After Belief, Salaah, and Zakaah, the most important duty in Islam is Saum (fasting). The Holy Quraan says:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُون (183)
Oh, Ye who believe! fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that ye may (learn) self-restraint. [AL-BAQARA:183]
Fasting is obligatory for Muslims in the month of Ramadhaan. Failure to observe the fast on any day, without a valid reason, during this month is a great sin. We have it on the authority of the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) that, “Anyone who does not, without illness or any other valid excuse, keep fast on a single day during Ramadhaan will not succeed in making amends for it even if he were to keep fast daily throughout his life in the atonement.”
During the fast, a Muslim abstains from eating and drinking and denies himself the pleasures of legitimate carnal satisfaction solely as a measure of worship, and sacrifices his legitimate biological needs and urges exclusively for the sake of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata’aalaa).
Allah (Subhaanahu Wata’aalaa), too, therefore, has placed a most unique reward on it. The Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) is reported to have said:
“There is a fixed principle for rewarding all the good deeds of men, and every good deed will be rewarded in accordance with it. But the fast is an exception to this general principle. The standing will and pleasure of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata’aalaa) is that since a man forgoes food and drink and crushes down his passions utterly for His sake, He will recompense him directly for it.”
“All the previous sins of a person are forgiven who undertakes the fasts of the month of Ramadhaan with full faith and with the object of propitiating Allah (Subhaanahu Wata’aalaa) and earning His reward.”
“There are two moments of special joy for a person who fasts: one is when he breaks the fast and this he experiences here in his earthly existence, the other will come in the Hereafter when he will be presented before the Lord.”
“Saum is a shield against the fire of hell and a strong fortress (which will protect the believer from infernal chastisement).”
“The fast itself will plead with Allah (Subhaanahu Wata’aalaa) for him who does fasting that he had gone without the day’s meals and shunned the cravings of the flesh for its sake (so he may be forgiven and rewarded to the full). Allah (Subhaanahu Wata’aaiaa) will accept the intercession.”
“The odor emanating from the mouth of a person who is fasting (which is sometimes produced because of the empty stomach) is more, pleasant in the judgment of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata’aalaa) than the sweet smell of musk.”
Another outstanding feature of Saum, besides those given in the Traditions quoted above, is that it lifts man above the level of beasts. To eat and to drink at will and to copulate whenever the urge comes, this is the way of the animals. On the other extreme, to be immune from hunger and thirst and the impulsions of sex, to stay away permanently from food and drink and cohabitation is the quality of angles. When a person fasts he rises above the animal existence and forges an affinity with angels.
Moreover, Saturn promotes piety and righteousness in man. It produces in him the ability to control his physical desires. It teaches him how to subordinate his carnal appetites and longings of the heart to the will of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata’aalaa). It is, thus, most effective in the discipline and evolution of the soul.
But these benefits can be derived only when a person conscientiously strives for them and pays due respect, while he is fasting, to the instructions laid down by the Prophet (Sallallahu Alaihe Wasallam) in this connection. It is most necessary to leave strictly alone not only food and drink but also all the major and minor sins. He must neither quarrel nor utter a lie nor engage himself in slander and backbiting. In brief, he should scrupulously avoid all sinful deeds, apparent as well as hidden, as is demanded of him in the Traditions. Some of the relevant Traditions are:
“When any of you keeps a fast he should not speak an indecent or filthy word or engage in a noisy scene and were anyone to quarrel with him and call him names he should simply say I am keeping fast (therefore, I can not pay you back in the same coin).”
“Allah (Subhaanahu Wata’aalaa) has no need for him to go without food and drink who cannot shun evil and falsehood even during a fast.”
“Many are there among you who fast and yet gain nothing from it except hunger and thirst.”
In sum, fasts can lead to the promotion of the virtues of piety and righteousness and impart the moral strength needed to control and discipline the sensual appetites when, together with abstention from food and drink, all the major and minor transgressions of the law of Allah (Subhaanahu Wata’aa! aa) are also zealously avoided while fasting, more especially the use of foul and filthy language, falsehood, slander, and backbiting. If fasts are observed in the right spirit and with proper care and solicitude, the benefits indicated above can undoubtedly, be obtained from them.