Why do we have to FAST? And why in Ramadhan?

Dr Rashid al Balushi – an Assistant Professor of Linguistics at the Sultan Qaboos University. This is the last part of a two-part series.

Assuming Sheikh Al-Sharāwi’s view to be on the right track, we understand that this night is so great as to make the nights and days of the month that it falls in (Ramadhan) and the nights and days of the preceding month (Shaaban) and those of the following month (Shawwal) great, which is, probably, why Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) used to fast a lot in Shaban3 and encouraged his nation to fast six days in Shawwāl, making this a blessed season. This intuition about laylatu-lqadr is confirmed as a fact by Allah, when He says that “the Night of Power is better than a thousand months”, verse 3 of surat Al-Qadr. This has implications for why Ramadhan is the month during which fasting is obligatory. Before discussing these implications, I will try to address the legitimate question of why laylatu-lqadr is so special that it is even better than 83 years, a life-time.
Why had this night been so powerful/blessed before Quran was revealed in it? We, I think, do not have a definitive answer, but we can think. Probably, it is the night during which earth was separated from the heavens; Allah Almighty says, “Do not the Unbelievers see that the heavens and the earth were joined together (as one unit of creation), before we clove them asunder?”, verse 30 of surat Al-anbiya. This view might receive support from two of the signs of laylatu-lqadr, which are: (1) the sun rises rayless on the next morning, probably marking the beginning of its creation, or duty in the life of our universe/mankind, and (2) the night is very bright (though it is during the last ten days of the lunar month), indicating the separation of earth from the shining heavens.
Or is it the night when, by the wisdom and omnipotence of Allah, all the offspring of Adam (human beings) testified that Allāh is their Lord, Creator and Sustainer? Allah says “When your Lord drew forth from the Children of Adam – from their loins – their descendants, and made them testify concerning themselves, (saying): “Am I not your Lord (who cherishes and sustains you)?”- They said: “Yes! We do testify!”, verse 172 of surat Al-araf, which is why it has the translation of ‘the night of determination’, since the roles of ‘creation and sustenance by Allāh’ and ‘worship and obedience by people’ were determined. This view might receive support from the fact that the testimony of Adam’s offspring (that Allāh is the Lord and Creator) sets the scene for the beginning of life and what comes with it (deeds, tests, death, etc …). Relevant support might come from the fact that Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) recommended that Muslims say during the last ten nights of Ramadhan “O Allah! You are the One who pardons, The Most Generous; You love to pardon, so pardon us”. This prayer (dula) would be very appropriate on such an occasion in case human beings (Muslims, in this case) have committed some sins (in violation of their pledge that they would not disobey Allāh, Him being the Lord and Creator). More support for this view comes from another sign of this night, namely the comfort, tranquility, serenity, and peace of mind that Muslims feel, indicating the beginning of their journey on earth (the journey of deeds and tests).
Or is it the night in which Adam was created, marking the beginning of this race and its journey in existence? Or is it the night in which water, from which all living creatures are created, was created?
As I said, we do not know the right answer, but we are certain that laylatu-lqadr is a special and unique night. Now, how does the uniqueness of this night (and the nights and days before it and after it) affect the human being’s health, both physically and spiritually, positively, and so fasting is either commanded (in Ramadhan) or recommended (in Shaaban and Shawwal)?
We all agree that laylatu-lqadr is unique compared to the other nights of Ramadhan. This makes its daytime very unique too, an assumption supported by some if the signs of laylatu-lqadr. This makes fasting the daytime of laylatu-lqadr a very unique ritual. Now, since fasting is relevant for the daytime (not the nighttime), then all the days of Ramadhan are equal in providing a unique opportunity for Muslims to elevate their spirits. In other words, laylatu-lqadr is more special than the other nights of Ramadhan in terms of qiyām (praying at night), but its special day, which is relevant for fasting, makes all the other days, which are relevant for fasting, special. This means that we, Muslims, must seize the chance to do the best fasting (days full of work, worship and charity, not sleeping) in Ramadhan and the surrounding months.
Differently put, Ramadhan provides us with an opportunity to renew our faith (spiritual health) and take care of our bodies (physical health). The spiritual and physical aspects of a human being’s life are related; a Muslim cannot be spiritually ill (empty) and physically well. Dr. Muhammad Hidayah says that the spiritual side is emphasized during the day in Ramadhan through giving less emphasis to the physical side, by not satisfying the needs of the body (food, drink, etc …). Though I agree with him, I would say that Ramadhan emphasizes the body by providing it with the opportunity to emerge healthier after the Holy month. This is because a fasting Muslim, compared to a non-Muslim, uses his/her body (stomach, liver, kidneys, and other organs) one month less during the day. Imagine using your car (or any other machine) less, wouldn’t this result in a more efficient and longer-living car.
Now, the effect of the break (less use) is better on human beings, compared to machines. This is because, unlike machines (made by human beings), when human beings (made by Allah) have a physical break, they usually engage in the spiritual activities of contemplation, supplication, praying, seeking Allah’s forgiveness, learning more about the religion, and charitable works, especially at a season that awakens and elevates the spirit, being around a night the worship during which is greater than that of 83 years.
Elevating the spirit is achieved by requiring the Muslim to perform the highest number of the Pillar of Islam, praying and fasting; also, many Muslims give their zakat during Ramadhan or Shaaban so that the poor would use the money to buy food during the holy month, and all Muslims give their zakatu-lfir before the end of Ramadhan. Pilgrimage is not required because Muslims cannot endure it when fasting, though many perform umrah in Ramadhan. I hope these lines encourage Muslims to take advantage of what remains of this holy month/season.