Quality of life is defined by World Health Organization (WHO) as the “Individual’s perception of their position in life in context of the culture and value system in which they live and in relation to their goals, expectations, standards and concern.” In simple words, quality of life can be explained as the personal, social, cultural and family well-being of an individual. These days, quality of life is one of the important aspects to define well-being of an individual. For Muslims, Ramadan is one of the special months where they can attain high quality of life, as espoused by the tenets of Islam.
What is Ramadan?
Fasting (sawm or roza) is one of the five pillars of Islam. In the month of Ramadan, which is the month that marks the revelation of the holy Quran to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. This is obligatory for all Muslims, with exceptions being made in consideration for the severely ill, children, pregnant women and travelers. Ramadan is not only a month of fasting, but it also enhances and polishes different aspects of an individual and the broader society. While fasting is an obligation and an aspect of the submission to Allah’s will, there are also other benefits and lessons of fasting. It makes people realise the pain of the less-fortunate people who do not get food throughout the year, and motivates them to give more in the form of charity (zakat).
Zakat and sadaqah, forms of obligatory and voluntary charity help circulate money and resources in society, prevent its accumulation in the hands of a few, and minimize financial disparity in society.
In addition, an individual can achieve good physical health, mental and spiritual well-being as well as social well-being through Ramadan.
Improving physical well-being
Scientific research has shown that fasting in the month of Ramadan has many health benefits such as:
1. Breaking one’s fast with dates is Sunnah (the way of the Prophet ﷺ). Eating dates at the time of iftaar helps to get rich amount of energy and boosts the body after a long period of fasting. It is also a rich source of fibers, Vitamin B, potassium and magnesium which give immense health benefits.
2. Mental and spiritual focus achieved in the month of Ramadan increases the level of NTFs (Neuro-Trophic Factors) secreted by brain cells, which helps to improve brain functioning. It also regulates some hormones such as reduced level of cortisol, due to the low stress level that can be maintained by ideally following the practices of restraint and abstention which are emphasised in the month of Ramadan.
3. Fasting also regulates insulin, which helps to maintain healthy blood pressure, good cholesterol level and heart functioning. As a result, this lowers the body weight and reduces the overall risk of diabetes and heart attack.
4. Fasting also improves the immune and digestive systems of the body.
5. Quitting bad habits and maintaining a good routine helps to achieve good physical well-being of an individual.
Achieving psychological and mental well-being
1. Fasting is submission of a person’s will to the Almighty (Allah). It is not only being hungry from dawn to dusk, but quitting or eliminating all desires for the sake of Allah only. It is a month of training for Muslims that teaches them how one can submit all wills and desires to Allah. It is a training and spiritual self-purification of a person. The main goal of this month is to improve good moral values and habits. It not only involves cutting out food and drink, but ensures abstention from all negative vibes, desires, temptations, emotions, and lustful thoughts. Through this training, people acquire patience, discipline, strong will-power and self-control.
2. Prayers also help people to get spiritual satisfaction and connect with Allah. Taraweeh (special congregational night prayers) helps people to get more spiritual, regenerates their closeness to Allah and increases their Imaan (Faith), one of the most important pillars of Islam. The usual congregational nature also ensures societal cohesion, interaction and a sense of unity.
In conclusion, the month of Ramadan enhances unity, harmony and brotherhood in society as it is unique in its emphasis on societal cohesion, interaction and care. Helping others, giving charity, developing good character are part of its teachings. Muslims consider sawm (fasting) as ibaadah (worship). It is also compulsory for all Muslims who have assets over a certain value to donate 2.5% of this to the poor and needy people. It is emphasised for Muslims to collect and donate to charities, relief works, and for the upliftment of society round the year, but in much greater amounts during this month.
Ramadan is a month in which Muslims get trained to achieve high level of spiritual and moral values. It helps them to build a strong character. It also helps to gain physical health and fitness. In Ramadan, people get connected with society and neighbors and sustaining these strong social connections is emphasised throughout the year. Charity helps to eliminate differences between people and ensures that they get closer to each other, bypassing the traditional hierarchies and stratification of society which often makes us ignorant and insensitive to others’ needs.
Thus, Ramadan points to the need for a cohesive understanding of what health really is – beyond the mere physical idea of good health, it ensures that we are one with society, and also opens up the possibilities of reflecting upon oneself, one’s desires, and flaws. This unique combination of solitude, as seen in practices such as observing itikaf (seclusion) particularly in the last days of the month, combined with social cohesion, such as in practices of charity, congregational prayer and breaking fast together, makes Ramadan a unique month.