The Fasting of Ramadan

moon-phases

(Quran 2.285) The month of Ramadan, in which the Quran was brought down, a guidance for the people, and clarification of the guidance and the criterion. Therefore, those of you who witness the month shall fast it. And those who are ill or travelling, then an equal number of other days. God wants ease for you, and He does not want hardship for you, and so that you may complete the count, and to exalt God for guiding you, and that you may be thankful.

The fourth “pillar” or foundation of Islam is the fasting of the month of Ramadan. As with all other aspects of the religion, all the details related to Fasting are found in the Quran.

1- What are the hours decreed for fasting?

The Quran outlines the fasting hours in the following verse:

(Quran 2.187) You may eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinguishable to you from the dark thread at dawn. Then you shall maintain the fast until the night.

From these words, abstaining from food and drink should start at the first thread of light at dawn (between an hour and 2 hours before sunrise, depending on the time of year), and maintained till night.

FIRST

Some have disputed regarding the exact time as to when “night” actually starts? Does it start at sunset? or does the night start when all light has dissappeared from the sky?

As usual, and in accordance with God’s promise (18.89), the Quran offers explanations to all matters that concern our religion.

As we shall see, the definition of “layl” (night) in the Quran is from sunset to sunrise, hence the time after sunset and when there is still light in the sky is part of the night. Also the definition of “nahar” (day) is from sunrise to sunset.

This is made clear in the following verse:

(Quran 39.5) He created the heavens and the earth truthfully. He rolls the night over the day, and rolls the day over the night. He ordained the sun and the moon, each running for an appointed time. Absolutely, He is the Dignified, the Forgiving.

From this glorious verse we are told that the night and day are rolled into one another. This statement has very important significance on the definition of night and day (Layl and Nahar). This ayat tells us that part of the night (when the day is rolled into it) is actually lit (just after sunset) and that part of the day is still dark (just after sunrise). Consequently to say that night only starts when it is totally dark is not in agreement with Quranic truth.

The relevance of this with regards to the hours of fasting, and since the night starts at sunset, is that we should break our fasting at sunset.

SECOND

The issue of “when does the night start?” is not the only point of dispute here. Some have argued that we should break fasting when it is totally dark and not when the night starts (sunset). However once again, this is not in agreement with the Quranic input.

To demonstrate the correct meaning, consider the following sentence:

A father tells his son : “Drive on the left side of the road while you are in the UK but when you get to France drive on the right.”

What does this mean? does it mean that the son should start driving on the right AS SOON as he gets to France? or, when he has been in France for a while?

Obviously it means as soon as, it does NOT mean “after a while”.

It is also like saying , “I started swimming when I got to the sea”. This does not mean that I walked on the water for while then started swimming later inside the sea! It means I started swimming as soon as I got to the sea.

Similarly, when God says “maintain the fast until the night” then God means to the beginning of night and not a quarter or half way through.

If God wanted to say break your fasting when it is totally dark he would have said just that, God is never short of words.

For more details please check the following page: When does the night begin?

2- When was Fasting first decreed and to whom?

According to the Quran, fasting is very old and was decreed to the people of Israel long before the Quran was revealed:

(Quran 2.183) O you who believe, fasting is decreed upon you, as it was decreed upon those before you, so that you may be reverent.

3- What is the meaning of “Siyaam” in the Quran?

The word “Siyaam” is used in the Quran to mean abstention. Abstention could be from a number things. For example, the word “Sawm” as used in 19.26 is used to indicate an abstention from talking:

(Quran 19.26) So eat and drink, and be happy then if you see any human say: “I have vowed a Saym (fast) for the Almighty and so I will not speak today to any person.”

The word “somm” which is another derivative of the word, and as used in 2.18, means inability to hear:

(Quran 2.18) Somm (deaf), dumb, and blind; thus they will not revert.

Then we have the word “Siyaam” as used in 2.187, which refers to the abstention from eating and drinking:

(Quran 2.187) “… you may eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinguishable to you from the dark thread at dawn. Then you shall maintain the Siyaam (fast) until the night.”

(Quran 2.183) O you who believe, Siyaam (fasting) is decreed upon you, as it was decreed upon those before you, so that you may be reverent.

During the fasting hours (explained in 2.187), all sexual contact between married couples is also prohibited:

(Quran 2.187) ” …. you may eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinguishable to you from the dark thread at dawn. Then you shall maintain the fast until the night, and do not approach them while you are confined to the masjid. These are God’s limitations so do not go near them. God thus clarifies His revelations for the people, so that they may be reverent.”

Prior to the revelation of the Quran, sexual intercourse was prohibited throughout the fasting period. This rule has been alleviated with the revelation of the Quran (2.187) to allow intercourse between married couples during the nights of Ramadan.

4- Who is obliged to observe the fasting and who is reprieved?

Fasting in Ramadan is obligatory on those who can physically withstand it. Sick people and travellers on long or arduous travels are exempted from the fast but must make it up by fasting other days when they are no longer sick or travelling.

(Quran 2.185) “… those who are ill or travelling, then an equal number of other days. God wants ease for you, and He does not want hardship for you.”

5- The importance and benifits of fasting

Fasting and the month of Ramadan are given great importance in the Quran. Ramadan is a Holy month because it is the month during which the Quran was revealed. As a result, this month is meant to be a time for inner reflection, devotion to God, and self-control. In many ways, the month of Ramadan serves as a kind of tune-up for the soul.

The benefits of fasting are numerous. Undoubtedly the greatest of these is the fact that in fasting is a great expression of worshipping God. Moreover, the act of fasting is a great exercise in self-control and the development of will power. The intention is that the lack of preoccupation with the physical satisfactions of the body during the daylight hours of fasting, the human being is able to attain a measure of spiritual ascendancy. This leads to attaining closeness to God. Ramadan is also a time for reflection, reading the Quran, giving charity, purifying one’s behaviour, and doing good deeds. For Muslims, Ramadan is an opportunity to gain by giving up, to prosper by going without and to grow stronger by conquering weakness.

As a secondary goal, and through experiencing hunger, fasting is a means for developing compassion for the poor and less fortunate, and consequently learning to be more charitable and more thankful and appreciative of God’s bounties. Fasting is also beneficial to the health and provides a break in the cycle of rigid habits and over indulgence.

Traditional Muslims (Muslims who follow hadith as a source of law) believe that the last ten nights of Ramadan are of great importance, and they refer to 89.2 for their understanding, yet it must be said that the Quran does not make any distinction between any of the various nights of the month. They also claim that the night on which the Quran was revealed, which is called the Night of Destiny “Laylat Al-Qadr” is a very special night and they have an abundance of Hadith which state that any prayer on that night is answered and so on!

As a result of these claims, many Muslims spend the entire night of the 27th in prayer.
Once again, this concept has no Quranic support. The truth is that God answers prayers to whom He pleases regardless of the time or date of the prayer.

In addition, traditional Muslims claim that the Night of Desting is the 27th of Ramadan. But once again there is no evidence to that in the Quran.
Some have come up with the observation that the word “Hiya” in 97.5, and which refers to the Night of Destiny, is the 27th word in the Sura, but this could be coincidental.

Sura 97: Destiny (Al-Qadr)

(Quran 97.1) We have brought it down in the Night of Destiny.
 
(Quran 97.2) How would you know what the Night of Destiny is!
 
(Quran 97.3) The Night of Destiny is better than a thousand months.
 
(Quran 97.4) The angels and the Spirit descend therein, by their Lord’s leave, to carry out every command.
 
(Quran 97.5) Peaceful it is until the advent of the dawn.

6- When does fasting begin and when does it end?

The month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which is a lunar calendar. A lunar month is between 29 and 30 days, which is the time it takes for the moon to orbit the earth. Because a lunar month is on average one day shorter than a solar month, a lunar year is around 11 days shorter than a solar year. Therefore, the Month of Ramadan comes 11 days earlier every year. This way the month of Ramadan rotates around the seasons and thus provides equal conditions for people living in different parts of the world. In the northern hemisphere, and when Ramadan falls in the summer months, fasting is observed when the days are very warm and long, while as when it falls in the winter fasting takes place when the days are cool and short. This is reversed in the southern hemisphere.

At one stage during the moon’s orbit around the earth, the moon is in conjunction with the sun, with the sun’s light hitting the side of the moon away from the earth. In this position, the moon is said to be a “new moon,” with its dark side turned toward the earth. By definition, a new moon is not visible from the earth as the sun’s light is shining only on the side of the moon not facing the earth.

As the moon continues to orbit around the earth, it starts forming a crescent. This will be minutes after the new moon even though the crescent will not be visible for several hours. The Quran tells us that fasting should start when we witness the month (2.185), and that the crescent is a “timer” for the month (2.189). Thus, fasting should commence on the first dawn after the first crescent. Today we do not need to rely on the naked eye to “witness the month” as today”s astronomical knowledge allows us to determine precisely the beginning of the lunar month.

Key words in 2.185

In 2.185 we note some key words which have an important bearing on the commencement of fasting. These words are: “those of you who witness the month shall fast it”. The question here is: Since fasting is an obligation on all believers, why did God say only “those of you” rather than address all believers? The answer is that the believers will not all see the crescent at the same time. This is due to geographical differences in location. The crescent will be seen by some before others. As a result, believers should start their fasting at different times as well.
The policy of some governments to proclaim the start of fasting in their countries in tune with the Mecca timing, and before they witness the crescent, is thus contrary to the instructions in 2.185. If they do so they would have started fasting when someone else witnessed the crescent and not they!
The only valid case where tuning to Mecca’s timing can be justified is in locations where the sun does not set for 24 hours, or stays up for very long hours where it becomes a physical impossibility to fast. The example is in northern areas during the summer days.

Ending of the fasting

The ending of the fasting occurs as soon as the new moon is witnessed. In the past, people only had the visual means to confirm the beginnings of every month. Therefore, they would have been entitled to end their fasting as soon as the new moon is witnessed, even if that occurs during the fasting hours. However, nowadays the astronomical charts can give us an accurate timing for the crescent. This would mean that believers would know beforehand the exact time to end the fasting. If for example the new crescent was to appear on Wednesday at midday, as an example, then the believers would not be required to fast the day of Wednesday.
 
The explanation for this is that the command in the Quran is to fast the month of Ramadan (2.185) and nothing else. The Quran also tells us that the crescent is the timer (2.189) which signals the beginnings of the Islamic months for us, like the month for Hajj, the month of Ramadan and all other months. Therefore, if it is known beforehand that the new crescent for the month of Shawwal (which is the month after Ramadan) was scheduled to appear on Wednesday at noon, then the believers would not have to fast the day of Wednesday in its entirety. If they do, they would have fasted the month of Ramadan and also part of the month of Shawwal, when as mentioned the Quranic command is to fast the month of Ramadan only.

7- How many different “times” of the year are there for fasting?

Once again, some scholars, who have shaped a new corrupt Islam which is not based on the Quran, have invented all kinds of occasions when we should fast.

Among these is the day of Ashura (originally a Jewish practice!), also some fast every Thursday or every Tuesday. None of these days are authorised in the Quran, but originate from the claimed Sunna of the prophet. Needless to say, the prophet of God was commanded to follow the Quran and nothing else (5.48) and thus it is highly dubious that he would disregard this command and go on authorising other times and days for fasting than what God has authorised in the Quran.

 

Original URL: http://www.quran-islam.org/main_topics/islam/pillars/al-seyaam_%28P1194%29.html

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