‘O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous.’ (2:184)
With the grace of God, Ramadan started here (the UK) from yesterday. Thank God that He has granted us the experience of yet another Ramadan. In the above verse God draws attention of true believers to the significance and obligation of fasting and has reminded them that communities of earlier Prophets were also prescribed fasting because fasting is essential for progress of faith as well as for spiritual progress. Although fasting in other religions has changed with time, yet the concept remains in some shape or form. We find fasting prescribed at the time of Hazrat Moses and Hazrat Daud (peace be on them both). Hindus also have fasting as part of their faith although their abstinence is only from cooked food. Christians also have the concept of fasting, some Christian denominations only abstain from eating meat when fasting and can eat vegetables.
Recently Hazrat Khalifatul Masih had the experience to see someone fasting in this manner. A Christian friend, whose name or the country they come from Huzoor refrained from divulging, sat near Huzoor at a dinner. Food was being served in plates and Huzoor noticed that the friend had not been served. When Huzoor asked him the reason he said that he was fasting. Respecting this, Huzoor stayed silent and was amazed that in spite of his standing as a politician he was abiding by his faith. Soon after Huzoor saw that he had been served vegetables and rice and said to him that he could eat those while fasting and he said yes, he would eat. Next, chicken was served in dishes and Huzoor noticed meat in the plate of the friend. As Huzoor is familiar with the guest, Huzoor asked him if he was allowed to eat chicken during his fast. He laughed and said those serving food had insisted and his faith teaches him that if the host offers you something, you should eat it. Such is state of fasting of people of ancient religions. The chicken was delicious, when he saw everyone around him eating – there were perhaps two people serving – he may have declined to one of the servers and accepted from the second out of courtesy. Thus courtesy took precedence over religious commandment because the books giving the religious teachings are not clear.
However, God Himself promised to safeguard the Holy Qur’an and believers are enjoined that if they believe then fasting for a month is obligatory on them during which they have to abstain from all food and drink in order to attain Taqwa (righteousness), to enhance in Taqwa and try and attain pleasure of God. Certainly, the Bible commands the disciples to fast to seek God’s pleasure and not for pretentious reasons. Fasting enhances one’s spirituality but the concept of atonement has negated the spirit of fasting, which is attainment of Taqwa. In this way it has made it devoid of its beneficence and fasting remains but in name leading one to move on from raw and boiled vegetables to cooked meat.
The Holy Qur’an enjoins fasting by making clear its objective and has given tiding of its reward. In order to keep its teaching alive, reformers and saints kept coming in Islam. Later, by sending the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) God facilitated revival and renaissance of religious teachings for all, Muslims and non-Muslims. The Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) said:
‘The third pillar of Islam is fasting. People are also unaware of the reality of fasting. The truth is one cannot talk about a place that one does not go to and is not aware about. Fasting is not merely staying hungry and thirsty; rather its reality and its impact can only be gained through experience. It is human nature that the less he eats the more his self/spirit is purified and his capacity for [spiritual] visions increases. The will of God is to decrease one kind of sustenance and to increase the other. A person who is fasting should always be mindful that he is not just required to stay hungry. On the contrary he should remain engaged in remembrance of God so that he can cut asunder ties of worldly desires and amusements and is wholly devoted to God. Hence, the significance of fasting is this alone that man gives up one kind of sustenance which only nourishes the body and attains the other kind of sustenance which is a source of comfort and gratification of the soul. Those who fast only for the sake of God and not as something which is customary, should remain engaged in Hamd (glorification of God), Tasbih (saying: SubhanAllah) and Tahleel (saying: La illaha illAllah) of Allah the Exalted, through which they will get the other sustenance.’ (Translated from Malfuzat, Vol. 9, pp. 122 – 123)
The above extract could have given the impression that starvation was the only way of purification of the self/spirit, therefore the Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) has elucidated that staying hungry is not the objective of fasting, rather, it is attainment of Taqwa and if one fasts for the sake of God, one should spend time in God’s remembrance. The Promised Messiah (on whom be peace) said at another place that by starvation even hermits gain the capacity for visions, but the objective of the life of a believer is to cut ties with worldly matters and be devoted to God, for which remembrance of God is essential and Salat is the best way for this. When fasting, apart from reduction in food intake, one also abstains from other permissible things and is more focussed about Salat and remembrance of God. If one used to combine Salat or offered it late, particular attention should be given during these days to remembrance of God and worship of God; it should take precedence over everything else.