Azhar Goraya, Mexico
Over the next few days, millions of Muslims will begin to fast during the holy month of Ramadan. It is a time of introspection and meditation, where Muslims focus on improving the quality of their prayers as well as helping their fellow man; all while abstaining from food, drink and conjugal relations during daylight hours.
So, why do they do it? It’s not that it’s an easy undertaking. Just ask any Muslim that has to fast during sweltering summer days (although fasts during the short winter season are much easier!). It seems difficult to understand why Muslims would willingly put themselves through a month of self-deprivation and hardship. Nevertheless, below I present five reasons why Muslims fast during Ramadan.
1. A Commandment of God
A Muslim is by definition a person who has found peace by submitting themselves before Allah (God). The Qur’an, the holy book revered by Muslims as the verbatim word of Allah, in 2:186 instructs Muslims to fast during this month. A Muslim follows all of the various instructions found in Islam because it is through this submission in word and deed, that Islam promises that a believer will find salvation; one that finds its manifestation firstly in this world and thereafter in the afterlife. As the Qur’an states in 55:47, ‘But for him who fears to stand before his Lord there are two heavens’. The first of these heavens refers to the life of purity and inner satisfaction that is granted to a believer who sincerely follows the path of Islam out of love for his Creator.
2. A Means to Becoming Righteous
Every commandment in the Holy Qur’an is accompanied with an explanation as to why it has been legislated. Allah isn’t a tyrant blindly sending down commandments from on high; His instructions in the Qur’an are designed to benefit man in a variety of ways. In regards to the fast, Allah states in 2:184 that its purpose is ‘so that you become righteous’. Fasting has a tempering effect on the body; it cools the passions and sharpens the mind. Muslims also spend more time offering obligatory and voluntary prayers, reading and studying the Holy Qur’an, as well as being more charitable. Fasting invokes feelings of gratefulness to God for all of His blessings upon us. All of these deeds are commendable on their own, but when done during the month of Ramadan, they are especially acceptable to God. The Prophet Muhammad (sa) once stated,
‘If someone draws near to Allah during it [Ramadan] with a normal good act, he will be like one who fulfils an obligatory duty in another month, and he who fulfils an obligatory duty in it will be like one who fulfils seventy obligatory duties in another month.’ 
3. To Learn Restraint
How many of us have ever felt that we lacked will-power or self-discipline to achieve our goals? The feeling is universal. Interestingly, one way to interpret the previously mentioned verse of 2:184 is to translate it as ‘fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may learn restraint’. This is a wonderful example of how the Arabic text of the Qur’an miraculously allows for many different shades of mutually supporting meanings. In this case, fasting not only teaches righteousness, but self-restraint as well. The Islamic fast prohibits food, drink and conjugal relations during daylight hours. Foregoing that which is normally permitted builds up our willpower and allows us to employ it towards ridding ourselves of our various bad habits and vices. Not only that, but being able to delay gratification in life is a good indicator of how successful we will be in an array of activities. In Walter Mischel’s famous ‘Marshmallow Test’ in 1972, in Stanford, a child would be presented with a marshmallow and told that it may have one marshmallow now, or may wait fifteen minutes and have two marshmallows. Follow-up data showed that the children who were able to delay their gratification and hold out for the two marshmallows ended up typically doing better in a wide sphere of activities and wellness metrics. The Islamic fast is only for Muslim adults who are healthy and not travelling (2:186), but nonetheless, we can learn from this simple experiment involving children. Who wouldn’t be better off with a little more self-control?
4. Develop Faculties to Experience Visions
Though most people have probably never had an honest-to-God vision, most of us have experienced vivid dreams and perhaps felt a sixth sense at some time or another, nudging them about something that was about to happen. The Qur’an attributes these metaphysical events to revelation, which according to 42:52 can take the form of dreams, visions and even angelic visitations. Though it may be difficult to believe, those who have made inroads in developing these faculties can attest to how fasting is an excellent method for developing these inner capacities.
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad (as) (1835-1908) was the awaited Messiah and divine reformer, sent to clarify and expound the true teachings of Islam. He writes in one place about the effects of fasting,
‘The Sufis [mystics] have recorded that this is a good month for the illumination of the heart. One who observes the fast has frequent experience of visions in this month. The Salat purifies the spirit and the fast illumines the heart. The purification of the spirit means that one may be delivered from the passions of the self that incites to evil; and the illumination of the heart means that the gates of vision may be opened so that one may be able to behold God.’ 
5. It’s Just Good for You!
This overarching statement comes from the Qur’an. Allah states in 2:185 ‘…And fasting is good for you, if you only knew.’ We’ve touched on the spiritual and social benefits, but there are a great many physical benefits for the body as well. According to an article by the name ‘8 Health Benefits of Fasting, Backed by Science‘  published by Healthline, fasting is beneficial in:
- The promotion of blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance
- Reducing inflammation in the body
- Improving blood pressure, triglycerides and cholesterol levels
- Preventing neurodegenerative disorders
- Possibly aiding weight loss by limiting calorie intake and boosting metabolism
- Increasing growth hormone secretion, which is important for growth, metabolism, weight loss and muscle strength
- Possibly helping in delaying aging
- Possibly aiding in cancer therapy and effectiveness of chemotherapy
So there you have it, five reasons to fast during the month of Ramadan.
Wait, did I mention there’s a celebration at the end?
Ramadan ends with a day known as Eid-ul-Fitr, where Muslims congregate to pray while being thankful for God’s blessings and for having experienced the holy month of Ramadan (2:186).
In short, Ramadan is a blessed period for Muslims everywhere; one that they anxiously look forward to and are sad to see go. So, if you happen to meet a Muslim during these blessed days, don’t forget to congratulate them with the traditional greeting, ‘Ramadan Mubarak!’ (Happy Ramadan!).
About the Author: Azhar Goraya is a graduate from the Ahmadiyya Institute of Languages and Theology in Canada. He is currently serving as an Imam of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community in Mexico. He is also the Central American Coordinator for The Review of Religions en Español.
 Sahih Khuzaima, Book of Fasting, Chapter on the Virtues of Ramadan, Hadith #1187
۔۔۔من تقرب فيه بخصلة من الخير كان كمن أدى فريضة فيما سواه ، ومن أدى فيه فريضة كان كمن أدى سبعين فريضة فيما سواه۔۔۔(صحیح ابن خزیمہ، کتاب الصیام، باب فضائل شهر رمضان، حدیث ۱۱۸۷
 Essence of Islam, vol. 2, pg. 313. Taken from Malfuzat, vol. 4, pg. 256-257.
 ‘8 Health Benefits of Fasting, Backed by Science’. Rachel Link, published 2008. https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/fasting-benefits. Accessed April 12 2021.