Around the world, the Muslim community has completed Ramadan, the month of fasting. Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, is terminated with the ceremony of Eid, a day of thanksgiving and rejoicing. The word "Ramadan" comes from the Arabic root word denoting “scorching heat” and "sun-baked ground". Symbolically, Ramadan provides “spiritual heat” with great therapeutic effect, which is soaked up slowly over the whole month by the soul and heart of the fasting person, just as stones soak up the sun's heat.
Heat therapy is increasingly being applied as a medical treatment to remove toxins, cold and other harmful conditions from the body. In a similar manner, the spiritual heat of Ramadan expunges and “dries out” greed, arrogance, lethargy, indifference and other spiritual deficiencies from the soul of man. Viewed from another angle, heat is vital to all manufacturing processes. Metals, plastic, glass, wood, etc. are all moulded into various beneficial products under scorching temperatures. Similarly, figuratively speaking, the heart of man is cast into a beautiful spiritual mould in the heat of the crucible of Ramadan, thereby becoming a wonderful receptacle of good values and noble ideals.
Long term benefits of fasting
Fasting throughout the month of Ramadan, the third of Islam’s five pillars, is compulsory for Muslims. Fasting is not a mindless exercise of torturing the body by remaining hungry and thirsty, but is extremely meaningful and produces great long term benefits for the fasting person. As a whole, people indulge excessively in food, snacking and nibbling the whole day, thereby heading towards weight gain, obesity and health problems. The intake of drinks such is coffee, tea and fizzy or carbonated drinks is also excessive. When one is fasting, strong discipline is exercised and despite mouth-watering food and delicious drinks being readily obtainable, the fasting person cannot even taste these.
Besides regulating the intake of food, some of the benefits of fasting in Ramadan are tabulated as follows:
• Increase in prayers and devotional practices in Ramadan generate a feeling of spiritual awakening, greater God-consciousness and a sense of closeness to the Almighty Lord
• Fasting, which entails abstention from food and drink for the whole day, creates a greater appreciation for the bounty of food and drinks which are easily taken for granted
• Strong self-discipline and control is developed - a direct effect of fasting – which is essential for achieving any of life’s worthy goals and ambitions
• Fasting requires patience – a sublime virtue - which in turn contributes towards the development of tolerance, contentment and good conduct
• Ramadan causes a change in life’s routine, which enforces healthier habits - particularly with regard to diet and consumption, sleeping routine and giving up bad habits, such as smoking
• Because fasting is a collective activity, it creates a universal sense of belonging and cohesion which is vital for social stability and emotional well being
Sympathy for the poor and underprivileged
One of the great benefits of fasting is that a person experiences hunger and thirst first hand, thereby personally identifying with the plight of the hungry and poor. This in turn generates a real and intense degree of sympathy and concern for the poor and needy, who have so little to live on each day. Ramadan is truly a month of charity and sharing with the poor and underprivileged. Fasting galzanises and mobilises people into programs and campaigns of poverty eradication. One who does not from time to time experience hunger and thirst, cannot truly experience what the poor and hungry feel.
Ramadan as an ideal lifestyle altering program
It is significant to note that lifestyle change and inculcation of a new routine only comes about with a sustained program carried out steadfastly and with discipline over a period of time. Change in routine and habit is usually achieved over the duration of a month at least. This brings about the desirable change in routine that is otherwise difficult to achieve. Ramadan – a month long intensive program - provides exactly this opportunity for lifestyle change. Then when the momentum begins to slacken over the year, along comes the next Ramadan to put things back on track, and so the cycle continues year after year. In this way, the benefits of this month, as elucidated above, are retained for most of the year. When the “batteries” begin to weaken and loose charge, again comes the next Ramadan to give a full charge!
The completion of the holy month, is followed by a day of celebration and rejoicing, referred to as the Day of Eid. This is a day of indulgence in good food, fine dress and great socialising with family and friends, but again with much emphasis on sharing with the poor and needy. Muslims who own wealth just above their own basic needs are required to contribute a small but compulsory charity, called “Fitra”, towards the poor before or on the arrival of Eid day, so that they may also participate in the joys and celebrations of Eid, thus reinforcing the concept of social cohesion and brotherhood.
In a sense, the Day of Eid is a huge “graduation” ceremony for the Muslim community who have just successfully completed a grueling month’s workshop in discipline-building and character development, which is the most essential and basic requirement for a successful, fulfilling and prosperous life.
I take this opportunity to wish one and all a joyous and happy Eid. Eid Mubarak!
(Mufti Zubair Bayat is a Durban-based Islamic scholar and the Director of Darul Ihsan Humanitarian Centre)
(article for MERCURY newspaper p.12 on Friday, 10 September 2010)