By sunset today, one-third of this year’s Ramadan would have been covered. Allahu Akbar! It would seem as if this Ramadan is steadily running faster than anticipated. This is why Muslims are encouraged to hasten to take good advantage of all the spiritual opportunities that come along with Ramadan including imbibing the virtues of empathy, patience and perseverance. When a Muslim fasts, the pains of physical deprivation is felt but patiently endured. This deprivation and endurance, though temporary, makes the individual to be conscious of the effects of such pains suffered by many others who perhaps are poor and cannot afford the basic necessities of life.
As a special month, Ramadan provides opportunity for the exercise of self-discipline, self-restraint, and self-evaluation. It guides a worshipper against all forms of immorality. A Muslim is forgiven the sins he committed between two Ramadans if he observed each Ramadan fast with all sincerity. During Ramadan, Muslims enjoy the benefit of their prayers being answered when breaking the fast at sunset. The early morning meal (Sahur) taken at dawn keeps a devoutee awake and thus provides opportunity to engage in diverse acts of worship including standing in prayers at night (tahajjud) as well as observing the obligatory prayer of Subhi in congregation.
On every night of the month of Ramadan, Allah (SWT) commands: “Where are those asking for my forgiveness? I’ve forgiven them; where are those who have repented? I’ve pardoned them; and for those who have demands, I’ve granted their requests”. Ramadan is a month full of virtues. It is a period for believers to purify themselves and seek divine intervention in matters that trouble their peace and wellbeing. As a special month of divine benevolence, the entire Ramadan is a period during which the prayers of devotees are specially answered. Allah (SWT) in Qur’an 2:186 affirms, “When my servants ask thee concerning me, I am indeed close (to them). I listen to the prayer of every supplicant when he calls on me: let them also with a will, listen to my call and believe in me: that they may walk in the right way.”
There are several other benefits, spiritual and medical, that make Ramadan a month like no other. The physiological benefits of fasting include lowering of blood sugar level and cholesterol. Medical experts say Ramadan fast could be an ideal recommendation for the treatment of mild to moderate non-insulin diabetes and obesity. While certain groups of Muslims due to some health reasons are exempted from Ramadan fast including ulcer patients and pregnant women, fasting has in no way been noted to harm the condition of a healthy person. Although we do not observe prayers for exercise, mild movement of the joints during long hours of tarawih or tahajjud prayers could be a form of physical drill that helps to keep body fit.
Fasting promotes detoxification. The liver, kidneys and other organs in the body help in discharging toxins. Fat is substantially burnt during fasting especially when it is over a period of time as in Ramadan. During fasting, the digestive organs also rest; helping to maintain balance of fluids in the body. Fasting promotes healthy diet. It reduces the rate of craving for processed foods. It promotes desire for natural foods, especially water and fruits. This is one way by which fasting promotes healthy lifestyle.
When individuals take fruits to break a fast, they increase the body’s store of essential vitamins and minerals. Vitamins A and E are good antioxidants that are readily available in fruits that help to boost immunity. Nonetheless, Muslims are advised to exercise moderation in their eating habits. They are encouraged not to gorge themselves on meals so much that it becomes impossible for them to wake up and spend the night in prayers and supplications.
Ramadan fast in Islam is different from fasting under medical instructions because in Ramadan, there is no malnutrition or inadequate calorie intake. Ramadan fast is not a prescription from a physician. Moreover, the types of food taken during Ramadan do not have any selective dietary criteria such as restricting a Muslim to go on protein only or fruits only. In Ramadan, everything that is permissible (halal) is taken by Muslims but in moderate quantities.
Ramadan fast may also help addicts to overcome their bad habits which may include addiction to cigarette smoking, drugs, alcohol, caffeine and other health threatening substances. Although there could be other routines required to resolve addictions, fasting can yet play a significant role.
The psychological benefits of Ramadan fast include peace and tranquility for those who observe it. Hostility is forestalled as Muslims are advised by the Prophet (SAW) to say ‘I am fasting’ when provoked by another person’s words or actions. Fasting also guides a Muslim to remain pure and righteous during Ramadan as he abstains from telling lies. The Prophet Muhammad (SAW) has warned, “If one does not give up falsehoods in words and actions, Allah has no need of his giving up food and drink (i.e. fasting).”
As a month full of spiritual amnesty and Allah’s mercy, let us repent from our sins and ask Allah for the forgiveness of our shortcomings and disobedience to divine injunctions. Ramadan is an opportunity that comes once in twelve months. Let us imagine as if this were the last Ramadan to be observed in our lifetime. Let us not, therefore, waste or misuse this great opportunity. May Allah (SWT) put us among those to be forgiven their sins, big and small, in this sacred month of mercy, amin.