” ( Quran 97:1-5).

Above verses from surah Baqara, Dukhan and Qadr reveal the following facts :

* Fasting, Revelation of Quran and Decree of Destiny for coming year – all these three important things happen in Ramadan.

* Fasting provides Taqwa and Quran provides Guidance to the people of Taqwa.

* All worships in Ramadan shall focus to achieve Taqwa and plan to live on the guidance from Quran with Taqwa throughout the year.

Quran study in Ramadan shall focus to follow its guidance in all activities throughout the year. This is the way to expect a favourable decree of destiny in the night of Qadr. If We plan , prepare and pray for better destiny in Ramadan and work throughout the year for it, than Allah grants better destiny for us. This is His way. Allah says: “ Surely , Allah will not change the condition of people as long as they do not try to change their state themselves” ( Quran 3:11 ).

Conclusion :
I hope the above discussions based on the Quran, hadith and understanding of the great companions of Prophet (pbuh) clarifies the benefits of Taqwa and ways to achieve it. Achieving Taqwa and learning Quran in Ramadan and then living with the guidance of Quran with Taqwa throughout the year is the only way to benefit from the Fasting . This is what the Companions of Prophet (pbuh) did and achieved benefits of fasting in this world and waited for promised reward paradise in the afterlife.

Contemporary Muslims, who practice rituals in Ramadan ; do similar to the rituals that early Muslims used to do. The difference is in the focus in using Taqwa and living on the guidance of the Quran after Ramadan. Companions ( RA) of Prophet (pbuh) used to enrich their Body, Mind, and Soul with the power of Taqwa, and Knowledge of the Quran in Ramadan and after Ramadan they lived righteous life by following the Quran with Taqwa throughout the year. Though many Muslims follow their footstep today, it is also observed different behavior in some Muslims. They do fast but do not care about Taqwa and Guidance of the Quran in their activities throughout the year. As a result, they do not get benefit from the Quran and Fasting in this world and risking their reward in the afterlife.

Ramadan is the season of collecting Taqwa and knowledge of the Quran by a believer for use of these throughout the year. Those who fast and study Quran in Ramadan but do not carry these with them for use throughout the year, their situation is like a farmer who works hard to grow crops but does not pick his harvests in the season and nor store for use it throughout the year. This farmer does not benefit from his hard work of farming. Similarly, a believer does not benefit throughout the year from Fasting if he does not achieve Taqwa and acquire knowledge of Quran and then use these throughout the year after Ramadan.

Prepared by : Syed Jalal Uddin.


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