Ramadan is the seventh month of the lunar calendar. According to the Islamic teachings, Muslims must observe fast throughout this month. The form taken by the fast is abstinence from food and drink from sunrise to sunset. It begins after the sighting of the new moon of Ramadan and continues on a daily basis up to the end of the month.
What is the purpose of fasting? One Hadith tells us that every good deed will be rewarded ten times over and even up to seven hundred times over. But, one who fasts will be blessed with unlimited rewards. Then the Hadith gives the reason for this great reward: “The person who fasts gives up his food and drink for the sake of God.”
According to this Hadith, abstaining from food and drink is only the external form which fasting takes. The inner purpose is something else. And that is, to prepare oneself for a divine mission, that mission being to live in peace in the complete sense of the word.
The Quran says: “And God calls to the Home of Peace.” (10:25). This means that God wants to see a peaceful society. A peaceful society is apparently a social phenomenon, but such a society can be established only by those individuals who are ready to live in peace. A peaceful society is a result of peaceful persons. Every member of the society is a unit of the society. Therefore, peace at the social level can be established only when every single unit of society is ready to live in peace.
Only those persons can live in peace who are ready to remain patient, regardless of the circumstances. The fact is that everyone is born with different tastes and everyone is free to follow his own agenda. That is the law of nature, due to which it is impossible to establish uniformity in society.
Peace is necessary for a healthy society: without peace no progress can be achieved. In such a situation, the question arises as to how peace is to be established in society? According to Islam, the only answer is the magic three-lettered word: sabr (patience). Sabr is the key to having a peaceful society. A peaceful society requires avoidance of friction, tolerance, positive thinking, and the ability to retain one’s emotional equilibrium, even when provoked.
Fasting is a training course that develops this kind of positive behaviour. Abstinence from food is a kind of symbolic abstinence. Fasting, in its true sense, inculcates the spirit of self-control for living a self-disciplined life. The fact is that peace in society can be achieved only when its members are self-disciplined in their behaviour. The month of fasting is a period designed to enable every member of society to develop this culture of self-discipline.
The Prophet of Islam once said: “When a person is fasting, he should keep himself away from all kinds of negative behaviour. If anyone abuses him, he should say, 'I am fasting.'” This Hadith informs us of what the real spirit of fasting is, that is, refraining from all kinds of negative behaviour. When members of the society follow this course, the result is peace and tranquility.
The sole basis for any kind of human development is peace, and such development can be achieved in a society where its members are already living in peace. Islam provides a very strong incentive to adopt this way of living. That is, it describes Paradise as a peaceful society, and says that only those men and women will gain entry into this society who are capable of living in peace with others.