Publisher: UmmahVision SN BHD, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, 1997
"O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint" (The Holy Qur'an 2:183.)
All the major religions of the world prescribe some kind of fasting for their adherents. Buddhism and Hinduism recommend it. In the Bible we learn of David having fasted for seven days (Samuel 12:16-7). Similarly Moses fasted in order to show gratitude to Allah for the deliverance of the Israelites from Pharaoh and also for the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:29). But it is only in Islam, the last and final religion of Allah (swt), that fasting as an institution reached its pinnacle. Indeed, it is one of the five basic pillars of the Islamic faith. In the book The Strategic Significance of the Fast of Ramadan & Isra and Miraj, author Imran Hosein analyzes the link between the values generated by the fast of Ramadan and the other benefits of fasting.
The basic objective of fasting according to the Holy Qur'an is the acquisition of piety and holiness (taqwa). Taqwa can be acquired by moral rectitude, which is the fruit of grounded vigilance and purification of the heart (tazkiyah). Moral rectitude in turn manifests itself in acts of commission (awamir) - such as fasting, giving charity - and omission (nawahi), which includes refraining from acts of sin such as bribery, corruption and the like.
In the Qur'an Allah says, "Whosoever purifies the self [nafs] has achieved success and whosoever corrupts it has failed" (Qur'an 91:9). This verse, writes Hosein, implies that values must be recognized as one of the foundations of power. To prove this point, Hosein gives a specific example in the chronological sequence of the revelation of the Qur'an with regards to the prescription of fasting.
The following Qur'anic verse was revealed after the migration of the Prophet Muhammad (saaws) from Makkah to Madina and shortly after the Muslims victory at the Battle of Badr:
Call to mind [that time] when you were a small [band], weak, helpless [and vulnerable] in [your] territory, and afraid that [hostile] people would finish you off. Then [Allah] provided you with [a way to] safety and refuge, and empowered you with His aid, and provided you with wholesome resources that you might be grateful (Qur'an 8:26).
The power referred to in the above verse was manifested in the battle of Badr in which Muslims were victorious. What is of critical importance, notes Hosein, is that Allah (swt) chose a moment shortly before the month of Ramadan, in which the battle of Badr was fought, to reveal the verses of the Qur'an, which prescribed the compulsory fast of Ramadan. Hence, he says that Ramadan was instituted to function as a means by which to empower the community.
On this point Hosein writes, "If not, how can we possibly explain the long delay in promulgating the institution of fasting? Would it not have been beneficial to the oppressed Muslims of Makkah to have been given the fast of Ramadan? Would it not have enhanced their fortitude to resist the Kuffar?"
He goes on to note, "The fact that Allah waited more than fourteen years, after the commencement of the revelation of the Qur'an to reveal the verses relating to compulsory fast of Ramadan, is a direct indication of the relationship which exists between fasting and power."
Thus Hosein argues that a link does exist between fasting and power. The link, he says, is that fasting not only builds, but also reinforces and consolidates values that form an indispensable foundation of power.
Continuing the discussion, Hosein further explores the links between fasting and chastity, human freedom, dignity, creativity and the human body. Comparing the human body to a car, he writes that both require servicing. "The human body needs to be serviced and Islam achieves the servicing of the body during the fast of Ramadan," writes Hosein. "While fasting, a number of bodily organs [in particular the stomach] are rested and thus serviced. This servicing restores human health and increases man's longevity."
The Strategic Significance of the Fast of Ramadan & Isra and Miraj offers a unique perspective into the Islamic institution of fasting with regards to its links with power. It is a pity that these days some Muslims do not realize the importance of the fasting in the month of Ramadan, which is full of not only spiritual but also worldly bounties.