Ramadan is tough – the lack of sleep, the intense hunger pangs, fasting in the summer heat. There is a lot of struggle with Ramadan. But let us examine the struggle; what is it teaching us? How can we navigate through the hardship of Ramadan, and understand the virtues of this blessed act of worship? One of the many virtues we can derive from fasting is the opportunity to control our nafs (desires).
Ramadan teaches us the truth of our mortality and our desperate need for Allah. When we restrict our food and drink intake, as well as sexual intimacy between spouses, we realise our true dependency is with our Creator.
Although we realise that food plays an integral role in our survival, often times food can be used as a distraction. It can be a filler for space in our hearts that was not designed for anything else but Allah. We turn to food to bring us comfort, sometimes overindulging in it. When we restrict this intake we realise the truth of this attachment. We realise, the same way we need to sustain our bodies physically, our hearts are also in need of spiritual sustenance and this can be achieved through the virtues of fasting. Sometimes we have to break from our attachments to realise there is a deeper veiling taking place – a veil keeping us from ourselves. This dunya can often be like such a distraction.
Allah says in Quran:
When we fast, we are not only fasting from food and drink, we are also fasting from all other vices that we become comfortable with. As we fast throughout Ramadan, we develop a greater level of self-control by guarding our tongues from ill speech. We also guard our eyes from looking at that which is haram. Fasting protects the Muslim from the fire as, in a hadith, the Prophet (saw) said:
Through fasting, you also develop increased empathy through deep self-reflection. It allows you to look further into your life and question whether the decisions and life choices you make are pleasing to Allah; you begin to ask yourself if these choices are becoming your liberation from the shackles of dunya, or a prison for your soul. Be not like the one the Prophet saw and warned against:
When you are restricted from food, you realise how blessed you are. Thus, it should inspire you to give more in charity as there are those amongst us who fast all year round because they do not have a choice. This gives the believer a deeper sense of gratitude that should manifest in your worship of Allah, and through your servitude to His creation.
This hadith highlights the immense reward for fasting. When a Muslim is able to control their desires and overburden the nafs with dhikr, you will find and attain true success.
Fasting can also result in a variety of health benefits, including:
· Improving body composition and fitness
· Promoting insulin sensitivity
· Speeding up the metabolism
· Encouraging greater satiety
· Supporting fat loss and ketosis
· Improving cardiovascular health
· Lowering blood pressure
· Decreasing blood sugar
· Improving brain function
· Clearing skin and improving acne
Together, these benefits allow us to appreciate the month of Ramadan. Though our stomachs and desires are put into control and restriction, we nourish our souls with dhikr and reap the rewards out of this blessed month.