Improving quality of lives, rebuilding human characters and upholding equal dignities of human beings are the main philosophies derived from the fasting concept during Ramadhan. Allah said in the Quran :
Renowned scholar, Sheikh Muhammad Rashid Ridha in his Quranic translation and commentary “Al-Manar” described that the reason behind the obligation to fast was for the benefits of mankind. He outlined two main points- first was to develop the feeling of mercy and love towards the poor and the oppressed, and second, to make people realise the equal status between human beings. In order to understand the journey of human lives filled with oppression, injustice, and discrimination towards the underprivileged, these feelings must be inculcated in the minds of Muslims in the form of training to re-educate human character and self-discipline. This intensive training concept granted by Allah is a grand mechanism to coach humans which is repeated every single year to keep the subject fresh.
The utmost feeling of love and mercy towards the poor and the needy can only be achieved by sharing the experience of hunger and thirst in the most literal sense. This will subsequently prompt us to empower the society as a whole by lending help to those in need.
Having reached these two particular reasons, the utmost understanding of taqwa (righteous), where the highest objective behind the fasting laid down by Allah can be grasped. In the Quran Allah said:
“O mankind! We created you from a single (pair) of a male and a female, and made you into nations and tribes, that ye may know each other (not that ye may despise (each other). Verily the most honored of you in the sight of Allah is (he who is) the most righteous of you (taqwa)”
The level of taqwa (righteous) achieved as a result of fasting has lifted the level of human beings to be most noble in the eyes of Allah, void from any form of discriminations based on social status, race, and colour.
A third point to be explored is justice- one of the prerequisites to taqwa as mentioned by Allah in the Quran:
“O you who have believed, be persistently standing firm for Allah, witnesses in justice, and do not let the hatred of a people prevent you from being just. Be just; that is nearer to righteousness. And fear Allah ; indeed, Allah is Acquainted with what you do.”
Hence, fasting as prescribed by Allah breeds a tremendous positive impact to human beings embracing the concepts of equality, justice, love and mercy. This is also why fasting is categorized as one of the kaffarah - an act of atonement for past errors and wrongdoings.
An explicit example can be found in the Quran :
“And he who has slain a believer by mistake, his atonement is to set free from bondage a believing person121and to pay blood-money to his heirs, unless they forgo it by way of charity. And if the slain belonged to a hostile people, but was a believer, then the atonement is to set free from bondage a believing person. And if the slain belonged to a (non-Muslim) people with whom you have a covenant, then the atonement is to pay the blood-money to his heirs, and to set free from bondage a believing person. But he who cannot (free a slave) should fast for two consecutive months” (An-Nisa’: 92)
The verse has stipulated that the punishment imposed to those who have slain a human by mistake is to set a slave free from bondage, or to pay a blood money, or fasting for two months consecutively. If we study the verse in depth, we can appreciate how Islam empowers the society through punishment- a punishment that not only benefits the wrongdoer but also the society as a whole.
Empowering the society by setting a slave free from bondage and paying a blood money to the victim family are reflections on how Islam is always a defender of the oppressed. Meanwhile, with fasting as a form of punishment, a person attains heart purification through the realisation of love, equality and justice to others whilst at the same time benefiting from multiple rewards in rightful accordance with the act.
These empowerment rules such as fasting as a form of atonement can be found in other conditions such as breaking an oath wherein the punishment is to feed ten needy people or clothe them or free a slave or fast for three days for those who cannot afford it. (Al-Maidah 89), killing games while Muslims are in the state of ihram- to feed the needy or the equivalent of that in fasting, (Al-Maidah: 95), having intercourse with wife during a day of Ramadhan– to free a slave, or fast for two consecutive months, or to feed sixty poor people, Zihar - to free a slave, or fast for two consecutive months, or to feed sixty poor people (Al-Mujadilah 3-4).
Nevertheless, without knowing the reason behind fasting, a Muslim will receive nothing from the fast except hunger and thirst. This was highlighted by Sheikh Ahmad Ar- Raisuni in his book "Al-Fikru Al-Maqasidy" on the importance of knowing the objective behind the Syariah to have a particular focus and aim so that it motivates the Muslim to upscale their standard of worship to the highest level (tahsiniyat).
Furthermore, Imam Syatibi in his book "Al-Muwafaqat" pointed out that knowing the reason of syariah is "to release human beings from the shackle of nafs and prompt the human beings to be the best servant of Allah voluntarily"
Muhammad Faisal Abdul Aziz
Muslim Youth Movement Malaysia (ABIM)