After prayer the second compulsory duty which every Muslim is necessary toper- form is that of fasting in the coursework of the month of Ramadan. The word sawm which has been used in the Holy Qur'an and the Hadith for fasting means "to abstain"; thus a horse that abstains from moving about or from eating the fodder is said to be sa'im. In the technical language sawm signifies fasting or abstaining from food and drink and sexual activity from the dim beginning of dawn till sundown.
The records of the Hadith bear ample testimony to the fact that fasting was a common religious practice among the pre-Islamic Arabs , and they used to observe quick on the tenth of Muharram because it was on this day that Allah saved Moses and his companions from the clutches of the Pharaoh who was drowned in the sea along along with his army. The Arabs and other people were familiar with fasting as an act of penitence or of propitiation or a preparatory rite before some act of sacramental eating or an initiation or a mourning ceremony.
In Islam fasting is primarily an institution for a spiritual discipline and selfcontrol. It is in fact an exercise in religious devotion in the type of cheerful and willing renunciation, for a positive period, of all the appetites of flesh lawful in themselves (the illegal ones being ruled out of coursework). The Qur'an says:
0 ye who think ! prescribed unto you is fasting even as it was prescribed unto those before you. that haply you may become God-conscious (ii. 183).
Of all the creation of God only man deviates from His path. They will find that things are chiefly responsible for this: the love for material possessions and the tempta- tions of the flesh. Islam has, through the institutions of Zakat and Sadaqat, purged the hearts of its followers from the love of wealth, and has inculcated in him the habit to part with it readily for the sake of God.
Fasting has been ordained as a religious duty for the Muslims for subduing their lust and keeping their appetites well within reasonable bounds so that man may not become their slave and lose control over himself. The Qur'an clearly states that a man cannot attain salvation unless they learns to restrain his self from low desires. "And as for him who fears to stand before his Lord and restrains himself from low desires, Paradise is surely the abode" (lxxix. 40-41).
The exercise of abstaining from things otherwise lawful in the ordinary coursework of life, at the behest of Allah, strengthens man's morality and self-control and deepens in him the consciousness of the Lord. This is what distinguishes fasting in Islam from fasting in other religions.
It ought to even be borne in mind that fasting does not aim at inflicting punishment on people or sadding on them unbearable burdens. The underlying idea behind it is to teach moderation and spiritual discipline so that human temptations may not become so wild and uncontrollable as to flout the commands of the Great Master. To be a true servant of Allah, it is essential that man ought to be able to conform his behaviour to the moral and spiritual discipline embodied in the Shari'ah of Islam. cannot accomplish this finish if finds oneself helpless before untamed and turbulent desires. Fasting is indispensable for this moral and spiritual training.
Another distinguishing feature of Islamic fasting is that it does not train a person for complete renunication but for ideal and cheerful obedience to the Lord All those things from which man is commanded to abstain in the coursework of fast, e.g. eating, drinking and sexual activity, become permissible for him at the finish of the fast. This shows that Islam does not look down on the appetite of flesh as something ignoble and thus fit to be exterminated root and branch from the human soul. According to Islam, there is nothing profane or ignoble in human persona: both soul and body are sacred and worthy of respect. No aspect is to be ignored and no urge is to be curbed. What is necessary is to keep all these urges well within their proper limits so that none of them transgresses natural bounds and becomes the source of trouble
That fasting is an institution for moral elevation can be judged from the fact that Allah does not impose check only on eating, drinking & sexual activity from dawn to sundown, but also exhorts His servants to refrain from other foul acts, for ex- ample, backbiting, indulging in foul speech, telling lies, etc. Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be on him) as saying : If does not abandon falsehood & other actions like it, God has no need that ought to abandon one's food & drink (Sahih Bukhari).
The social aspect of fasting in Ramadan is that the whole atmosphere is permeated with religious piety & devotion to Allah. There is additional congregational prayer, Tarawih, in the coursework of the night, in which the Qur'an is recited & the Muslim is reminded of the fact that it was in the month of Ramadan that the revelation of the Qur'an commenced. The sadaqqt are also given with greater zeal & fervour in this month. Thus the whole Muslim society is inspired by the love of God. Abu Huraira reported Allah's Messenger (may peace be on him) as saying: When Ramadan begins, the gates of Heaven are opened, the gates of Hell are locked, & the devils are chained (Bukhari & Muslim).
Muhammad Asad, while elucidating the spiritual & moral significance of quick says: "Twofold I learned, is the purpose of this month of fasting. has to abstain from food & drink in order to feel in one's body what the poor & hungry feel :thus social responsibility is being hammered in to human consciousness as a religious postulate. The other purpose of fasting in the coursework of Ramadan is self-discipline, a side of individual morality strongly accentuated in all Islamic teachings (as, for example, in the total prohibition of all intoxicants, which Islam regards as simple an avenue of escape from consciousness & responsibility). In these elements-brotherhood of man & Individual self-discipline -I began to discern nhe outline of Islam's ethical out look" (Road to Mecca, London, 1954, p. 188).