Getting up at 4 a.m. in the morning, ever ready to keep a fast, was not a hard task for me as an eager child who wanted to grow up quickly. This was the age when sweet sleep did not matter and hunger never struck. This was the age when keeping a fast in the month of Ramadhan, which begins on Monday, May 6, was neither obligatory nor recommended. At that age my enthusiasm to starve all day was always at high. Even with so much enthusiasm my mom never let me fast. She told me that for kids of my age, there was something similar to a fast. This was called a “birdie fast.” Cute sounding as it may be, the idea of it was not acceptable to me. In a birdie fast a kid would get up for the Prayer before dawn, eat breakfast, then keep fast till lunch, eat lunch, and then fast till dinner.
Unlike the regular fast, in which you eat at dawn and then fast till sunset, in the birdie fast you are allowed to drink and eat. Being the youngest and eager to grow up, I thought that this so-called birdie fast was no fast; not only did it sound childish but it was not much different than my regular eating schedule. To convince this stubborn child my mom explained that my birdie fast was special. An adult keeps one fast in a day, but with my fast I would be keeping two fasts, breakfast to lunch and lunch to dinner. This I liked; more fasts in a day meant more blessings. Keeping two fasts a day meant I was ahead of my older siblings in the count of my fasts and blessings.
However, as the years passed and sleep and food became more and more precious, the entire idea of getting up before dawn and starving all day seemed hard. Forget keeping two fasts, it became hard to push myself to keep one. The enthusiasm started to fade. I started to question, why does God need us to starve in the month of Ramadhan and how does it benefit him? Yes, growing up I always heard that by fasting one gets blessings, but I wanted to know why God made fasting obligatory. It is true that God does not need us to fast but it is something for our own sake. The Quran states: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you, as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may (learn) self-restrain” (2:183 ). Fasting helps one achieve self-control and selflessness.
During the month of Ramadhan the believers offer extra prayers and give extra alms while feeling the plight of the poor and needy. This experience helps in honing the human character for the rest of the year and hopefully rest of his or her life. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) said that in this month God opens the doors to paradise and puts Satan in chains. This statement means that one has the ability to stay away from evil deeds and increase in good works. Fasting is not prescribed or appreciated by God for those who are sick or are traveling. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Promised Messiah and founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said that if a person keeps a fast while being on a journey or being sick is not doing so to please God but rather is putting him or herself in danger and disrespecting the words of God. This account displays that God has made it very easy for us to fast and illustrates that it is better in the eyes of God to not fast if you are sick or traveling.
There is no doubt about the spiritual blessings of Ramadhan, but there are many physical benefits of fasting as well. Fasting not only cleanses one spiritually but it also detoxifies the physical body. Abstaining from food causes the body to use its stored fat while burning away toxins. Fasting reduces blood glucose and insulin levels, causing glycogen in the liver to break down, providing glucose to the body. After keeping in view the various spiritual and physical benefits it makes it easier each year to gear up for Ramadhan. As a mother of a two year old now it is upon me to ignite the same excitement I had as a kid for the month of Ramadhan. This task not only leaves me with excitement but also appreciation for our parents, especially mothers, who made fasting a fun and blessed task for everyone. Ramadhan is not only a springboard to achieving a spiritual and content life but is also a catalyst for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.