A Muslim's life is turned "upside down" in the month of Ramadhan. We rise before dawn for a meal, eat and drink nothing all day until sunset, followed by prolonged night prayers, vigils and dedications. We do this every day, for 30 days straight! That is serious commitment indeed.
But despite that, Ramadhan is also a time for celebration. We eat and pray together as a family unit, enhance the warmth of family relationships, we brave Geylang bazaar despite the crowds and the smells to buy Hari Raya clothes, spring cleaning the house together, put on fairy lights at home - all these are rare occurrences on any other months of the year!
This juxtaposition of the sacred and the festive can seem odd, but it directs us to a few important lessons: (i) Islam is about maneuvering life, on and of, the middle path, (ii) that unfettered expenditure, consumption and greed does not lead to happiness nor health, (iii) that ours is an age of both hunger and indulgence (for e.g., we gorge ourselves with foods and then go on diets to compensate).
Perhaps our contradictory relationship with our own bodies is connected to our vagueness about our souls. Almost all religions allude to the fact that the body is the temple of the spirit, and that it is to be tended respectfully in order to preserve our inner equilibrium and well-being. Part of this is in knowing how to live with restraint and balance, in other words, of knowing when to stop and finding it easy to do so.
And that is why the deed of fasting in Ramadhan is far from being just another kind of diet. Through the deed of fasting, we try to lose something else: a childish attachment to immediate pleasures. Through fasting, we abandon our needs or abilities to consume and guzzle Allah's gifts (be it Instagram-able foods, fanciful travel destinations or flashy branded products) with an unthinking sense of our own entitlement. The virtue of detachment and restraint, valued by all religious traditions, make the ritualistic deed of fasting a necessary requisite for its adherents on the path of purification and eventually, salvation. It empowers us to regularly step back, to re-evaluate our impulses in an objective and realistic manner. This is the reason why we should celebrate Ramadhan.
Allah s.w.t. hopes that we "may become righteous" [al-Baqarah 2:183] through the exercise of restraint in fasting, so that we learn greater discipline and detachment in order to appreciate life more fully. And righteousness is the only distinguishing factor when we stand before Allah s.w.t. on the Day of Judgment: "The most honorable among you in the sight of Allah is the most righteous of you." [al-Hujurat 49:13]
Fasting itself may not be easy but it is a catalyst for us to heal ourselves and to find true happiness: through a detached mastery of the self, in the sober awareness of our total dependence on Allah s.w.t.