Innallaha ma3a Sabireen
Fasting-The Fourth Pillar of Islam
by Usama Qadri
The fourth of the five pillars of Islam (acknowledgement of faith, prayer, almsgiving,
fasting, and pilgrimage), fasting is an obligatory act upon virtually all Muslims.
Excluding the needy, the old, the pregnant, etc, fasting is required upon all Muslims who have
reached the age of puberty. In the Quran, Muslims are commanded by God that, “Observing the
fast is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you,” (2:183).
Mandatory fasting occurs in Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. Since the
Islamic calendar relies upon lunar sightings, the beginning and ending dates of the month
of Ramadan vary each year in relation to the solar-based Gregorian calendar, which many
use today. The importance of the month of Ramadan lies within the fact that the revealing
of the Quran began in that month. During Ramadan, many mosques perform the tarawih
prayer, which endeavors to recite the entire Quran by the end of the Ramadan. The month of
Ramadan culminates with Eid-al-Fitr, “The Festival of the Breaking of the Fast”, one of the
greatest holidays in the Islamic religion.
Although comparable to the Christian Lent and the fasting of Jews on Yom Kippur, Islamic
fasting is distinct in several ways. Islamic fasting is characterized by Muslims
abstaining from eating, drinking, and sexual relations from dawn till dusk. Furthermore, Islamic
fasting is a month-long affair, lasting 29 or 30 consecutive days, in which all able
Muslims must participate. Moreover, Muslims don’t make special arrangements for fasting such
as taking days off work, instead they engage in their normal, everyday routine.
A prevalent misconception inherent among the majority today is that fasting is merely a
physical obligation. Although a Muslim who is fasting refrains from eating and drinking, a
Muslim must also control his or her mind, avoiding evil thoughts and ideas. A Muslim that
is fasting also attempts to improve spiritually by praying and enjoining in more
religious activities while fasting.
Along with demonstrating a Muslim’s compliance to the order of God, fasting serves
numerous other purposes. During fasting, a Muslim experiences deprivation and hardships, which
result in augmenting the Muslim’s patience and discipline. Since a Muslim must eschew
from worldly pleasures for an entire month, fasting is also God’s remedy for self-control
due to the fact that. Since fasting is obligatory upon nearly all Muslims, regardless of
status or position in society, fasting also provides all Muslims with a sense of unity and
equality, in an otherwise hierarchical society.
Unlike fasting in other religions, there has been no abatement in the manner of Islamic
fasting since the advent of Islam. In other words, fasting has been practiced the same way
by Muslims for nearly 1400 years. For many of the one billion adherents to Islam,
observing the fourth pillar of Islam is a standard practice.
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