The True Meaning Of Abstinence In Ramadan
Two Hadith illustrate the true spirit of Ramadan, the month of fasting. The Prophet forbade believers of engaging in uninterrupted fasting (Sahih Muslim). He also said, ‘Beware of continuous fast. Beware of continuous fast.’ (Al Muwatta)
The focus of this month is to train the believer. It is not to accumulate rewards by increasing the number of fasts observed, because if that were the case, the Prophet of Islam would not have discouraged continuous fasting. The purpose of fasting is rather, to be an annual refresher course, for training the mind of the believer, so that he may become a spiritual member of society.
Ramadan is considered a month of restraint when an adherent of Islam strives to foster good wishes and care for humankind and develops piety in himself. The Prophet once exclaimed, “It is not good for a man upon whom Ramadan enters and then passes, before he was purified.” (At-Tirmidhi). This purification becomes internalized for a whole lifetime as the believer undergoes ‘training’ fast for a specified period of time during Ramadan.
Abstinence from food and water is a symbolic act.
It, in effect, represents a resolve that, just as we relinquish food and water for a month, we shall henceforth, similarly abstain forever from any practice deemed as spiritually undesirable.
While the ‘training’ fast lasts for a month, the ‘real’ fast continues for a lifetime. The meaning of the real fast is to give up negativity, malice and hatred for life. We must refrain from feeling offended by, and vengeful and negative toward fellow human beings.
The actual focus of Ramadan is to train the mind of the believer on spiritual principles which can be applied in everyday life. While the Prophet of Islam referred to fasting as a short-term symbolic activity, he did not say this of acts that call for ridding one’s mind of negative thinking, refraining from anger, and so on. All such forms of restraint are to be eternally observed.
According to a Hadith, a person once asked the Prophet of Islam for a master advice. The Prophet replied, “Do not be angry!” (Al Bukhari). The Prophet certainly encouraged leaving off anger for one’s lifetime, just like other negative compulsions, such as hatred, revenge and malice. Shunning these evils is an act of ‘fasting’ and this must last an entire lifetime.
Observing fasts during Ramadan, bearing in mind all of the above, is akin to revolutionizing one’s life to the point of consciously undertaking a renewed spiritual journey. The Quran alludes to this: “Color yourself in the hue of God!” (2:138). Spirituality and positive thinking are the hues of God. During Ramadan, man imbibes the desired spiritual principles, which he is subsequently expected to observe in his personal, societal and national affairs for the rest of his life.
For a believer, Ramadan is a process of rejuvenation, with the power to become a guide for life – teaching him to abstain from all that is negative and violent and to adopt that which is peaceful and positive. One who has observed the fasts of Ramadan in their true spirit can count on being able to draw upon the reservoir of resilience he has built up and the power of patience and gratitude inculcated in him, which will stand by him whenever he is faced with any kind of adversity.