Muslim Matters Why Muslims Fast Ramzan Ramadan

By Shireen Qudosi

Every year, Muslims around the world come together for a month-long fast from food and water, starting each day from sunrise to sunset. Called Ramzan (or Ramadan), our fast is part of our covenant with God. It is a period of meditative focus, where we are bestowed a chance to reconnect with God by cultivating our humility through resistance to temptation and compassion for mankind through suffering.

This journey teaches us compassion for God’s less privileged. There is no greater teacher than experience; no amount of education or charity work can make us as sympathetic to the needs of others as when we have walked a mile in their shoes.

Hardship Offers the Discipline Needed to Survive an Unstable World

Fasting also installs discipline that can be relied upon during hardship. Blogger Abdur Rahman describes our need for food and water as a source of weakness. “The very thought of living without food and water frightens mankind so much that he gets ready to do anything so as to not face that situation. And if anytime in his life he comes across such a situation he has all the chances of losing his intellect due to the pain and hunger and this and added to it is the fear of death.”

The instability of our modern world, driven by war, natural disasters, and captivity, makes difficult circumstances and hardships frequent. Abstinence from necessities, such as food and water, teaches us to be more mindful of others and to act with grace in times of hardship.

Breaking Bread Together Gives Us a Chance to Storytell 

The sheer practice of fasting also draws us closer to each other. Culturally, Muslims come together to break their fast. We join each other with a spirit of patience and appreciation, sharing whatever food we have. More than just a breaking of the bread, it is our mutual sacrifice and reward that helps create a powerful bond between us.

This bond carries over to Eid (the holiday celebrated after Ramzan is finished) where we are encouraged to not only offer charity, but also to talk to each other, to listen to each other’s stories, and to give gifts. These small actions create a community among a group of people. The simple act of gift-giving increases community welfare and well-being. Just as Eid cannot be celebrated without the month of Ramzan, it is not fully appreciated unless it is celebrated as a community.

A Chance to Heal and Realign 

A prescribed month of abstinence enables us to better unite as a community, as our fast is also a process of purification. During the fast, we are not permitted to indulge in excess. To purify the body, we abstain from sexual acts and preferably from addictive substances like sugars, caffeine and nicotine. To purify the mind, we are called to increase our patience and humility, while shying away from backbiting, idle chatter, arrogance and impatience. A fast without food or drink is no fast at all if our soul continues to feast on such vices.

If we have developed a nature that leans towards these vices, we are granted this one month to cleanse ourselves – a length of time that even scientists can agree upon. A study on meditation found that it takes about a month of consistent behavioural changes to rewire the human brain. Applying the principles to Ramzan, we can understand that daily acts of piety and prayer train our mind to adopt a set of behaviors as habit.

The month building up to Eid also envelops all the five pillars of Islam. We are called to reaffirm our faith, pray, give charity, fast, and even perform a hajj (of the spirit). When we break our fasts together, we are also brought together to remember God. After a month of fasting, we seal our covenants with God, with each other, and with ourselves. As a celebration of that covenant, Eid allows us to step into our future in alignment with ourselves, our communities, and in faith.