By Dr. Obaidur Rahman Nadwi
Ramadhan is the month of peace, tranquillity, piety, righteousness, generosity and bestowal. Of the five tenets of Islam, fasting in the month of Ramadhan is a must every year. During fast one must abstain from eating, drinking and smoking including inoculation and injections from dawn to dusk. In this context the verses of the Holy Qur’ān which ordain fasting, as an obligatory duty for Muslims are as follows:
“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that ye 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 later days. For those who can do it (with hardship), is a ransom, the feeding of one that indigent, but he that will give more, of his own free will, it is better for him, and it is better for ye that ye face, if ye only knew”. (S.2,A.183-184)
The significance of Ramadhan can be gauged from the fact that “the Qur’ān was revealed to Prophet Muhammad ﷺ in this month 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 house during that month should spend it in fasting, but if anyone 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.” (S.2,A.185)
Needless to add that like Salat (Prayers), fasting has been an essential duty for the followers of earlier Prophets. The Bible says that Jesus Christ fasted for forty days (Matthew 4: 1-4, Mark 1:12-13 and Luke 4:1-4). In Peter 2:21 the followers of Christ are enjoined to fast as the Prophet did. Even the Vedas and the Puranas prescribe fasting. Thus earlier peoples fasted though with a difference in the number of days and the prescribed time of fasting.
It should be kept in mind that this particular month has been considered sacred even from pre-Islamic days too. Ibn-Hisham states that the Qurayesh in the days of ignorance spent one month a year on Mt. Hira, practising penance (Tahannuth). Before instituting fasting of Ramadhan Muhammad ﷺ evidently observed fast on the tenth of Muharram”. (History of the Arabs, p. 133)
During Ramadhan evil conceals itself while good comes to the fore and the whole atmosphere is filled with piety and purity. The Holy Prophet says: “The deed of son of Adam is increased several times (in Ramadhan) and the reward is increased by ten times. But Allah says that fasting is exclusively for Him and He Himself will deliver its reward (to His bondsmen) as he abstains from eating and controls his desires only for Him. There are (two instances) of happiness for the fasting Muslim, one is at the time of breaking his fast and the other at the time meeting his Lord. And verily to Allah, the smell of fasting person’s breath is the best and cleanliest.” The Prophet of Islam also says: “There is a door of paradise called Rayyan towards which only the fasting will be called. Only the fastings will be called. Only the fastings will enter it and those who enter it will never feel thirsty.”
It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of Allah said: “When the month of Ramadhan comes, the Gates of Heaven are thrown open, and the Gates of Hell are shut, and the devils are put behind the bar.” (In another report, the “Gates of Mercy” are mentioned in place of the “Gates of Heaven.” (Bukhari and Muslim)
Salman Farsi narrates that the Apostle of Allah delivered a sermon on the last day of Sha’ban in which he said:
“O my people! You are on the threshold of a month of great solemnity and blessings. It is a month whose one night is better than a thousand months. God has prescribed fasting in this month and make Taraweeh prayers optional. Whosoever willingly and with good intentions does one good act in this month will have the merit of having done an obligatory act in other months and one who does a prescribed act in this month, it will be equal to seventy prescribed acts of other months. This is the month of endurance and the reward of endurance is paradise and this is the month of sympathy with and care of the needy men of the community.” (Mishkat)
It is related by Abu Hurairah that the Apostle of Allah said: “Whoever omits even a single fast of Ramadhan without the legal concession of a journey, etc. or (a valid excuse like that of illness), amends cannot be made for the thing that is omitted even though he observes fasting throughout the life.” (Tirmizi)
Needless to add that fasting is a shield against sins, crimes, vices and other un-Islamic acts. The Prophet says: “Fast is like a shield for protection from satan’s attack. Therefore, when one observes fast, he should use this shield and abstain from quarrelling. If anybody abuses him or quarrels with him, he should simply say: Brother, I am fasting; do not expect me to indulge in similar conduct. (Bukhari & Muslim)
To restore the real spirit of fast, it is incumbent to observe it with prescribed rules and regulations. The Noble Prophet ﷺ said: “If one does not give up telling a lie during fast, God does not require him to give up eating and drinking.” (Bukhari)
On another occasion, he said: “Many are the people who fast but who gain nothing from their fasts except hunger and thirst: and many are those who stand praying all night but gain nothing except sleeplessness.” (Darimi)
To sum up, fasting, according to Islam, is a spiritual discipline and as a consequence it inculcates moral discipline. It also imparts moral strength and leads to the promotion of virtues of piety.
[The writer is Faculty Member, Darul Uloom Nadwatul Ulama, Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh]