Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar. Every day during this month, Muslims around the world spend the daylight hours in a complete fast. During the blessed month of Ramadan, Muslims all over the world abstain from all food, drink, and other physical needs during the daylight hours (such as smoking or sex). Ramadan is much more than just not eating and drinking; it is a time to purify the soul, refocus attention on God, and practice self-discipline and sacrifice.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is considered one of the 5 Pillars of Islam — five activities that shape a Muslim’s life. Prayer occurs on a daily basis; pilgrimage is done once in a lifetime; charity and professing one’s faith are both ongoing. Fasting the month of Ramadan is an annual observance; every year, Muslims take an entire month out of their lives to observe this strict fast and rededicate themselves to worship and faith.
Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits — essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings. The Arabic word for “fasting” (sawm) literally means “to refrain” – and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words.
The physical effects of the fast are felt by Muslims as a reminder of those who suffer throughout the year — those who are poor, homeless, refugees — and who cannot meet their basic needs. It reminds Muslims not to be wasteful and to feel empathy for those who face hunger on a daily basis.
We should feel gratitude for the bounties of Allah: clean water, sufficient healthy food, comfort of a home, health of our family members. There are so many in the world who must survive without these basic needs, and Ramadan is a time for us to give thanks and reaffirm our commitment to helping those in need.
During Ramadan, every part of our bodies must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from looking at unlawful things. The hand must give in charity, and not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to sinful places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast.
Therefore, fasting is not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person’s body and soul to the spirit of the fast. Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one’s self on the worship of God and charity to mankind.