Many people fast as a ritual, without truly understanding its meaning. Others reduce it to a simple exercise in empathy with the poor. While this is a beautiful consequence of fasting, it is not the main purpose defined by Allah. Allah says in the Qur’an:
“Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain taqwa (God-consciousness).” (Qur’an, 2:183)
By controlling and restraining our physical needs, we gain strength for the greater battle: controlling and restraining our nafs (our soul’s desire). When fasting, every hunger pang reminds us of God—the one for whom we have made this sacrifice. By constantly remembering Allah and sacrificing for Him, we are made more aware of His presence, and in that way we increase our taqwa (fear and consciousness of Him). The same thing that prevents us from the sin of sneaking in food while no one else is watching trains us to avoid other sins while no one else is watching. That is taqwa.