Every year during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, over a billion Muslims worldwide fulfill the fourth commandment in the…
Definition of Fasting
Linguistically, fasting (sawm) means to refrain from something and in the usage of the Shari’ah (Islamic Law) it means to abstain from eating, drinking and conjugal relations from dawn to sunset with the [required] intention.
Abdullah Ibn Umar (ra) narrated that the Messenger of Allah said; ‘Islam is built on five [pillars], bearing witness that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammed is His Messenger (testimony of faith), establishing prayers, giving zakah (alms), making the pilgrimage to the House and fasting in Ramadan.’ (Sahih Bukhari)
Purpose of Fasting
For every action in the Shari’ah there is a purpose or a wisdom. Even in the major acts of worship, we find that Allah has explained the wisdom behind its obligation or performance:
In the verse related to wudhu (ablution), we read, ‘Allah does not wish to place you in difficulty, but to make you clean, and to complete His favour upon you, so that you may be grateful.’[Surah Al-Maidah:6]
As regards to the purpose of Salah, we read: ‘Verily Salah restrains one from shameful and unjust deeds.’ [Surah Al-Ankabut:45]
In the verses relating to Zakah, we read, ‘Of their goods take alms, so that you might purify and sanctify them.’[Surah Al-Taawbah:103]
In the context of Hajj, we read the verse, ‘That they may witness the benefits provided for them.’ [Al-Hajj:28]
In a similar vein, the obligation of fasting has a purpose and divine reason behind it. Allah the Exalted says, ‘O you who believe fasting has been prescribed upon you as it had been prescribed upon those before you so that you may become God-conscious.’ [Surah Al-Baqarah:183]
Thus the purpose of fasting is to attain Taqwa (God-consciousness). The great tab’i (pious predecessor) Talq Ibn Habib defined Taqwa as ‘acting in obedience to Allah, hoping for His Mercy, and Taqwa is leaving acts of disobedience to Allah, out of the fear of Him. This means to develop the quality of performing every action that Allah loves and refraining from those actions that He detests.
Commenting on the purpose of Fasting, Imam Al-Gazali writes:”The purpose of fasting is that a man or woman should produce within them a semblance of the divine attribute of samadiyat (freedom from want), that they should, as far as possible, take after the angels and cast off the beastly propensities because the angels are free from desire and the place of man, too, is above the animals and he has been given the power of discrimination to resist the pressure of inordinate appetites. He is of course, inferior to angels in the sense that desire often overpowers him and he has to strive hard to subdue it. When he succumbs to sensual urgeshe degenerates into the ‘lowliest of lowly’ and joins the herds of cattle while when he conquers them he attains the dizzy heights of the heavenly host and begins to dwell on the plane of the angels.”
Virtues of Fasting
Fasting has numerous characteristics and virtues. Suffice it would be to mention the following few.
1) Fasting Leads to Allah’s Forgiveness
He, the Majestic, will forgive all sins in this month. Abu Hurayrah(ra) narrates that the final Prophet (pbuh) said, ‘Whosoever fasts the month of Ramadan with Emaan and in the hope of seeking the reward of Allah, all his sins will be forgiven.’ [Sahih Al-Bukhari]
2) Fasting Protects One from Hellfire
Abu’Said (ra) narrated the the Messenger of God said, ‘Whosoever fasts a day for the sake of Allah, his face will be distanced from the Hellfire at a distance equalling 70 years.’ [Sahih Al-Bukhari]. If fasting for a day equals to such a respite, then imagine what we will attain by fasting the full 30 days.
3) Fasting Casues One to Enter Paradise
Abu Umamah (ra) relates, ‘I said, O Messenger of Allah, tell me of an action by which I may enter Paradise.’ He replied, ‘Take to fasting, there is nothiing like it.’ [Al-Nisai]
Furthermore in Paradise itself a special gate has been reserved for those who fast and it is through this gate that the fasting people will enter Paradise. Sahi Ibn Sa’d said that the Messenger of Allah stated, ‘Indeed there is a gate of Paradaise called Al-Rayyan. On the day of Resurrection, those who fast will enter through it; no one enters it except for them, and when they have entered, it will be closed so that no one ever enters it again.’ [Sahih Al-Bukhari]
4) The Reward of Fasting is Immense
Abu Hurrayrah (ra) narrated that the Prophet Muhammed (pbuh) said that, “Allah said ‘that all of the actions of the son of Adam are for him except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will recompense it.’ Fasting is a shield, and when it is the day when one of you fasts, then let him not speak indecently or argue, and if anyone abuses or seeks to fight him then let him say ‘I am fasting’. By Him in whose hand is the soul of Muhammed, the smell coming from the mouth of the fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. For the fasting person there are two times of joy; when he breaks his fast he is happy and ehrn he meets his Lord he is happy due to his fasting.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari]
5) Fasting will Intercede on Behalf of a Person
Fasting will intercede for a believer on the Day of Reckoning. Amru Ibn Al-Aas (ra) relayed that the Messenger of Allah said,”Fasting and the Qur’an will intercede for the servant on the Day of Judgement. The fast will say: ‘O My Lord, I prevented him from eating food and indulging in the desires during the day, so allow me to intercede for him.’ The Qur’an will say, ‘I prevented him from sleeping at night so allow me to intercede for him.’ They will both then be given permission to intercede for him [Ahmed]
Virtues of the Month of Ramadan
The month of Ramadan has many characteristics and virtues.
The Month of Qur’an
Allah the Exalted says: “Indeed, those who recite the Book of Allah and establish prayer and spend (in His cause) out of what We have provided them secretly and publicly, can expect a transaction (profit) that will never perish. That He may give them in full their rewards and increase for them His bounty. Indeed He is forgiving and most ready to appreciate.” (Surah Fatir:30)
Aisha (ra) narrated that the Messenger of Allah said, ‘Read the Qur’an, for verily it will come as an intercessor for its companion on the Day of Judgement.’ [Muslim]
Reciting the Qur’an is described in the above Qur’anic verse as a profitable transaction, the profit of which shall never end. This si thecase at any time of the year but in Ramadan the recitation and study of the Qur’an has greater status and significance due to many reasons.
The first reason is that the beginning of the revelation of the Qur’an was in Ramadan. The night in which Jibra’il came with the first five verses of the Qur’an from Surah Al-Alaq was in the month of Ramadan. It is possible that this is what is meant by the saying of Allah, “Verily We revealed it in Laylatul Qadr.” [Surah Al Qadr:1] and “Verily we revealed it in a Blessed night.” [Surah Al-Dukhan:3]
The second reason is that it was in the month of Ramadan that the Qur’an was revealed from the al-lauh al-mahfudh to the heavens of the world. This what has been transmitted by the Salaf. There were two revelations of the Qur’an: one from al-lauh al-mahfudh to the bait al-izza in the heavens of the world during Laylatul Qadr in Ramadan; and the other revelation wasfrom bait al-izza to the Messenger of God gradually over a period of 23 years.
The third reason is that Angel Jibra’il used to come to the Messenger of Allah every night in Ramadan in order to study the Qur’an with him. In the year in which the Messenger of Allah passed away Jobra’il came twice to revise the Qur’an with him.
Thus it is recommended that one finishes a complete recitation of the Qur’an in the month of Ramadan, as related in Bukhari, it is the Sunnah to complete reciting the whole Qur’an once every month or once every week, if possible.
Such was the importance given to reciting the Qur’an in this month that many of the pious predecessors devoted most of their time in Ramadan to reciting and studying the Book of Allah. When Ramadan entered, Imam Malik used to leave his study of hadith and devote his total attention to the reading of the Qur’an. It is also related that a group of the piouspredecessors such as Al-Nakha’i, Ibrahim and Aswad used to complete the reading of the Qur’an once every three nights, and if Ramadan entered then they completed it once every two nights; and when the last ten days of Ramadan entered, then they completed it once every night.
Some even went to extraordinary lengths in their aspiration to complete the recitation of the Qur’an in Ramadan. Ibn Ali said I heard Al-Rabi Ibn Sulayman say: ‘Muhammad Ibn Idris Al-Shaf’i would accomplish sixty completions of the Qur’an in Ramadan, all in the form of prayer.’
Month of Spending
After salah, spending (infaq) in the way of Allah is of the utmost importance. Infaq means to spend from what Allah has given one from his time, health but most importantly wealth. The root of all love for this world is wealth; spending from it will weaken that attachment to thisworld.
Spending generally is a means by which the servant draws closer to his Creator. With specific regard to this month, the Messenger of Allah used to spend money in the way of Allah more than in any other months. The reward for righteous acts is multiplied in Ramadan, where the performance of a fard is rewarded by seventy times and the performance of a nafl isrewarded with the reward of a fard.
The Messenger of Allah was the most generous when it came to giving; but when he used to meet Angel Jibra’il in Ramadan he used to spend unlimitlessly. Allah has also promised in His Book in which there si no doubt, that those who spend on the needy in His cause will be rewarded with more than they have sent and their wealth will never diminish.The believer should open his hamd and spend for the da’wah, education, welfare, medical care, shelter and requirements of the destitute and needy. The believer should also help his relatives, the poor and the orphans. It is advisable to calculate ones Zakah (annual alms) and give it during this blessed month.
The Month of Du’a
Allah the Lord responds to the du’a (supplication) of a believer regardless of the time it is made. However, in Ramadan, Allah assures thebeliever that the du’a of a fasting person will be answered. Abu Hurayrah (ra) narrated that the Messenger of Allah said: ‘Three supplications are answered, the supplication of the fasting person, the supplication of the one who is oppressed and the supplication of the traveller.’[Ibn Majah]
One should supplicate at the time of Iftar. It is narrated by Abdullah Ibn Amru that the person fasting has a du’a at the time of Iftar which will not be rejected. [Ibn Majah]
Month of Repentence
In Ramadan, the servants return to their Lord because of two reason: the grace of Allah in forgiving his servants in this glorious month and secondly due to satan being chained when Ramadan approaches. Hence Ramadan is the ideal opportunity to repent to Allah and shun the path of desire, disobedience, evil and falsehood. If one does not repent in this month,when then will one repent and seek Allah’s forgiveness?
Al-Qastalani lists as one of the benefits of fasting, ‘The gentleness of the heart and much weeping; and this is one of the causes of happiness. Safeguarding the limbs from persisting in wrongdoing; this is one of the greatest benefits of fasting. In fact it lies at the foundation of fulfilling the purpose. If one’s soul is touched with the pain of hunger it becomes submissive and obedient and distracted with this circumstance from extending its aspirations towards vile thoughts, thus its limbs will cease from committing improper movements and will stop short of violating what is sacred. The limbs are seven: the eye, ear, tongue, stomach, private parts, hands and feet. The soul supports these limbs and is considered the root. If the root weakens the branches weaken likewise and this is the secret to fasting.’
[The above is an extract from (S.M) Hasan Al-Banna's book 'A Short Treatise on Fasting & Ramadan', providing an outline to all the major aspects of this sacred month.]