Most people view Ramadan as a sublime period, where every Muslim experience sublime feelings as hearts soften and souls transcend the worldly pleasures. Another dimension that is often overlooked is the social dimension of fasting. A basic trait in all Islamic forms of worship is that they have different layers of surface and hidden meanings. We need to explore the social values that fasting can inculcate into the collective communal conscience of the Islamic society.
Ramadan aims to cause a real change for the individual as well as the society at large. The change is dual and bi-directional as the more the person changes to meet the ideals of the Ramadan, the more the society itself changes. The changes taking place on both of the two levels correspond to each other in a comprehensive process.
In practical terms, fasting helps Muslims appreciate the blessings they enjoy in their daily life. Most people who are familiar with a lavish lifestyle fail to recognize the value of what they have. Fasting is hopefully meant to teach us to appreciate the value of Allah’s bounty on us and to feel the plight of those who have to do without it. People feel and taste the bite of hunger that the poor suffer for most of the year. Muslims are encouraged to take practical steps to reduce their suffering.
So, Muslims compete in calling others to Iftar (food) and feeding the poor. Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) said, “Whoever feeds a fasting person will have a reward like that of the fasting person, without any reduction in his reward.” In Islam, it is a must to take care of your immediate neighborhood; the prophet (PBUH) warned, “He is not a believer whose stomach is full while his neighbor is hungry.”
Holding banquets, inviting people, distributing food in charity has extra virtue due to the nobility of the time. The Prophet (PBUH) was the most generous person ever in ordinary times, and was even more generous in Ramadan as he was likened to the fast wind that brings rain and benefits others. The feelings of sympathy and compassion on the part of the rich and the feelings of gratitude and love on the part of the poor bring both together in harmonious society free of envy and grudge.
There is no room in Islam for class conflict or disparity. The rich learn that they can live a normal life without much of the luxuries of life and they can find the true meaning of happiness in reaching out to the poor and the needy. Thus, we can have a healthy society where the relations are based on mercy, love and compassion.
Ramadan is the greatest teacher of tolerance. Muslims are asked to control their temper during their fast, even if they are irritated by others, they are ordered just to remind themselves and the others that they are fasting with “I am a fasting person.” Showing anger or being abusive can spoil a person’s fast and are not at all allowed. Tolerance for others is the most sought-after value that we need in today’s multicultural world where people of different religious groups coexist. Remaining without food and water throughout the day and at the same time keeping oneself normal and pleasant requires a great deal of tolerance.
Fasting teaches Muslims the virtue of self-control, which can play an important role in building positive relationships with others. Fasting is perfect exercise for self-control, not only on the physical level, but also on the moral, social and spiritual levels. Fasting heals the scars that undermine the social fabric and spreads brotherhood and social justice while, at the same time, helping the individual to purify and elevate his spiritual being. It is a marvelous act of worship that interweaves different elements in one unified whole.
Courtesy of the TIES Center, whose mission is to empower Kuwait’s expats through social and educational services that promote a positive and productive role in society, and to facilitate opportunities for intra- and interfaith interactions that promote social solidarity. For more information, please call 25231015/6 or e-mail: [email protected]
By Hatem Basha