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Ramadan fasting isn’t about hunger. It’s about living mindfully.

As you fast from what is ordinarily permissible, you learn to fast from what is prohibited at all times.

The questions about Ramadan are always pretty much the same. First there is interest in how we observe the sacred month, which began this week. Then there is shock at how intense the requirement of fasting is:

“Wait, so you fast all the way from before sunrise to sunset?”

“You can’t even drink water?”

“I could never do that.”

Don’t worry, it doesn’t cause us self-doubt, nor do we get offended. In fact, it’s pretty cool when your friends think you have superhuman abilities.

The reality, though, is that fasting is very doable, and rewarding. There are, of course, those Muslims who should not fast, due to illness or some other temporary condition; they are excused, and they make it up if and when they can. If someone is permanently unable to fast, they are required to feed a poor person for every day missed. 

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But most of us are able to overcome the effects of fasting within the first few days of Ramadan. You may miss your coffee, and fatigue and hunger still happen, but the body does adjust.

One question remains: Why do we fast during the month of Ramadan?

Firstly, it is a requirement in the Quran and pillar of Islam. The Quran states, “Oh you who believe, fasting has been prescribed upon you as it has been prescribed on those who came before you so that you may attain God-Consciousness.”

Fasting, in other words, has been the way of prophets and nations before us and is specifically intended to make us more conscious of our Lord. When we become mindful of our physical intake of blessings we otherwise mindlessly consume, we become more mindful of the one who bestowed those blessings upon us.

This has numerous intended benefits. The physical discipline of fasting also helps us to be more mindful of our spiritual consumption as well: The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) taught, for instance, that God has no use for the one who refrains from food but not from false speech, or lying and gossip.

Besides denying ourselves what is prohibited spiritually, fasting helps us live positively as well. Since sin is born out of ingratitude, fasting makes us more aware of our blessings, hence more grateful and driven to good. The end result of Ramadan mentioned in the Quran is that you “complete the term of fasting and glorify your Lord for what He has guided you to, and so that you may be amongst the grateful.”

This is what makes us more conscious of God: We become more conscious of his blessings. When we become more conscious of His blessings upon us, we become more conscious of how we use those blessings ourselves. We in turn become more conscious of those who don’t have regular access to those blessings that we are voluntarily refraining from. We become more intentional about channeling those blessings to those we may have otherwise forgotten.

The great Muslim scholar and sage Imam Ibn Rajab once said, “Some of the pious predecessors were asked, “Why has fasting been instituted? They responded, ‘So that the rich will taste hunger and thus will not forget the hungry.’”

So what may be lost on many of us regarding the fasting of Ramadan is that it’s just as much about filling our souls and transforming our society with goodness as it is about restraining our bodies from food and drink. We live our best selves in Ramadan; we fall in love with it despite its restrictions. 

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What may surprise some is that most Muslims actually enjoy Ramadan so much that they grieve when the month comes to an end. We miss reading the Quran throughout the day and in long nights of prayer, and pushing ourselves to be charitable through it all: charitable with our wealth, with our words and with our spirits to everyone around us.

We come to the realization that true happiness is in feeding the soul and being satisfied with your sustenance, that prayer is better than sleep and that charity is better than consumption.

By Omar Suleiman

What is Muharram?

Muharram being the first month of the Islamic New Year holds great importance in Islam.

It is one of the four sacred months in the Islamic calendar. Muharram in its literal sense means “forbidden”. Similar to the other sacred months, waging war during this month is forbidden.“The year is of twelve months, out of which four months are sacred: Three are in succession Dhul-Qa’ da, Dhul-Hijja and Muharram, and (the fourth is) Rajab…” (Bukhari 3197)

But a lot of Muslims are still confused about what is Ashura in Islam? Ashura holds special significance due to which Muhammad (PBUH) used to fast on this day. Earlier on it was obligatory to fast on the 10th of Muharram. However later, fasting was made obligatory in Ramadan only.

Narrated by Aisha (RA): “The people used to fast on ‘Ashura (the tenth day of the month of Muharram) before the fasting of Ramadan was made obligatory. And on that day the Ka’ba used to be covered with a cover. When Allah made the fasting of the month of Ramadan compulsory, Allah’s Apostle said, “Whoever wishes to fast (on the day of ‘Ashura’) may do so; and whoever wishes to leave it can do so.”(Bukhari 1592)

But why did he fast on this day? On this day, Prophet Musa (AS) performed the miracle with the help of Allah (SWT) whereby he was able to save his people from the Pharaoh by dividing the sea into two parts creating a pathway for his people to safely cross the sea, while the Pharaoh’s army drowned. Hence, the Jews used to fast on Ashura i.e. the 10th of Muharram. The Prophet (PBUH) himself fasted on this day and also ordered the Muslims to do so as he said that: “I am closer to Moses than they.” (Bukhari 3397) The Companions observed that Jews and Christians also consider the day as special, fasting on the day. So Prophet (PBUH) announced that from next year they will fast on the 9th of Muharram so as to distinguish themselves from the Jews and Christians. Unfortunately, Prophet (PBUH) did not live to see the next year. Therefore, Muslims consider the 9th and 10th of Muharram, Ashura, as significant days in the Islamic calendar and observe fast on these days.

According to a tradition, when the Prophet (PBUH) was asked about fasting on the day of ‘Ashura (10th of Muharram), he said: “It expiates the sins of the preceding year.” (Muslim 6: 2603)

Similar to the regular New Year, one should make resolutions at the start of the Islamic New Year to improve oneself. You can set small goals for yourself to become a better person. These goals can be both spiritual and social. You can strengthen your relationship with Allah (SWT) through regular Dhikr and Duas. You can help others out through participating in a social cause. It does not need to be a big social project. Allah (SWT) rewards every good deed. It might be small in your eyes but it might inspire someone else to do a good deed, thereby creating a ripple effect of goodness. Thus, a tiny good deed might be of way more magnitude than you deem it to be. Verily Allah (SWT) knows the best!

“The most excellent fast after Ramadan is in Allah’s month; al-Muharram, and the most excellent prayer after what is prescribed is prayer during the night.” (Muslim 6: 2661)