I feel like this is a common question that people who aren't Muslim may have and don't really know how to go about asking it. I also feel like it's a question that is often explained incorrectly or assumed to be for reasons that aren't exactly right. So I thought I'd share some explanation as to what Ramadan is all about and the importance of fasting.
When people think about fasting for Ramadan, abstaining from food is typically all that people think of. But it's much more than that. The way that I look at it is that it is more about controlling what we put into our bodies as well as what we let out. So in addition to abstaining from eating and drinking, Muslims are to also abstain from smoking if you are a smoker and abstaining from sexual relations with your spouse/partner. Aside from abstaining from things in a physical manner, Muslims are to abstain from cursing, backbiting, etc. (Generally speaking, these are things that people should abstain from) There are also additional prayers opportunities, it's encouraged to read more Quran, and all around connect more with God. In being successful in connecting more with God, refocusing attention away from things like social media, watching TV, etc. and instead toward prayer, reading Quran, giving to charity, and listening to Islamic talks and things of that nature can be really important. So that's why I look at it more of controlling what we put in and let out of our bodies, rather than just not eating for a certain number of hours in the day.
I have heard Ramadan explained as a time when Muslims fast to think of the hungry and less fortunate individuals countless times. This is most definitely not why Muslims fast. In fact, there are plenty of hungry, less fortunate that still have to fast. So when you're reminded of that fact, it doesn't make any sense to explain it in that way. There are more issues with that explanation, but rather than pick it apart, I'd rather use my time to shed light on the real reason for Ramadan.
The month of Ramadan is the month that the Quran was sent down by God. In this month, Muslims believe that Satan is chained up in hell unable to come and tempt people and manipulate people into doing unfavorable things. However, having Satan whispering to us and influencing us throughout the rest of the year will undoubtedly leave an impact on everyone. So by fasting, we are in a sense being forced to give ourselves a good look in the mirror. Am I flying off the handle? Am I backbiting? Am I being rude and disrespectful to someone? Since Satan is chained in hell, we don't have Satan to blame for our poor actions and we realize the areas in our lives that may need some work. And with the extra prayers, reading Quran, giving to charity, it helps us to do the work that we need for ourselves and redirect our focus. I like to think of it as a time that we get to hit a giant reset button for ourselves.
Through the month of Ramadan, there could still be tragedies that take place. Some have challenged the idea that Satan is chained in hell with the tragedies that take place. Especially when it's someone committing some sort of horrendous crime. But as I explained before, even though Satan is chained up in hell and away from us, it doesn't mean that suddenly we're living perfect lives. It means that we have to recognize the ways that we've been influenced in a negative fashion from Satan and what we can do to counter that with a positive influence. So while Satan is chained up in hell, some bad people could absolutely continue to do bad things because of that negative influence that they have been taking on day after day after day that suddenly it becomes a part of who they are and not just a suggestion whispered into their ear.
This Ramadan is different than any in recent history because everyone is to stay home and not go out and interact socially. A common theme during Ramadan is to have these big social gatherings when breaking your fast at the end of the day. While it can be fun and help everyone feel connected during the month, it also can create a distraction from the true purpose of Ramadan. And so while we are all staying home and not having these big iftar gatherings, I hope that we are all taking advantage of this month to truly refocus, reset our intentions, and take the most away from this experience.