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Fasting during the month of Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam which is of paramount significance. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said, “Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, performing Prayer, paying the Zakah, making the pilgrimage to the Sacred House (Hajj), and fasting the month of Ramadan.” (Reported by Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

Elaborating on the meaning, the significance, and the specific rules of fasting, Dr. Muzammil H. Siddiqi, former President of the Islamic Society of North America, states the following:

1. What is Fasting?

Fasting is called sawm in the Qur'an. The word sawm literally means "to abstain". In Surat Maryam, Allah tells us about Mary the mother of Jesus that she said, "I have vowed a fast (sawm) for the sake of the Merciful, so today I shall not speak to anyone." (Maryam: 26) The meaning is “I have vowed to abstain from speaking to anyone today”. According to Shari'ah, the word (sawm means to abstain from all those things that are forbidden during fasting from the break of dawn to the sunset, and to do this with the intention of fasting.

2. Purpose of Fasting

The Qur'an says: "O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those who were before you, in order that you may learn taqwa." (al-Baqarah: 183)

Taqwa is a very important spiritual and ethical term of the Qur'an. It is the sum total of all Islamic spirituality and ethics. It is a quality in a believer's life that keeps him/her aware of Allah all the time. A person who has taqwa loves to do good and to avoid evil for the sake of Allah. Taqwa is piety, righteousness and consciousness of Allah. Taqwa requires patience and perseverance. Fasting teaches patience, and with patience one can rise to the high position of taqwa.

The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said that fasting is a shield. It protects a person from sin and lustful desires. When the disciples of Jesus asked him how to cast the evil spirits away, he is reported to have said, "But this kind never comes out except by prayer and fasting.” (Matthew 17:21). According Imam al-Ghazali (d. 1111 C.E.), fasting produces a semblance of divine quality of samadiyyah (freedom from want) in a human being. Imam Ibn al-Qayyim (d. 1350 C.E.), viewed fasting as a means of releasing the human spirit from the clutches of desire, thus allowing moderation to prevail in the carnal self. Imam Shah Waliullah Dahlawi (d. 1762 C.E.) viewed fasting as a means of weakening the bestial and reinforcing the angelic elements in human beings. Maulana Mawdudi (d. 1979 C.E.) emphasized that fasting for a full month every year trains a person individually and the Muslim community as a whole, in piety and self restraint.

3. Fasting is obligatory

In the second year of Hijrah, Muslims were commanded to fast in the month of Ramadan every year. The Qur'an says, "O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those who were before you, in order that you may learn taqwa(piety)." (al-Baqarah: 183) Further Allah says, "The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Qur'an, wherein is guidance for mankind and the clear signs of guidance and distinction. Thus whosoever among you witness the month must fast...." (al-Baqarah: 184)

The Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) explained this further in a number of his statements reported in the books of Hadith. It is reported by Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim on the authority of Ibn 'Umar that the Messenger of Allah said, “Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no god except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, performing Prayer, paying the Zakah, making the pilgrimage to the Sacred House (Hajj), and fasting the month of Ramadan.”

The Muslim Ummah is unanimous that fasting in the month of Ramadan is obligatory upon every person who is capable (mukallaf).

4. Rules about Fasting:

A) Who must fast?

Fasting in the month of Ramadan is obligatory upon every Muslim, male or female, who is adult (i.e. has reached puberty) and sane and who is not sick or on a journey.

Sickness could be a temporary sickness from which a person expects to be cured soon. Such a person is allowed not to fast during the days of his/her sickness, but he/she must fast later after Ramadan to complete the missed days. Those who are sick with incurable illness and expect no better health, such people are also allowed not to fast but they must pay the fidyah, which is giving a day's meals for each fast missed to a needy person. One can also give instead the money for meals to a needy person. Women in their menses and post-natal bleeding are not allowed to fast, but they must make up later after Ramadan. Pregnant women and mothers who are nursing babies, if they find it difficult to fast they can also postpone their fasting to a later time when they are in a better condition.

Journey according to the Shari'ah is any journey that takes you away from your city of residence, a minimum of 48 miles or 80 kilometers. It is the same journey that allows you to shorten (qasr) your prayers. The journey must be for a good cause. It is a sin to travel in Ramadan in order to avoid fasting. A Muslim should try to change his/ her plans during Ramadan to be able to fast and should not travel unless it is necessary. The traveler who misses the fasts of Ramadan must make up those missed days later after Ramadan as soon as possible.

B) Fasting according to the Sunnah:

1) Take sahur (pre-dawn meal). It is Sunnah and there is a great reward and blessing in taking sahur. The best time for sahur is the last half hour before dawn or the time for Fajr prayer.

2) Take iftar (break-fast) immediately after sunset. Shari'ah considers sunset when the disk of the sun goes below the horizon and disappears completely.

3) During fast abstain from all false talks and deeds. Do not quarrel, have disputes, indulge in arguments, use bad words, or do anything that is forbidden. One should try to discipline oneself morally and ethically, beside gaining a physical training and discipline. One should also not make a show of one's fasting by talking too much about it, or by showing dry lips and hungry stomach, or showing bad temper. The fasting person must be a pleasant person with good spirit and good cheer.

4) During fast one should do acts of charity and goodness to others and should increase his/her worship and reading of the Qur'an. Every Muslim should try to read the whole Qur'an at least once during the month of Ramadan.

C) Things that invalidate the fast:

One must avoid doing anything that may render one's fast invalid. Things that invalidate the fast and require qada' (making up for these days) are the following:

1) Eating, drinking or smoking deliberately, including taking any non-nourishing items by mouth, nose or anus.

2) Deliberately causing oneself to vomit.

3) The beginning of menstrual or post-childbirth bleeding even in the last moment before sunset.

4) Ejaculation out of sexual excitement from kissing, hugging, etc.

5) Eating, drinking, smoking or having sexual intercourse after Fajr (dawn) on mistaken assumption that it is not Fajr time yet. Similarly, engaging in these acts before sunset on the mistaken assumption that it is already sunset time.

Sexual intercourse during fasting is forbidden and is a great sin. Those who engage in it must make both qada' (make up the fasts) and kaffarah (expiation by fasting for 60 days after Ramadan or to feed 60 poor people for each day of fast broken in this way). According to Imam Abu Hanifah, eating and/or drinking deliberately during fast also entail the same qada' and kaffarah.

D) Things that do not invalidate fasting:

During fast, the following things are permissible:

1) Taking a bath or shower. If water is swallowed involuntarily it will not invalidate the fast. According to most of the jurists swimming is also allowed in fasting, but one should avoid diving, because that will cause the water to go from mouth or nose in the stomach.

2) Using perfumes, wearing contact lenses or using eye drops.

3) Taking injections or having blood test.

4) Using miswak (tooth-stick) or toothbrush (even with tooth paste) and rinsing the mouth or nostrils with water provided it is not overdone (so as to avoid swallowing water).

5) Eating, drinking or smoking unintentionally, i.e. one forgot that one was fasting. But one must stop as soon as one remembers and should continue one's fast.

6) If one sleeps during the daytime and has a wet-dream, it does not break one's fast. Also, if one has intercourse during the night and was not able to make ghusl (bathe) before dawn, he/she can begin fast and make ghusl later. Women whose menstruation stops during the night may begin fast even if they have not made ghusl yet. In all these cases, bathing (ghusl) is necessary but fast is valid even without bathing.

7) Kissing between husband and wife is allowed in fast, but one should try to avoid it so that one may not do anything further that is forbidden during fast.

E) Requirements for the validity of fasting:

There are basically two main components of fasting:

1) The intention (niyyah) for fasting. One should make a sincere intention to fast for the sake of Allah every day before dawn. The intention need not be in words, but must be with the sincerity of the heart and mind. Some jurists are of the opinion that the intention can be made once only for the whole month and does not have to be repeated every day. It is, however, better to make intention every day to take full benefit of fasting.

2) Abstaining from dawn to dusk from everything that invalidates fasting. This point has been explained in detail in the preceding sections."

Allah Almighty knows best.

Dr. Muzammil Siddiqi  www.islamonline.net



Ramadh‚n in History
By Abdull‚h Hakim Quick

All praises to All‚h, Lord of the worlds.  He who revealed in His Glorious Qur'‚n, "O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those who came before you that you may keep your duty to your Lord (having taqwa)," (2:185).  And may blessings and peace of All‚h be upon His last Messenger Muhammad ibn Abdullah, forever.

O you who believe, Ramadh‚n is a sacred month wherein Almighty All‚h is constantly testing His creation and giving humanity the opportunity to achieve infinite, endless Bliss.  Fasting is a complete purification and a means to developing the consciousness of All‚h's presence.  The consciousness of All‚h (Taqwa) is a protection against the schemes of Shaitan, and the suffering of this world.  All‚h has informed us that, "Whoever keeps his duty to All‚h (has taqwa), He ordains a way out for him and gives him sustenance from where he imagines not.  And whoever trusts in All‚h, He is sufficient for him.  Surely All‚h attains His purpose.  All‚h has appointed a measure for everything." (65:2)

Many Muslims today have a misconception about fasting and the activities of a fasting person.  They go into a state of semi-hibernation, spending most of their daylight hours in bad.  If they fear All‚h, they wake up for prayer, but then return to sleep immediately.  This unnatural sleep makes them become lazy, dull-witted and often cranky.

Ramadh‚n is actually a time of increased activity wherein the believer, now lightened of the burdens of constant eating and drinking, should be more willing to strive and struggle for All‚h.  The Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, passed through approximately nine Ramadh‚ns after the Hijrah.  They were filled with decisive events and left us a shining example of sacrifice and submission to All‚h.

In the first year after the Hijrah, the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, sent Hamza ibn Abdul Muttalib with thirty Muslim riders to Saif al Bahr to investigate three hundred riders from Quraish who had camped suspiciously in that area.  The Muslims were about to engage the disbelievers, but they were separated by Majdy ibn Umar al-Juhany.  The Hypocrites of Madinah, hoping to oppose the unity of the Muslims, built their own masjid (called Masjid ad-Dirar).  The Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, ordered this masjid to be destroyed in Ramadh‚n.

On the seventeenth of Ramadh‚n, 3 A.H., Almighty All‚h separated truth from falsehood at the Great Battle of Badr.  The Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, and 313 of his companions set out to intercept a caravan of their own goods that had been left in Makkah.  It was led by Abu Sufyan himself, and estimated at 50,000 dinars.  They were met, instead, by a well-equipped army of the nobility of Quraish, intend on putting out the light of Islam.  Despite being outnumbered three to one and appearing weak and unseasoned, the Muslims defended their faith with a burning desire to protect the Prophet and meet their Lord through martyrdom. All‚h gave them a decisive victory on this day of Ramadh‚n, that would never be forgotten.

In 6 A.H., Zaid ibn Haritha was sent to Wadi al-Qura at the head of a detachment to confront Fatimah bint Rabiah, the queen of that area.  Fatimah had previously attacked a caravan led by Zaid and had succeeded in plundering its wealth.  She was known to be the most protected woman in Arabia, as she hung fifty swords of her close relatives in her home.  Fatimah was equally renowned for showing open hostility to Islam.  She was killed in a battle against these Muslims in the month of Ramadh‚n.

By Ramadh‚n of 8 A.H., the treaty of Hudaibiyya had been broken and the Muslim armies had engaged the Byzantines in the North.  Muhammad, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, felt the need to strike a fatal blow to disbelief in the Arabian Peninsula and conquer the city of Mecca.  All‚h has declared His Sanctuary a place of peace, security and religious sanctity.  Now the time had come to purify the Ka`bah of nakedness and abomination.  The Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam set out with an army having more armed men than al-Madinah had ever seen before.  People were swelling the army's ranks as it moved toward Makkah.  The determination of the believers, guided by the Will of All‚h, became so awesome that the city of Makkah was conquered without a battle, on 20 Ramadh‚n.  This was one of the most important dates in Islamic history for after it, Islam was firmly entrenched in the Arabian Peninsula.  During the same month and year, after smashing the idols of Makkah, detachments were sent to the other major centers of polytheism and al-Lat, Manat and Suwa, some of the greatest idols of Arabia, were destroyed.

Such was the month of Ramadh‚n in the time of the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam.  It was a time of purification, enjoining the good, forbidding the evil, and striving hard with one's life and wealth.  After the death of the Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, Muslims carried on this tradition and All‚h used the true believers to affect the course of history.  Ramadh‚n continued to be a time of great trials and crucial events.

Ninety-two years after the Hijrah, Islam had spread across North Africa, Iran, Afghanistan, Yemen and Syria.  Spain was under the tyrannical rule of King Roderic of the Visigoths.  Roderic had forced his six millions serfs and persecuted Jews to seek the aid of the Muslims of North Africa in order to be delivered.  Musa ibn Husair, the Umayyad governor of North Africa, responded by sending his courageous general Tariq ibn Ziyad at the head of 12,000 Berber and Arab troops.  In Ramadh‚n of that year, they were confronted with a combined Visigoth army of 90,000 Christians led by Roderic himself, who was seated on a throne of ivory, silver, and precious gems and drawn by white mules.  After burning his boats, Tariq preached to the Muslims warning them that victory and Paradise lay ahead of them and defeat and the sea lay to the rear.  They burst forth with great enthusiasm and All‚h manifested a clear victory over the forces of disbelief.  Not only was Roderic killed and his forces completely annihilated, but also Tariq and Musa succeeded in liberating the whole of Spain, Sicily and parts of France.  This was the beginning of the Golden Age of Al-Andalus where Muslims ruled for over 700 years.

In the year 582 A.H., Salahuddin Al-Ayyubi, after battling with the Crusaders for years, finally drove them out of Syria and the whole of their occupied lands in the month of Ramadh‚n.  The Muslim world was then destined to meet one of its most frightening challenges.

In the seventh century A.H. the Mongols were sweeping across Asia destroying everything that lay in their path.  Genghis Khan called himself "the scourge of God sent to punish humanity for their sins".  In 617 A.H., Samarkand, Ray and Hamdan were put to the sword causing more than 700,000 people to be killed or made captive.  In 656 A.H., Hulagu, the grandson of Genghis Khan, continued this destruction.  Even Baghdad, the leading city of the Muslim world, was sacked.  Some estimates say that as many as 1,800,000 Muslims were killed in this awesome carnage.  The Christians were asked to eat pork and drink wine openly while the surviving Muslims were forced to participate in drinking bouts.  Wine was sprinkled in the masjids and no Azan (call to prayer) was allowed.  In the wake of such a horrible disaster and with the threat of the whole Muslim world and then Europe being subjected to the same fate, All‚h raised up from the Mamluks of Egypt, Saifuddin Qutz, who united the Muslim army and met the Mongols at Ain Jalut on 25th of Ramadh‚n, 458 A.H.  Although they were under great pressure, the Muslims with the help of All‚h, cunning strategy and unflinching bravery crushed the Mongol army and reversed this tidal wave of horror.  The whole of the civilized world sighed in relief and stood in awe at the remarkable achievement of these noble sons of Islam.

This was the spirit of Ramadh‚n that enabled our righteous forefathers to face seemingly impossible challenges.  It was a time of intense activity, spending the day in the saddle and the night in prayer while calling upon All‚h for His mercy and forgiveness.

Today, the Muslim world is faced with drought, military aggression, widespread corruption and tempting materialism.  Surely we are in need or believers who can walk in the footsteps of our beloved Prophet, sallallaahu 'alayhi wa sallam, the illustrious Sahabah, Tariq ibn Ziyad, Qutuz, Salahuddin and the countless heroes of Islam.  Surely we are in need of believers who are unafraid of the threats of the disbelievers, yet kind and humble to the believing people; Muslims whose fast is complete and not just a source of hunger and thirst.

May All‚h raise up a generation of Muslims who can carry Islam to all corners of the globe in a manner that befits our age, and may He give us the strength and the success to lay the proper foundations for them.  May All‚h make us of those who carry out our Islam during Ramadh‚n and after it, and may He not make us of those who say what they do not do.  Surely All‚h and His Angels invoke blessings and peace upon our Prophet Muhammad.  O you who believe, send blessings and peace to him forever.