The Sweet Taste of Hunger: The Spirituality of Fasting
Ramadan is a special month for Muslims throughout the world. It is a time where Muslims fast from sunrise to sunset in hopes of becoming closer to God. Fasting is one of the pillars of Islam. We are constantly bombarded with images and messages that invite us to fulfill our immediate desire without thinking of the implications. “Just Do it!” “Have it your way,” “Obey your thirst,” “Don’t leave home without it,” and “America runs on Dunkin.” Implicit in these slogans is a message that these materialistic things are necessary for us to experience happiness. Must we obey our thirst? Why must it always be our way? Why should we just do things? These products are not inherently bad or evil, but the messages they use to sell their products instill in society a love for the self and its immediate desires.
Fasting allows one a break from materialism and shifts focus to the heart and soul. It “interrupts” one’s daily routine and breaks their connection to the things they are so used to easily having. While severing the connection to the materialistic, it also forces inner-reflection. Fasting sharpens our spiritual awareness so that we can connect to God. Although many people’s bodies are nourished, they still experience and emotional and spiritual emptiness. The soul and heart yearn for something more. When they are unable to find that, they turn again to materialism in hopes of filling that void. This creates a situation where one is constantly trying to keep up in the never ending cycle of getting the newest cars, gadgets, clothes, and toys in order to finally feel happy. This results in constant disappointment because one only finds a fleeting moment of happiness in these things and then returns to a starving and empty soul.
Food and water is our strongest desire and most basic human need. They connect us to the physical world and fasting breaks that connection so that we receive spiritual sustenance and are connected to our spirit. In other words, the fasting person intentionally denies themselves the strongest cravings of their body in order to focus on the cravings of the soul. When one fasts they give their body a break and focus on their soul.
Fasting is an act of worship in which one can easily cheat by eating or drinking when they are alone. However, most people do not cheat because they know that God is watching and aware of what they are doing. This instills God consciousness in the heart because although they can cheat people, God knows whether they eat or not. Therefore, fasting brings sweetness to the act because it is only between the person and God. Fasting is certainly challenging, but just like any other challenge in life, there is a sweetness to it. When one does a rigorous workout, it is difficult and challenging, but there is also a positive emotion of accomplishment that one experiences. Likewise, fasting is challenging, but it a spiritual workout that weakens the body and strengthens the soul.
Despite the physical challenge of fasting, Muslims experience a great ease in spirituality during the month of Ramadan. Mosques are full, people stand in prayer during the night, recite more Qurʾān, give more charity, and build stronger family and communal relations.