Ramadan is Welcome - Islam and Fasting
M. Burhanuddin Qasmi
Milli Gazette Online
Fasting is another unique moral and spiritual characteristic of Islam. Literally defined, fasting means to abstain "completely" from foods, drinks, intimate intercourse and smoking, before the break of the dawn till sunset, during the entire month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic year. But if we restrict the meaning of the Islamic Fasting to this literal sense, we would be sadly mistaking.
The Glorious Month of Ramadan
The month of Ramadan enjoys a
special importance in the Islamic calendar. As the Prophet (saws) said:
"It is Allah's Own month." It is the chief of all months and the
most glorious one. 'Fasting' is one of the important pillars of Islam and
it is the very month of Ramadan during which fasting has been made
obligatory for all adults and sane Muslims. By fasting during Ramadan, a
Muslim besides discharging an obligation imposed upon him by Allah,
becomes entitled to great rewards in the Hereafter. On the other hand, any
lapse in the matter amounts to a great sin. Fasting is an article of
worship, the knowledge about the performance or otherwise whereof rests
only with Allah and the person concerned. Hence, it is Allah alone who
will reward that person for it, on the Day of Judgment.
The blessings of Ramadan are not
limited to fasting alone, because the performance of all sorts of worship
and good deeds during this month is also a source of great Divine favour.
The revelation of the Qur'an commenced during this very month and it is
therefore the duty of every Muslim to read, listen and try to understand
the message of the Qur'an and thereby gain an insight into the Divine
secrets enshrined therein. It brings peace and illumination to the mind
and imparts purity to the soul.
Ramadan is the month of fasting,
intensive prayer, sacrifice and Divine worship. Throughout this month a
devout Muslim fasts during the day in the true sense of the word, that is,
he not only merely abstains himself from food and water, but also as
explained by the Prophet (saws), exercises strict control over his tongue,
eyes, ears, thoughts and deeds and does everything possible to seek the
pleasure of Allah.
Devout supplications to Allah and
repentance of one's sins during Ramadan are the sources of Divine
blessings and mercy. One night, among the last ten nights of Ramadan, is
called the 'Night of Glory' (Laylatul Qadr). Muslims keep awake during
last ten nights and offer special prayers in search of that special night
which is ‘greater than thousand years’, as stated in the Qur’an.
Laylatul Qadar is accompanied by great blessings, and the supplications
made to Allah during this night are granted by Him. Pious Ulama or saints
spend whole month worshiping—day and night—with their followers in Khanqah
or Masjid to assure blessings of every moment of Ramadan. Wealthy people
visit Masjid-e Haram in Makkah to avail most of the benefits of Ramadan
and blessings from Allah.
The month of Ramadan, besides being
the month of worship and blessings, carries a historical importance as
well. As already mentioned above, the revelations of the glorious Qur'an
commenced in this month. The epoch-making Battle of Badr and the Conquest
of Makkah also took place during the month of Ramadan.
Fasting in Ramadan is Obligatory
"O you who believe!
Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you,
that you may learn self-restraint," says the Qur’an [2:183].
It has already been indicated that
the period of obligatory fasting is the month of Ramadan. The daily period
of observance starts before the break of the dawn and ends immediately
after sunset. Normally there are accurate calendars to toll the exact
time, but in the absence of such facilities one should consult one's watch
and the sun's positions, together with the local newspapers, weather
Fasting in Ramadan is obligatory on
every responsible and fit Muslim. Month of Ramadan may be 29 or 30 days
only, depending on the moon's positions. Fasting is a pillar of Islam, and
any failure to observe it without reasonable excuses is a grave sin in the
sight of Allah.
But there are other times when it
is recommended to make voluntary fasting, after the Traditions of Prophet
Muhammad (saws). Among these times are Thursdays and Fridays of every
week, a few days of each month in the two months heralding the coming of
Ramadan, i.e., Rajab and Sha'ban, six days after Ramadan following the 'Eidul
Fitr Day. Besides, it is always compensating to fast any day of any month
of the year, except the 'prohibited’ days when no Muslim should fast.
They are exempted from fasting
Children (below age 15)
Elderly People (Al-Harim)
Physical Disability (Al-'Ajiz)
Pregnant and Nursing
Spiritual Benefits of Fasting
When Islam introduced this
matchless institution, it planted an ever-growing tree of infinite virtue
and invaluable products. Here is an explanation of the spiritual meaning
of the Islamic Fasting:
It teaches man the
principle of sincere Love: because when he observes Fasting he does it
out of deep love for Allah. And the man who loves Allah truly is a man
who really knows what love is.
It equips man with a
creative sense of hope and an optimistic outlook on life: because when
he fasts he is hoping to please Allah and is seeking His Grace.
It cultivates in man a
vigilant and sound conscience: because the fasting person keeps his
fast in secret as well as in public. In fasting, especially, there is
no mundane authority to check man's behavior or compel him to observe
fasting. He keeps it to please Allah and satisfy his own conscience by
being faithful in secret and in public. There is no better way to
cultivate a sound conscience in man.
It indoctrinates man in
patience and selflessness: as through fasting, he feels the pains of
deprivation but he endures them patiently.
It is an effective
lesson in applied moderation and willpower.
Fasting also provides
man with a transparent soul, a clear mind and a light body.
It shows man a new way
of wise savings and sound budgeting.
It enables man to master
the art of Mature Adaptability. We can easily understand the point
once we realize that fasting makes man change the entire course of his
It grounds man in
discipline and healthy survival.
It originates in man the
real spirit of social belonging, unity and brotherhood, of equality
before Allah as well as before the law.
Fasting helps in
conditioning the heart, the soul, and the body on the virtues of
patience, tenacity, and firmness in the face of adversity: Because
patience is the apex of self-mastery, discipline and spiritual
alertness. Patience is to turn the phrase "I can't" into
"I can." It is to say the difficult is easy. It is an inner
and psychological demolition of things perceived by others as
It is an ‘Godly’
prescription for self-reassurance and self-control.
The wisdom behind fasting
There is wisdom behind every act in
Islam, no matter how big or small it is. In time we may know the wisdom
behind some acts, and for others we may never know. Salat, the five daily
prayers for instance, is a daily training for purifying a believer and
reminding him that he is a member in a community of believers. Fasting, on
the other hand, is an annual institution containing all conceivable
attributes for human excellence. It is a training for the body and soul, a
renewal of life, encouraging the spirit of sharing and giving. The
following are some of the general benefits:
One of the most benefiting factors
of fasting is that its observer is able to control or change his or her
old or so called 'unbreakable' habits. The reason being is that human life
is an embodiment of acquired habits. To change or control a habit is to
wage a war on oneself.
Fasting - Key to Good Health
Fasting is a sentinel against
disease, provided that the faster follows the strict dietary rule: eat
during fast breaking and avoiding over-eating. Allah (swt) States:
"...Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the
wasters." (Al-Qur'an, 7:31)
When the stomach is empty, as a
result of fasting, it gets well-desired rest, to renew and revitalize its
energy. With the fasting, the stomach is forced to go through a discharge
whereby harmful residues are eliminated through perspiration as the body
searches for food during fast. During fast, the system of secretion is
organized, and this in turn benefits the blood pressure, inhibiting
hardening of the arteries. The heart and kidney functions are enhanced as
the workload tapers off. Fasting helps to correct the problem of obesity
and diabetes. Doctors over the years have used fasting as a prescription
for certain ailments.
Islam wants a Muslim to be healthy,
clean, alert, agile and energetic. "Fast to be healthy," had
said the Prophet (saws). And physicians today acknowledge the many
benefits of fasting that ensure health and the soundness of one's body and
mind. Some of these positive points have a direct influence on psychology
and physique of the fasting individual.
Fasting has been found to be an
effective treatment for psychological and emotional disorders. It
helps a person to firm up his will, cultivate and refine his taste and
manners, strengthen his conviction of doing good, avoid controversy,
petulance and rashness, which all contribute towards a sane and healthy
personality. Besides nurturing resistance and ability to face hardships
and endurance, fasting reflects on outward physical appearance by cutting
out gluttony and getting rid of excess fat.
According to expert doctors the
benefits of fasting on health do not stop there but are instrumental in
alleviating a number of physical diseases, including those of the
digestive systems, such as chronic stomachache, inflammation of the colon,
liver diseases, indigestion, and conditions such as obesity,
arteriosclerosis, high blood pressure, asthma, diphtheria and many other
A Swiss physician Dr. Barsilus
noted that: ‘The advantages of hunger as a remedy exceed those ingesting
medicine several times’.
As readers are well aware, several
physicians advise patients to skip meals, sometimes for a few days, before
prescribing them a controlled diet.
Generally speaking, fasting hastens
the destruction of the decaying tissues of the body by means of hunger,
and then builds new tissues through nutrition. This is why some scientists
suggest that fasting should be regarded as an effective means of restoring
youthfulness and longevity. However, Islam exempts from fasting sick and
old people whose health is bound to deter.
But fasting should have its
regulations too, and not simply inorderly skipping meals, that is bound to
harm health and stamina, rather than improving them. Here again Islam
provides the answer, and in order to realize the benefits of fasting, it
recommends the late midnight meals called 'Sahar' (before the formal start
of a fast) and the breaking of the fast at the time prescribed. Of course,
to ensure good health one should abstain from gluttony after breaking
Socially, fasting is an expression
of solidarity with the poor, the family and the whole society. This is a
period in which the rich have first-hand experience of what it is to
remain hungry. The pains that indigents suffer in normal living
conditions. The process of disciplining resulting from Islamic fasting
instills in the rich the virtue of mercy, which is very important in terms
of social well being, and proliferation of harmony.
Fasting strengthens family ties,
especially in that the family is an endangered institution in the western
society. It helps the family gather together to break fast at Iftar,
and then eat Suhoor (food before fasting) together at least twice a
day for a month. The family even makes Salat together.
Basic elements of fasting
There are two basic elements that
constitute the essence of Islamic fasting. The observation of these
elements makes one's fasting acceptable. The first element of
fasting is abstinence of an individual from the break of dawn (Fajr) until
sunset (Maghrib) from food and drink and sexual relations. Any nourishment
taken by mouth or nose, or drink of any sort, water, juices, milk, etc.,
should be avoided. The second element of fasting is Niyyah (intention).
Importance of Niyyah in Islam
In Islamic practices, Niyyah is
highly rated. This remarkable element is not unique to fasting; it
includes every degree of the believer's undertakings from Salaat, to
Zakaat, to Hajj. It is the difference between whether the actions are
religious or irreligious. As the Chairman of MMERC Maulana Badruddin Ajmal
Al-Qasmi frequently says, Muslim Ummah is in great loss not because of
‘Badh Niyatie’ (bad intention) rather it is in great loss because of
‘Bey Niyatie’ (no intention). For instance, fasting for political
reasons, or as a weapon of passive resistance, or hunger strikes, or
starving for dietary reasons, or weight control, or even on medical advice
- all of these are not proper Islamic fasting, because they lack one main
component: the Niyyah or intention. This is why Niyyah for fasting is to
worship Allah by abstaining from fast-breakers from the break of dawn to
sunset is an essential component of Islamic Fasting.
Why Muslims are not in a utopia
Someone may be tempted to raise the
objection: If this is the case with the Islamic institution of fasting,
and if this is the picture of Islam in this aspect, why are the Muslims
not living in a utopia? To such an objection we can only say that Muslims
have lived in and enjoyed a utopia in a certain epoch of their history.
The realization of that utopia was a phenomenon of a unique achievement in
the history of man. We say unique, because no religion or social system
other than Islam has ever been able to realize its ideals in reality.
The reason why the Islamic utopia
is not being established nowadays is manifold and easily explicable. But
to restrict our discussion to the institution of fasting we may say that
some Muslims, unfortunately for them, do not observe the fast or, at best,
adopt the attitude of indifference. On the other hand, some of those who
observe it do not realize its true meaning and, as a result, derive very
little benefit out of it or, in fact, no benefit at all. That is why some
Muslims today, do not enjoy the real privileges of fasting.
A Darul Uloom
Deoband graduate and Editor Eastern Crescent English monthly, MB
Qasmi, is director of the Mumbai-based institute ‘Markazul Ma’arif
Education and Research Centre’. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org