“…whoever witnesses the Month of Ramzan should fast through it…” Q (2:185)
After Imaan, Salah and Zakat, the most important pillar of Islam is Swoom (Fasting) during the month of Ramzan (the 9th month of the Islamic calendar). Fasting in the month of Ramzan is amongst the fundamentals of Islam; one who denies its obligation goes out of the fold of Islam. One who does not fast during this month is a faasiq (an immoral and flagrant transgressor) of the highest degree. Such a faasiq completely destroys his spirituality and morality. Swoom literally means 'to abstain’. But in the terminology of the Shariah, it means 'to refrain from eating, drinking and cohabitation from crack of dawn [sub'h saadiq] to sunset, with the intention of fasting’.
However, with the passage of time our attitude is changing like anything. Normally the quarrelling in buses with the drivers, conductors and other passenger is increased year to year. Roads are showing long queues of vehicles and evidencing more accidents during the month of Ramzan. Employees normally do not work even for short hours and give the excuse that they are fasting, even though the employers also soft to them due to various Hadith. This whole scenario explains the situation that we are basically obliging Allah by fasting. This article is an endeavour to avoid this situation by understanding the benefits of fasting, the do’s and don’t of fasting, the obligations of fasting, health guidelines issued by various doctors and finally the important lessons of fasting.
BENEFITS OF FASTING
There are numerous spiritual benefits of fasting. Fasting is extremely efficient for the acquisition of taqwa (piety), without which a Muslim cannot gain closeness to Allah. The prime benefit in the pursuit of taqwa is the suppression of the erratic desires and demands of nafs (based carnal desire), which is always working in collusion with Shaytaan, to spiritually and morally ruin the believer. If the nafs is allowed freedom, then it will succeed in making man a slave of lust, passion and base emotions, due to which his Imaan will suffer. Therefore, it is essential that the nafs be restrained. Fasting greatly aids towards pursuing this objective. By fasting, a Muslim learns to suppress his lowly desires. Thus the ability of inculcating taqwa is created. Further, fasting purifies the soul, and creates gratification in worship, making the heart conducive for worship. The bond with Allah is also strengthened. Once our beloved Prophet [PBUH] supplicated, “O Lord of the universe! When does the servant become closest to you?” The Divine Reply came, “When the servant is hungry and when he is in sajdah (prostration).”
Another outstanding feature of fasting is that it lifts man above the level of beasts and animals – which eat, drink and copulate at will, whenever the urge comes – and takes him to the parallel of the angels. Since the latter do not eat or drink, they are devoid and free of evil inclinations and all things base. Man, by reducing his worldly relations and emotional desires, moves himself to the realms of the angels.
As well as the many spiritual benefits of fasting, there are physical benefits and advantages of fasting too. Notably, feeling for the poor and hungry is engendered. Man becomes more aware and conscious of his less fortunate brethren and their deprivation, which in turn teaches him to sacrifice his wealth and assist others in need. Thus feeling for humanity is generated and inculcated in man.
DO’S AND DON’TS OF FASTING
For the acquisition of the numerous virtues and benefits of fasting, there is however, one essential condition: a person takes extra precaution in making sure he abstains from sin and futility. A person should spend much of his time in the recitation of the Quran and also engage himself in the constant Remembrance of Allah. If one does not abstain from sin and futility then his fasting will merely be staying hungry and thirsty, without any reward or spiritual upliftment.
A few common evils, which are regarded lightly, but are very detrimental to a fasting person, should be taken into consideration and avoided totally:
- Telling lies.
- Eating haraam items.
- Earning through unlawful means.
- Any act which may harm or cause grief to a person.
In short, a person should try to refrain from all kinds of sins – protecting his ears, eyes, tongue and all other organs from indulging in unlawful activities. When a Muslim spends his Ramzan in this manner then he will notice great changes in his life. Spiritual strength will be gained, which will facilitate him to conduct his life according to Islam, together with Allah's Pleasure.
The All-knowing Allah formally revealed two verses regarding fasting in the second year of Hijrah: the verses spelt out the reasons for fasting; when to do so; who should be exempted? Etc. Let's see the verses:
“O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for people before you so that you will (learn how to attain) piety” (Q2:183)
“(fasting is) for a fixed number of days: but if any one of you is sick, or on a journey, the prescribed number (should be made up) from (other) days later. For those who can do it (with hardship) is a kaffara, the feeding of one that is indigent. But whoever can give more (than this) of his own free will–(then) it is better for him, and it is better for you that ye fast, if ye but knew.” Q(2:184)
When these two verses were revealed, 'Hazrat Aisha (R.A) reported that the Prophet (PBUH) then said to the Muslims: “Ramzan fast is a divine obligation but whoever likes to fast 'Ashura day (as well) may do so voluntarily or leave it”. Ramzan may be 29 or 30 days depending on when the moon was sighted.
A cursory look at the qur'anic verses above reveals that the All-wise intends ease for the Muslims and not difficulty: for instance, Kaffara was allowed for those who choose not to fast due to hardship or difficulty. This freedom or leniency was short lived when the All-wise and the All-knowing Allah tightened His injunction with another revelation that nullified giving Kaffara, by able-bodied muslims, in exchange for missed Ramzan fast thus:
“Ramzan is the (month) in which Quran was sent down, as a guide to mankind, and a clear guidance and judgement (so that mankind will distinguish right from wrong). Whoever among you witnesses the month of Ramzan should fast through it. But whoever is sick or on a journey, the prescribed period (missed should be made up) by days later. Allah wants ease for you and He does not want to put you into 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” Q(2:185).
This verse shows that Allah wants every able-bodied Muslim to “complete the prescribed period” (30 or 29 days depending on when the moon was sighted). It intact re-emphasises the importance of Ramzan fast which Allah made clear in the last part of Q(2:184) where He said: “…it is better for you that ye fast if ye but knew”. Unambiguously, feeding of the poor person as a Kaffara for not fasting (by those who can fast) is not allowed by Q (2:185). This is the genesis of Ramzan fast in Islam.
Remarkably, it is clear that 'Ashura fast was replaced by Ramzan fast, but the habit of fasting 3-day-per-month which the Prophet (PBUH) used to do was a blessing in someway because his 36 days a year fasting can be interpreted thus: Allah approved 30 days as FARZ (i.e. obligatory) for the month of Ramzan, and the Prophet (PBUH) recommended six days fasting in the month of Shawwal for all muslims (though this is voluntary). If these two fasting are adopted, one would have done 36 days (which is the same as fasting round the year).
THE OBLIGATION OF FASTING
Allah says in the Quran: “O you who have faith! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you – so that hopefully you will have taqwa.” – Al Baqarah (2):183. Meaning that hopefully you can safeguard yourselves from the Fire through Fasting; fasting is a means to the forgiveness of sins, and sins lead one to the fire. In a hadith, last prophet (PBUH) said: “Islam is built upon five: that you worship Allah and reject the worship of anything else, to establish the prayer, the giving of Zakat, performing pilgrimage to the house and Fasting the month of Ramzan.”
With regards to the elevation of rank, the Messenger of Allah (PBUH) said: “When Ramzan comes, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hellfire are locked and devils are chained.” [Bukhari] He (PBUH) also said, relating from his lord Mighty and Magnificent, “All of the actions of the son of Adam are for him except the fast for that is for me and I will reward it. Fasting is protecting shield, so when it is the day when one of you are fasting, let him not behave or speak indecently; if someone tries to abuse him or fight him, let him say, 'I am fasting'. By the one in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, the smell emanating from the mouth of the one fasting is better with Allah then the smell of musk. The one fasting has two time of joy, when he breaks his fast he is happy and when he meets his lord he will rejoice at his fasting.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
The prophet (PBUH) also said: “Every action that the son of Adam does, [its reward] will be multiplied; a good deed will be increased tenfold. Allah Mighty and Magnificent says, 'except for the fast, for that is for Me and I will reward it for he left his desires and food for My sake'” [Muslim] The prophet (PBUH) also said: “In paradise there is a gate which is called ar-Rayyan through which the people who fasted will enter on the day of Judgement, and no one else shall enter along-side them. It will be asked, 'where are those who fasted?' and they will walk through it, and upon the entry of the last of them, it will be locked, and no one else will walk through it.” [Bukhari and Muslim]
With regards the 'opening of the gates of paradise', this is a phrase that points to the increase of actions of obedience that in turn lead to the opening of the gates of Paradise. 'Locking the gates of Fire' is a phrase that points to the decrease, and lack of therewith, of sins which in turn leads to the locking of the gates of the Fire. 'The chaining of the devils' is a phrase that points to the termination of their whisperings, and temptations, to those who are fasting because they give up hope of receiving a favourable response.
His saying, “All of the actions of the son of Adam are for him except the fast for that is for me, and I will reward it,” fasting has been specifically adjoined to him in the order of Honour it because the hidden nature of fasting prevents ostentation entering it, and moreover, hunger and thirst are not used as means to drew closer to any king of this world nor any idol.
HEALTH GUIDELINES – Doctor’s Suggestions
There is some useful advice on how to avoid some common problems encountered in Ramzan. If followed, it would enable one to fast comfortably and enjoy fully the spiritual benefits of Ramzan. During the holy month of Ramzan, our diet should not differ very much from our normal diet and should be as simple as possible. The diet should be such that we maintain our normal weight, neither losing nor gaining. However, if one is over-weight, Ramzan is an ideal time to normalise one's weight.
In view of the long hours of fasting, we should consume slow digesting foods including fibre containing-foods rather than fast-digesting foods. Slow digesting foods last up to 8 hours, while fast-digesting foods last for only 3 to 4 hours.
Slow-digesting foods are foods that contain grains and seeds like barley, wheat, oats, millet, semolina, beans, lentils, wholemeal flour, unpolished rice, etc. (called complex carbohydrates). Fast-burning foods are foods that contain sugar, white flour, etc. (called refined carbohydrates).
Fibre-containing foods are bran-containing foods, whole wheat, grains and seeds, vegetables like green beans, peas, sem (papry), marrow, mealies, spinach, and other herbs like methie, the leaves of beetroot (iron-rich), fruit with skin, dried fruit especially dried apricots, figs and prunes, almonds, etc. The foods eaten should be well-balanced, containing foods from each food group, i.e. fruits, vegetables, meat/chicken/fish, bread/cereals and dairy products. Fried foods are unhealthy and should be limited. They cause indigestion, heart-burn, and weight problems.
AVOID Fried and fatty foods, Foods containing too much sugar, Over-eating especially at sehri, Too much tea at sehri as tea makes you pass more urine taking with it valuable mineral salts that your body would need during the day, Smoking cigarettes. If you cannot give up smoking, cut down gradually starting a few weeks before Ramzan. Smoking is unhealthy and one should stop completely.
EAT Complex carbohydrates at sehri so that the food lasts longer making you less hungry. Haleem is an excellent source of protein and is a slow-burning food. Dates are excellent source of sugar, fibre, carbohydrates, potassium and magnesium. Almonds are rich in protein and fibre with less fat. Bananas are a good source of potassium, magnesium and carbohydrates.
DRINK as much water or fruit juices as possible between Iftar and bedtime so that your body may adjust fluid levels in time. CONSTIPATION can cause piles (haemorrhoids), fissures and indigestion with a bloated feeling. Causes: Too much refined foods, too little water and not enough fibre in the diet.
Remedy: Avoid excessive refined foods, increase water intake, and use bran in baking, brown flour when making roti.
LETHARGY ('low blood pressure') excessive sweating, weakness, tiredness, lack of energy, dizziness, especially on getting up from sitting position, pale appearance and feeling faint are symptoms associated with “low blood pressure”. This tends to occur towards the afternoon. Causes: Too little fluid intake, decreased salt intake. Remedy: Keep cool, increase fluid and salt intake. Caution: Low blood pressure should be confirmed by taking a blood pressure reading when symptoms are present. Persons with high blood pressure may need their medication adjusted during Ramzan. They should consult their doctor.
HEADACHE Causes: Caffeine and tobacco-withdrawal, doing too much in one day, lack of sleep, hunger usually occur as the day goes by and worsens at the end of the day. When associated with “low blood pressure”, the headache can be quite severe and can also cause nausea before Iftar. Remedy: Cut down caffeine and tobacco slowly starting a week or two before Ramzan. Herbal and caffeine-free teas may be substituted. Reorganise your schedule during the Ramzan so as to have adequate sleep.
LOW BLOOD SUGAR Weakness, dizziness, tiredness, poor concentration, perspiring easily, feeling shaky (tremor), unable to perform physical activities, headache, palpitations are symptoms of low blood sugar. Causes in non-diabetics: Having too much sugar i.e. refined carbohydrates especially at suhur (sehri). The body produces too much insulin causing the blood glucose to drop. Remedy: Eat something at sehri and limit sugar-containing foods and drinks. Caution: Diabetics may need to adjust their medication in Ramzan, consult your doctor.
MUSCLE CRAMPS Causes: Inadequate intake of calcium, magnesium and potassium foods. Remedy: Eat foods rich in the above minerals e.g. vegetables, fruit, dairy products, meat and dates. Caution: Those on high blood pressure medication and with kidney stone problems should consult their doctor.
PEPTIC ULCERS, HEART BURN, GASTRITIS AND HIATUS HERNIA Increased acid levels in the empty stomach in Ramzan aggravate the above
conditions. It presents as a burning feeling in the stomach area under the ribs and can extend up to the throat. Spicy foods, coffee, and Cola drinks worsen these conditions. Medications are available to control acid levels in the stomach. People with proven peptic ulcers and hiatus hernia should consult their doctor well before Ramzan.
KIDNEY STONES Kidney stones may occur in people who have fewer liquids to drink. Therefore, it is essential to drink extra liquids so as to prevent stone formation. JOINT PAINS Causes: During Ramzan, when extra Salah are performed the pressure on the knee joints increases. In the elderly and those with arthritis this may result in pain, stiffness, swelling and discomfort. Remedy: Lose weight so that the knees do not have to carry any extra load. Exercise the lower limbs before Ramzan so that they can be prepared for the additional strain. Being physically fit allows greater fulfilment, thus enabling one to be able to perform Salah with ease.
Important Lessons from Ramadan
We must gain something during this holy month of Ramzan. Such gains include gaining Taqwa, Seeking Nearness to Allah, Acquiring Patience, Cultivating Good Manners and Sensing Muslim Unity. The Prophet [PBUH] said: “Fast when they fast, and break your fast when they break their fast, and sacrifice the day they sacrifice.” (19)
Imaam at-Tirmidhee (d. 275H) – rahimahullah – said: “Some of the People of Knowledge explained this hadeeth by saying: Its meaning is to fast and break the fast along with the jamaa`ah and the majority of people.” Thus, in this blessed month we can sense an increased feeling of unity and of being a single Ummah due to our fasting and breaking our fast collectively. We also feel an increased awareness about the state of affairs of the Muslims and of the hardships that they endure, because: “During the fast, a Muslim feels and experiences what his needy and hungry brothers and sisters feel, who are forced to go without food and drink for many days – as occurs today to many of the Muslims in Africa.”
Indeed, the unity of the Muslims – and their aiding and assisting one another – is one of the great fundamentals upon which the Religion of Islam is built, as Allah – the Most Merciful and Magnificent – said: “And hold fast altogether to the rope of Allah and do not be divided.” [Soorah Aal `Imraan 3:103]. He also said: “The Believers – men and women – and friends and protectors of one another.” [Soorah al-Tawbah 9:44]. Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728H) – rahimahullah – said: “The welfare of people will not be complete – neither in this world, nor in the Hereafter – except with ijtima` (collectiveness), ta`awun (mutual co-operation), and tanassur (mutual help); mutual co-operation in order to secure benefits, and mutual help in order to ward off harm. It is for this reason that man is said to be social and civil by nature.”
So we ask Allah to grant us the ability to change ourselves for the better, during this blessed month, and not to be of those who are prevented from His Mercy and Forgiveness. Indeed He is the One who Hears and He is the One to Respond.
The author is an International tax advisor and teaching UK and Pakistani Taxation at various approved colleges of ICAP and ACCA. He is also a member of publication committee of ICAP. His articles on taxation and corporate law have been published in leading local and foreign newspapers and journals. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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