The Times of India - ZAFAR MEHDI SAFVI : Fasting or saum is one of the vital pillars of Islam. Saum is from the root 'sama' which means 'to abstain' ^ from evil speech, thoughts and deeds. Saum is an act of worship; it is prayer for attaining spiritual exaltation and eternal salvation.
Fasting is an exercise in self-discipline. It strengthens our faith in God. The month of Ramadan is also called the month of God, Shahrullah, as it strengthens the bond between Him and us, ashraful makhlooqat. The purpose of fasting is not simply refraining from eating and drinking but refraining from indulging in prohibited acts. "There are many people who fast, whose fast is nothing but hunger and thirst. There are whose prayer is no better than wakefulness and hardship. The eating and drinking in case of the former and sleeping in the latter's case is a far better option" (Nahjul Balagha).
The month of Ramadan is the month of barakah or divine grace, when the gates of heaven are thrown wide open. The Prophet said "It is the month of endurance and the reward of endurance is paradise".
Allah revealed the Holy Qur'an via His apostle and messenger, the Prophet, in this blessed month. Ramadan honours the memory of sending down of the Qura'n. It is the month of action, piety, reform, creativity, generosity, besides it being host to a special occasion, the immortal night, Laylatul Qadr.
Fasting is the sword and shield against sins. Ramadan is the best time to seek Allah's forgiveness for past sins. The Prophet said: "He who fasts during Ramadan with pure faith and seeks reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven. He who spends nights in Ramadan praying will have his past sins forgiven, and he who passes 'Laylatul Qadr' in prayer, seeking reward from Allah will have his sins forgiven" (Sahih Al Bukhari).
The Prophet said "A fasting person is in a state of worship even if asleep in bed. Every breath he takes while asleep is 'Tasbih', and his sleep itself is worship. O people, anybody who in this blessed month cultivates good and ethical manners will walk over Sirat, the bridge to Paradise on the day when the feet of others will tend to slide".
Earlier fasting meant abstention from food and drink to denote mourning or grief. S M Shahid of Allama Iqbal University, Islamabad says: "In the days of Christ, fasting was regarded as a special mark of devotional spirit. Then, in Arabia, in Prophet Mohammad's time, Makkans observed fast on days of Ashura (10th of Muharram) which also coincided with the custom of changing cover of Holy Kaabah. After the Prophet migrated to Medina , he too observed this fast as duty, till such time that obligatory fasts were prescribed" .
Regular observance of fasts creates remarkable endurance power in a person, besides special feeling of empathy for the needy and creates sense of equality between the rich and poor. Net result is manifested individually as well as collectively through refinement of character and purification of soul. Fasting invites Allah's blessings and mercy. Besides fasting also has great medicinal value. It is a key to sound health and fit body.
Fasting is recognised to be instrumental in alleviating a number of physical diseases and so helps keep the body fit. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain from fasting.