Every year, Ramadan comes as a one-month training course, that helps us develop a strong will to live a completely humane, spiritually inclined and God-conscious life. In fact, the sole purpose of fasting in Islam is to provide man with an abundant opportunity for spiritual enhancement, moral excellence, besides mental and physical well-being. It enables every common man and woman to gear up to be a close friend of God, called Wali Allah in Islam.
This prime objective of fasting has been clearly enunciated in the Quran: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may become righteous.” In Islam, all acts of devotion are aimed at enlightening one’s inner self to build a personal relationship with God. They have got nothing to do with the external forms of worship.
Furthermore, Ramzan is not meant for a mundane desire to achieve worldly fulfilment here or in the hereafter as a result of the rigorous hardship that one bears while abstaining from food and drink from dawn to sunset. It is purely an act of devotion with a divine concern to purify the nafs (self) purging it of baser instincts and selfish impulses.
Without any material motive in mind, one has to observe the saum (Islamic fasting) for all 30 days in a continued and constant effort to draw closer to God. This is the immortal side of fasting in Ramzan. But there are a few people who utilise fasting as a physical workout to achieve mundane benefits out of it, like weight loss and physical fitness, etc. Such people might not have deepened their understanding of the broader notion of fasting in Ramadan.
To better understand the spiritual essence of fasting in Islam, a beautiful and educative story can be aptly enumerated here. The 8th century Muslim woman mystic Rabia Basri was once walking in the streets of Basra, carrying a pot of fire in one hand and a bucket of water in the other.
When asked why she was carrying all this, she replied: “I am going to quench the fire of hell and burn heaven, so that both these barriers to understanding shall vanish from the eyes of those who worship (pray and fast) so that they may seek the truth without hope or fear.”
In a nutshell, a fasting person, a saim or a fasting person should focus his/her attention on the attainment of taqwa, righteousness and God-consciousness. Similarly, s/he is required to keep up this spirit throughout the year, not only during the sacred month of Ramadan.