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Fasting in Islam

Bismillah hir Rahman nir Rahim, [In the Name of Allah,The Most Gracious,The Most Merciful]

Before we begin on this topic, let us realize that the true purpose of prescribing Fasting for humans is known to Allah(subhanawt'ala/ swt/ Glory be to Him), for He is the All – Knowing, the Exalted in Knowledge.

We shall only try to reflect upon the verses of the Qur'an and the sayings of the Messenger(pbuh=peace be upon him) and hope & pray to Allah(swt) for guidance.

Fasting or Saum in Arabic - صَامَ, has various other shades of meanings in Arabic as in – to Abstain, Restraint, Shield, Proof against harm.

Saum or Fasting is a special form of Worship or Ibadah in Islam and one of the “Pillars of Islam”. As worship in Islam is not limited to a few external rites of faith, but to living our entire Lives as in the immediate Presence of our Creator, seeking His Good Pleasure by submitting our will to that of the Divine Will, the All Knowing and All Wise Will of God. Islam or “Submission (to God's Will)”, is a practical “Way of Life” which helps us to realize this goal in ways pleasing to God.

Fasting is one of the forms of achieving the same goal. In Islam, it can be either the compulsory Fasting of Ramadhan(of thirty days) or the compensatory and supererogatory fasting done at various times and durations.

And the fasting in Ramadhan is an exemplary way of achieving Submission to God. As Allah(swt) tells us in the Qur'an...

Surah Al Baqarah, Chapter 2:

183.O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint,

184.(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

185.Ramadhan 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. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put 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.

Yusuf Ali's Notes on this verse...

C192. Judgment (between right and wrong): Furqan - the criterion or standard by which we judge between right and wrong. See ii. 53 n.

C193. The regulations are again and again coupled with an insistence on two things:

(a) the facilities and concessions given, and

(b) the spiritual significance of the fast, without which it is like an empty shell without a kernel.

If we realise this, we shall look upon Ramadhan, not as a burden, but as a blessing, and shall be duly grateful for the lead given to us in this matter.

As told, fasting is not a new concept but one which has been present in many a cultures since a long time. In Islam, though the details with respect to certain rites do vary from the earlier people, its basic intent is the same – as a form of worship or Ibadah to God . Moreover, it marks the beginning of Quranic Revelation, which serves as a guiding Light to all of humanity.

Fasting in Islam is more of a journey of becoming more Pious and Humble. It is a part of the entire system of Ibadah in Islam which is constructed in such a way so as to be in tune with the Nature of Man or Fitrah- both Spiritual and Material.

The guiding principles behind it being the need for us to become more Conscious of God and in His service learning Self-Restraint in order to seek His Good-Pleasure. It also reminds us of the tasking lives of those who are poor and bereft of even the most basic needs of food and water. In this way, it makes us more attuned to giving away of alms and to think about ways of helping those who are materially lesser blessed than us.

The Self-Restraint that we learn is only part of the restraint that all Muslims are bound to follow every day and every moment of our lives. Ramadhan helps us to keep ourselves Pure and to continue to Strive to achieve greater Spirituality and a greater Sense of regard for our fellow humans. As this hadith tells us...

Narrated Abu Huraira:

Allah's Apostle said, "Fasting is a shield (or a screen or a shelter). So, the person observing fasting should avoid sexual relation with his wife and should not behave foolishly and impudently, and if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should tell him twice, 'I am fasting."

The Prophet added, "By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk.

(Allah says about the fasting person),

'He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times."

{Bukhari :: Book 3 :: Volume 31 :: Hadith 118 }

A similar hadith, with a slightly different wording ...

Abu Hurairah narrated that Muhammad (saw) reported that Allah (swt) said in a Hadith Al-Qudsi:

"All the actions of the son of Adam are for him except fasting. It is for Me, and I will reward him for it. Fasting is a shield.

....Then Muhammad (saw) said, “....The one who fasts experiences enjoyment twice:

he is pleased when he breaks his fast, and he is pleased when he meets his Maker"

{Muslim :: Book 6 : Hadith 2566 }

As can be seen, fasting helps to act as a “Shield” against many sins. One must understand, that all Muslims are bound to protect themselves from such evils always, but Fasting in this special month helps us to improve our Righteousness, makes us more in tune with Good deeds. This special month acts as a “training” session to help us develop good habits and to remove evil ones. It is, so to speak, a charging up of our morality, to always stay “sharp” in the Service of our Creator and to overcome our shortcomings in the same. And it must be remembered that the ultimate purpose here, as in all forms of Ibadah in Islam, is to seek the Good Pleasure of Allah(swt).

In fact, fasting without sincere devotion, and without striving for removing such evils from within us, is condemned...

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said, "Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)"

{Bukhari :: Book 3 :: Volume 31 :: Hadith 127 }

It must also be stressed that Righteous behaviour in all matters of our lives is indeed a very important facet of our soul which Allah(swt) has asked to strive to continuously improve. This Holy Month is one of the means which enable us to become better in our daily behaviour, attitude of compassion and kindliness, justice and mercy towards all our fellow humans. This pattern of exercise also helps one to achieve regularity and punctuality in our lives. It makes us more prone to do good, and to avoid evil. It builds up our confidence not just in our physical abilities, but also in our resolve to be able to serve our Creator in a better manner.

Allah(swt) is the Most Merciful, and in this Holy month, those who strive to gain pardon in the sight of Allah(swt) with sincere devotion are promised a great reward...

Narrated Abu Huraira:

The Prophet said, "Whoever established prayers on the night of Qadr out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven; and whoever fasts in the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping for a reward from Allah, then all his previous sins will be forgiven."

{Bukhari :: Book 3 :: Volume 31 :: Hadith 125 }

... Once again, we must remember that all Muslims are too seek forgiveness from Allah(swt) for our shortcomings at all times, but doing so earnestly in this holy month is special.

Fasting is also compulsory in certain cases where it must be carried out as a compensation for some inability to perform the prescribed directive in Islam.

Surah Al Baqarah , Chapter 2:verse-

196. And complete the Hajj or 'umra in the service of Allah. But if ye are prevented (From completing it), send an offering for sacrifice, such as ye may find, and do not shave your heads until the offering reaches the place of sacrifice. And if any of you is ill, or has an ailment in his scalp, (Necessitating shaving), (He should) in compensation either fast, or feed the poor, or offer sacrifice; and when ye are in peaceful conditions (again), if any one wishes to continue the 'umra on to the hajj, He must make an offering, such as he can afford, but if he cannot afford it, He should fast three days during the hajj and seven days on his return, making ten days in all. This is for those whose household is not in (the precincts of) the Sacred Mosque. And fear Allah, and know that Allah Is strict in punishment.

Islam allows for the compensation in order to uphold the Spiritual lessons first along with the material task, rather than just prescribing rites without meaning.

It also becomes an obligation when we must expiate for some of the sins which we may commit, as in…

Surah Al Maidah , Chapter 5:verse-

89. Allah will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths ye have sworn. But keep to your oaths. Thus doth Allah make clear to you His signs, that ye may be grateful.

Yusuf Ali's Commentary

Vows of penance or abstention may sometimes be futile, or even stand in the way of really good or virtuous act. See ii. 224-226, and notes. The general principles established are: (1) take no futile oaths; (2) use not Allah's name, literally or in intention, to fetter yourself against doing a lawful or good act: (3) keep to your solemn oaths to the utmost of your ability; (4) where you are unable to do so, expiate your failure by feeding or clothing the poor, or obtaining some one's freedom, or if you have not the means, by fasting. This is from a spiritual aspect.

Coming to the Supererogatory Fasting, it is one of the ways of seeking the Good Pleasure of Allah(swt), as has already been mentioned with regards the virtue of fasting. We are however reminded of being moderate in our deeds such that our zeal does not become our own undoing.

Surah Al Maidah , Chapter 5:verse-87.

O ye who believe! make not unlawful the good things which Allah hath made lawful for you, but commit no excess: for Allah loveth not those given to excess.

As Moderation is always desired in Islam, this hadith narration brings out the importance of the same with regards voluntary fasting...

Narrated 'Abdullah bin 'Amr:

Allah's Apostle entered upon me and said, "Have I not been informed that you offer prayer all the night and fast the whole day?" I said, "Yes." He said, "Do not do so;

Offer prayer at night and also sleep; fast for a few days and give up fasting for a few days because

your body has a right on you, and

your eye has a right on you, and

your guest has a right on you, and

your wife has a right on you.

I hope that you will have a long life, and it is sufficient for you to fast for three days a month as the reward of a good deed, is multiplied ten times, that means, as if you fasted the whole year." I insisted (on fasting more) so I was given a hard instruction. I said, "I can do more than that (fasting)" The Prophet said, "Fast three days every week." But as I insisted (on fasting more) so I was burdened. I said, "I can fast more than that." The Prophet said, "Fast as Allah's prophet David used to fast." I said, "How was the fasting of the prophet David?"

The Prophet said, "One half of a year (i.e. he used to fast on alternate days). '

{Bukhari :: Book 8 :: Volume 73 :: Hadith 155 }

We must make use of this blessing of Fasting to purify our thoughts and deeds, and to build in us a desire to help all those who are around us as well. For a constant good behaviour and righteous conduct is itself a great deed....

`Aishah reported: I heard Messenger of Allah (saw) saying:

"A believer will attain by his good behaviour the rank of one who prays during the night and observes fasting during the day.''
[Abu Dawud].{ 629. `Riyadh us Saleheen}

... also see.

Abu Hurairah (May Allah be pleased with him) reported: The Prophet (PBUH) said, "One who strives to help the widows and the poor is like the one who fights in the way of Allah.'' The narrator said: I think that he (PBUH) added also: "I shall regard him as the one who stands up (for prayer) without rest and as the one who observes fasts continuously".
[Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. {
265. `Riyadh us Saleheen}

Such must be our Spirit behind Fasting. We must always, be it in times of fasting or otherwise, seek to achieve a higher level of spiritual understanding and to hone our physical abilities to serve Allah(swt) better. Inshallah, may we have Success – as in Allah's(swt) Sight - both in this Life and in the Life to come.



-All Qur'anic verses are from Translation & Commentary of Yusuf Ali.
-Hadith e-book &
QuranTrans Software.

-`Riyadh us Saleheen

-Articles from fellow Muslims.

Thw al-Hijjah 1429 A.H / December 2008, CE.

This work has been completed by the Grace of Allah(Glory be to Him) & I pray that He accepts this work. And may He forgive any mistakes that may have occurred.

- Servant of Allah.