The institution of fasting has been in focus during Ramzan, the ninth month of the Arabic calendar. Fasting, according to the teachings of Prophet Muhammad, is one of the five pillars of Islam. The objective of all acts of worship (ibadah) in Islam is to inculcate in man a constant mental readiness to obey the commandments and injunctions of Allah, the Creator, the Sustainer and the Master of the entire universe.
That is to say, acts of worship like salah (five times daily prayer), saum (fasting), zakah (payment of dues to the poor) and so on, urge man to be keen on doing righteous deeds and to be on guard to stay away from immoral activities.
Pointing to the objective of fasting, the Koran says: “O believers, fasting is ordained for you, even as it was ordained for those before you that you might attain piety” (2:183). In this verse, the term used to express the purpose of fasting is thaqva. Piety is too inadequate a word to represent thaqva. It is a state of mind which urges man to be constantly engaged in doing virtuous deeds and to always shun vice. It is clear from the above verse that the ultimate objective of fasting is to develop such a mindset in believers.
In addition to the obligatory fasting during Ramzan, Islam has recommended supererogatory fasting during a couple of days every month and on a few auspicious days in a year. Ramzan was chosen for compulsory fasting because it was in this month that the Koran was revealed to the Prophet as “guidance to mankind and criterion of right and wrong.”
Fasting in Islam is not aimed at self-mortification or self-abnegation. Believers are instructed to break the fast as soon as the sun sets; delaying breaking the fast is discouraged. Similarly, taking a pre-dawn repast is strongly recommended. Islam has prohibited fasting throughout the year. Minors, the sick, the pregnant and lactating women, as well as the aged, are exempted. Travellers are permitted to avoid fasting if they find it inconvenient and uncomfortable.
The Koran says that by enjoining fasting Allah does not intend any hardship but only easiness for man.