Fasting is not intended to be a hardship. It is a time where Allah bestows His mercy upon us. Apart from the numerous benefits such as the multiplication of rewards, Ramadan is also a time to gain Allah's forgiveness:
Abû Hurairah (RA) reported: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, "The five daily (prescribed) Salat, and Friday (prayer) to the next Friday (prayer), and the fasting of Ramadan to the next Ramadan, is expiation of he sins committed in between as long as major sins are avoided." [Muslim]
However, the benefit of Ramadan comes with a burden. The essence of Ramadan is the temporary denial of our physical needs, such as food, drink and physical relationships. From this, we can see that Allah uses this month as the annual training our nafs or base desires.
As Ramadan takes its course, our appetites and desires are diminished. Many of us discover that we do not need to consume as much as we usually do. We are also trained to rein our sexual cravings, so that we are not enslaved by them. As we will see later in this article, liberation from dunia moves us closer towards Allah.
Ramadan is key for all of us, as Allah knows that we need spiritual strengthening from time to time. It leads us to gain His ultimate blessing comprising His Hidayah (Guidance). Allah wants us to remember His message, which is why we are encouraged to increase our recitation of the Qu'ran during this month, refresh our minds and hearts on its message, re-educate ourselves on what we have forgotten and to repent from our wrongdoings.
In the long run, Ramadan prepares us for the journey of death, and brings into focus the purpose of life. This is a month where we are reminded that we will eventually meet Allah, and when we do, that we will be accountable for our actions. Therefore, it is a chance to please Him in this life, in the hopes that He will please us in the hereafter by placing us in jannah.
A scholar mentioned that when Allah loves you in Ramadan, He will give you four gifts. The first is to allow you to see your own faults and deficiencies. Second, He allows you to hate your faults, so that you are inclined to shun them. Third, Allah will encourage you to beg Allah to switch your faults and develop your qualities. The final gift is when Allah showers you with His mercy, and substitutes your faults with qualities.
As stated in Surah Al Baqarah:
Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful. (Al Baqarah 2:183)
When the month is over, Allah wants us to thank Him for all that we have gained: unity with Him, and "rushd" – a combination of wisdom and guidance that Allah grants to whoever He wants to the lucky few.
Whether the purpose has been attained can only be gauged once Ramadan is over. It is when that closeness to Allah and piety still continue of their own accord. By analogy, someone goes to a rehab centre with the intention of seeking a cure for an addiction. It is premature to congratulate him during his treatment. The proof of its effectiveness is only calculated when he leaves, clean, pure and having broken his addiction for good, without relapsing to his old ways.
Bearing in mind the above, if fasting is merely ritualistic act, without living the underlying purpose, we have lost out on its essence. Not only are the rewards beyond our grasp, but the entire value of our efforts throughout Ramadan are in vain. Muhammad (SAW) also warned us: “On the day of judgment some people will gain nothing except thirst and hunger out of Ramadan.”