An excerpt from AbdulWahid Hamid’s Islam The Natural Way
Every year, for one complete lunar month-the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, adult Muslims are required to fast. From dawn to sunset in the month of Ramadan, they refrain from all food and drink and sexual relations with the spouse. But if one is sick or on a journey it is allowed not to fast but these missed fast should be made up for by fasting the same number of days missed during Ramadan.
The main purpose of fasting is described in the Quran as “so that you may attain Taqwa or God-consciousness.” Fasting is thus yet another instrument for bringing one closer to his or her natural state and for cleansing this state from the dross of any disobedience and corruption. “Fasting is a shield,” said the noble Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) so simply and eloquently. And he also said: “Whoever spends the month of Ramadan in complete faith and self-rectification, his previous sins will be forgiven.”
Ramadan is a month of heightened devotion. In it, prayer is performed with greater intensity. There are extra prayers on Ramadan nights called Salat at-Tarawih. In the last ten days of Ramadan, some retreat to the mosque to perform Itikaf (seclusion) at the local mosque, a period of intense reflection and devotion, seeking guidance and forgiveness, and reading the Quran. Ramadan is a great opportunity to get closer to the blessed guidance of the Quran which was revealed in this month. Ramadan is also called the month of the Quran.
The month of Ramadan is an opportunity to develop qualities of endurance and self-restraint, to control anger and a fiery or malicious tongue. It is an opportunity to fine tune the body and shed it of obesity and sloth, and to benefit from any therapeutic effects fasting may have. Ramadan is a time to awaken compassion and solidarity with others and in particular with the poor. Muslims are urged to be more liberal in giving during Ramadan and are required at the end of fasting to give Sadaqatul-Fitr to the poor (a small amount of mandatory charity), an amount to enable all to share in the spirit of warmth, affection and brotherhood. Ramadan is above all an opportunity to reorient oneself to the Creator and the natural path of goodness and God-consciousness.
Although Ramadan may appear to be a hard and difficult month, it is in fact an enjoyable time. A special atmosphere prevails in homes, in mosques and in Muslim communities as a whole. Muslims look forward to the coming of Ramadan with great longing and expectation and feel a certain sadness when the month is at an end. It should be borne in mind that normal work activities should continue during Ramadan and it should not be taken as an excuse for sluggishness and idleness. One needs to be careful that the true benefits of fasting, of self-restraint and control, are not lost through gluttony on the one hand or idleness on the other.