Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, observed by Muslims worldwide as a month of fasting, prayer, reflection and community. In this holy month Muslims fast from the food, drink, smoking, and sexual activity, and other specific activities drawn by Islam between dawn to nightfall until when the evening adhan is sounded in order to practice abstaining. There is definitely a higher purpose beyond not eating or drinking behind fasting. Fasting is one of the Principles of Islam, a religious duty commanded by Allah. Muslims who obey such commands or duties are said to receive thawab* each time for each good deed and receive redemption in the afterlife. Today we are going to discuss the real philosophy behind this Principles but at first, let us see some of the Quran verses pointing to fasting and its place in Islam.
O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous –
(The Holy Quran 2:183)
The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion
(The Holy Quran 2:185)
This principle is often emphasized in the principles of Islamic jurisprudence “The basis for the formation of all religious and divine rules is the interests and corruptions that philosophy is its cause”.
The second surah of The Quran (Al-Baqarah) clearly telling us the purpose of the act of fasting, talks about Divine bowing (verse 185), thanksgiving (verse 185), Benefiting from divine help (verses 45 and 153), benefiting from Allah (verse 184), attaining piety (Verse 183) and victory and success in deeds (verses 45 and 153) are among the wisdom and goals of fasting. We will discuss them deeply now:
Fasting has other benefits and effects, the most important one is identifying the sincere; Because fasting means abstaining from drinking and eating and sexual pleasures as well as other prohibitions, it is very difficult for many people who cannot wash their hearts of material pleasures and are only humble and submissive who give up by divine command. Therefore, it can be said that fasting is one of the most important divine tests through which sincerity can be recognized. Imam Ali (AS) says about this function of fasting: Allah made fasting obligatory in order to test the sincerity of the people. (1) Also, Lady Fatemeh (AS) says about the role of fasting insincerity: Allah has made fasting obligatory in order to establish sincerity. (2)
Other functions of fasting include the element of empathy; Because the fasting person understands the difficult conditions of others by fasting, and because of the suffering he suffers during the fast, he feels the suffering of the poor deeply now. Creating similar conditions and assimilating the living space with the lives of the poor, in the most important dimension, namely the lack of food and drink and other pleasures, causes a feeling of sympathy and provides the ground for financial benevolence and charity. Some rich people, for various reasons, including illness or intentionally not fasting, have to pay atonement, so one of the purposes of fasting is to reach a part of the wealth and property of the rich to the poor so that at least the life of the poor is provided and the level of class distance becomes slightly lower.
we can also refer to this wisdom that Imam Sadigh (AS) has stated about the obligation of fasting: Allah has made fasting obligatory so that the rich and the poor become equal (3) Imam Reza (AS) also says about this matter: People are commanded to fast in order to understand the pain of hunger and thirst, and through it to find the poverty and misery of the Hereafter. (4)
Another wisdom mentioned in the narrations for fasting is zakat of the body. In the sense that zakat is for everything; That is, just as it is zakat for property, which by paying for it provides the ground for proper growth and development of the body. Prophet Mohammad (PBUH&HP) said: Zakat is for everything and zakat on the bodies is fasting. (5) Also, our dear Prophet (PBUH&HP) said: Fast to stay healthy (6)
Medical research has proven today that fasting has a very effective role in eliminating diseases, especially cancer; this is because the lack of nutrients in the body has the first effect on cancer cells and dries out their roots. Therefore, in order to have a healthy body and all the organs of the body to work properly, we must accept fasting as a treatment and use it for the proper development of our body.
In the teachings of Islam, Jihad, especially its military one, has been set as a standard for other tasks due to its difficulty to achieve. Therefore, matters such as gaining halal, marrying well, and the like are considered and measured as jihad. Fasting is a difficult and arduous task because it is even permissible to step on carnal pleasures. Fighting against carnal desires and confronting erotic issues is one of the most important jihads known as the Great Jihad; and it is more difficult to fast in the heat of summer and under the sun and with work and labor. Such a fast is one of the best examples of deeds from the ideals of Prophet (PBUH&HP) that he said: Fasting in the heat is jihad. (7)
Imam Sadegh (AS) also says about fasting in extreme heat: Whoever fasts for Allah on a very hot day and becomes thirsty, Allah will appoint a thousand angels to touch his face and give him the good news until he breaks his fast. (8)
Achieving true fasting means that not just a person's body and tongue fasting, but also his heart and mind are fasting. Imam Ali (AS) says in expressing the best types of fasts: The fast of the heart is better than the fast of the tongue, and the fast of the tongue is better than the fast of the belly (9). So, in the real fast, all the organs of a person must be fasting from sin and mistakes. It is also narrated from Lady Fatima (PBUH) that: What is the use of fasting for a fasting person who has not preserved his tongue, ears, eyes, and joints? ** (10)
There is no point in Islam that hasn’t been checked by wisdom higher than human ones. If there are acts in Islam that are hard or pointless in our sight, that means we can’t see their higher purpose. Islam is always fresh and never gets old like other religions and it seeks human redemption so follow its orders to find yourself in the righteous path
- Nahj al-Balagha (verse 252)
- Bihar al-Anwar (96th volume – page 368)
- Man La Yahduruhu al-Faqih (second volume – page 43)
- Wasa'il al-Shia (4th volume – page 4)
- Al-Kafi (4th volume – page 62)
- Bihar al-Anwar (96th volume – page 255)
- Bihar al-Anwar (96th volume – page 257)
- Al-Kafi (4th volume – page 64)
- Exalted Aphorisms and Pearls of Speech (first volume – page 417)
- Bihar al-Anwar (93th volume – page 295)
* Thawab means punishment and has been used in both good and evil deeds of the human, and of course it is often used in good deeds.
**Lady Fatima (AS) has made a Denial interrogation in this narration of hers that it makes it more understandable
In the first part of this topic, we tried to describe some of the inspiring aspects of Imam Hussain’s (AS) uprising that can be a model for all human beings. It was mentioned that confronting any oppressive and cruel regime is a duty over every free human being. That was the reason that Imam Hussain (AS) stood up against Yazid’s tyranny. However, taking the leadership should not be the aim and should not be achieved at any price. In fact, whoever seeks real justice, should act justly. Here we review other lessons from Imam Hussain’s (AS) movement.
According to Imam Ali (AS), courage is composed of three virtues which complement each other: self-sacrifice, not surrendering to humiliation and oppression and not seeking fame . All of these virtues were manifested in Imam Hussain’s (AS) movement. He (AS) sacrificed his life for the sake of the divine goal that he had. He (AS) never gave up and did not abandon his aim; even in Karbala where his dearests were under the hardest conditions. And, Imam Hussain (AS) did not seek to reign but was concerned about how Yazid was altering the Islamic teachings and spoiling Prophet Muhammad’s (PBUH&PH) Sunnah.
Moreover, he (AS) was such courageous that he was ready to confront the enemy’s large troops with his few companions. However, he (AS) never sought to start a battle, but he (AS) aimed to reveal the truth and to show the real face of Yazid’s corrupted reign for the sake of Allah Almighty.
One might ask him\herself that what I would have done if I had been in the same situation as Imam Hussain (AS)? There would have been “nearly safe” options in dealing with Yazid’s tyranny that could prevent a battle and shedding blood.
For instance, he could have been indifferent and accepted Yazid’s allegiance or kept busy with private affairs. In the most courageous case, he could have waited for an opportunity to gather companions in secret to fight back the injustice. But, are any of these reactions honorable? Could a free righteous man or woman live under such circumstances? Surely no. Imam Hussain (AS) stood up for justice and resorting what has been distorted by Yazid’s corrupted governing style. He (AS) chose to be killed on the battlefield instead of living under humiliation. It was for the sake of human dignity that he (AS) sacrificed his valuable life. This is what he (AS) declared on the battlefield: “If you don’t believe in any religion, at least be free-spirited and honest in your actions in this world.”
All the difficulties that Imam Hussain (AS) suffered from were due to worthwhile goals: revealing the truth, establishing justice, and eliminating oppressive regimes. Achieving these aims cost many lives and caused Imam Hussain (AS) and his family considerable hardship. When he was leading his family and companions towards Karbala, he was perfectly aware that there was no way back. However, Imam (AS) never surrendered and was never disappointed.
In Karbala, the situation was so hard such that some of Imam’s (AS) companions decided to leave. They were sure that they wouldn’t leave the battlefield alive. That’s why they gave many reasons to go home; like their family being alone in their absence, owing money to others, etc. Hence, a part of the caravan left. The night before Ashura, Imam (AS) called his companions and described the extreme situation that they would face the next day. He (AS) said that they were free to leave, and they won’t be blamed for this. In other words, in spite of lacking enough soldiers, Imam (AS) did not oblige anyone to stay. He (AS) let them choose, and in such a case, they decided their own destiny.
Now that we have reviewed the significance of Imam Hussain’s (AS) movement, we realize that what happened in Karbala was not a simple battle. This event’s lessons of morality and humanity are not only limited to one place or a specific group of people but reach out to every human being, regardless of their religion, nationality, or time.
- Ibn Shu'ba al-Harrani, “Tuhaf al-'uqul,” p.322
Islam's history from the time of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) until now has witnessed many challenges that were overcome through the flexible and rational set of rules offered by Allah. The way Islam deals with the requirements of each era and how its principles and rules can be applied to new cases are among the reasons for the quick spread of Islam during ages, which are addressed in this part of the topic.
Islam is basically sensitive to the evolutions and the requirements of each epoch. This is not the case for many religions and sects, especially those founded by humans. Imam Ali (AS) has advised: “not to impose the customs and traditions of your time on your children because they belong to a different era from yours” .
Unlike other creatures of the world such as animals, plants and inanimate objects, humans have memory, tradition, and history; animals might have memory, but not tradition nor history. This makes it possible for humans to compare different periods of their life and form the concept of progression and retrogression; which is not the case for animals and plants.
And, that is the reason why the specifications and the requirements of each time become meaningful; e.g., old vs. new, classic vs. modern, etc. This makes one pause once in a while to ask him\herself: am I going forward or actually taking a step back? And undoubtedly, getting advanced would be the most pleasant reflection that one can have. But, how can one be on an ever progressive path?
For self-development, one needs a set of values, disciplines, and rules with the help of which he\she can define a structure for his\her life that will consequently guarantee his/her success and advancement over time. This also applies to social development.
On the other hand, every human being is not able, nor has time, to contemplate every detail and strategy about life and to establish his\her framework. Hence, one usually relies on the teachings and instructions of a specific sect, religion or ideology. But, how is it possible? How can one select the best framework and then adjust it according to the specifications of each era such that it can apply to every period? That is possible with the help of wisdom.
Among various ideologies and religions known in the course of time, those who are more rational can be adapted better to the requirements of each period and are consequently more understandable and acceptable by humans. Such a religion or ideology provides the principles and rulings which can be perceived by the human’s wisdom and from which humans can conclude and extract the guidelines and codes that are exclusive to each era.
Among different religions, Islam is really the only one that is rational and is based on wisdom; So are the divine guidelines. Every good act and deed ordered to is rationally and truely useful in nature, not because it is a divine order. And something known devilish in Islam is intrinsically wrong; it is not wrong because God has told us so. In other words, it is not Islam who renders something good or bad, it rather provides the rational tools to identify what is wrong and what is right. That is the reason why Islam is more compatible with the specifications of each time, i.e., it provides the axioms and frameworks and leaves the rest to the human’s wisdom. This takes place through a process called Ijtihad.
Using Ijtihad, Islamic jurists (Faqih) derive the guidelines and regulations from the principles of the Quran, the narrations, and traditions of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and the Infallible Imams (AS). In this regard, Imam Sadiq (AS) said that the Infallible Imams had introduced the Islamic axioms and it is a duty over Muslims to deduce the details and rules .
This is the Islamic jurisprudence which is a unique characteristic that enables Islam to propose rational solutions, to respond to new issues and questions at each time. It also facilitates for human beings the application of the Islamic axioms to their activities and dealings. Otherwise, religion or ideology that is limited to the text, and has no solution to become updated in the course of time, will be a temporary time-dependent one that cannot survive through the time evolution.
According to what has been mentioned above, Islam as a whole guide and roadmap is able to consider new situations, and issues raised at different periods and propose relevant solutions for them. Islam's history has shown it as a dynamic religion whose guidelines are not limited to the cases in a thousand years ago but meets the requirements of all time. Of course, it should be noted that being ever up to date does not mean to welcome every new change and circumstance; it rather means to derive the relevant Islamic orientation and ruling by considering the Islamic axioms.
- Ibn Abi l-Hadid, “Comments on Nahj al Balaqa”, vol. 20, p. 267, T. 102.
- M. Al-Hili, "Al-Saraʼir Al-Hawi Li-Tahṛir Al-Fatawi", vol. 3, p. 575.