ISLAM PILLAR 4:
Fasting in Ramadan
We have a blessed day of the week, which is Juma’a (Friday) and we have the most blessed month of the year, which is Ramadan. Ramadan is known for being the month of Quran and the month of forgiveness and purification. In this month, Muslims engage in fasting from dawn to sunset. This act of worship may seem difficult for people who did not try it before but for Muslims it is a beautiful experience and a reminder of Allah’s blessings to humanity.
Benefits of Fasting and Ramadan
I am sure that there are many reasons why we have to fast, which we may be unaware of, but I can mention a couple of reasons that we do know. Hunger and thirst teaches us the value of food and drink and it reminds us of the blessings of Allah and how we are able to give to our families and put food on the table. It also reminds us of the millions of people on this planet who are living in poverty and don’t have the means to eat good food like you and I. Feeling their pain should lead us to the habit of giving to the poor and needy, to accept what Allah has given us and to feel gratitude for these blessings. Lately, scientists have proven how important fasting is for the human body. We eat nonstop for 12 months a year without thinking of the consequences. The amount of diseases that are due to our eating habits are uncountable and this is one of the reasons why we need to fast. It is like resetting your body for one month of the year so the human body can face the damage done to it in the remaining 11 months. If you are fasting according to the teachings of the prophet Mohammed (PBUH), this will lead to weight loss. That is of course if you eat healthy, never fill your stomach (leave some room for air and liquid) and stay active. While refraining from food, Muslims also refrain from any act or behavior that is not healthy for 30 days, which is a sure way to overcome bad habits. Ramadan is a time to let go of bad habits and to develop good ones. On the spiritual side, my point of view on this month is that it feels like a full insurance package that resolves all psychological and mental issues that pile up due to the stress we face in our lives. To experience this insurance package, you must increase the worship practices and do each with reverence and full submission to Allah. Insha’Allah (if God wills), this will lead you to a state of tranquility and gratitude. Also, the amount of reward you receive in Ramadan is massive and so you should take this opportunity to increase your bank balance for the hereafter. Your balance in this life is only temporary and it will do you no good when you are in the grave; only the akhira (hereafter) balance is your saviour. The prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said: “Whoever observes the fast during the month of Ramadan, (While) believing in Allah and seeking His rewards, will have his/her past sins forgiven” (In the books of Hadith by Imam Bukhari/Muslim)
Rules of Fasting
Fasting as a Muslim means that you are not allowed to eat, drink and engage in sexual intercourse (even with your spouse) from the fajr (dawn) time until maghrib (sunset). To be more specific, you cannot insert anything into your mouth or swallow anything (including chewing gum, smoking cigarettes, etc.) but you can rinse your mouth and brush your teeth as long as you have the right intentions and without swallowing any drop. Fasting in Ramadan is compulsory for all Muslims and the only exceptions for missing days of fasting are: 1) illness, 2) travelling long distances, 3) female’s menstrual cycle/pregnancy/postpartum bleeding. Children under the age of puberty and mentally insane persons are not obligated to fast. However, it is highly recommended to teach kids at a younger age so they can adapt easily into the fasting environment. If you miss a day/days of fasting due to the exceptions above then you must make up for the days by fasting at another time of the year. If you have a severe/permanent illness (prescribed by a doctor) which will not allow you to fast for a long period (years) then you do not have to make up for any missing days but you must feed a poor or a needy person for each day you miss.
Rituals of Ramadan
We must try our best to stay away from behaviours that are evil while we are fasting such as looking at the opposite sex (with sexual intentions), gossiping, using foul language, lying, etc. I am not saying that these acts are fine in the other 11 months, but as humans we are not perfect, so the month of Ramadan is our opportunity (as rehab) to fix our attitudes and change our behaviours. It is highly recommended to perform the extra sunnah (rituals of the Prophet) prayers such as taraweeh after Isha (the night prayer), tahajud (late night prayers) and reading/reciting the Quran. These will lead to the state of tranquility and gratitude that I was describing to you above insha’Allah.
Why is Ramadan the most blessed month?
This is the month when the Quran revelations were sent down by Allah; when the angel Jibreel (Gabriel) came to the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) for the first time at age 40. He asked the prophet to read, and Mohammed (PBUH) said: “I can’t read”. The same question was repeated by Jibreel two more times and when the prophet replied with the same answer, Jibreel recited the first 5 verses of chapter Al-Alaq. This was the starting point for Islam; the prophet received revelations in the same way for 23 years until the Quran verses were complete. Secondly, Ramadan has the most blessed night of the year and that is the night of Qadr (decree/destiny). The short chapter of Al-Qadr in the Quran clearly explains: 1. Indeed we sent it (the Quran) down in the night of decree (qadr). 2. And what can make you know what is the night of decree. 3. The night of decree is better than a thousand months. 4. The Angels and the Spirit descend therein by permission of their Lord in every matter. 5. Peace it is until the emergence of Dawn. This means the amount of rewards you will receive for doing good deeds on this night is greater than 83.33 Years (1000 months). You are definitely insane to let this night pass by while you just watch TV or sleep. Muslims stay up on this night performing prayers, reciting Quran, doing tasbeeh/thikr (praising the names of Allah), giving sadaqa (charity/donations), etc. There are many debates and opinions between the scholars on when exactly is this night. Some say the 27th, 29th or any of the odd days in the last 10 days. One thing is for sure, it is in one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan. Try your best to do something good in the last 10 nights so you don’t miss out on the rewards. If you are to take notes or highlight anything from this page, it would be the night of Qadr (VERY IMPORTANT).
Right after the hard work in the month of Ramadan, Muslims get to celebrate their first Islamic holiday known as Eid Al-Fitr (Celebration of ending the Fast), which lasts for 3 days. Muslims should take time off work/school and spend time with family and enjoy themselves.
Other days in which the prophet Mohammed (PBUH) used to fast are: 6 days of the month of Shawwal (the month after Ramadan), the first 9 days of Thul-Hijja month which includes youm Arafa (day of Arafa), Ashura day (during the month of Muharram) and every Monday and Thursday throughout the year. These are not obligatory days to fast but they have high rewards and it is recommended to fast them (especially the day of Arafa).