The Significance of Fasting in Islam
Fasting, i.e. abstaining from food, drink and sexual relations from dawn till sundown, has been directly ordained at the very beginning of the Holy Quran. “O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” (2:183) It is a religious practice which has tremendous significance in the eyes of Allah and has been repeatedly stressed by the Muslim scholars in the Hadith.
“By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. Allah says about the fasting person, ‘He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward the fasting person for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 1894)
What makes it really important are its special powers to combat evil. Fasting is about purifying your soul for this fight; about submitting yourself to Allah by complying with his prohibitions and fulfilling his commands. If this is observed, fasting will give you strength. The Prophet said about those who fast, “if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should tell him twice, ‘I am fasting.” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 1894). It means “I am fasting and therefore shall not reciprocate you.” The power of this rebuke is such that the attacker shall be embarrassed and shall desist.
One of the most important things about fasting is abstaining from vile deeds as well as from food. This is how the Islam tradition interprets the main goal of fasting. “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)” (Sahih al-Bukhari, 1903).
Giving up one’s spite and reforming oneself is what this is all about, bringing forth the virtues of a Muslim, meaning supererogatory prayers, charity, amenable character and behaviour. Such diligence shall earn the reward from the Lord, such piety shall gain extra credit when the time comes for Judgement.
The significance of fasting for a Muslim is in the strengthening of faith, in educating man to recognize Allah at all times, in uniting Muslims in their demonstration of submission to Allah and thus making stronger the links in the community. It also has significance in terms of Dawa. It demonstrates to others what a pleasant burden Allah’s commandments are, because those who truly fast are always happy and content, having in them that inner light that enlightens the world around them.
They share their happiness with joy and help people of shaky beliefs or people from other religions see how truly wonderful it is to be a Muslim. This light shines on the people near you, your family and next of kin, your friends and colleagues. This light is what Allah wants you to have when you fast and what makes fasting meaningful together with submission to your Maker. Make good the opportunity provided to us in the month of Ramadan and let its light shine through the rest of the year.