Islam and the Quran

Why do we fast?

Question: It is said that the virtue of fasting is to understand the situation of the poor. Can you explain its virtues that are mentioned in the Quran? It shouldn’t be that simple. What is the purpose of God by commanding human beings to fast? I do not think that a whole month of fast is just to understand the poor better.

The Almighty God explains the purpose of fasting in verse 183 of Chapter Baqarah as follows:

“Oh, you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed for you in the way that was prescribed for the ones before you, so that you may refrain from doing wrong.” (2:183)

Fasting people abstain from eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse in marriage, only to obey the command of God and to gain His approval. Abstention from these acts, which are lawful on other days,  is only a reminder for us to refrain from committing unlawful acts during Ramadan. This abstention increases our motivation for staying away from probable sins. If we have to abstain from lawful deeds during Ramadan, then we must surely abstain from unlawful deeds, such as lying, harming or oppressing people or other creatures, backbiting, etc.  So, the real reason to fast is to refrain from committing any kind of sins. When we practice this for a whole month, we hope that it becomes a habitual way of behavior for us. Allah the Almighty decrees in the verse “so that you may refrain” rather than “you do refrain”. If we offer true fasting, it will make us refrain from doing wrong. That means, the result depends on our efforts.

The following hadiths also shed light to the purpose of fasting:

Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is fasting he should neither indulge in obscene language, nor should he raise his voice in anger. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say: “I am fasting!” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Fasting, 28)

Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his hunger and thirst as fasting.)” (Sahih al-Bukhari, Book of Fasting, 8)

Of course, fasting also maintains a person’s health, teaches patience, discipline, and the value of God’s blessings as it lets the person know what it is like to be hungry.

There are many more virtues in fasting. Discovering them requires a team work with experts. For example, no one knows the wisdom in the prohibition of interest better than economists. The benefits of fasting can be best discovered by the cooperation of experts in medicine, psychology and sociology. It is also known that fasting has been practiced as a treatment for various health conditions by health professionals from different cultures throughout the history.

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