The Prophet's (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) companions used to say, "Let not the day that you fast and the day that you do not fast be equal." It is important that one's behaviour, attitude and outlook should not be the same on the day that one is fasting and when one is not fasting. There should be a change, as one is trying to worship Allah more, so one's fasting should have an effect.
Lesson 1: Gaining taqwa (fear of Allah)
Allah legislated fasting for gaining taqwa, "O you who believe fasting has been prescribed upon you as it has been prescribed upon those before you, so that you may attain taqwa." (meaning of Sooratul Baqarah (2):138) Tawqa in this case means, to make a shield between oneself and Allah's anger and hellfire. So we should ask ourselves, when we break our fasts, 'Has this fasting day made us fear Allah more ? Has it resulted that we want to protect ourselves from the hellfire ?'
Lesson 2: Drawing us closer to Allah
This is achieved by reciting and reflecting on Al-Qur'an during the night and the day, attending the taraweh prayers, remembering Allah, sitting in circles of knowledge and for those who can, making umrah. The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) said,"An umrah in the month of Ramadan is equal (in reward) to performing a hajj." (Ahmad & Ibn Majah). Also for those who can, making itikaf (seclusion) in the last ten days of Ramadan, so to leave all worldly pursuits and seclude oneself in a masjid just thinking of Allah, this brings us closer to Allah. When one sins, one feels distant from Allah. That is why one might find it hard to read and reflect on the Qur'an and come to the masjid. However, the obedient worshipper feels closer to Allah and wants to worship Allah more, because Allah forgives and is merciful.
Lesson 3: Acquiring patience and strong will
Allah has mentioned patience more than seventy times in the Qur'an and has commanded patience in more than sixteen ways in His Book. So when one fasts, and gives up one's food and drink, and one's marital sexual relations for those hours, one learns restraint and patience. This ummah needs men and women that are strong willed, who can stand upon the Sunnah and the Book of Allah and not waver in front of the enemies of Allah. We do not need emotional people, who raise slogans and shout, but when the time comes to stand upon something firm, they cannot do so, they waver.
Lesson 4: Striving for ihsan (righteousness & sincerity) and staying away from riyaa’ (showing off)
Ihsan means to worship Allah as if one sees Him, for if one does not see Him, He sees all. Hasan al-basri said,"By Allah in the last twenty years, I have not said a word or taken something with my hand or refrained to take something with my hand or stepped forward or stepped back, except that I have thought before I have done any action,'Does Allah love this action ? Is Allah pleased with this action ?' " So when one is fasting, one should gain this quality of watching oneself and also staying away from riyah (showing off). That is why Allah said in a qudsi hadith, "..Fasting is for Me and I will reward it.." (Bukhari) Allah singles out fasting from all other types of worship saying, "..Fasting is for Me..", because no one knows whether you are fasting or not, except Allah. For example, when one is praying or giving charity or making tawwaf, one can be seen by the people, so one might do the action seeking the praise of the people. Sufian at-thawri used to spend the nights and the days crying and the people used to ask him, "Why do you cry, is it due to the fear of Allah ?", he said,'No.', they said,"Is it due to the fear of the hell-fire ?", he said, 'No. It is not the fear of Allah that makes me cry, what makes me cry is that I have been worshipping Allah all these years and doing scholarly teaching, but I am not certain that my intentions are purely for Allah.'
Lesson 5: Refinement of manners, especially those related to truthfulness and discharging trusts.
The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) said,"Whoever does not abandon falsehood in word and action, then Allah, the Mighty and the Majestic has no need that he should leave his food and drink." (Bukhari) And the Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) said,"It may be that a fasting person attains nothing but hunger and thirst from his fast." (Ibn Majah) What we learn from this, is that we must pay attention to the purification of our manners. The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) said,"I was sent to perfect good manners." (Muwatta) So we must check ourselves, are we following the behaviour of the Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him). For example, Do we give salam to those we don't know and those we do know? Do we follow the manners of Islam, by telling the truth and only telling the truth? Are we merciful to the creation?
Lesson 6: Recognising that one can change for the better
The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) said,"Every son of Adam sins and the best of the sinners are those who repent." (Ibn Majah) Allah provides many opportunities to repent to Him and seek His forgiveness. If one was disobedient they can become obedient.
Lesson 7: Being more charitable
Ibn Abbas said,"The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) was the most charitable amongst the people, and he used to be more so in the month of Ramadan when Gibreel used to meet him on every night of Ramadan till the end of the month. The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) used to recite the Holy Qur'an to Gibreel." (Bukhari) The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) said, "He who gives food for a fasting person to break his fast, he will receive the same reward as him, without nothing being reduced from the fasting person's reward." (Tirmidhi )
Lesson 8: Sensing the unity of the Muslims
The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) said, "...Those of you who will live after me, will see many differences. Then you must cling on to my Sunnah and the Sunnah of the rightly guided khalifah. Hold fast to it and stick to it.." (Abu Dawud) It is possible for Muslims to be a single body, but this will only be achieved when obedience is only to Allah and His Messenger. One senses unity, because the Muslims pray and fast together.
Lesson 9: Learning discipline
The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) said, "Bilal makes the adhan, while it is still night; therefore, eat and drink until Ibn Umm Maktum makes the adhan." (Bukhari) The Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) made us adhere to this strictness. Similarly one cannot knowingly break the fast before the sunset, as this will not be accepted by Allah. Muslims should learn to be very strict in their lives, because they are people of an important message, which they mould their lives around.
Lesson 10: Teaching the young to worship Allah
It was the practice of the people of Madinah, that during the fast of Ashura (which is now a recommended fast of one day) to get their children to fast with them. When the children would cry of hunger and thirst, their parents would distract their attention by giving them some sort of toy to play with. The children would break their fast with their parents. (mentioned in Bukhari) So the young should be brought to the masjid and they should pray with their parents, so that they are able to get into the habit of becoming worshippers of Allah. If one does not encourage children to fast when they are young, they will find it very difficult to fast for thirty days at the age of puberty. This is why the Prophet (may Allah send His blessing and peace upon him) said, "Command your children to pray at the age of seven and beat them at the age of ten (if they do not pray)" (Hakim)
Lesson 11: Caring for one's health
Fasting teaches Muslims to take care of their health and to build strong bodies. The Prophet (may Allah send his blessing and peace upon him) said,"A strong believer is better and is more beloved to Allah than a weak believer, and there is good in everyone." (Muslim)