The benefits of fasting: kindness in hardship
By Musa Bukhari
Self-reflection in a time of outbreak
Hard times are the mirrors that show us who we truly are. If we are giving, our generosity will shine. If we are pessimistic, our negativity will reflect back at us. We must all monitor our hearts to take stock of who we are, and what we can improve.
In the last weeks, we have witnessed people do all sorts of things, from hoarding food and essential supplies to making rash decisions that affect the lives of others. Although the fear this virus has triggered is understandable, selfish and destructive behaviour is not part of our faith.
But we have also seen people coming together to support their communities. Neighbours buying groceries for older people, people donating food to vulnerable and homeless people, and communities banding together to raise money for charity.
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These last few weeks have been trying and testing. We might feel like we are being deprived of our mosque, community and spirit of Ramadan. We feel lonely as we can’t see our families and friends.
But Allah is all-knowing, generous and giving.
"Sometimes He gives while depriving you, and sometimes He deprives you in giving. When He opens up your understanding of deprivation, deprivation becomes the same as giving." ― Ibn Ata Allah
When Allah takes away something, He gives us something in return. Ramadan is the perfect example of ‘deprivation’. We are unable to enjoy of the joys of eating and drinking, but we return to these joys after sunset and reap the multiplied blessings of obeying Allah in the holy month. The deprivation is temporary, but the spiritual satisfaction that comes with it each day allows us to keep going till the end of the month.
Perhaps this outbreak will be the great redeemer for today’s generation of Muslims who are depriving themselves of companionship and happiness for the greater good. The Messenger said:
“Whoever remains in a plague-ridden land patiently and hopeful of reward, knowing that only what Allah decrees will reach him, will get the reward of a martyr.” (Al-Bukhari)
Ibn Hajar says in his explanation:
“What is to be understood from the way the hadith is worded that whoever is characterised by these mentioned descriptions will receive the reward of a martyr, even if he does not die.” (Fath al-Bari)
These characteristics are:
· Remaining in your town (or home)
· Practising sabr and persevering through the hardship
· To trust and accept whatever Allah has written for Him and that his fate is in His hands.
This hadith reminds us that Allah does not put us in difficult circumstances for no reason. We do not know Allah’s intention with this virus, but we do know that he is the best of planners, and that he loves to forgive.
Fasting teaches patience
We are all familiar with the idea of what it means to have sabr in Ramadan. We put our normal lives on hold – being unable to eat and drink whenever we please, persevering as the hours are long, as we hold our tempers, work, cook, and care for our families. Ramadan is the ultimate exercise in self-control and the month that helps us reform our behaviour.
This pandemic will bring about a unique challenge for us as it coincides with Ramadan. If there is one thing this current climate is teaching us is to practise ṣabr. We must remain steadfast and believe this to be part of a greater plan that only Allah knows. Take comfort in knowing that He is the one that is aware of what is happening and that He will see us through it. Allow His wisdom to give you hope. It’s not easy to bring yourself to this realisation, which is why this Ramadan will be the perfect opportunity renew a relationship with Him.
The Prophet (PBUH) said:
“Never a believer is stricken with a discomfort, an illness, an anxiety, a grief or mental worry or even the pricking of a thorn but Allah will expiate his sins on account of his patience.” (Al-Bukhari)
Even More Benefits of Fasting
Although we have discussed in detail how fasting helps us build patience, there are many other benefits of fasting, including:
- Improving body composition
- Speeding up metabolism
- Encouraging greater satiety
- Lowering blood pressure
- Decreasing blood sugar
- Improving cardiovascular health
- Improving brain function
- Clearing skin and improving acne
- Curbing desires and impulses (fatigue prevents sins)
- Spiritual self-control (greater ability to hold back from sins)
- Learning to exercise patience
- Practising being mindful of Allah
- Serving others
- Mitigates hoarding food, teaches us little we really need.