Thirst, hunger and fatigue shadow Muslims as they fast through the holy month of Ramadan.

Ramadan is the ninth lunar month in the Islamic calendar and is recognized as the fasting month for Muslims. From sunrise to sunset, Muslims refrain from food and water, among other things, for an entire month. Muslims in Southern California will fast for nearly 16 hours each day.

For Muslims, the fast is recognized as one of the greatest acts of worship. For a fasting person, the objective of the fast entails a variety of spiritual, ethical and moral refinement, and physical consciousness.

Watching or reading about world famine seems like an illusion when we live in a country where there is a surplus and waste of food and drink. For 29 days, Muslims worldwide experience the pangs of being deprived of the essential nutrients that sustain a human being, such as a mere sip of water or a piece of bread.

Fasting forces a person to recognize and empathize with the sufferings of the poor. Without the fast, we would never feel what it is like to be hungry or thirsty. Even though world hunger may never be eradicated, being exposed to hunger or thirst will still result in being appreciative of what one has and ultimately, to be active in assisting the deprived.

The fast is not only about refraining from food and water, but is also about refining human character. A fasting person must constantly be on guard of his behavior; cheating, lying, cursing, gossiping, eaves dropping and so forth can easily break one's fast.

A story is told that the Prophet Muhammad overheard his wife yelling at her housemaid while she was fasting. He brought his wife a plate of food to eat but she reminded him that she was fasting, in which he responded that she had broken her fast when she became angry and insulted another person.

God has said in the Koran, "Observing the fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become pious." (2:183)

The key word that Muslims underline in this verse is "become pious."

God wants us to be good people and he wants us to be highly observant of our actions, thus when a person is in the state of the fast, his thirst and hunger stand as reminder that he should be cautious of his behavior or else his fast will become void. A fasting person is thus in a state of consciousness of his behavior and the month provides a great training session to refine and maintain moral and ethical behavior.

Fasting provides an opportunity for physical discipline and will; it breaks unhealthy habits such as smoking or overeating. It builds confidence of human will and achievement.

One of the greatest aspects of Ramadan is being in the remembrance of God. Despite the physical toll of fasting, the heart and spirit find comfort and love reside in the company of God.

In the eyes of God, the status and dignity of people are raised more so during this month because the hearts of the believers turn to their Lord, seeking forgiveness and mercy. The month of Ramadan is the season of goodness in which Muslims hasten toward their Lord through acts of worship, good deeds and refrain from acts of evil. In return, God has promised that sins are erased and forgiveness is granted.

FATMA SALEH is a board member with the Islamic Educational Center of Orange County in Costa Mesa.