BEIRUT: There are hours of soap operas to watch each evening, elaborate iftars to attend and new clothes to buy, but observing the holy month of Ramadan is much more than entertainment, feasts and shopping.
Throughout the month of Ramadan, which starts Monday, Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset.
Fasting during Ramadan, which is one of the five pillars of Islam, is meant to remind Muslims of the sufferings of the needy and strengthen the will of believers, according to Muslim clerics.
Sayyed Ali Fadlallah, the son of late cleric Sayyed Mohammad Hussein Fadlallah, explained to The Daily Star the reasons behind fasting.
“First of all, Muslims fast because God has ordered them to do so, and the individual must obey the orders of God,” he said.
Thecleric continued by noting that by abstaining from food and drink, the individual acquires a kind of immunity against the will to partake in anything that God has forbidden.
Echoing Fadlallah, Sheikh Malek Shaar, the mufti of Tripoli and north Lebanon, explained to The Daily Star that Ramadan is an opportunity for Muslims to strengthen their will.
“Fasting can only take place by abstaining from food and liquids [and other pleasures] … and a one-month abstention is an indication of a strong will,” he said. “Fasting is only obligatory during Ramadan; God wants believers to be strong, and strength is represented by the will.”
“It is the month of patience whose award is heaven,” Shaar added.
Fasting also allows Muslims to experience the suffering of the needy and the poor, said Fadlallah.
“When he feels hungry and thirsty, he experiences the pain of those who are hungry and thirsty, and this motivates him to fulfill his duties toward them,” he said, lamenting that “there are people who do not sense the sufferings of the poor in society.”
Fasting is meant to make the Muslim feel the importance of food, water and other pleasures and the greatness of God who provided them, Fadlallah added.
Shaar said that a fasting Muslim should also abstain from spreading lies and gossip and should only engage in activities that God permits.
As for the significance of the month of Ramadan, Fadlallah noted that “God has distinguished this month by calling it the ‘month of God’ and the Prophet has explained its importance.”
Shaar highlighted that the holiness of Ramadan stems from the fact that the Quran was revealed to Prophet Mohammad during the month, and during it, God forgives believers for sins.
For this reason, many Muslims choose to read the Quran in its entirety over the course of the month.
The mufti called on Muslims to donate to charities for “children and widows” in need during Ramadan and said that any Muslim who provides his Muslim brother with an iftar meal will be forgiven for all his sins.
Donations to charities see a substantial increase during Ramadan, as many Muslims pay their annual Zakat during the holy month and cover the expenses of iftar meals for orphans and others in society in need.
Shaar stressed that the exhaustion which fasting Muslims experience, especially in later hours of the day, should not drive them to confrontation.
“There’s no doubt that Muslims feel tired when they fast, but they should turn to Quranic verses or other prayers to calm down their tempers,” he said. Shaar voiced his hope that this Ramadan would be a month of forgiveness, justice and solidarity among the Lebanese to help them overcome the “disasters” that Lebanon is facing.