Have you ever been asked by one of your friends at work, school, or in the neighbourhood, “Don't you guys find this fast difficult? How do you do it? How do you stay without food from morning until night?”. Then they hear that you cannot even drink and they say, "Oh, you cannot even drink anything?" Some people may be familiar with a form of fasting in which you are allowed to eat some things and you are allowed to drink liquids.
The Muslim fast is a medium type fast. It's not like the dry fast where you cannot even wash your mouth. On the other hand, it is not a more liberal fast where you're allowed to eat or drink something. It is total abstinence from food and drinks from morning until evening. How do you do it? Do you find it arduous to fast?
What if you can get to the point where you enjoy the fast? Is that even possible? Yes it is!
Why is it important that we develop this attitude of finding the fast enjoyable? It is important because we spend a whole month every year for the rest of our lives observing this fast. So we want it to be something that's going to be enjoyable for us, not something where you find yourself saying, “Oh no, here comes Ramadan again”. Interestingly, for Muslims who are devout and who continue to fast year after year, it's not “Oh no, here comes Ramadan again” but, instead, “God please bring us Ramadan!” In some Muslim cultures, people even sing songs welcoming Ramadan. For example, in Arabic, "Ramadan Jana," meaning “Ramadan has come to us”, is a beautiful and lively song that celebrates the fact that Ramadan is here. In Urdu, "Ramzan Ka Mahina Bara Barkaton Ka Hai" means roughly that the month of Ramadan is full of blessings. People sing these songs to welcome the month of Ramadan and maintain a joyful spirit among Muslims.
How can you be part of the joyful spirit of Ramadan as well? Let's look at what God and his Prophet Muhammad, peace upon him, told us regarding this, because that will encourage us to develop this quality. In the Quran, God tells us that fasting has been prescribed for us as it was prescribed for those before us (2:183). That reminds us that we are not singled out as Muslims for this fast. People before us were given instructions to fast as well. Among world religions, we see that fasting is quite prominent as a discipline and a way of drawing close to God. We read in the Quran 2:186, “when my servants ask you about me, say I'm close.” The connection between this verse and the verses that preceded and follows it, which are all about fasting, is to show that when we are fasting for the sake of God, we draw close to God. When we're fasting it's only between us and God. Only God knows that we are truly fasting for His sake. People around us may see that we're not eating or drinking, but they don't know if we are observing that even in our private moments.
When we develop that closeness to God, we can understand the Hadith, a report of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him, where he claimed that God said, "The fasting is for me and will give the reward for it." Moreover, the same narrative says that there will be two moments of joy for the fasting person. One is at the time of meeting his Lord, which will eventually happen. The other is at the time of breaking the fast. At the time of breaking the fast, one feels this joy after a whole day of abstinence and one feels this joy of the nourishment entering one's system.
Yet, Muslims year after year not only welcome Ramadan, but fast voluntarily outside of Ramadan. Why do they fast voluntarily? Because they have developed a delight in the taste of fasting. Even some Muslims who are exempt from fasting during Ramadan for various reasons still want to share in that joy of Ramadan and they fast during Ramadan anyway, though they're not required to do so.
How can we develop this love and desire for fasting as well? One tip is to fast outside of the month of Ramadan. When Ramadan is over, don't think that fasting is over. You can do voluntary fasting. While you are in the month of Ramadan as well, occupy yourself with good deeds. If you do good deeds like reading the Quran, memorising some portions of the Quran, learning the Islamic faith, and devoting yourself to good things, you will draw closer to God and enjoy the fast even more. The other side of this is to avoid sins. There is a story in the hadith about two people who were backbiting and were feeling discomfort in their fasting. This is a reflection of a common understanding among Muslims, that when you commit sins, the fast becomes all the more difficult for you. However, when you are involved in good things, you're drawing closer to God, and the whole exercise of fasting becomes more meaningful and easier for you to do.
Happy fasting, Happy Ramadan, and Ramadan Mubarak!