Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar calendar. We, Muslims, use lunar calendar for our religious observances as this is the case for Judaism. And there is this thing about lunar calendar; lunar calendar is about eleven days shorter than Gregorian calendar. So Ramadan will move backwards. And in 33 years of time, one will have fasted on every day of the Gregorian calendar. It’s quite interesting because sometimes Ramadan is during the fall and is sometimes during the summer, during the winter. It travels throughout the year. So fasting. What’s fasting? Fasting involves refraining from eating, drinking, smoking and sexual activity from dawn to dusk. It what basically is during the days of Ramadan of course.
True fasting involves more than this. You don’t only fast with your stomach. But as the Prophet (pbuh) said
“One also needs to fast with his eyes, with his tongue”
Your eye fast by refraining from looking at blameworthy things. Your tongue fast by refraining from saying blameworthy things, saying you know lies, you know backbiting, hate speech, abusive speech. Refraining from these things and that is what true fasting involves. Your spirit involves and becomes part of this process. Your whole body fast. And if you can do this for 29-30 days, it becomes a true opportunity for an ethical transformation that can make you truly a new human being.
And also we know that if you do things for certain amount of time, that can truly be a habit. So that 29-30 days of time is actually enough to instill new habits in your own nature, in your own existence. So this is one aspect of it. Ethical and quite transformative. It is a transformative month. And from another perspective fasting develops self-discipline. Because refraining, obviously refraining from eating and drinking for long hours of days, nowadays this is like 15-16 hours. That’s an act of patience. That’s an act of discipline. And it’s quite helpful character, trait to do.
And from another perspective fasting does this. We, human beings, have this divine spark within us. And fasting we know is practiced by most religious traditions. Buddhist fast, Sikhs fast, Jews fast during the days of Yom Kippur, Christian, most denominations fast not in the same exact manner but they do fast. There is this wisdom behind it. We have this spirit, this heart. And if you let your body cover it, if you do not discipline your body, that thing becomes hidden. By through discipline, that divine spark, that spirit, that ayn-ul kalb as they say it, you know there’s eye of the heart starts to see things. “Hindu” as Indians were saying. This divine spark, that thing, heart starts to breath and this is what fasting does. Your heart starts to breath. Your angelic side starts to breath and shine again. Your eye of your heart starts to see things more clearly. And this is another aspect of it. More spiritual maybe, more intellectual. But this is also quite extraordinary thing about fasting.
In another thing, fasting might allow you, might help you to a little bit of more sensitive consumption habits. As we know, our very aggressive consumption habits are destroying our natural resources. Now we consume natural resources faster than nature can produce them. So this is a problem. Eating twice a day, and your body can actually adopt to this new situation quite easily. That’ll help you to develop these valuable skill sensitive consumption habits. And which may also again retune you with the realities of nature. Now you are a better and more sensitive consumer.
From another perspective, fasting is about breaking the routine of your life and is about liberation actually. You’ll break your routine during the days of Ramadan, right? You eat twice, three times, or maybe four times a day. But now you eat twice a day. This is breaking the routine. And when you break your routine, something really interesting happens. You know sometimes the world witters, it loses its colors, it dwindles. But when you fast, just imagine yourself drinking that sip of water after long hours of thirst and hunger. You’re drinking that water and it slowly falls down your throat. Your body shivers with joy. And you know that moment, you know that very moment. And at that moment, you understand that there is nothing mundane in this world. There is nothing banal in this world. Everything is miraculous. Everything is extraordinary. And again the world starts to shine again. The world is colorful again. The world regains those alluring colors again. Because it is a miracle that you’re looking at. The things you take for granted usually are actually miracles. That bottom of water is actually a miracle. And in fasting you understand that too. And that is a liberating thing. That is breaking the routine, breaking your routine helps you to have a new perspective towards life.
From another perspective even fasting is about remembrance. You know they say the quintessence of religion is prayer. And quintessence of prayer is fasting. When you fast, yes you do remember during those long hours of days. Because thirst and hunger instills that consciousness of presence in your heart and in your mind. Your physical, you know the travels is not only spiritual. Islam doesn’t make a difference between one’s spiritual and physical side. Every spiritual journey must be accompanied by a physical journey. And your physical side becomes part of this spiritual journey of remembering God or getting closer to God. So fasting in this essence is a form of remembrance, is a form of zikhr as they say it. So fasting is also this.
From another perspective, it has social and political aspects as we know it, right. You know fasting helps you to empathize with the poor, with the needy. When you fast, yes now you understand. Now you understand how it feels to be hungry. Now you know how it feels to be thirsty. Now you know how it feels. At least you have an idea how it feels to be inflicted by a disaster, by a famine. Now you know it. You now existentially know it. And you empathize with the other. And that empathy might trigger that mechanism of compassion within you. And that compassion might lead you to charity. Now you will love to give. Now you will again reorganize your life in accordance with the principles of giving. Now you will dethrone yourself from the center of the world. And you will put someone else there. And that’s what fasting can do.
And one last thing, you know we can extend the list, the benefits of fasting are inexhaustible. But just one last thing. Fasting is also about realizing how fragile you are. Fasting is about realizing how needy we are. Fasting is about this realization. And that realization itself might motivate you, might encourage you to start a journey toward God. Because we’re fragile, we’re needy, we are finite beings but quenching for the Infinite. This is what we are. Fasting helps us to remember what we are and what God is. So that will motivate you to start a journey toward the One. Who can quench your thirst? As He quenches your physical thirst during the iftar time, as He quenches your physical thirst, He can also quench your existential, your spiritual thirst. We are fragile, and we wanna run towards the Infinite that can quench our spiritual thirst.