If one tries to find out the causes of human misfortunes and failures, in the final analysis one will discover that a human being is a bundle of various needs and a captive of many wants. No spiritual and physical action of his is free from need and want. Morality, which to some extent is concerned with spirituality, when analyzed, is also seen to be based on some kind of need. Therefore all human misfortunes and failures are simply the result of need or want. If a person frees himself of all needs then he becomes an angelic (angel like) being instead of a human being.
No doubt the needs and wants of human beings are vast and endless, but it is worth pondering what and how much are his real needs. He has in his heart a stockpile of desires, a collection of wishes and self-made needs, but he has to ask himself questions whether it is possible for him to live without fancy clothes, luxury houses, decadent foods and extravagant cars. Will he not be able to live if he is devoid of wealth, pomp and glory? There have been people who have given up all their comforts and yet have survived. Prophet Abraham and Adam, peace be upon them, are held up as examples of God’s most devoted servants who gave up their kingship, and acquired an exulted spiritual life.
After negating and denying oneself the self-made needs, perhaps the vast assembly of so-called wants will shrink and be confined to a couple of real basic needs, such as food and drink, without which it is not possible to be alive. The physical and spiritual survival of the body depends only on the life-breath which itself is dependent on a few morsels of food and a few sips of water. The truth is that from that point onward any excess in food and drink is merely a desire for excessive pleasure and fun. On this account, if a dividing line is to be drawn separating a human being from an angel, this food and drink will be found to distinguish the two and to be the root of all the differences and distinctions between them. If all human crimes and sins are listed and if the basic reasons of greed, avarice, destruction and murder are sought, the ultimate link will be found in the excessive desire for pleasures and for these two things, namely food and drink.
In order to combat materialistic evils, all the religions of world have made it a primary condition of fasting from food and drinks to various extent. The real object is that a human being might gradually decrease the multiplicity of his needs and by continuous efforts of trying to free himself of excessive desire for power and want of food. All sins and crimes are the end results of these desires. If these desires and wants are lost, then surely he will be able to see a glimpse of the Angelic world in this human world. However, as long as a human being is alive it is impossible for him to avoid food completely, so all religions have specified only a certain limited periods for abstaining from food. During this period, a human being should avoid all wants which can possibly be avoided and thus try to attain the status of an angelic being for that short while at least. Because the duty of an angel is the obedience and worship of Allah, a human being should also regard this to be as far as possible the object and duty of his own life for that period.
The holy Quran has unveiled all these secrets and truths by one single word ‘Taqwa’ (self-restraint), and because the purpose of fasting was common to all religions, the Holy Quran has mentioned them also.
Fasting is prescribed to you as It was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint,.. (Quran 2:183)
The object and purpose of fasting is self-restraint (Taqwa), i.e. to keep one’s desires under control and to keep oneself safe from emotional turmoil. From this it is evident that fasting has been made compulsory to work as a spiritual treatment. Proceeding further, the Holy Quran has elucidated further the purpose of fasting in Islam:
Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (Between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (Should be made up) by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful. (Quran 2:185)
Excerpted from “Worship in Islam” Translation by Rizwan Uddin Ahmad and Muhammad Aslam of Worship in Siratun Nabi compiled by Syed Sulaiman Nadwi and Shibli Numani.