Fasting A spiritual cleanser!

Fasting A spiritual cleanser!

Hyderabad takes on a different hue during Ramadan with the devout thronging different mosques spread across the city, fruit shops doing brisk business and haleem joints in makeshift tents springing up from nowhere. 

Hyderabad takes on a different hue during Ramadan with the devout thronging different mosques spread across the city, fruit shops doing brisk business and haleem joints in makeshift tents springing up from nowhere.

The air is filled with special prayers with the recitation of the Holy Quran and joyous ‘Iftar’ gatherings after daylong fasting providing the occasion for bonding with family and friends. The most important part of this holy month, however, is the dawn to dusk fasting, which includes increased offering of salat (prayers) and recitation of the Quran.

Ramadan the holy month, which lasts for 29-30 days based on the visual sightings of the crescent moon and the most auspicious period for Muslims all over the world occurs during the ninth month of the Muslim calendar and is observed as a month of daylight fasting, prayer, charity and brotherhood.

This is done to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) according to Islamic belief. God is said to have proclaimed to Muhammad that fasting for his sake was an obligation practised by those, who are truly devoted to the oneness of God.

The importance of fasting is stated in the following verse from the Quran. “The month of Ramadan is that, which revealed the Quran as guidance for all mankind, and clear proofs of guidance and the criterion (right or wrong) and whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, a number of other days. Allah desires for your ease; He desires not hardship for you; and that you should complete the period, and you should magnify Allah for having guided you and that perhaps you may be thankful. (Quran 2; 185)”

Fasting as part of religious practice induces a higher spiritual discipline ostensibly causing improved health and greater empathy for the starving millions, a truth realised by religious and spiritual leaders, yoga practitioners and healers in cultures and traditions across the world. Scientific studies conducted by Clive McCay in the 1930’s showed that restricting calories fed to rats in a laboratory without causing malnutrition increased their lifespan.

The findings further revealed that lower energy consumption not only increased the lifespan of these rats by 25- 50 per cent, but also lowered their risk of cancer. The science of Calorie Restriction (CR) translated to human beings, confirmed the laboratory results showing improved physical health, endurance and enhanced will power as a consequence of reduced intake over a period of time or periods of intermittent fasting.

While fasting on Ekadasi and other auspicious days has been an intrinsic part of Hinduism; Buddhism, Christianity, Jainism, Judaism and Islam have all ritualised fasting associated with prayer and purification of the thought process.

Fasting became a form of penitence, a powerful purification cleansing the body and mind pre-empting prayer, charity, noble thoughts and deeds. It is therefore listed as the fourth of the five pillars of Islam and is known as Sawm. The other pillars are Shahada (Faith) Salat (Prayer) Zakat (Charity) and Hajj (Pilgrimage to Mecca).

The reward or tawab for fasting and good deeds done during Ramadan are 70 times more than those obtained during the remaining months says Mohammad Aslam Ali (Aseem Bhai) the Hafiz at the Jama Masjid near AC Guards in Hyderabad.

The mosque visited by 800 to 1,000 devotees each day for prayers during this month has an extra prayer at 8.30 pm each night during Ramadan known as the “taraweeh’ or twenty rakat namaz, which is of great significance. “Roza or fasting teaches us patience, endurance and will power.

We learn to overcome irritation caused by lack of food and remain pleasant without using harsh words or getting into a fight with others. If we do not do our regular work or show an unpleasant disposition, there is no use of fasting. Going without food or water from sunrise to sunset makes us aware of the hunger pangs experienced by the poor and increase our resolve to help those in need,” he informs.

Sending out cooked meals during the evening after the fast is broken or paying for rice and other ingredients is an activity that many individuals and organisations take up during Ramadan. Aneesa Wajid, a beautician who lives in a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in the Zaheeranagar locality of Banjara Hills, Hyderabad, sets aside a portion of her earnings to buy fruits to distribute to the poor during Ramadan.

It is the act of giving that is important and the quantum of charity varies depending on the economic status of the donor. Each house in the locality takes turns in feeding the poor, one day of the week as part of other festivities. “The makers of Zinda Talismath send lots of delicious food every Friday evening during Ramadan for many who dine together and bless their hosts,” she shares.

“During this holy month devout Muslims refrain from any sinful activity, which negates the rewards of fasting. This includes drinking, smoking, engaging in sexual activity, negative speech (backbiting, lying, abusing) and physical fighting,” says Dr Mohammed Shabbir Ahmed, Hafiz at the 120-year-old mosque at Mallepally, Hyderabad, where around 7,000 devotees from the vicinity as well as those from Malakpet and Mallepally converge for prayers, their numbers varying at different times.

Fasting creates the right frame of mind and when followed by prayer, good conduct and acts of charity benefits all mankind not just Muslims according to him. The emphasis on right conduct is very clear and in the words of the prophet. “He who does not give up uttering falsehood and acting according to it; God has no need of his giving up food and drink.”

Ramadan really is a time of pure thought, action and deed where devotees follow the rigours of fasting purely for the sake of following a divine commandment and where God consciousness pervades all hearts resulting in a higher spiritual experience.

Eid-ul-Fitr which marks the end of the holy month of Ramadan is declared after the sighting of a fresh crescent moon or the completion of thirty days of fasting if weather conditions do not permit a visual sighting, is the celebration of the successful completion of fasting. Fitra means returning to one’s natural disposition after a rejuvenating spiritual break.

It is said of Ramadan in the Hadith, “When Ramadan arrives, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of hell are locked up and the devils are put in chains.” The spiritual meaning really is the triumph of good over evil in thought, word and action leading to a new beginning devoid of rancour.

Fasting here is not merely refraining from food but closing out all negativity. The ritual of fasting therefore awakens the deeper spiritual feelings that connect you to your higher self and help you relate in a more evolved manner with those around you.

By: Aruna Ravikumar

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