In Arabic, fasting means abstinence from doing something. According to religious scholars, it is an abstinence from food, drink, and sexual intercourse, carried out from dawn till sunset, or the purpose of gaining God's Content. The principles of fasting are set in the Quran as follows:
"O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint.
(Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (should be made up) from days later. For those who can do it, (with hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will--it is better for him. And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew.
Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down The Qur'an as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting, but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) by days later. God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful." (Qur'an 2:183-185)
In "O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you," God explains that fasting is not new among the Holy Laws; it was ordained to previous peoples as well. This doubtlessly soothes the heart, facilitates the acceptance of fasting, and sweeps away the feeling of vexation, because Muslims are not the only people requested to fast.
After this, God adds "that ye may (learn) self-restraint," and this is the purpose of fasting. People are commanded to adopt fasting as a means to protect themselves against wicked and evil motives. Fasting safeguards the person as an individual, and the society as a whole. It protects the person from turning into a beast living according to the Law of the Jungle; it also protects society by preparing the devout individual to work for the general welfare, thus living as a human being with other human beings, not as a wild beast with other human beings. To this effect, the Prophet (pbuh) confirms, "Fasting is a shelter. When one of you is fasting, let him not behave in an obscene or foolish manner. If someone intends to fight against him or scold him, let him just say: I am fasting! I am fasting!"
Fasting is a shelter in the sense that the faster knows his fasting is carried out in order to avoid the evil of his "animal" nature. When he proclaims, "I am fasting!" he is fully aware that he says it under the effect of his human, not animal, nature. When he safeguards himself against the evils of his animal nature, and his society against his own evil, he gains God's Content, and thus takes his stand among the righteous.
Fasting above all is an act of obedience and submission to the Almighty. This submission and commitment is based upon the love of the Almighty and the earnest effort to gain His pleasure and to avoid His displeasure.
Hazrat Abu Hurairah (R.A.A.) says that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: The Almighty and Master of Honor says: All other actions of a person are for himself, except the case of his fasting which is exclusively for Me and I shall pay (recompense) for him for the same. The fast is a shield (against vice and the fire of Hell). Therefore when anyone of you is fasting he should abstain from loose talk and avoid verbosity and noisy exchange of words. If somebody starts abusing him or picks up a quarrel with him, he should tell him that 'I am observing a fast.' By the Almighty in whose hands is the life of Muhammad (S.A.W.), the breath of the mouth of one-who is fasting is more pleasant in the sight of The Almighty than the fragrance of musk. A fasting person gets two kinds of pleasure: firstly he feels pleasure when he breaks his fast, and secondly he will be joyful by virtue of his fast, when he meets his Lord. (Bukhari and Muslim)
Another version of Bukhari adds: The Almighty says: The fasting person abstains from food, drink and from satisfying his passion simply for My sake; as such a fast is undertaken for My sake, I shall grant him the recompense for this. Other virtuous deeds (done in the month of Ramadan) are rewarded ten times.
Imam Muslim's version says: A man's good acts are recompensed many times, from ten times to seven hundred times. God The exalted says: But a fast is an exception because it is undertaken simply for My sake, (i.e. there is no limit for its recompenses.) I Alone shall bestow the reward for it. (The person who observes a fast), gives up his food, drink and sensual desires for my sake. For a fasting person there are two pleasures -firstly a joy when he breaks his fast and secondly another joy when he meets his Lord. His breath is more pleasant in the sight of God than the fragrance of musk.
"That ye may," here, bears the sense of preparation and readiness. The way fasting prepares the spirits of fasters for the devotion of God, is manifested in many aspects. As a personal affair, fasting is left to the conviction of the faster himself, with none assuming the role of guardian over him except God. When the faster obeys God's Commandments by rejecting the appeals of his desires that come to his mind during fasting, or when he trains himself to be patient every time he is tempted by delights and desires, out of feeling that God watches him and knows all the secrets of his heart-- when he keeps on this for a full month (Ramadan), out of his continuous heed accompanying his activities he certainly will attain the gift of God's Watch over him, as well as his own fear of The Almighty. He will try to avoid the shameful situation of God's finding him where he is prohibited to be. God's Watch over him enables him to carry out all deeds of goodness, and keeps him away from evil. He then would not cheat, ill-treat, or do injustice to others; nor would he spread corruption among people.
However, the mere abstinence from food and drink is not the real meaning of fasting that God enjoined on the righteous. The Holy Prophet (pbuh) declares: "God does not accept the fasting of those who do not restrain themselves from telling falsehood or from doing false deeds." The basic truth of fasting in Islam springs from God's Watch over the faster, as well as the latter's carrying out of his fast for the cause of none but God. To this effect, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) explains: "God will forgive all the sins of those who fast during Ramadan out of true belief and in anticipation of God's Reward in the Hereafter."
In the same way, fasting prepares the spirits of falters for the devotion of God, in the sense that fasting moderates the violence of their instinctive desires, the source of all sins. Along this vein, the Holy Prophet (pbuh) declares: "O ye young people! Those of you who can afford marriage, let them marry, for it confines eyes to modesty and protects the wombs (of women) from evil intentions. Those of you who cannot do this, let them fast because fasting breaks off their lusts."
Fasting also promotes the Islamic form of sociability. Muslims are urged to invite others to break the fast with them at sunset, to gather for the Qur'anic study, prayer and visitations. This provides spiritual atmosphere - a better chance for socialization in a brotherly and spiritual atmosphere.
Hazrat Zaid bin Khalid al-Juhani (R.A.A.) related that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: Anybody who offers meal for the breaking of the fast of another person earns the same merit as the one who was observing the fast without diminishing in any way the recompense of the fasting person. (Tirmizi and said this is sound and good).
Hazrat Umm Ammarah Al Ansaria (R.A.A.) relates that once the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) visited her when she placed some food before him. He (S.A.W.) asked her to eat also. Thereupon she said" I am fasting today. This He (S.A.W.) remarked when non fasting persons eat before a fasting person the angels call for God's mercies upon him till they have finished or he said, till they have eaten to their satisfaction. (Tirmizi reported this and said it good).
Hazrat Abu Hurairah (R.A.A.) relates that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: When any of you is asked to join in a meal, he should accept the invitation. And if he is fasting, he should pray for the host, and if he is not fasting he should joint the host. (Muslim)
On both the individual and social levels, fasting has many virtues and benefits. Of these we can mention the feeling of sympathy for the poor. After all, man's sense of compassion springs from his feeling of pain, and fasting is a practical means to develop compassion in his spirit. When rich people establish such a feeling for the hungry poor, their inner humane principles attain an effective authority. In this regard, it is reported that Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) was the most generous among people, and he was especially generous during Ramadan.
Moreover, fasting establishes equality among the rich and the poor. In a way, it is a compulsory experience of poverty in that it is meant to make all people share an equality, not diversity, of feeling and to sympathize with one another through a collective sense of pain, not through a discord or diversity of desires.
Among the other virtues of fasting is that it moderates the power of habits. With some people, the dictates of habit have reached the extreme of enslavement. If a meal is served late when they are hungry, they lose their temper. The effects of stimulants like coffee, tea or smoking are even stronger on their addicts than those of food. Such people are slaves to their habits. In fasting there is a sharpening of one's will-power.
Based upon the Qur'an, it has been the consensus of Muslims throughout history that a Muslim who rejects the legitimacy of Siyam rejects Islam as well. The Holy Prophet is reported to have said about the significance of the month of Ramadan:
"A great month, a blessed month, containing a night which is better than a thousand months. The Almighty has appointed the observance of fasting during it as an obligatory duty, and the passing of its nights in prayer as voluntary practice. If someone draws near to The Almighty during it with some good act, he will be like one who fulfills an obligatory duty in another month, and he who fulfills an obligatory duty in it will be like one who fulfills seventy obligatory duties in another month."
A quote from another Hadith states: "The month of Ramadan is the month of endurance and the reward for endurance is paradise. It is a month whose beginning is mercy, whose middle is forgiveness and whose end is freedom from hell."
Some people may happen to be ill during the month of Ramadan, or just may be on a tiring journey. In this case, God's Wisdom necessitates that the severity of fasting be mitigated for these people, and to this effect, God instructs:
"If any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) from days later." (Quran 2: 184)
These people may make up for the days on which they break their fast, outside Ramadan when they can afford it. A traveler is allowed to break his fast when he makes a moderate march of a day and a night, which covers around eighty-six kilometers and a half.
In this regard, Abdullah Yusuf Ali comments by saying: "Illness and journey must not be interpreted in an elastic sense: they must be such as to cause real pain or suffering if the fast were observed. For journey, some Commentators make it precise by naming a distance of 16 farsakhs, equivalent to 48 miles. A journey of eight or nine miles on foot is more tiring than a similar one by hullock cart. There are various degrees of fatigue in riding a given distance on horseback or by camel or in a comfortable train or by car or by steamer, aeroplane, or airship. In my opinion, the standard must depend on the means of transportation and on the relative resources of the traveler. It is better to determine it in each case according to circumstances."
Then we have God's word: "For those who can do it (with hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent." Such ability with hardships means reaching the utmost a person can stand, and Arabs make this statement only when a person is too weak to do something, so that he suffers a lot in doing it. The people meant in this verse are aged people, ill persons, women suckling their babes, women expecting childbirth, or those whose illness is terminal. Such people may break their fast, and, for every day they break their fast, offer food for a poor person enough to feed a middle-aged man; and thus escape damnation.
God then adds, "But he that will give more, of his own free will" - by increasing the prescribed ransom, feeding more than just one poor person for every day he breaks fast, or combining another fast with the prescribed ransom - "it is better for him"; the benefit and good credit of such a deed will be his, after all.
Ramadan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur'an, as a guide to mankind, also clear (Signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). This part of the verse specifies the period of fasting required of Muslims, the days of Ramadan. The wisdom underlying the choice of this month for this kind of worship, is its being the month in which The Qur'an was revealed.
Fasting has also many Psychological benefits. It enhances the feeling of inner peace, contentment, and optimism. These feelings result from the realization of The Almighty's pleasure.
Fasting teaches patience and perseverance and enhances the feeling for moral accomplishment.
Hazrat Abu Hurairah (R.A.A.) related that the Holy Prophet (S.A.W.) said: If a person does not refrain from lying and indecent activities, The Almighty, does not want that he should abstain from eating and drinking. (Bukhari)
Note: The idea behind this tradition is that backbiting, lying and indecent activities while fasting lessen the recompense of the fast and decrease its radiance. Therefore one should shun these things while fasting.
Voluntary deprivation of the lawful appetite leads one to appreciate the bounties of The Almighty which are usually taken for granted (until they are missed!)
For a complete month every year, Muslims go through a different and exciting experience which breaks the normal routine of life. Not only can this be refreshing, it also teaches the person to adapt to varying conditions and circumstances.
Develop special interest for prayers during the month of Ramadan.
Arrange to offer as many Nafls (optional prayers) as possible during the Laila-tul-Qadr, and recite the Holy Qur'an as the importance of this night lies in the fact that it was on this very night that the Divine message descended. The Holy Qur'an in Surah Al-Qadr (The Night of Power) says:
"We have indeed revealed this (Message) In the Night of Power. And what do you know (about the significance and importance) of this night? The Glorious Night is better than a thousand months. On this night the angels and Hadrat Jibrail (Gabriel) descended (embark upon their allotted mission) by the command of their Sustainer. That (Night) is all peace until the dawn." (Qur'an 97:1-5)
The tradition has it that the Holy Prophet (saw) observed I'tikaf (i.e. prayers in seclusion) during Ramadan, and therefore, we should follow the same practice. According to Hadrat Ayesha (ra), "When the last ten days of Ramadan arrived, the Holy Prophet (saw) used to awake as much as possible and offer prayers. He also made arrangements to wake up his wives and prayed with all devotion to The Almighty."
Should be given on behalf of adult, minor, male or female Muslims. It consists of a sa'a (measure of about 2.5. Kgs) of rice, wheat, dates or similar things of food or its equivalence in cash of $3 dollars and 50 cents or $4 dollars. Give it voluntarily and without any hesitation, on Eid-day, or a day or two before to enable the needy and the poor to arrange for their requirements so that they may celebrate and enjoy the Eid festivities along with the others. The Holy Prophet (saw) has highly recommended the Zakat al-Fitr so that it may expiate for the irregularities committed during Ramadan, and may help for the sustenance of the poor and the indigent. (Abu Daud)
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