Ramadan is the month of fasting for Muslims the world over. Muslims refrain from eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk for the duration of Ramadan. For some, fasting may appear as a form of deprivation and of bodily exertion. On one level, abstaining from sensual needs and pleasures is indeed a physical experience. But those who stop at the physical aspects of fasting miss the essence of Ramadan and its purpose.
Fasting the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam. These are the foundation upon which the entire structure of Islam is built. These consist of the declaration of faith, prayer, fasting Ramadan, paying of Zakah [the annual charity payment], and performing the pilgrimage to Makkah, known as hajj. Three of the five pilars of Islam are rituals, that is, prescribed religious acts whose rationale is not immediately available for understanding. These are prayer, fasting, and hajj. Muslims are required to do them because they are part of their religious duties, that is, they are part of their covenant with God.
As a ritual, fasting is a symbolic act whose meaning becomes gradually apparent through experience. The meaning embodied in a ritual is always unveiled when one immerses himself or herself in the act itself. This does not mean that fasting is not open to intellectual delineation, but rather any intellectual delineation either presupposes or predicts a meaning that can best become apparent through performing the symbolic act itself.
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