Fasting - Education and Social Reform

All obligatory acts ordained by Allah, the Exalted such as Fasting, Prayer, Hajj (pilgrimage) Zakat (poor-tax) etc., are not mere rituals as some are bound to misinterpret, but are an elaborate form of spiritual, psychological, physical and social education. Besides being a form of worship and a means by which the Muslim displays his submission to his Creator, they play a vital role in reforming and developing the soul and personality of an individual which in turn positively affects the society as an integrated whole. 

The purpose behind fasting was not just to prevent eating, drinking and sexual intercourse during the prescribed hours but to i~frain from all acts injurious to one's self and fellow humans so as to help build a virtuous and progressive society. A narration from the Prophet says: "The easiest duty enjoined by Allah on a fasting person is to forego food and drink. " * Thus, fasting has two evolutionary aims. The first is to protect a person from all forbidden acts such as backbiting, calumny, envy, lying, vain discourses and the like. And the second is to encourage and enhance the 

* ibid 
* AI-Hur aI-Amili. Wasa El ash-S h:'a, vol. 4. ,4bwab ,4dab as-Sawm. 

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moral and spiritual level by such recommended deeds as reciting the Holy Qur'an, giving alms, meditating on one's past life and a more righteous future course, remembering Allah's favours and greatness, helping fellow-humans and the doing of various other good that benefits the self and the society. 

Fasting, therefore is an institution designed for educating the soul and casting it in an Islamic evolutionary mould. There are numerous Hadiths which guide a fasting Muslim towards divine bliss. Imam Ali ibn Abi-Talib (a.s.), quoting his cousin the Holy Prophet (s.a.w.), says: 

"Whoever fasts during the month of Ramadhan out of faith and seeking Allah's pleasure and guards his ears, eyes and tongue from harming people, Allah will accept his fasting, forgive his past sins...,,* 

Imam Muhammad al-Baqir (a.s.) relates the Prophet's advice to Jabir ibn Abdullah: 

"o Jabir, whoever, fasts the days of Ratnadh an, stands for prayers in parts of its nights, guards his/her sexual desires, reins in his/her tongue, lowers his/her gaze and injures, not the feelings of others, will become free of sins as on the day he/she was born." * 

Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.), on the authority of his illustrious forefathers, quotes his noble ancestor Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w.) as follows: "If a fasting person when abused, replies peace be upon you I will not abuse as you do, the Lord, the Exalted and Most High, says, By fasting, My servant has saved himself from the evil of My (other) servant, I grant him refuge against the fire." * 

* Ahmad i bn Han bal and the compilers of Sunan have narrated the above with slight difference. 
* Sheikh Saduq. Thawab aL-AmaL p. 88. 
* aI-Kafi. a1-Kulayni. 

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".. Once the Prophet heard a fasting woman abusing her maidservant. He ordered some food and told her to eat'. lam fasting', she said. He replied Can you be considered fasting when you have just abused your maid. (Beware) Fasting does not mean only to abstain from(mere)eating and drinking'." * What follows is an advice from Imam Jafar as-Sadiq (a.s.) to a fasting Muslim: 

"When you fast, guard your hearing and sight against the forbidden, and your limbs and all other organs from the vile. Do not rm'e at or injure a sen'ant. Be dignified as a fasting person should, and keep silent and calm, except when remembering Allah. Do not regard your fasting day as an ordinary day and refrain from intercourse, kissing and loud laughter, because Allah dislikes that." * The Prophet says: 

"Whoever backbites his Muslim brothers, his fasting will be invalid* and his ablution null. Should he die it, such a state, he will die like the one who decreed lawful what Allah has forbidden." * 

Such, therefore, are the lofty ethics, fasting persons are exhorted to observe, as Ramadhan is a month for worship and for reforming one's self. As is clear the objectives of the great reformative duty called fasting cannot be fulfilled except by adhering to these lofty morals and ethics. If not, the act will turn out to be an exercise in futility with the fasting person gaining nothing except the pangs of hunger and thirst. 

* ibid. 
* Wasa'il ash-Shia. al-Hur al-AmiIi. 
* Backbiting does not make the fast void but since it is a sin it negates the re)Iard a fasting person deserves. 
* Waco ii asjz-Shi'a al-Hur al-,4mili. vol. 4, ,4bwab ,ldab cs-Sawm. 

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Islam strives to reform both the individual and the society, and the starting point for this healthy transformation is the human soul. If the human soul reaches perfection and moulds itself according to the dynamic principles of Islam, then society will be reformed accordingly. How wonderfully the Glorious Qur'an confirms this fact: 

"…Surely Allah does not change the condition of a people until they change their own condition;..." Holy Qur'an (13 :11) 

Ramadhan, the month of Allah affords us this chance for meditation and social reform. It is for us to seize this wonderful opportunity to repent, reflect over our past deeds, seek the Almighty's forgiveness and strive towards perfection, in morals and behaviour. Fasting has remarkable benefits. It not only refines an individual's conduct by instilling virtue, but also has similar impacts on the interest of the Islamic society as a whole. Because once a group of individuals acquires honesty, integrity, intellect and other lofty morals, their desire for reform and to refrain from all things perverse positively affects the march of the society. 

Islam looks at the human being from two angles; as an independent individual, and as a part of a society affecting society and being influenced by it in turn. Consequently, all the rules, laws, regulations, morals and ethics conveyed through the message of Islam deal with the human being both as an independent entity and as part of an integrated whole. 

Such being the case, these moral, social, economic and devotional aspects will certainly have political consequences as well because an individual's daily activities are interrelated and effect each other. 

Thus, fasting could without doubt be considered as a great educational experience, because faith in Allah and the Day of Judgement has a profound influence not only on devotional and moral aspects but also in the economic and political spheres. So great is the reciprocal dynamism of these factors that if sincerely observed they hold the key to the perfection, bliss and harmony of both the individual and the society. 

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Narratives reaching us from Prophet Muhammad's (s.a.w.) Ahl-ul-Bait, wonderfully explain these facts. 

How beautifully the eighth Imam of the Prophet's pro.geny All ibn Musa ar-Ridha (a.s.) expounds the philosophy of fasting,as a blessing from the Almighty, so that one becomes aware of the hardships of the poor and the needy and quite naturally feels obliged to pay out of what Allah has granted us. Moreover, he says. that by realizing the pangs of hunger and thirst one becomes aware of the Day of Resurrection when people will have to stand for timeless hours waiting their turn to be judged. In short, concludes the Imam, fasting builds up personality because the restraint over desires helps us acquire the virtues of modesty, self- control, humbleness of character, hope, kindness, generosity, forbearance etc.. Imam Ja'far as-Sadiq (a.s.) has been quoted as saying: 

"Allah made fasting incumbent to make equity between the rich and the poor. A rich man does not feel the pains of hunger to have mercy for the poor, since he is able to obtain whatever he likes. (By enjoining fasting) Allah wanted to put His creatures on an equal footing by making the rich taste the pain of hunger, so that he may pity the weak and have mercy on the hungry..." * 

Therefore, fasting is an all-ecompassing education whose social, spiritual, hygienic, economic and various other dimensiom which if properly observed guarantee blissful harmony for the human race.