The month of Ramadan is one of the essential occasions in the Islamic calendar. It’s the month in which the Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), it’s the month in which the most important nights of the Islamic year, the Qadr nights, or the nights of ordainment, are. It’s the month in which Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) used to pray a lot. It’s the month in which practicing Muslims fast, keeping themselves from sins, evil acts, and their worldly desires. But why this month has a significant role in the Islamic calendar, and how does it play a role in the life of Muslims? Here, we are going to discuss this matter.
Fasting is not a thing just belonging to Islam. It’s been in the former religions, and it’s been referred to in other holy books. The Quran refers to the time when Allah ordered Mary not to speak to anyone, as a form of fast:
Eat, drink, and be comforted. Then if you see any human, say, ‘‘Indeed I have vowed a fast to the All-beneficent, so I will not speak to any human today. (19:26)
“Muslims are asked to be fasting in the month of Ramadan: O you who have faith! Prescribed for you is fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may be God-wary.” (2:183)
Also, Allah promises a great reward for both men and women who fast:
“Indeed, the Muslim men and the Muslim women, the faithful men and the faithful women… the men who fast and the women who fast, the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard, the men who remember Allah greatly and the women who remember [Allah greatly]—Allah holds in store for them forgiveness and a great reward.”(33:35)
As a result, the month of Ramadan is when Muslims begin to have a close relation with Allah and practice preserving themselves from evil acts, temptations, human passions, etc. In response, Allah promises to reward those who do so, with the best rewards.
As Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) said, “The Month of Ramadan starts with mercy, goes on with forgiveness and ends with redemption.”  Therefore, this month is a chance for Muslims to ponder on their deeds, find where they have gone wrong, and ask Allah’s help and forgiveness to fix those mistakes and become a better version of themselves. Allah’s mercy includes everyone, at any time and anywhere. Yet, the month of Ramadan is when He pours down His blessings upon His creatures more than ever and is an excellent opportunity for the ones who are willing to benefit from it.
Qadr Night or the Night of Ordainment is highly sacred in Islam. On 19th, 21st, 23rd or 27th of Ramadan, Allah inspired the holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP), and it refers to this fact:
Indeed We sent it down on the Night of Ordainment. And what will show you what is the Night of Ordainment? The Night of Ordainment is better than a thousand months. In it, the angels and the Spirit descend, by the leave of their Lord, with every command. It is peaceful until the rising of the dawn. (97:1-5)
So, one of the significances of this night is the inspiration of the Holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP).
The other significance of this night, according to the Imams (AS), is being known as the night of destiny. Imam Sadiq (AS) calls it the heart of Ramadan . He also says that in the night of ordainment, everything, from death to life, is predestined. So Muslims usually stay awake during that night, praying to Allah to excuse their sins, and they pray for their earthly and unearthly wishes. That is the night in which Allah has said He does listen to the prayers of His servants. That is the night when one can change his/her fate for better, praying and asking Allah to do so.
The month of Ramadan is a chance for anyone who wants to be closer to Allah, a better person, and a guided human being. There are many divine purposes for this holy month, and especially the ritual of fasting, which will be discussed in another article.
- Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 93, p.342.
- Bihar al Anvaar, vol 58, p 376.
Human beings are created to be free and choose what to do with their own lives. However, sometimes the path toward growth is not through being free to have whatever we desire but to abstain from what we really wish while it is deviating or is a barrier against reaching the perfect version of ourselves. Here, the history of fasting finds its meaning. This is a ritual in which one, by his/her own free will, chooses to abstain from certain activities; this could range from not eating or drinking for a specific time, etc. Many faiths and religions, throughout history, encouraged their followers to fast in a certain way, each aiming at the spiritual elevation of their adherents. Islam is also among those religions which have made fasting an obligation upon its followers under certain circumstances, accepting the fact that this was not a tradition unique to Islam:
"O you who have faith! Prescribed for you is fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may be Godwary." Quran (2:183)
In what follows, we will have a look at the practice and history of fasting in the five most prominent non-Abrahamic faiths.
Looking at the history of fasting in primitive tribes and cults, we find some evidence regarding their belief in the spiritual impact of fasting and "was a practice to prepare persons, especially priests and priestesses, to approach the deities." Some Hellenistic cults believed fasting to be the prerequisite for reaching divine revelation for their priests. Some others thought that fasting "was one of the requirements for penance after an individual had confessed sins before a priest." 
Fasting was also common among Native Americans, practiced in private, or as a part of public ceremonies. The individual fasting often included the ones who had recently entered puberty, and they had to spend some time alone, from one to four days. During this time, they had to reach a particular spiritual maturity by observing certain rituals. Also, "It was not uncommon for an adult to fast, as a prayer for success when about to enter upon an important enterprise, as war or hunting" . Moreover, fasting was considered a requirement for religious heads to be able to fulfill their duties. The public fasting happened as a part of the initiation into religious societies, the length of which "ranged from midnight to sunset, or continued for four days and nights." The fast of these ancient tribes often included abstinence from food and water. The Native Americans saw fasting as "a means to spiritualize human nature and quicken the spiritual vision by abstinence from earthly food… as a method by which to remove "the smell" of the common world." 
Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians also practiced abstinence from food and drink as "a form of penance that accompanied other expressions of sorrow for wrongdoing. Like people of later times, these nations viewed fasting as meritorious in atoning for faults and sins and thus turning away the wrath of the gods." 
The Hindu faith also includes some form of fasting, which is ultimately aimed at spiritual awareness and growth by forming a balanced relationship between the body and the soul. Hindus believe that fasting can be a means of concentration on spiritual attainment through abstaining from worldly indulgences and distractions. Another purpose of fasting in Hinduism is self-discipline, which is made possible through "training of the mind and the body to endure and harden up against all hardships, to persevere under difficulties and not give up. According to Hindu philosophy, food means gratification of the senses, and to starve the senses is to elevate them to contemplation." 
Hindus have specified certain days for fastings, such as Purnima (full moon) and Ekadasi (the 11th day of the fortnight). Moreover, depending on the god or goddess each individual worships, certain days of the week are dedicated to fasting. They also fast on special feasts and festivals, including "Durga Puja," "Navaratri, Shivratri, and Karwa Chauth. Navaratri is a festival when people fast for nine days."  It is noteworthy that some kinds of fasting in Hinduism are only obligatory for women.
The practice of fasting in Buddhism is seemingly limited to monks and religious leaders. It is said that the Buddha had undergone long periods of fasting during the time he was learning from other teachers as a kind of self-mortification. While there is no record for Buddha's fasting after this time or his recommendation for fasting to his followers, many Buddhist monks tend to fast on certain occasions as a way of self-purification and spiritual elevation. They would eat only one meal a day and would fast on the days of the new and full moon.
As a part of Buddha's concept of moderation and avoiding excessive manners, intermittent or prolonged fastings are not encouraged in this faith. However, fasting for a reasonable amount of time and refraining from excessive eating is considered a useful way of preserving health in Buddhism.  In general, fasting in Buddhism is limited to refraining from eating solid food, such as meat.
Daoist's concept of fasting is more about mind rather than the body. Therefore, they encourage a form of "fasting of the heart" (xinzhai), which will result in a more pious life . However, they also believe that the fasting of the body will ultimately result in a clean body and a pure soul. In the book of Mencius, one of the famous Chinese scriptures, fasting is considered as a means of self-purification even for the one who has darkened his/her soul by vices:
"But although a person is ugly, it is possible, through fasting and purification, to become fit to perform sacrifices to the Lord-on-High" 
In this tradition, one must avoid doing any evil deed and keep away from harmful hobbies and desires. The followers of this tradition try to read more of their religious scriptures as they fast to connect more to that Higher being and find peace .
Zhang Yuchu wrote in the Ten Daoist Commandments: "Anyone cultivating Dao must fast for a clean body as well as a pure heart, and he must visualize the spirits and read Daoist scriptures silently in his mind. It is as if facing the Higher Emperor, communicating with him with the heart." 
It seems that most Zoroastrians implicitly reject the practice of bodily fasting, which in their view would weaken the body and prevents one from appropriately attending his/her spiritual duties and satisfying physical needs . The only form of fasting which they find permissible "is that of abstaining from sin" . There is also a reference to this prohibition in Avesta, the religious Zoroastrian text:
"It is requisite to abstain from the keeping of fasts. 2. For, in our religion, it is not proper that they should not eat every day or anything, because it would be a sin not to do so. 3. With us, the keeping of fast is this, that we keep fast from committing sin with our eyes and tongue and ears and hands and feet. 4. Some people are striving about it, so that they may not eat anything all day, and they practice abstinence from eating anything. 5. For us it is also necessary to make an effort, so that we may not think, or speak, or commit any sin; and it is necessary that no bad action should proceed from our hands, or tongue, or ears, or feet, which would be a sin owing to them. 6. Since I have spoken in this manner, and have brought forward the fasting of the seven members of the body, that which, in other religions, is fasting owing to not eating is, in our religion, fasting owing to not committing sin." 
However, there is a tradition of fasting in this religion at the time of mourning for a departed soul, which is only limited to not eating meat. As the Avesta suggest:
"In every habitation where anyone departs, passing away from the world, it is necessary to endeavor that they may not eat and not consecrate fresh meat for three days therein. 2. Because the danger is that someone else may depart, passing away; so the relations of that former person should not eat meat for three days." 
So far, we have reviewed the history of fasting in five well-known non-Abrahamic faiths, which reveals the spiritual roots of this practice from the beginning of the time. In the next article, we will study the ritual and history of fasting in three Abrahamic religions; that is Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
- native american fasting
- Das, Subhamoy. "Religious Fasting in Hinduism." Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020, learnreligions.com/why-fast-in-hinduism-1770050.
- Mencius, translated by Irene Bloom, Colombia University Press, New York. Book 4B, part 25.
- M. N. Dhalla, Zoroastrian Civilization from the Earliest Times to the Downfall of the Last Zoroastrian Empire 651 A.D., New York, 1922. P.187.
- Sad Dar, Translated by E. W. West, from Sacred Books of the East, volume 24, Clarendon Press, 1885. Chapters 78th and 83rd.
Judaism in Islam is considered as one of the most significant monotheistic religions, and many verses of Quran are dedicated to describing the fate of the followers of this religion. In different verses of the Holy Quran, when Allah wants to mention people of Moses, He calls them “Children of Israel” (Bani-Israel). The reason for which is that they were the generation of Prophet Jacob or Israel (PBUH), who at the time of Prophet Joseph (PBUH), migrated to Egypt and settled there for years .
After Pharaohs gained power in Egypt, they started violence against the immigrant generation of Israel by “slaughtering their sons and sparing their women” (28: 4).
Then after so many years, during which Bani-Israel were waiting for a deliverer, Moses was appointed to save them and deliver them from Egypt to the holy land: “O my people, enter the Holy Land which Allah has ordained for you, and do not turn your backs, or you will become losers’” (5: 21). They did not accept to enter the holy land as they were afraid of the people of that land. Therefore, they lost their opportunity and were wandering in the deserts for years. There was no promise that if children of Israel do not act according to God’s orders, they will still inherit the holy land.
“We dispersed them into communities around the earth: some of them were righteous, and some of them otherwise, and We tested them with good and bad [times] so that they may come back” (7: 168).
Like any other monotheistic religion that has good or bad followers, the followers of Judaism are either virtuous or sinful according to the above verse of the Holy Quran.
The bad Jews, mainly known to be Zionists, are those who are committing great sins and have huge racist beliefs. Since they believe they are the higher race and others are somehow their properties. Zionism is not a religion, but a political branch that tries to gain power using any tools, even the religion of Jews.
The Holy Quran introduces all prophets as Muslims . Quran strongly defends Jewish believers like the believers of other religions; “Indeed the faithful, the Jews, the Christians and the Sabaeans - those of them who have faith in Allah and the Last Day and act righteously—they shall have their reward from their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve” (2: 62).
Quran confirms the book of Moses and says: “We sent down the Torah containing guidance and light” (5:44). And in another verse, it says: “Yet before it, the Book of Moses was a guide and mercy, and this is a Book in the Arabic language, which confirms it…” (46: 12).
Although Quran confirms that all the prophets were from God and they had the same message, the problem, according to the Quran, is that the book of Moses was distorted by those ignorant and arrogant followers of him.
Accordingly, Islam was sent down to the followers of all prophets and the people of all nations and lands as a final and most complete religion, which was fundamentally the same as their religion. But all true believers and true followers of prophets should now be united in the way of worshipping One God and follow the book of Muhammad (PBUH), who has been mentioned in their books (7: 156-7).
God also warns Muslims that when they wish to convey His messages to the followers of other prophets, they should be respectful towards them: “Do not argue with the People of the Book except in a manner which is best, except such of them as are wrongdoers, and say, ‘We believe in what has been sent down to us and in what has been sent down to you; our God and your God is one [and the same], and to Him do we submit’” (29: 46).
As mentioned in the article on monotheism, from the Islamic point of view, the followers of other religions should realize the perfectness of Islam “despite the distorted image of Islam” in today’s world. They need to reach complete faith based on a firm understanding of Islam as the last and the complete way of life .
Since Jews were waiting for the last prophet and when some of them found him rise from among Arabs and not from amongst themselves, they denied him, since they had this thought that Islam must belong to a specific land or specific people, and it cannot be a complete universal religion for all lands at all times.
God mentions the rabbis with so much respect in the Quran and expects them to enlighten their people in worshipping one God and not to be fighting against each other while they worship the same God: “We sent down the Torah containing guidance and light. The prophets, who had submitted, judged by it for the Jews, and so did the rabbis and the scribes, as they were charged to preserve the Book of Allah and were witnesses to it...” (5: 44).
Going through the story of Prophet Moses (PBUH) and explaining it in details in the Quran had two major reasons:
1. Since when Muhammad was assigned as a prophet, Jews annoyed him in every possible way, God kept sending revelations regarding their past actions and their behavior towards Prophet Moses from whom they had seen many miracles.
2. The story of Jewish people and how they saw the miracles of their prophet and yet, they kept denying him, is repeatedly explained in the Quran, to be a lesson for Muslims. Muslims should remember that they had hard times, too, like the Jews, and they should not become arrogant because the last prophet was raised amongst them. Muslims should not make complaints against God’s orders, and by remembering the history of Jews, they should keep in mind that if they decline Allah’s commands, they will lose their opportunities since blessing is given to those who are God-wary:
“If the people of the towns had been faithful and God-wary, We would have opened to them blessings from the heaven and the earth. But they denied; so We seized them because of what they used to earn” (7: 96).
- The Quran, Yousof (12), 93
- The Quran, Al-Shourea (42), 13
- jews in Islam