By Prof M Aslam
Fasting in one form or the other does exist in almost all the religions.We are just witnessing “Navaratra Fasting” for nine days among Hindus. Similarly, Hindu women also fast for a day – “Karwa Chouth” for the well being of their husbands. The Christians (Catholics) do have 40 days fast but it is not mandatory, but fasting on ‘Ash-Wednesday (beginning of Eastern Season of fasting and abstinence) and ‘Good Friday’ are mandatory except sick and pregnant women.
Roza or Fasting in Islam
Roza or fasting in Islam is an elaborate process stretching over a period of one lunar month every year. Apparently, it means that a person observing fast from sun rise to sun set, will neither eat nor drink nor even smoke. But in essence it implies that a person will not only observe abstinence from eating and drinking but will get into a sublime state of mind in order to develop positive feelings. To achieve this one has to restrain oneself from listening, speaking, hearing or thinking negatively about others. Ramadan is also considered the month of Quran because the first revelation the Prophet Muhammad (SAW) received was in the month of Ramadan.The Qur’an says, “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.” (Qur’an, A – Baqara, 2:183.)
It is also an elaborate process of self-purification. The expectation is that if one passes through this process of self-purification for a period of one month, its impact will remain for the remaining 11 months, after which this process will be repeated. Physical fasting alone does not have any social or religious significance.
Sociologically speaking, fasting is an expression of solidarity with the poor. It is manifested through the concept of charity, neighbourhood and hospitality. Apart from helping to purify body and soul through the process of self-purification, addressing these areas of social significance are bound to help people to shed all those things, which are not socially desirable. and turn out to be an ideal human beings.
Charity includes helping the poor through giving of alms. It is said that if one gives away even a small amount during this month, he will get 70 times more blessings in return. A Muslim is also expected to take stock of his personal wealth both cash and kind and calculate ‘zakat’ @ about 2.5%, which is to be earmarked for distribution among the poor and needy. In return God is expected to safeguard his wealth and property. What a wonderful scheme to bring about social justice. If all the rich and well to do Muslim families practice this with full sincerity, there will be few dying of hunger in the colonies inhabited by desperately poor people.
Concept of Neighborhood
The practice of the concept of neighbourhood is equally important. It has wider connotations than its literal meaning. The Prophet had said, “One should behave decently with the whole of humanity and foremost among them is your neighbour.” If one connects it with concept of fasting, an immediate implication is that a true Muslim cannot see any human being hungry, even if it means having to sacrifice ‘iftar’ and to continue fasting for the next day without taking any food. Similarly, a true Muslim cannot see a human being in pain or misery. It applies to both one’s immediate neighbourhood as well as entire humanity. What we are witnessing around us in the name of Islam is not Islam. In essence, Islam in general and ‘roza’ in particular teaches a person to address human concerns and values.
Concept of hospitality
On the concept of hospitality, the Prophet (SW) had said “those who become happy on hearing the sound of the footsteps of a guest, God will forgive their sins”. Since the Muslims try to practice good things to receive forgiveness from God, there cannot be better motivation than this to achieve the same.
Inculcate habit of speaking the Truth
One of the greatest advantages of Ramadan fasting is that “its true observance is expected to inculcate in a person a habit of speaking the truth”. It is well accepted that to tread the path of truthfulness is to tread the path of the most righteous of God’s creation.”.The Prophet (SAW) said: “ Say what is True, although it may be bitter or displeasing to people. “ Truthfulness is expected to be an essential attribute of every Muslim. If a person undergoes through this process of self purification, speaks the truth, practices the concept of hospitality and neighborhood and gives charity as prescribed, he/she will not only become an ideal human being (Insan), but will certainly be also entitled for God’s blessings and protection which all of us so desperately need in these turbulent times. Muslims need to demonstrate through observance of ‘roza’ (in its totality), Islam’s relevance in today’s world.
Prof. Aslam is Former Vice-Chancellor, IGNOU, New Delhi. He is a Member of the Collegium of Eminent Social Scientists constituted by the ICSSR; Fellow EDI of the World Bank; Distinguished Fellow, AGRASRI, Tirupati, A.P
He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org