Fasting is not intended to inflict punishment upon the believers or to saddle them with unbearable burdens. Its main aim, as we have seen from the other articles, is to subdue our lust and material desires, such that we develop God consciousness. We are taught moderation and spiritual discipline so that our beings are not enslaved by our desires. Fasting teaches us to curtail our base instincts, and to practice abstinence for a short time from food and physical relationships, which provides, the spiritual training we require to be a true servant of Allah.
Yet, fasting is not the easiest of the commandments to obey. To suppress our appetites and passions is challenging, as is curbing our tempers and watching our tongues when our nerves are already frayed.
Every Muslim is taught that patience constitutes half of iman. We have to be patient for what has been ordained for us and commanded to us by Allah, with both the things that we like and dislike. Performing wudu’ on a sweltering day with icy water can easily be borne with patience. Actions that oppose our physical desires, such as leaving the comfort of our beds for the dawn prayer, require more patience.
Fasting is one such example of being patient with a commandment of Allah that we do not like.
Patience bears a direct proportion with one’s trust in Allah. The more trust in Allah, the more patience one will have in obeying His orders. As the patience increases, the easier it will be to perform what Allah asks of him.
Most excuses offered to avoid fasting evidence distrust and lack of patience with Allah. The unfriendly climate, hectic work schedule, hunger, exams. I overheard a lady fretting over whether she could survive Ramadan, even though she did not work and stayed in a fully air conditioned home all day.
Whereas the early Muslims, living in the arid desert, with no electricity, supermarkets, modern stoves or cars, made no such excuses. Water had to be drawn from wells, flour had to be milled, and clothes had to be sewn and washed by hand. Flock had to be tended to. Even without the persecution of the disbelievers upon them, their daily routines were harder than ours. Fatimah’s RA hands were severely blistered from the weight of the buckets of water that she had to draw from the well several time daily. Many of the early Muslims were impoverished, and there are accounts of how Muhammad SAW went through weeks without his furnace being lit (i.e. without any meals cooked in his dwelling).
In comparison, hardship is hardly a valid excuse for us to skip fasting. We have modern conveniences at our disposal. Daily chores can be carried out in a fraction of the time. Very rarely do we need to perform severe manual labour just to put food on our tables.
The lack of patience with Allah, coupled with our lack of discipline and addiction to food and other habits, form the backbone of excuses. Some are discouraged and give up before even trying, and others create loopholes in order to escape Ramadan. Yet, they have the patience to obey their nafs – to stay up at odd hours for a live telecast; or to sacrifice their savings for vacations conveniently timed to avoid fasting. In doing so, they have rejected Allah’s gift of Ramadan to them and prioritised the satisfaction of their desires above pleasing their Lord.
Although there is special dispensation for the ill, the infirm and travellers, and depending on the circumstances, in regions where the daylight hours are extraordinarily long, these exceptions should not be abused in order to discard one of Allah’s greatest gifts. Doing so would be an injustice – not to those around you or to Allah, but to yourself. By denying yourself Ramadan, you are denying Allah’s favours.
If Ramadan were a physically impossible feat, or endangers us, Allah would never have ordained it to be one of the pillars of Islam. Allah would never obligate us to destroy our bodies, year after year, in order to worship Him.
Therefore, the first step in coping with Ramadan is: trust in Allah and assume that it will be easy. People who have not tried, worry endlessly about how difficult it will be. Whereas, if they were to attempt it, without over analysing the issues, most of their trepidations are likely to be unfounded.
Some Muslims manage to fast on eighteen to twenty hour days without detriment. Given that the majority of the Muslim population does not live under such extreme conditions, the average 12 – 15 hour day is manageable by comparison for the average person who does not suffer any chronic illnesses or conditions. Human beings are essentially similar in physical needs, and the differentiating factor is not the physical capability, but rather spiritual ability, to subrogate their physical needs to obey Allah.
If you distrust Allah, are impatient with His commandment, and assume that fasting is injurious, your fasting is going to be riddled with difficulty. This is why some people, although in the prime of their youths struggle throughout, whereas:
An eighty year old man was fasting in a hot day. Someone told him: aren’t you too old to fast? He smiled saying: my journey is long and I am about to reach my destination. Besides, tolerating hunger and thirst is far easier than facing Allah’s punishment.
If you purify your intention and fast for the sake of pleasing Allah, wanting to be close to Him and believing in the abundant rewards that He has in store, the struggle is lifted and soon the hunger and thirst will not even be noticed. If it is too difficult initially, instead of giving up, go back to the root of your intention, which is to obey Allah, and supplicate to Allah to strengthen your faith, and increase your ability to bear the fast.
Certain physical changes are inevitable, such as a decrease in energy and stamina. These are not, for the average person, harmful. Fasting has never killed anyone, whereas overeating has! While a sensible diet and adjustments in eating habits are highly recommended during this time, an easy Ramadan mostly hinges on one’s trust and faith in Allah, not the external circumstances such as age, climate or schedules.
If we seek Allah’s rewards, we would expect that such rewards are only bestowed after we have fulfilled our parts, including the sacrifice of our attachments and habits we love. In ensuring good marks at school or a promotion at work, we would strain ourselves, and would be willing to forego our sleep and even skip meals to earn those rewards. What about gaining the rewards from Allah?
One of the early people used to say that one of the signs that Allah has accepted your fast is when you find that fasting is so easy that you will never feel hungry, even if you walk in the desert. Whereas if your faith is weak, fasting will be very difficult even if you eat all night and sleep all day.
In an excerpt of a long hadith, it was reported by Abu Hurairah (RA) that the Prophet (SAW) said “If Ramadan comes and a person is not forgiven, he will enter Hell and Allah will cast him far away.” (Tirmidhi). It was also reported by Abu Hurairah (RA): The Prophet (SAW) said: “He who observes fasting during the month of Ramadan with Faith while seeking its reward from Allah, will have his past sins forgiven.” [Al Bukhari and Muslim]
May Allah strengthen our faith and give us the patience to carry out His commandments, ameen.