Ramadan comes and goes. The month in which able-bodied Muslims are obligated to fast from dawn till dusk has passed, but will reappear in the next (lunar) year, as has been the cycle for the past 1,428 years. Yes, it’s 1430 years after the Hijrah now, but Ramadan was first obligated 2 years after the Hijra (some say in the month of Sya’ban, 2H/622CE).
For most people, when you ask them whether fasting makes them better, they’ll almost always agree. They will say that abstaining from all types of food and drinks makes them a better, stronger person. For others, it made them shed a few pounds (only to bulk up again with the Eid festivities).
But some of these answers may be quite vague, and especially from an outsider’s point of view, it is difficult to see the so-called spiritual benefits. But trust me they’re there.
If you’ve been fasting fasting for years, or just starting to get used to fasting, or trying to understand how not eating can make you a better person, here’s my take on what people mean when they say Ramadan makes them “better”.
1. “Ramadan makes me empathize with the less fortunate.”
Very true, also very obvious. With millions around the world having difficulty to finding food, and even more so freshwater, the fact that you are not allowed to drink a single drop of water in this hot, sunny climate makes you appreciate that even more seriously.
And after one full month of not consuming anything during the day, Muslims also must give a mandatory sum of money (zakat/tithe) to the poor.
You feel their suffering (through fasting), now do something about it (through donation).
Visually impaired Palestinian students read verses of the Koran, Islam’s holiest book, written in Braille. (Image credit)
2. “Ramadan helps me to focus.”
The line is not hard to draw for this one. Most likely than not, what is meant is the decreased focus on food (you can’t eat or drink during the day), makes for an exercise in objectivity; focus more on what you are doing, and not what you are feeling.
For those who say they can’t concentrate without food, or when they’re hungry, this is an observance especially catered to temper the physical body to such conditions. 14 hours without food is nothing extreme, but definitely gives you a slight boost especially when thinking of whiny people who can’t seem to stop munching.
Mind over matter.
3. “Ramadan makes me a better/stronger person.”
The most popular. Or a better phrase would be, “Ramadan shows me how much I can do, with less.”
I’m sure a lot of people actually lose weight during Ramadan (mine is around 5% this year, hooray!). And without any side-effects nor illness whatsoever, the loss of weight is a sheer example of how much we – as humans – are consuming on a daily basis.
Food: During Ramadan, the amazing body somehow manages to survive on 2 meals a day; one small one before dawn, and one during sunset.
Sleep: During Ramadan, just like many others, Muslims sleep lesser than normal. Even when going to sleep at the same every night, most Muslims wake up at about 5am to eat the pre-dawn meal (sahur) and perform the dawn (Subuh) prayers, then taking a 1-2 hour nap before going to work. The sleep pattern is disrupted, yet the body copes with it.
Exercise & Discipline: Less food, less sleep, and every night, Muslims are encouraged to perform the tarawih prayers. It takes less then 30 minutes, done every night during Ramadan, and burns the extra calories too. Also during Ramadan, most would read roughly 20 pages of the Qur’an daily, so as the complete reading the holy book in that month.
In addition, Muslims are supposed to be at the peak of spiritual health in Ramadan. Meaning, controlling the eyes from gazing at that lady with a low-cut dress, the tongue from gossiping, the ears from listening to mindless songs and idle talk, etc. It’s about getting the soul to control the physical body, and not the other way round.
If you observe Ramadan, you’ll see that everything is jam-packed; you do more, you consume less. In the midst of all these, it is easy for one to realize how much of their daily lives is filled with non-essential entertainment and pleasure.
Fasting does indeed make you stronger. Stronger to get off the lazy bum and do something worthwhile, or help others, or read more. It resonates more when the Muslim sees himself as a consumer, to eat little (and not waste), to reduce consumption of not only food, but electricity, petrol, and the world’s resources.
If something as essential as food and drink can be controlled, the non-essential desires can be reined in too.
4. “I fast because my mom/dad told me to.”
If you see Muslim kids fasting, it teaches them not to be a wuss when they grow up.
The perfect character builder.