When someone asks you why you’re fasting, what pops into mind first? ‘Well, we want to feel some sympathy for the poor people who have no food…’ That’s wonderful. But does not sit well at ALL with me.
For most of us, we have never experienced true hunger or starvation or poverty. We will be able to open our fasts with plenty of food. We will have plenty of food and water in the 11 months following Ramadan. We will rarely ever wonder how we’ll come across the next paycheck to pay for any form of food for oneself or one’s child. We live in relatively safe areas without worrying if we will be alive in the next 5 minutes.
Yes, we will feel the pangs of hunger. But that is not the main purpose of fasting – and should not be our main intention. Even if we do feel how a ‘less fortunate’ person feels for 30 days (while sleeping in our air conditioned homes to pass the long, hot, summer days), it will be forgotten weeks after Ramadan ends. We’ll be left with no effect from Ramadan except a memory of some mild discomfort.
The Prophet [SAWS] said: “The one who fasts may get nothing from his fast but hunger, and the one who prays qiyaam (standing to pray at night) may get nothing from his qiyaam but a sleepless night.” [ibn Majah]
So what is the purpose? We hear this verse all the time: ‘O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may attain God-consciousness.’ [2:183] There lies the long-lasting effect. If you can mold every action and intention of yours around taqwa, God-consciousness, it will last with you for weeks to come, bi’idhnillah.
In the training ground of Ramadan, if our actions of fasting, qiyam, reading Qur’an, and so forth are for the purpose of attaining taqwa, we’ll see the benefits in our days to come. If we fast for the purpose of starving our bodies, we’ll not only attain that but also a starved soul. The body will recover after the month is over. The soul may have a much harder time.