"Fasting during Ramadan is a unique opportunity to attain both peace of mind and heart," says Imam Gayth Nur Kashif, Director of Washington, DC's inner city Masjid ash-Shura.
Imam Kashif, who came to Islam by way of the Black Muslim movement and was an editor of the movement's Muhammad Speaks newspaper and a contemporary of Malcolm X, explains: "During Ramadan one concentrates on rendering good and abstaining from the wrong. Such a pursuit creates peaceful serenity in the hearts of men and women. Ramadan fasting cannot be complete and in fact, the fast can be invalidated if one fails to control his or her temper. The fasting persons are advised to refrain from argument and to inform the other party that they cannot continue the troublesome dialogue because they are engaged in the sublime obligation of fasting. Without doubt a full month of such restraint is destined to leave its mark upon our bodies and souls."
The fasting during Ramadan that requires certain restraints from dawn to dusk, the hours when the human interaction is the greatest, is designed to mould the lives of its practitioners.
Dr. Molook Roghanizad, a member of the Curriculum Advisory Committee of the Fairfax County School Board in Virginia and an educational consultant, says, "Ramadan fasting offers an opportunity for Tazkiyah, - the cleansing of the self - through its disciplinary regimen. And on another level, Ramadan offers a unique opportunity for synthesizing with the less fortunate."
She points out that the tazkiyah aspect is clearly emphasized by Prophet Muhammad who, according to Ka'b ibn Malik, said: "Two hungry wolves sent against a herd of sheep will not do more damage to it than a man's eagerness for wealth and prestige does to his religion." [Cited in Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi and Abu Yahya]
"The Quran," she adds, "started to be revealed during Ramadan and it is recommended that during this month we concentrate on the reading of the Quran. Why? This is because during this month, we are less involved with physical needs and have a better opportunity of understanding the Message - the Quran, that is. Therefore there is a better chance of understanding the truth and reaching that spiritual elevation that we all desire." This state of 'special elevation', she is says comes when we elevate ourselves through understanding the true message. "The moment you have reached the absolute truth is your Lailut ul Qadr, the Night of Power," she stresses.
She says that the real attainment of Qadr for ordinary beings is not a physical act, nothing sort of pulling a spiritual rabbit out of a hat, but in reality that indescribable moment when all things become clear to you and this moment of truth is worth one thousand months, more than a lifetime. The Quran says: "But those will prosper who purify themselves and glorify of their Guardian-Lord and (lift their hearts) in Prayer." (Quran 87:14-15)
Dr. Muhammad Hamidullah, the eminent scholar and translator of the Quran into French, in his monograph Why Fast? (Centre Culturale Islamique, Wilkes Barre, PA) discusses the physical aspect of fasting. He likens fasting to the break from the ordinary to sleeping and to the weekend breaks in work and school. He points out that just as sleep renovates the body, the fast rejuvenates and invigorates the body, noting that Prophet Muhammad said, "There is a tax on everything, the tax of the body being the fast."
What fasting does to a Muslim is perhaps best explained by Jim Quraishi, who wrote in an internet religion forum, "I am much more forgiving and accepting of my coworkers. I am more liable to overlook their frailties and petty jealousies. I'm like a man who knows that at the end of the day there is a pot of gold that awaits him."
Islam does not promote withdrawal from society, however during Ramadan a brief withdrawal from society is allowed for those who desire to do so, which is called itikaf. In itikaf a person can confine oneself to a secluded corner of a mosque - women can select a corner at home - during the last ten days of Ramadan to devote their full-time to prayer and remembrance of God. The itikaf experience can be likened to a retreat in a secluded camp. Ibn Umar said, "The Messenger of Allah [Prophet Muhammad] used to seclude himself for the last ten days of the month of Ramadan."
According to the late Dr. Alija Izetbekovic, President of Bosnia, "The Islamic fast which is the union of asceticism and joy - and even pleasure in certain cases - is the most natural and most radical educational measure that has ever been put into practice. It is equally present in the king's palace and the peasant's hut, in a philosopher's home and a worker's home. Its greatest advantage is that it is really practiced."
The fasting during Ramadan has been ordained for Muslims as fasting had been ordained for people that preceded them. Prophet Muhammad, addressing his companions on the last day of Shaban, the preceding month, said: "O people! A great month has come over you; a blessed month; a month in which is a night better than a thousand months; month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in (this month) shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time, and whoever discharges an obligatory deed in (this month) shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Heaven. It is the month of charity, and a month in which a believer's sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast, shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the Fire of Hell, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without his reward being diminished at all." [Narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah]