The Arabic term for fasting is ‘sawm’. In essence, it is the same as "tabattul Ilal-Allah" that is detaching oneself from the world and devoting one’s life entirely to God (Quran,73:8). Fasting, along with most of the other rites of worship, was prescribed on a regular basis after the Prophet’s emigration to Medina (2 A.H) but it had been practiced even before Islam it in one form or the other.
According to Aishah, The Prophet’s wife, the Quraysh used to fast on the day of Ashura, in their days of Ignorance (before Islam) and the Prophet would also fast on that day (Sahih Muslim). So one night say that fasting marks the entrance to an Islamic life, if the Prophet’s stay in the cave of Hira before his receiving Prophethood is taken into account.When God decided to give His scriptures to Moses. He asked him to go the Mount Toor where, remaining apart from his people, he was to speed forty days in fasting and abstinence. Moses did so far forty days continuously. Only them did God speak to him. This is mentioned in verse 143 of chapter 7 of the Qur’an.
Before commencing his prophetic mission, the prophet Jesus had fasted for forty days in the desert. Only then was the word of god revealed to him. This is recovered in the Bible as the Sermon on the Mount. Likewise, the Final Prophet used to go to the cave of Hira before receiving his Prophethood. There he would fast in seclusion, engrossed in a world of worship and contemplation. Only after a long life of this inner purification, did the time come for him to be visited by an angel, so that he might receive the word of God.
Fasting is known as "Sawm" in The Islamic Shariah. The word `Sawm’ means to abstain. Literally; it means to abstain from walking around, speaking, eating and drinking. Al Khails as Saim, is a horse that has been detained at a stable and denied fodder. That is why the Prophet called the month of Ramadhan a month of patience. Harith ibn Malik describing one of his fasts to the Prophet said. "I withdrew from the world and was thirsty all day". The outer sign of fasting is abstention from food from morning till evening. But, in its real essence, it is to withdraw from all worldly attachments, and reduce all mundane necessities to a minimum. While fasting, one devotes much less time to conversation, social activity and sexual intercourse.
This reaches a climax during Itikaf, a total retreat conducted during the last ten days of Ramadhan. In Itikaf one is totally cut off from these pursuits. One retires from the human world and enters the world of God. The contact which the believer thus establishes with God should remain with him throughout his life. This is what the Prophet termed "Zuhd" (disattachment with detachment from the world) and has been made obligatory in the form of fasting during the month of Ramdhan. This renunciation or Itikaf, during the last days of the month of fasting is has been considered an extremely desirable form of worship. In Itikaf, one distances completely from the world and turns to God. Itikaf is the most complete fulfillment of Islamic requirements during the whole of Ramadhan, has been exhonerabled as concession for albeit less strictly practiced during the first part of the month (a concession made to devotees.)
The Benefits of Fasting:
What are the benefits sought in fasting? Its aim is to weaken the material aspect of man and strengthen the spirituality in him so that he may enter the higher realms of faith.
Two things make up a man: jos npdu and as indispendable for the performance of mundane tasks, it is his soul which will take him to the higher realities. The mind - as psychologists prefer to call it - must, therefore, be preserved in a state of purity. That means that just as the body requires physical nourishment, the soul must be nourished spiritually.
When one lifts oneself up from the material world and becomes attached to the spiritual world, one is astonished to apprehend a new door of truth opening before one. All those realities that were formerly invisible beneath a veil of matter now become plain for in to see. One reaches the lofhies station- The final stage in the ascent of man.
This is explained in the tradition:When a person has elevated himself the world, God endures him with wisdom, which emanated from his lips. He is shown the ills of the world, and their remedies. He is brought safely to the abode of peace.(Mishkat)
There comes a point on this path when one passes so far beyond the veil matter that one can see realities exactly as they are. Then one "worships God, as if one were seeing Him." (Bukhari)
Prophethood is the final stage of this path. But a common man can also elevate his soul to this degree. The difference is that a Prophet is one chosen by God. There is no obscurity in his vision of the divine world; it appears before him in absolute, certain form; it actually became a part of his consciousnes