RAMADAN is the greatest month and the best time for self-regulation and self-training. There are numerous benefits to those who are fasting, either from spiritual or physical perspectives.
At the same time, the positive effects have not only been mentioned in the Quran and Sunnah but also by many scientific research. In fact, there are a few institutions that have been established to promote fasting as a way to prevent and heal diseases, such as the Fasting Center International Incorporation in the United States of America.
In understanding the wisdom of Ramadan and fasting from several interesting findings, the effects can be looked upon from four different perspectives, namely economic, health and sciences, psychological and social point of views.
According to a study entitled Piety and Profits: Stock Market Anomaly during the Muslim Holy Month undertaken by the University of New Hampshire led by Iranian-born finance Professor Ahmad Etebari, stock returns in largely Muslim nations outperform during Ramadan.
It is found that on average, stock returns are nine times higher than other times of year. The phenomenon is called the “Ramadan Effect”.
Between the stock markets of Bahrain, Oman, Turkey, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Qatar, Pakistan, Jordan, Egypt, Morocco, Tunisia, Malaysia, Indonesia and Saudi Arabia, the report identified a trend of considerably higher returns during the holy month as compared to other months.
The study found that the average returns for the 15 countries — from the database gathered from 1989 to 2007 — were 38 per cent during Ramadan as compared to an average of 4.3 per cent during ordinary months. It reveals that the social cohesion and institutional feelings attained during Ramadan helped influence investment behaviour.
In 1994, during the first International Congress on “Health and Ramadan” held in Casablanca, Morocco 50 research papers were presented from all over the world by Muslim and non-Muslim researchers who have done extensive studies on the medical ethics of fasting.
The congress made recommendations that Ramadan fasting is an ideal method for treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin dependent diabetes, obesity and essential hypertension.
Allan Cott, in his famous book Why Fast, states that fasting has the effect of cleaning out the body; lowering blood pressure and cholesterol and letting the body heal itself. Another interesting finding refers to the fasting habit to slow the aging process based on a research conducted by Dr Yuri Nikolayev, a Moscow-based scientist and dietitian/nutritionist.
From a psychological point of view, it is empirically proven that fasting can bring positive effects to mental health. Dr Sabah al-Baqir from the Medical Faculty of University of King Saud reveals that fasting will generate a specific hormone which may relieve tension and make a person feel better physically and mentally.
Crime rate is also significantly decreased during Ramadan. I believe that this is a phenomenon in many jurisdictions all over the world. According to the statistic produced by the Iranian Police Department in 2008, Iran’s overall crime rate and murder rate declined during the holy month. There has been a 32 per cent decline in homicides and the overall crime rate has dropped significantly. It is worth noting that the homicide rate in Iran is six murder cases per day and Iran stands 50th in the world in the homicide rate.
Ramadan is the best time for family and social gathering. The Maktoob Research in UAE conducted a survey on the opinions of 6,128 adult Muslims from across the Arab world about Ramadan. The survey reveals that 86 out of 96 per cent of Arab Muslims observing the fasting month tend to observe iftar (the break of fast) as a good opportunity for family gatherings.
This finding indirectly indicates that fasting during Ramadan can strengthen the family institution and community as well as provide the best practices for the unity of the ummah.
Considering the numerous hadith on the rewards and benefits of sadaqah (charity) during Ramadan, it is observed that people are more willing and make greater efforts for charity and donation. According to Lung Transplantation Research Center, National Research Institute of TB and Lung Disease, Tehran, Iran, organ shortage is the most significant problem that they face for activities related to transplantation systems. The centre carried out a survey on Muslim behaviour during the holy month pertaining to organ donation in Iran. Interestingly, the survey revealed that the number of applications for organ donation in Ramadan increased to 154 per cent as compared to other months with a total of 11,528 organ donations as opposed to 4,538 donations in the previous month.
Ramadan is the greatest and best month of the year. It is one of the blessings of Allah to the Muslims that He enables us to fast in this period. The blessed month and ibadah of fasting not only offer us great rewards from Allah but also many benefits, either from economic or health and science, psychological or social perspectives. With this priceless opportunity from Allah, it is hoped that we can keep the spirit of Ramadan alive at all times throughout the year.
Professor Madya Dr Zulkifli Hasan is dean of Syariah and Law Faculty, Universiti Sains Islam Malaysia. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org