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Fasting, a cornerstone of spiritual discipline, transcends the mere physical act of abstaining from food and drink. Its essence lies in cultivating a profound sense of piety and gratitude that extends far beyond the month of Ramadan, permeating the fabric of one’s existence throughout the year.

While the Quran emphasises the significance of fasting for an entire month as a means to express gratitude for divine guidance, its deeper purpose unfolds in the realm of spiritual transformation.

Indeed, the spiritual efficacy of fasting hinges on its internal dimensions rather than its outward observance alone. It is not merely a matter of refraining from sustenance during daylight hours but rather a profound journey of self-discipline and introspection.

In this regard, fasting serves as a conduit for nurturing virtues such as patience, gratitude, and humility, enriching the believer’s connection with the divine.

In contemplating the essence of fasting, it is essential to recognise that every religious obligation comprises both form and spirit. While the form embodies the outward actions prescribed by tradition, it is the spirit that infuses these rituals with profound significance.

For instance, in the practice of salah (prayer), the essence lies in cultivating humility before the divine presence, while zakat (almsgiving) embodies the spirit of social service and compassion.

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A conscious act

Before commencing the fast, the intention (Niyah) to keep the fast must be expressed. The Prophet of Islam observed that fast should be kept by one who has expressed his intention. This makes fasting a conscious act, not a mere ritual. It is performed with full consciousness of its implications.

Suhoor is the meal eaten before commencing the fast. The Prophet asked his companions to eat Suhoor, calling it a blessing.

Eating Suhoor before dawn reminds us that when God gives us a difficult command, He also grants some concessions. Together with the command of fasting, God gives the concession of Suhoor.

Iftar is an Arabic word that means ‘to break’. In the Islamic context, it means breaking the fast by eating and drinking after the sunset. Iftar is not simply a dinner. It has greater significance. It is a combination of spiritual and physical food.

Spirit of fasting

This spirit of fasting guides us to the importance of sustainable consumption; today, billions of dollars worth of food are wasted yearly while millions sleep hungry every night. It is incumbent upon us that, at least at the individual level, we do not waste food and contribute our part towards a more sustainable food system.

In Arabic, fasting is known as ‘Saum,’ which means abstinence. Abstaining from food and drink during Ramadan is intended to awaken the believer’s ‘sawm spirit’ — a spirit that should last for the entire year and not for specific days; thus, the one who fails to adapt it throughout his life has missed the whole point of fasting this month. He contends with the outward forms and not with the inner realities.

The Prophet of Islam once said, “When any of you is fasting, he should refrain from all indecencies. He should not raise his voice. If anyone fights with him or abuses him, he should not retaliate but say that he is fasting.” This Hadith highlights the true essence of fasting: abstaining from all things God has forbidden.

Creating a better society

Fasting is about developing the ability to lead a life bound by restrictions rather than unrestricted. Another Hadith records that the Prophet of Islam said that when a fasting person is abused, he should say in return, “Peace be upon you. I am not the one to return abuse for abuse.”

Therefore, the goal of fasting is also to refrain from indulging in negative thoughts and develop a tolerant personality. It is important to give others leeway to create a better society. This means allowing others to have their opinions and beliefs, even if they differ from ours.

For this, one has to practise tolerance, a lack of which in individuals or a group can upset the peace in society. Tolerance is a crucial aspect of personality development for the individual and the overall development of a society or a nation. It allows us to regulate our behaviour, make better decisions, and achieve positive goals.

Humans consist of two essential parts — the body and the soul. The body is crucial for performing everyday tasks, while the soul elevates a person to higher realities. To preserve the mind’s or soul’s purity, it must be nourished, just like the body.

Fasting involves disconnecting oneself from worldly pleasures and redirecting one’s focus towards God. This redirection towards God is not physical; it requires restraining negative emotions and remembering God in one’s heart and mind.

Fasting, when undertaken in its true essence, becomes a conduit for the fortification of inner resilience and the cultivation of unwavering supplication. These virtues, honed during the sacred month, equip individuals with the strength and wisdom to navigate the trials of everyday existence with grace and perseverance.

In essence, Ramadan beckons believers to not merely observe its rituals but to internalise its profound teachings, integrating compassion, empathy, and stewardship into the fabric of their being.

Raamish Siddiqui is a lawyer, author and scholar. X: @raamishs