Why do Muslims Fast? II Part
Why do Muslims Fast? II Part
The difference between the ritual level 1 and the physical level 2 is, a person doing only ritual fasting may eat large meals prior to beginning the fast and immediately upon ending the fast, and not feel any hunger or thirst throughout the whole month.
However, like level one, if the fasting person does not incorporate the other levels of fasting, the fast will only be physically exhausting.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Maybe a fasting person will gain nothing but hunger and thirst from fasting." 
The Libidinal Level:
The sexual instinct and drives (libido) are harnessed on this level of fasting.
In these times where the media continually plays on sexual desires to promote and sell products, the ability to control these powerful desires is a plus.
Fasting physically reduces sexual desires and the fact that the fasting person has to avoid anything which could stimulate him psychologically helps to further lower the libido.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "O youths, whoever among you is able to marry let him do so, for it restrains the eyes and protects the private parts. He who is unable to marry should fast, because it is a shield." 
By restraining from sexual acts, even though they are permissible, the fasting people make it easier for themselves to restrain from forbidden sexual acts when they are not fasting.
The Emotional Level:
Fasting on this level involves controlling the many negative emotions which simmer in the human mind and soul.
For example, among the most destructive emotions is anger.
Fasting helps to bring this emotion under control.
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said:
"When one of you is fasting, he should abstain from indecent acts and unnecessary talk, and if someone begins an obscene conversation or tries to pick an argument, he should simply tell him, "I am fasting." 
So, on this level, whatever negative emotions challenge the fasting person must be avoided.
A person has to abstain from lewd conversation and heated arguments. Even when one is in the right, it is better to let that right go and keep one's emotional fast intact.
Likewise, the negative emotion of jealousy is reduced, as every fasting person is reduced to the common denominator of abstinence; no one is externally superior to another in this regard.
The Psychological Level:
This level helps the fasting person psychologically to control evil thoughts and trains him or her, to some degree, how to overcome stinginess and greed.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
"Allah has no need for the hunger and the thirst of the person who does not restrain himself from telling lies and acting on them even while observing the fast." 
In this age of immediate gratification, when the things of the world are used to fulfill human needs and desires almost as soon as they have them - the ability to delay gratification is an important skill.
What is between immediate gratification and delayed gratification is patience. During the fast, the believers learn patience - and the benefits of it.
From a psychological perspective, it is good to be somewhat detached from the things of the world.
There is nothing wrong with enjoying a good and full life - in fact, one can and should expect that.
However, it is important that people are able to detach ourselves from material things so that they do not become the most important part of their lives.
Fasting gives one the opportunity to overcome the many addictions which have become a major part of modern life.
Food, for many people, provides comfort and joy - and the ability to separate oneself from it gives the fasting people the psychological benefit of knowing that they do have some degree of control over what they do and what they do not do.
The Spiritual Level:
In order to establish this, the highest and most important level of fasting, the level of God-consciousness, Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) made the renewal of the intention for fasting a requirement before every day of fasting.
He was reported to have said, "Whoever does not intend to fast before Fajr (the dawn) will have no fast." 
The daily renewal of intention helps to establish a spiritual foundation of sincerity essential for the spiritual cleansing effects of fasting to operate.
Sincere fasting purifies and atones for sin, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "Whoever fasts Ramadan out of sincere faith and seeking his reward from God, his previous sins will be forgiven."
He was also reported to have said, "From one Ramadan to the next is atonement for the sins between them."
Sincere fasting brings one closer to Allah and earns a special reward.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) informed that there is a gate in paradise called Rayyan reserved for those who fast and he also said, "When Ramadan comes, the gates of Paradise are open." 
Fasting is primarily between the person and God, as no one can be sure that any person is actually fasting.
Because of this intimate aspect of fasting, Allah was quoted by the Prophet (peace be upon him) as saying,
"Every act of Adam's descendants is for themselves, except fasting. It is meant for Me alone, and I alone will give the reward for it." 
When combined with the previous levels of fasting, this level transforms a person from within.
It restores, revives and regenerates the fasting person's spirituality and radically modifies his or her personality and character.
These are the precious products of a heightened state of God-consciousness.
Fasting in Cultural Islam
In much of the Muslim world today fasting has been reduced to a mere ritual, and the month of Ramadan has become a time of celebration and festivities instead of religious contemplation and abstinence.
Ramadan nights are, for many, nights of partying and enjoyment which continue until the dawn in some countries.
There, the night becomes the day and the day becomes the night.
In many places, the light meal which is supposed to be taken prior the dawn becomes a major three-course meal.
For this reason, very few experience real hunger during the fast.
And at the time of breaking the fast, another three-course meal is taken, followed by a sampling of all kinds of sweets imaginable.
As a result, many Muslims complain about gaining weight during Ramadan and doctors regularly warn people about the medical consequences of overeating.
The Name Ramadan
The word Ramadan comes from the noun Ramad, which refers to "the reflected heat of stones resulting from the intense heat of the sun."
When the Arabs changed the names of the months from their ancient names, they renamed them according to the seasons in which they happened to fall.
The ninth month, which used to be called Natiq, fell during the summer, the time of extreme heat, which is why it was named Ramadan. 
Significance of Ramadan
Naturally, the fact that Ramadan was in the summer has no relation to why this month was chosen by Allah as the month for fasting.
Since Muslims follow the lunar calendar, the month of Ramadan will occur in all the seasons at least twice in each person's lifetime. God clearly stated the reason for choosing this month in the Quran.
He said: "Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed as guidance and clarification to humankind, and a distinction between right and wrong. So, whoever from among you witnesses the month should fast it." (2: 185)
The significance of Ramadan lies in the fact that the revelation of the Quran began in that month.
For this reason, Ramadan is often called the month of the Quran and Muslims try to spend much of their waking hours reading from the Holy Book throughout the month.
Religious Seclusion (I'tikaf)
During the last ten days of Ramadan, the Prophet (peace be upon him) used to seclude himself in the mosque, in order to increase the intensity of his worship and the benefits of the fast prior to the ending of the month.
Devout Muslims try to emulate him by spending as many of the ten days as they can fasting secluded in the mosque.
By Dr. Bilal Philips