It is Allah’s mercy, may He be glorified, that He placed no restriction on our eating and drinking during the rest of the year as long as what we consume is (i) Halaal, (ii) Tayyib (nutritious and clean), and (iii) not to be extravagant. We can eat or drink at any time, choosing from a wide variety of cuisines and delicacies: meats, dairy products, spices, herbs, leafy greens, fibers, staple grains, or frutis and vegetables, in whatever combination we like, because indeed the list of Halaal food is endless while the Haraam is only a restricted few.

The fact that Allah has made fasting obligatory is also a mercy from Him. Man’s nature is such that he takes for granted all good things that are easy to access and abundant in supply. He demeans their importance, and many a time, misuses them for his selfish needs.

Fasting from dawn to dusk with a conscious effort to abstain from sins of the tongue, ear, hands, eyes, or heart re-charges our faith and piety every year. Standing in prayers late at night while repenting our sins makes us more conscious of Allah throughout this month.

Think about it this way: Had this fasting not been obligatory, how many of us would have voluntarily fasted 30 days without any break? How many of us would have voluntarily listened to the Qur’an in prayer at night? How many of us would have willingly given a fixed portion of our wealth in charity to the needy? An honest answer shows us where we really stand as weak humans devoid of discipline and self-control. So definitely the obligation of fasting in Ramadan is a great mercy incurred upon us.

Muslims’ attitudes during Ramadan can really be divided into three types:

Only hunger
Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) mentioned this type of a person who leaves his eating, drinking and conjugal relations with his spouse, but does not give up indulging in sins like lying and backbiting. For example, you will see such a Muslim greet Ramadan with an attitude of dread, instead of excitement. They look forward to Eid with desperation as Ramadan goes on. You will notice them deliberately missing Taraweeh because “it is not Fard!,” lighting a cigarette as soon as the Maghrib adhan goes off, then missing the Salah in the Masjid as they stuff themselves to the hilt with food. Ramadan, to them, is a burden they cannot wait to offload from their backs.

“Many a person who fasts, gets nothing from his fasting except hunger and thirst.” (Ibn Majah, Ahmad)

Changed for a month
This fast is characterized by a believer becoming more conscious of Allah during Ramadan and therefore, trying to keep away from sins, and to fulfill Islamic obligations during this month. He gives up his bad habits, but temporarily, out of respect and sanctity for Ramadan. Consequently, you will see him or her change significantly during this month; becoming more devout and regular in worship Masha Allah, shunning gatherings that are a waste of time. However, this change may last only until the sighting of the Shawwal moon.

Superlative fasting
This is the higher form of fasting in Ramadan – the way how our Prophets and pious predecessors would fast. It is a fast that includes the heart; a fast in which the believer does not let negative emotions, sinful thoughts or vengeful feelings of animosity pervade his senses. As Sha’aban ends, he welcomes the opportunity of getting his sins forgiven. He gives up even mubah (permissible) actions to seize each moment as a precious gem to bond with Allah. He cautiously avoids situations that provoke anger or cause arguments with others, or those that ignite his lowly desires. You see him socializing less as Ramadan proceeds, his lips in visible motion, while doing mundane daily tasks, in remembrance of his Lord. During the last 10 nights, he can be seen earnestly supplicating and shedding tears in Sujood.

On the night before Eid, he holds back tears of sorrow while bidding Ramadan farewell. After Ramadan, you do not see him revert to a previous lifestyle of frivolity and carefreeness. Ramadan leaves him much improved in his piety and good deeds.

The good news is that this level of fasting is quite achievable, if one uses the opportunity to return to the Religion during this blessed month. This month has a night that is better than a thousand months, in which matters of Qadr are decided. Who knows, if we are sincere enough in our repentance and in our yearning for guidance, we may be a totally changed person before next Ramadan, Insha Allah.