So what, you ask, are the benefits of fasting? Simply put, to weaken the material aspect of man and strengthen the spirituality in him so that he may enter the higher realms of faith. Just as our body requires physical nourishment, our soul must be nourished spiritually, for it is the soul that takes us to the higher realms of faith and piety.
Fasting in itself is an exercise in self-discipline. During the holy month of Ramadan, the believers abstain in the daytime from food and drink of their own free will. It is only after sunset that he satisfies his hunger and quenches his thirst. In this way, he builds up his self-control. By practising restraint for one month in a year, he is able to lead a life of self-discipline in all matters for the rest of the year.
Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, termed Ramadan as "the month of patience" (Mishkat Al-Masabih, 1/613). The month is meant to serve as a training course, which enables an individual to lead a successful life in this world by keeping his physical urges and needs in check. Negative feelings, it must be remembered present the greatest obstacle to human progress. Fasting is the pious way to solve this biggest of human problems.
As the Hadith says: "There is a Zakah for all things, and the Zakah of the body is fasting" (Mishkat Al-Masabih 1/639). Here, the expression Zakah is used in the sense of purification. There is, indeed, a way of purifying everything. Just as a complete bath purifies the body, so fasting purifies the soul.
The fact that fasting during the month of Ramadan was prescribed when Allah began revealing the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) which is an indication that the purpose of fasting is to prepare the individual physically and spiritually for his duties as a Muslim. Just as the Prophet had to fast in the solitude of the cave of Hira in order to receive the Holy Quran, we too shall have to do the same in order to be illuminated by Allah’s divine guidance that is the Holy Quran.
Prophets, because of their being chosen, were in direct contact with Allah through angel. For others, the Holy Quran takes the place of the arch-angel Gabriel. By fasting and abstinence, prophets cleansed and purified their souls thus detaching themselves inwardly from the world. It was then that God’s angel descended to them and directly communicated to them the word of God. Others who would like to attain the high levels of faith and piety through the Holy Quran must fast and abstain from vice in order to appreciate what they read. Although the Holy Quran is with us today, preserved in written form as it was revealed, it enters one’s heart only when one is spiritually prepared to receive it by living a life of fasting and devotion.
When one lifts oneself up from the material world and becomes attached to the spiritual world, one is astonished to see a new door of truth opening before one. All those realities that were formerly invisible beneath a veil of matter now become evident. It is true faith that helps the believers to achieve success in this life and the Hereafter.
Abid Ishaq can be reached at email@example.com
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