Who are the human beings produced by fasting? What are their qualities and characteristics? We can expand our discussion further and ask a bigger question: since Fasting was initially prescribed to the believers in Medina, what were the challenges that fasting helped the believers face in the new place? What were the benchmarks the believers had to meet at that level of their development?
The first benchmark is “Taqwa”:“O you, believers! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn and achieve taqwa.”[2:183]
The believers in Medina were facing a new challenge- the challenge of the newly-born society. Self-control, self-restraint, and the ability to refuse and say “no” in private and public life became a very significant requirement. The members of the new society had to rely on internal policing far more than on external forces to maintain order and minimize the chances for any form of social disturbance. Ibn Khaldun refers to this internal force as the internal deterrent “al-wazi’a lahu min nafsihi.” I found this internal force the closest to the understanding of the meaning of “Taqwa.” “Taqwa” in its social dimension, guarantees the adherence of the individual and the community to their principles. In this case the principles of the new message.
When the believers accept by their volition to abstain from eating and drinking during the day-time of 30 consecutive calendar days, they are fostering and promoting this internal deterrent and “Taqwa.” When they make their minds to ignore those who may wrong them, they are fostering and promoting self-control and self-restraint. What are the social and political implications of such discipline? The new society that Prophet Mohammad established in Medina relied heavily on the internal discipline of its members with minimal emphasis on external force and policing by the leadership. We can translate this phenomenon into a mathematical formula: The external force is inversely proportional to the internal deterrent. With the internal deterrent being high, the energy and the resources of the governing leadership were channeled to meet and satisfy other social and economic needs of the growing and evolving society.
Although fasting is a private and personal experience, more than one billion people around the world participate in this endeavor. There is no human activity or a project like the project of fasting that can bring this huge number of people together around a meaningful objective- to reject and say “no” to eating and drinking during the days of a whole month. To what extent have we utilized this social reality to embolden our unity? Have we brought this social reality to the consciousness of the Muslim community to remind them of unity and the social and religious value of unity?
The newly-born society was facing another challenge: How can they establish a balanced and just society? Quran has already put before them this high and lofty objective:“We have made of you a balanced and just nation.” [2:143]
“And the heaven He has raised high, and He has set up the balance. In order that you may not transgress due balance.” [55:7-8]
How does “Taqwa” manifest itself in the balance of society, and how does fasting contribute to achieve that objective?
The fasting believers are shaken every day during Ramadan, the month of fasting. From dawn to sunset, they separate and liberate themselves from the material world, and by night they are brought back to it. It is a powerful nice model of training that takes them through stressful steps to learn how to actualize their unique and balanced human nature.
The separation from the world is not intended to be a form of punishment, but to promote in the human being a greater capacity to be generous and give out to others and make their lives better, easier, and more worthwhile. In fact, their fasting is not accepted until they pay for themselves and for every life dependent on them a charity (including unborn fetus) by the end of Ramadan. It is as if the addition of life reminds them to work for the common good and elevate the quality of life. This type of charity is called the charity of Fitra. Fitra is the blank, free, and unspoiled human nature in its state of balance. The human being is born in this state of balance, and this state has to be maintained and even elevated to a higher level.
After a month of fasting and a spiritual renewal, Muslims celebrate the end of Ramadan. The day of celebration is called Eid or the feast of Al-Fitr, as a reminder again of fitra, balance and equilibrium.
Fasting therefore is a comprehensive program designed to embody balance and justice required for the human being and society, demonstrated in a practical way.
“Taqwa” manifested in self-control and resolve, balance and equilibrium, equality and social justice constitute the ethics of fasting; and unity occupies its entire political agenda.
The second benchmark of the project of fasting is becoming a witness.
The newly born community in Medina was facing not only the challenge of balance and harmony but also the challenge of playing collectively the role of the prophet as witnesses to all mankind:“Thus, We have made of you an Ummah justly balanced, that you might be witnesses over the nations and the Messenger a witness over you.” [2:143]
How did fasting help the believers play the role of the witness? What were the believers supposed to witness?
“Ramadan is the month in which was sent down Quran as a guide to mankind, also clear signs for guidance and judgment between right and wrong, whoever witness that month should observe it in fasting.” [2:185]
Quran narrates history according to “events” and not according to dates and years. Ramadan has not been defined as a month of the calendar year that comes between Sha’ban and Shawwal, but as the month of revelation of Quran. Quran, in virtue of its clear signs is the guidance for human beings to achieve their vision and objective:“Guide to mankind, also clear signs for guidance.”[2:185].
Quran constitutes a frame of reference that transcends all human references in the form of charts, constitutions, customs, and traditions. Allah described it as “Al-Furqan” or “the Criterion” to judge between right and wrong, and differentiate between truth and falsehood:“In that night of revelation is made distinct every affair of wisdom.” [44:4]
Therefore, the revelation of Quran, as the most significant event in the history of humanity, has given the month of Ramadan its lofty value and status. Consequently, the month of Ramadan should be observed, and the best method to observe it is fasting:“Whoever witness that month should observe it in fasting.” [2:185]
To be a witness is to be present physically, mentally and emotionally; and to be conscious about the relationship between Quran and fasting. So instead of asking why Ramadan was chosen to be the month of revelation of Quran, we have to ask: Why do we have to fast the month in which Quran was revealed? What is the relationship between the revelation of Quran and Fasting?
Allah described Quran as the ultimate reference for humanity to adjust its life according to Universal Truth, Balance and Equilibrium:“It is Allah who has sent the book in truth, and the balance.” [42:17]
“The word of your Lord does find its fulfillment in truth and in justice.” [6:115]
If the essence and the role of Quran is to bring balance to the life of the human being, it stands out as the best system that is mostly compatible with the essence of human nature in its state of balance or “Fitra”:“So set your face steadily and truly to this religion, establish Allah’s handiwork according to the pattern on which he has made mankind: No change in the creation of Allah: that is the standard religion.” [30:30]
Therefore Fasting, as a reminder of balance, is the best environment to remember Quran and its primary function of bringing balance and equilibrium to the life of humankind. Ibn Khaldun made a very interesting historical observation: He noticed that the whole project of prophecy made its debut in locations that have the most moderate climate on earth. The balance and moderation of the divine message are best seen and appreciated in a moderate and balanced environment, not too cold and not too warm. Moderation and balance constitute the most appropriate nest for prophecy to achieve its objectives.
Fasting creates human beings who can bear witness to the ability to resist thirst and hunger, to the ability to control temper and anger, and to the ability to be moderate and balanced. Such human beings are the true witnesses to the moderate and balanced nature of Quran, the reference for their guidance and direction in life. Such human beings are the true witnesses to the revelation in its state of “unzila.” Quran does not only use the word “unzila” to mean “sent down” from a higher place, but also to indicate that the Divine Word of God has pervaded and penetrated the life of the receiving people. In fact, the revelation of Quran has elevated the relationship between Allah and humankind to the highest horizon possible.
By Dr. Walid Khayr