The second act of worship that Allah enjoins upon you is sawm or the fasting. It means abstaining from dawn to sunset from eating, drinking and sex.
Like the prayer, this act of worship has been part of the Shari`ah given by all the Prophets. Their followers fasted as we do.
However, the rules, the number of days, and the periods prescribed for fasting have varied from one Shari`ah to another. Today, although fasting remains a part of most religions in some form or other, people have often changed its original form by accretions of their own.
O Believers! Fasting is ordained for you, even as it was ordained for those before you. (Al-Baqarah 2:183)
Why has this particular act of worship been practised in all eras?
Life of Worship
Islam aims to transform the whole life of man into a life of worship. He is born a slave; and to serve his Creator is his very nature. Not for a single moment should he live without worshipping, that is surrendering to Him in thoughts and deeds. He must remain conscious of what he ought to do to earn the pleasure of God and what he ought to avoid. He should, then, walk on the path leading to Allah’s pleasure, eschew that leading to His displeasure just as he would avoid the embers of a fire.
Only when our entire lives have become modelled on this pattern can we be considered to have worshipped our Master as is His due and as having fulfilled the purport of “I have not created jinn and men except to worship Me”. (Adh-Dhariyat 51:56)
Purpose of Rituals
Never think that you can acquit yourselves of what you owe to Allah only if you bow and prostrate yourselves five times a day, suffer hunger and thirst from dawn to sunset for thirty days in Ramadan and, if wealthy, give the alms and perform the Pilgrimage once in a lifetime.
Doing all this does not release you from bondage to Him, nor make you free to do whatever you like. Rather, one of the underlying purposes of enjoining these rituals upon you is to develop you so that you can transform your whole lives into the `Ibadah (worship) of God.
How does the fasting prepare us for this lifelong act of worship?
How Does Fasting Develop Us?
Exclusively Private Worship
All acts of worship include some outward physical movement, but not the Fasting. In the Prayer you stand, sit, bow down and prostrate yourselves; all these acts are visible to everybody. In Hajj you undertake a long journey and travel with thousands of people. Zakah is known to at least two persons, the giver and the receiver. None of these acts can remain concealed; if you perform them, other people will come to know about it.
But the Fasting is a form of `ibadah which is entirely private. The All-knowing God alone knows that His servant is fasting. You are required to take food before dawn (sahur) and abstain from eating and drinking anything till the time to break the fast (iftar). But, if you secretly eat and drink in between, nobody except God will know about it.
Sure Sign of Faith
The private nature of the fasting ensures that you have strong faith in God as the One Who knows everything. Only if your faith is true and strong, you will not dream of eating or drinking secretly: even in the hottest summer, when your throats dry up with thirst, you will not drink a drop of water; even when you feel faint with hunger, when life itself seems to be ebbing, you will not eat anything.
To do all this, see what firm conviction must you have in that nothing whatsoever can ever be concealed from your God! How strong must be His fear in your hearts! You will keep your fast for about 360 hours for one month only because of your profound belief in the reward and punishment of the Hereafter. Had you the slightest doubt in that you have to meet your Maker, you would not complete such a fast. With doubts in hearts, no such resolves can be fulfilled.
In this way does Allah put to the test a Muslim`s faith for a full month every year. To the extent you emerge successful from this trial, your faith becomes firmer and deeper. The
Fasting is both a trial and a training. If you deposit anything on trust with somebody, you are, as it were, testing his integrity.
If he does not abuse your trust, he not only passes his test, but, at the same time, also develops greater strength to bear the burden of greater trusts in future. Similarly, Allah puts your faith to severe test continuously for one month, many long hours a day. If you emerge triumphant from this test, more strength develops in you to refrain from other sins.
This is what the Qur’an says:
O believers! Fasting is ordained for you, even as it was ordained for those before you, that you might attain to God-consciousness. (Al-Baqarah 2:183).
The article is an excerpt from the author’s ‘Let Us Be Muslims’.