The purpose of Fasting in Islam
1. To develop and strengthen our powers of self-control, so that we can resist wrongful desires and bad habits, and therefore “guard against evil” (see extract 1 above). In fasting, by refraining from the natural human urges to satisfy one’s appetite, we are exercising our ability of self-restraint, so that we can then apply it in our everyday life to bring about self- improvement.
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.” — The Holy Quran, 2:183
2. To attain nearness and closeness to God so that He becomes a reality in our lives. As we bear the rigours of fasting purely for the sake of following a Divine commandment, knowing and feeling that He can see all our actions, however secret, it intensifies the consciousness of God in our hearts, resulting in a higher spiritual experience.
Allah says: “And when My servants ask you (O Prophet) about Me, surely I am near. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.” — 2:186
3. To learn to refrain from usurping other’s rights and belongings. In fasting we voluntarily give up even what is rightfully ours; how can then we think of unlawfully taking what is not ours but belongs to someone else?
“And swallow not up your property among yourselves by false means, nor seek to gain access thereby to the authorities so that you may swallow up other people’s property wrongfully while you know.” — 2:188
4. Charity and generosity is especially urged during Ramadan. We learn to give, and not to take. The deprivation of fasting makes us sympathise with the suffering of others, and want to try to alleviate it; and it makes us remember the blessings of life which we normally take for granted.
Fasting in Islam does not just consist of refraining from eating and drinking, but from every kind of selfish desire and wrong-doing. The fast is not merely of the body, but essentially that of the spirit as well (see extract 4 above). The physical fast is a symbol and outward expression of the real, inner fast.
“He who does not give up uttering falsehood and acting according to it, God has no need of his giving up his food and drink.” — The Holy Prophet Muhammad
5. Fasting is a spiritual practice to be found in all religions. The great Founders of various faiths, such as Buddha, Moses and Jesus, practised quite rigorous fasting as a pre- liminary to attaining their first experience of spiritual enlightenment and communion with God.
Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, and explained it by saying: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:2-4). Moses also fasted forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28)
The real purpose of fasting is to attain righteousness. A person who undergoes hunger and thirst, but does not behave righteously, has done nothing. If someone is told the aim and object of doing a certain duty, and he does that duty but without attaining the required aim and object, it is as if he has not done that duty – Maulana Muhammad Ali