By M Aslam
May 6, 2019
Fasting is a regular practice in almost all religions. The nine-day Navratri festival just concluded involved fasting among Hindus. Hindu married women fast for a day, praying for the long life of their husband. In Buddhism, fasting is recognised as one of the methods for practising self-control. In Christianity, among Catholics, the Lenten season before Easter includes a 40-day fast for those who choose to fast. Otherwise, they fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.
Ramzan fasting or Roza, practised by Muslims, is an elaborate process stretching over a period of one month every year. It is to do with self-reform, self-restraint and it also involves a wide range of responsibilities on the part of those who observe fasting. It helps strengthen powers of self-control, refrain from the natural human urges by exercising our ability of self-restraint, leading to self-improvement. Spiritually, it helps one to attain nearness and closeness to God.
Psychologically, i believe that this month-long process is a great way to mould the behavioural patterns of its practitioners in such a way that they turn out to be ideal human beings. It essentially implies that a person observing fast will not only observe abstinence from eating and drinking but will get into a sublime state of mind in order to develop positive feelings. Therefore, fasting strengthens control of impulses and helps develop good behaviour. This purification of soul and body harmonises the inner and outer spheres of an individual. The true observance leads to a feeling of inner peace and tranquillity.
The expectation is that if one applies such restraint and passes through this process of self-purification for a period of one month, its impact will last at least for the remaining 11 months, when this process will be again repeated. Since most of us take it as physical fasting only, we do not strive to achieve what is expected of this great month of significance.
Sociologically speaking, fasting is an expression of solidarity with the poor. It is manifested through the concept of charity, neighbourhood and hospitality. Apart from helping to purify body and soul through the process of self-purification, addressing these areas of social significance are bound to help people to shed all those things, which are not socially desirable.
Similarly, charity is encouraged during the month of fasting. It includes giving of alms to the poor. It is believed that if one gives away even a small amount during this month, 70 times more blessings will be received in return The practice of the concept of neighbourhood is equally important. It has wider connotations than its literal meaning. A true Muslim cannot see a human being in pain or misery. What we are witnessing around us in the name of Islam is not Islam. In essence, Islam in general and ‘roza’ in particular teaches a person to address human concerns and values.
I believe that Muslims need to demonstrate through observance of roza – in its totality – Islam’s relevance in today’s world. Any type of violence has no place in Islam. One of the greatest advantages of observing the month of fasting is that its true observance inculcates in a person the habit of speaking the truth, remaining patient, practising the concept of hospitality and good neighbourliness and give charity to the needy.
M Aslam, a social scientist, is former vice-chancellor of IGNOU