Allah is Great, Allah is Great;
None is worthy of worship except Allah;
Allah is Great, Allah Is Great;
To Allah belongs all praise!
The five pillars of Islam represent the principle acts of worship which are required to practice the faith. Observance and practice of these acts are obligatory for all Muslims. They are:
- Declaration of Faith (Kalmah): Laa ‘ilaaha ‘il-lal-laah Muhammadur-Rasuulullaah’. This is the first and foremost pillar of Islam and every other belief flow from it. A believer declares his acceptance of Islam by reciting: “I bear witness that there is no god but Allah and I bear witness that Muhammad is His servant and His messenger.”
- Prayer: The Islamic concept of prayer is a direct pouring forth of the soul by the supplicant before the Divine Majesty. There is no need for, nor does Islam tolerate an intermediary between God and man. The most important form of prayer in Islam is the salaat, the ritualistic daily prayer.
- Fasting: The third act of worship in Islam is the fasting during the Islamic month of Ramadan by all able adult Muslims. By fasting, a Muslim can purify themself spiritually and physically, elevate their soul and obtain nearness to Allah.
- ·Tax on unused Wealth (Zakaat): Zakaat is the fourth pillar of Islam, which can more appropriately be called the purification of wealth. It is a kind of tax that requires a Muslim to give up a certain amount of their possessions (2% rate on a yearly basis) for the upkeep of the poor and those who have no earning capacity.
- Pilgrimage (Hajj): Hajj, the fifth pillar of Islam, is the pilgrimage to Mecca which a Muslim, who is able-bodied and has the means, is required to perform at least once in their lifetime.
Fasting, during Ramadan, is the third pillar of Islam and a form of worship found universally in the world religions. Although there are vast differences regarding the mode of fasting and the conditions applied to it, the central idea of fasting is present everywhere.
Islam has taken the lead in reforming the institution of fasting. This was a radical reform in the meaning, rules, and purpose of the fast. It made the fast easy, natural, and effective. Fasting was a symbol of sadness, mourning, atonement for the sins, a reminder of disasters as well as self-mortification in the old religions.
Islam radicalized this doom and gloom concept of fasting, into an enlightened concept of self-purification. The month of fasting in Islam is a month of worship Muslims welcome each year with energy and happiness. This is contrary to the atmosphere of mourning.
The Holy Quran states in 2:185:
“O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed for you during a fixed number of days as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may safeguard yourselves against every kind of ill and become righteous. But whoso from among you should be ailing, not being permanently incapacitated, or should be on a journey, shall complete the reckoning by fasting on a corresponding number of other days; and for those who find fasting a strain hard to bear is an expiation, the feeding of a poor person, if they can afford it. Whoso carries through a good work with eager obedience, it is the better for him. If you possess the knowledge, you would realize that it is better for you that you should fast.”
There is one full month every year in which fasting is prescribed for Muslims all over the world. As the month is a lunar month, so it keeps changing around the year about the solar months. This creates a universal balance for the worshippers. Sometimes the fasting in winter months is manageable as far as the days go, in comparison to the long winter nights, while during the summer months, the days become long and exacting. As the lunar months keeps shifting by a few days every year, Muslims in all parts of the world have some periods of easy fasting and some of the arduous fasting. Fasting in Islam begins everywhere at the first appearance of dawn and ends with sunset. During this period, one is expected to abstain from all food and drink altogether. It is not just physical hunger and thirst that constitute the Muslim fast, but the nights before the beginning of the fast acquire a far more critical character and play a central role in the institution of fasting. The Muslims wake up many hours before dawn for individual prayer and the remembrance of God. Also, the Holy Quran is recited in every Muslim house much more than in ordinary days. A more significant part of the night is thus spent in spiritual exercises, which make up the very essence of fasting.
During the day, apart from restraining from food and water, all Muslims are particularly exhorted to refrain from vain talk, quarrels or fights, or from any such occupation as is below the dignity of a true believer. No indulgence in carnal pleasure is allowed; even husband and wife during the day lead separate lives, except for the formal human relationship familiar to all people.
In Islam, alms-giving and care for the destitute are so highly emphasized that it becomes part of a Muslim’s daily life. However, when it comes to Ramadhan, the month of fasting, Muslims are required to redouble their efforts in this field.
It is reported of the Holy Prophet(saw) that spending in the cause of the poor was a routine daily practice with him which has been likened unto a breeze, never ceasing to bring comfort and solace to the needy. However, during Ramadhan, the reporters of the aHadith, the sayings of the Holy Prophet(saw) remind us that the breeze seemed to pick up speed and blow like strong winds. Alms-giving and care for the destitute are so highly emphasized that in no period during the year do Muslims engage in such philanthropic purposes as they do during the month of Ramadhan.
The Holy Prophet(saw) reminded him specifically of his responsibilities in the area of human relationship; ‘Do your duty to God as well as to the creation of God equitably’ was the advice. To some, after their insistent petulant begging, he permitted optional fasts only in the style of David(as), peace be upon him. The Holy Founder of Islam told them that it was the practice of David to fast one day and abstain from doing so the next. Throughout his life, after he made this vow, he kept the fast on alternate days. So the Holy Prophet(saw) said, ‘I can only permit you that much and no more.’ The institution of fasting is extremely important because it cultivates the believer in almost every area of his spiritual life. Among other things, he learns through personal experience about what hunger, poverty, loneliness, and discomforts mean to the less fortunate sections of society. Abstention from even such practices during the month of Ramadhan as are permissible in everyday life plays a constructive role in refining the human character.
The real purpose of Ramadhan, as of all forms of Islamic worship, is to draw people closer to Allah. Though regular pursuits and occupations are carried on, as usual, the emphasis on moral and spiritual values and concentration on them are intensified, and everything is subordinated to the primary purpose. The hearing, the sight, the tongue, the mind are all under stricter control. For instance, not only vain talk but much talk is also eschewed, so that there should be higher concentration on remembrance of Allah and reflection upon His attributes. The Holy Prophet said: ‘He who abstains from food and drink during the period of the fast but does not restrain himself from uttering a falsehood starves himself to no purpose.’ It is related of him that during Ramadhan, his concern for and care of the poor, the needy, the sick and the orphan was intensified manifold, and that his charity knew no limit.
The Author is the General Secretary of AMWSA, Kolkata & a Member of Noorul Islam Committee Lajna, Kolkata.