Fasting in Islam is primarily a spiritual discipline.
“Oye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint.” (Holy Quran, 2-183)
“As it was prescribed” does not mean that the Muslim fast is like the other fasts previously observed; in the number of days, time or manner of the fast or in other incidents. It only means that the principle of self-denial by fasting is not a new one.
This verse should be read with the verses that follow — 2-185 to 188 — so that the physical fast may be fully understood with reference to its spiritual meaning.
The Muslim fast is not meant for self-torture. Although it is stricter than other fasts, it also provides alleviations for special circumstances. If it were merely a temporary abstention from food and drink, it would be salutary to many people who habitually eat and drink in excess.
The instincts for food, drink and sex are strong in the nature of animals, and temporary restraint from all these enables attention to be directed to higher things. This is achieved through prayers, contemplation and acts of charity, not of the showy kind, but by seeking out those really in need.
It was in Hijri year two that fasting during the holy month was made obligatory for Muslims.
“Ramadan is the (month) in which the Quran was sent down, as a guide to mankind, also clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you should spend the month fasting, but if any one is ill or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) from days later.
“God intends every facility for you: He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and per chance ye shall be grateful.” (Holy Quran, 2:185) We shall look upon Ramadan not as a burden but as a blessing, and shall be duly grateful for the lead given to us in the matter.
Fasting in Islam is primarily a spiritual discipline, the aim of which is attaining nearness to Allah. It awakens in man a new consciousness of a higher life, a life above that which is maintained by eating and drinking — the spiritual life.