By Zubair Ahmed

Ramadan brings with it paradoxical memories. If it’s fasting for some, it’s feasting for others. Some use it as a break from the mundane life, whereas others utilize every moment of it to achieve the objectives for which it was ordained by God.

Preparations for Ramadan start well in advance with lots of planning. Some resolve to bring self-restraint and discipline in one’s life whereas; others plan for trying new recipes at Iftaar, breaking of fast.

Some make it an excuse to avoid work and shirk from responsibilities by trying to gain sympathy, whereas, others perform with diligence and accountability towards one’s work as well as to God.

Every year, Muslims all over the world observe fasting during Ramadan, the ninth month of Islamic Calendar.

The day of fasting begins with an early morning meal before dawn and ends at sunset. The evening activities include the traditional breaking of the fast (IFTAR), usually with dates and water. Muslims would then go to the mosque for congregational prayers.

This month calls upon us, yet again, to reflect on our lives and judge for ourselves to what extent we have lived, and live, by the Divine Guidance. Through fasting we taste—to some extent—the pain and suffering of those who are poor and destitute. Fasting teaches empathy and sympathy, and it takes away some of our selfishness and self-centeredness.

In Islam, fasting is primarily an institution for a spiritual discipline and self-control. It is in fact an exercise in religious devotion in the form of cheerful and willing renunciation, for a definite period, of all the appetites of flesh lawful in themselves.

The real purpose of fasting is not to make us hungry and thirsty, or to deprive us some of our comfort and conveniences but to be God conscious. Fasting is an invisible act. Only God and the person who is fasting know whether he or she is fasting or not. Fasting teaches how to control and discipline our desires. During fasting we learn how to say "no" to things that are otherwise permissible and good, but are forbidden during fasting. When one learns how to say "no" to that which is generally permissible, then one can easily control oneself to avoid that which is forbidden.

The fast of Ramadan is not merely a fast of the stomach, but a holistic fast of the tongue, eyes, ears, limbs, heart and mind.  The fasting person is to control not only actions and deeds, but also their thoughts and desires. Therefore, Ramadan is the Month of Self-Discipline. Prophet Muhammad taught the Muslims that “God is in no need of someone abstaining from food and drink if they do not abstain from evil deeds and evil words."

Prophet Muhammad taught to avoid arguments and disputes in Ramadan even when confronting verbal abuse, swearing, or physical provocation.  In such situations, he commanded to simply say: “I am fasting,” and to not reciprocate the argument or verbal abuse. This makes Ramadan a Boot Camp Month.  A month to train to stay away from back-biting, arguments, lies, cheating, dishonesty, miserliness, envy, covetousness and greed.

Ramadan is also the month in which the Holy Quran was revealed to Prophet Muhammad as Guidance to the whole mankind, the subject of which is Man. Muslims focus on their spiritual relationship with the Creator of the Universe.  They read His last revelation and reflect over its meanings and objectives.

Ramadan is considered the Month of Mercy, Forgiveness and Salvation.  So to earn the Mercy of God, God urges us to be merciful to one another.  To earn His forgiveness, God urges us to forgive one another; and to receive Salvation we need to believe in God and to be good to one another, particularly to those in need.

Thus, it’s also the month of generosity, and through increased charity, feelings of kindness and good-will towards others are developed. Prophet Muhammad once said, "A man's wealth is never diminished by charity."

The month of Ramadan, in fact is a training course which makes human being a perfect embodiment of virtue, and if followed in letter and spirit, makes the world a better a place with peace and unity with a sense of sharing and caring.

If fasting in the month of Ramadan is observed in true sense as ordained, with spiritual bliss, one can see a sea of change in our attitude towards the Creator as well as His creations.