Ramadan is the month during which the Quran was first revealed to the Prophet Muhammad, and is commemorated by Muslims worldwide through fasting—from sunrise to sunset—for the entirety of the month. Along with increased prayer, regular recitation of the Quran, and constant remembrance of God, fasting during Ramadan strengthens our awareness of God in preparation for the afterlife.
Even outside the month of Ramadan, the act of fasting is, generally speaking, quite meaningful. When, for example, Palestinian political prisoner, Samer Issawi, participated in a 266-day hunger strike between 2012 and 2013 to protest his imprisonment by the Israeli government, there was worldwide shock at his deteriorating condition, but also amazement at his enduring will. By defying his primal needs for principled ends, Issawi, perhaps unwittingly, demonstrated the ultimate value of fasting. In his own words, captured in an article he wrote for The Guardian in March 2013, “I am still alive now and even after death, because Jerusalem runs through my veins. If I die, it is a victory; if we are liberated, it is a victory, because either way I have refused to surrender to the Israeli occupation, its tyranny and arrogance.”
Fasting during Ramadan is, similarly, a “hunger strike” against the vices that afflict the human spirit. By shunning not only food and drink, but also sexual activity, gossip, foul language, and even the negative thoughts that pervade all our minds, Muslims attempt to define themselves beyond their desires. Through fasting, they battle against the distractions that create barriers between them and God, and try to keep a clear mind about their purpose on Earth, including their obligations to others.
Unfortunately, many Muslims have forgotten these aspects of Ramadan and fast robotically during the month. Whereas the Prophet prepared for Ramadan by fasting the preceding month and increasing his charitable actions, many Muslims today organize Netflix schedules to help them pass the time.
Indeed, fasting during Ramadan is seen by many today as nothing more than a cultural event and interruption to normal life. But to numb feelings of thirst, hunger, and fatigue by binge watching TV shows or sleeping throughout the day is to completely miss the point of fasting.
In fact, fasting during Ramadan is merely a smaller part of the “greater fast” Muslims are expected to maintain their whole lives. From birth until death, Muslims perpetually fast from a number of activities, foods, and luxuries. This can range from abstaining from pork and wine to eschewing haughtiness. These restrictions are not simply for our “physical benefit,” but, first and foremost, are acts of devotion toward God. It is not the object of what we avoid that is important, but rather the process of willingly avoiding it that matters.
In this light, fasting during Ramadan is a piquant reminder of the ideals that drive our everyday lives—not an anomaly we must reluctantly endure. If we approach fasting with the same vigor that drove Prophet Muhammad’s practices or Samer Issawi’s hunger strike, we will reap the fruits of Ramadan in ways that are everlasting.