By now you have probably heard that Muslims have a month called Ramadhan during which they quit eating and drinking anything for a while everyday. You might have come across it on TV or in a YouTube video, or you may have a Muslim friend who fasts. Your immediate reaction to this information may well have been “WHY?!” and that’s totally understandable. It does not make sense to abstain from fulfilling your biological needs for no reason. So urge to find out the reason is a natural one. 

Sometimes you may be lucky enough to find a Muslim and ask this question out loud. If you do that, a number of possible replies awaits you. A way too common answer is that it’s because fasting allows us to walk a mile in the shoes of poor people. Another familiar answer is because fasting teaches us how to be resilient and grateful. It is also quite common to be given the answer that fasting enhances awareness of being part of the global Muslim community (Ummah). The positive effects of fasting on our health is often mentioned as well. To be frank, while all these points may be valid, they miss the true essence of this act of worship. 

 The religion of Islam is built on specific pillars of practice and articles of faith. The pillars of practice are expressions of our connection to Allah. Fasting is included in the pillars of practice, so fasting is part of the fulfilment of our commitment to Allah. It does not involve abstinence from merely physical needs such as eating, drinking and sexual intercourse but also abstinence from bad habits such as backbiting and foul language. It makes perfect sense for bad habits to be prohibited, but the reason for abstinence from basic biological needs is less obvious. Thus the ultimate reason for denying those basic biological needs for some time is because Allah commands us to do so. It might sound like a simple or cursory answer but the point is its simplicity. Muslims confirm their devotion to God by simply following His Commands. 

As for the other common “reasons” for the necessity of fasting in Ramadhan, they may not be the actual explanation, but they describe the benefits of fasting. We enjoy them as the positive effects of the month of Ramadhan. When the month comes to an end we find ourselves remembering that it is a luxury to be able to eat or drink whatever and whenever we please, and that there are people in the world who are not this lucky. We find a chance to be a better person there.

Another thing Ramadhan helps us realize is that we have the power to bear more than we think. We are capable of sustaining our daily routine on an empty stomach. We don’t take a break from life just because our stomach is empty. By the end of Ramadhan, we should have acquired more patience. 

As for suhoor and iftar… Suhoor is the pre-dawn meal and iftar is the meal we eat when we break our fast at sunset. We cook the most delicious dishes and use these meals as a chance to get together. Some years we might have guests for iftar for almost half of the month (for some crazy hosts almost the full month!), to share the joy and serenity of Ramadhan. During the three-day religious festival at the end of Ramadhan, known as Eid Al-Fitr, we visit family and friends, and gather with members of the community. We appreciate how strongly Islam binds us together. 

Finally, yes, any time we abstain from food and drink it serves as a detox. Alongside all the virtues Ramadhan brings us, it leaves us in better health too. 

 Every year, we thank Allah for letting us experience Ramadhan as a chance for us to obey His command and to enjoy all the benefits of this month.