Why Do Muslims Fast?

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Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips
Language: English | Format: PDF | Pages: 11 | Size: 1 MB

Most of us who are fighting the battle of the bulge have experimented with some form of fasting, like an all fruit fast, a water fast or an sugar-free fast, you name it. But what many may find rather strange and intriguing is a whole nation of people; be it man or woman, old or young, rich or poor; going completely without food and drink from dawn to dusk for a whole month – Ramadan. What is the significance of Ramadan beyond shortened work hours? Is it not a very harsh practice? Is it merely a time when Muslims sleep and fast and hardly work all day; and eat, drink, enjoy and stay awake all night? What really is the spirit of Ramadan?

Fasting Prescribed in All Religions

In English “fasting” means to abstain from food or from certain kinds of food voluntarily, as an observance of a holy day or as a token of grief, sorrow, or repentance.[1] This practice can be found in most of the major religions of the world. For example, in Hinduism, fasting in Sanskrit is called upavaasa. Devout Hindus observe fasting on special occasions as a mark of respect to their personal gods or as a part of their penance. Most devout Indians fast regularly or on special occasions like festivals. On such days they do not eat at all, eat once or make do with fruits or a special diet of simple food.[2] For Jews, the day Yom Kippur (“Day of Atonement”) is the last of the Ten Days of Repentance observed on the 10th of Tishri. It is forbidden on that day to eat, drink, wash, wear leather, or have sexual relations. In addition, prohibitions on labor similar to those on the Sabbath are in force.[3] It should also be noted that Moses (peace be upon him) is recorded in the Torah to have fasted.

“And he was there with the Lord 40 days and 40 nights, he neither ate bread not drank water.” (Exodus 34:28)

For Catholics among Christians, Lent is the major season of fasting, imitative of the forty-day fast of Jesus (peace be upon him). In the fourth century it was observed as six weeks of fasting before Easter or before Holy Week. It was adjusted to forty days of actual fasting in most places in the seventh century.[4] Jesus (peace be upon him) is recorded in the Gospels to have fasted like Moses.

“And he fasted 40 days and 40 nights, and afterward he was hungry.” (Matthew 4:2 & Luke 4:2)

It is in this context that God states in the Quran: “O believers! Fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you in order that you become more conscious of God.” (Quran 2:183)

Among the Best Righteous Deeds

Although in most religions, fasting is for expiation of sin or atonement for sin, in Islam it is primarily to bring one closer to God, as stated in the above-mentioned verse. Since, Godconsciousness is the prerequisite for righteousness, great stress is placed on fasting in Islam. Thus, it is not surprising to find that when Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, was asked:

“Which is the best deed?” He replied, “Fasting, for there is nothing equal to it.” (Al-Nasa’i)

There are as many levels of fasting as there are facets to being human. Proper fasting should encompass all dimensions of human existence for it to have the divinely intended effect. The following are some of the major levels of fasting:

The Levels of Fasting

The Ritual Level

This level of fasting requires that the basic rules for fasting be fulfilled, which are avoiding food, drink and sexual intercourse between dawn and sunset for 29 or 30 days each year. On this level, one is basically following the letter of the laws regarding fasting without particular consideration for the spirit of fasting. It is the entrance level which must be fulfilled for the fast to be Islamicly correct, but the other levels must be added for the fast to have any real impact on the fasting person. Fasting on this level alone will not benefit one spiritually, except from the perspective of submission to divine instructions, if one chooses to follow the ritual consciously and not merely according to tradition. Thus, by itself, the ritual level will not purify one of sin or atone for sin.

The Physical Level

Fasting on the “physical” level causes the fasting person to experience the pangs of hunger and thirst when the prophetic (Sunnah) way of fasting is observed. Prophet Muhammad used to consume a very light meal before the dawn (suhoor) and moderate meal (iftaar) to break the fast at sunset, while scrupulously avoiding filling his stomach. He is reported to have said:

“The worst container a human being can fill is his stomach. A few morsels of food to keep a person’s back straight are sufficient. However, if his desire overcomes him, then let him eat a third, drink a third and leave a third for breathing.” (Ibn Majah)

before beginning the sunset prayer.[5] This level allows the fasting person to experience the pangs of hunger and thirst and thereby develops sympathy in him or her for those starving and dying of thirst in other parts of the world.

Medical Benefits

On the physical level, some chemicals in the brain that transmit messages and create feelings, called neurotransmitters, are affected by fasting. Fasting encourages the endorphin neurotransmitter system, related to the feeling of well being and euphoria, to produce more endorphins and, in fact, makes us “feel” better. This is similar to the effect of exercise (but without the physical work).It has also been noted by medical experts that fasting improves the physical health in numerous ways. For example, during the fast the body uses up stored cholesterol (fat) that is often deposited in the blood system, as well as in other fatty areas of the body. Thus, it helps to keep the body firm and minimizes the danger of heart attacks. The difference between the ritual level 1 and the physical level 2 is that a person dong only ritual fasting may eat large meals prior to beginning the fast and immediately upon ending the fast, and thus not feel any hunger or thirst throughout the whole month. However, like level one, if the fasting person does not incorporate the other levels of fasting, the fast will only be physically exhausting. The Prophet said:

“Perhaps a fasting person will gain nothing but hunger and thirst from fasting.”(Ibn Majah)

The Libidinal Level

The sexual instinct and drives (libido) are harnessed on this level of fasting. In these times where the media continually plays on sexual desires to promote and sell products, the ability to control these powerful desires is a plus. Fasting physically reduces sexual desires and the fact that the fasting person has to avoid anything which could stimulate him psychologically helps to further lower the libido. Prophet Muhammad, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, said:

“O youths, whoever among you is able to marry let him do so, for it restrains the eyes and protects the private parts. He who is unable to marry should fast, because it is a shield.” (Saheeh Al- Bukhari)

By restraining oneself from sexual acts which are permissible, the fasting person makes it easier for himself to restrain himself from forbidden sexual acts when he is not fasting.

The Emotional Level

Fasting on this level involves controlling the many negative emotions which simmer in the human mind and soul. For example, among the most destructive emotions is anger. Fasting helps to bring this emotion under control. Prophet Muhammad, said:

“When one of you is fasting, he should abstain from indecent acts and unnecessary talk, and if someone begins an obscene conversation or tries to pick an argument, he should simply tell him, ‘I am fasting.'” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

Thus, on this level, whatever negative emotions challenge the fasting person must be avoided. One must abstain from lewd conversation and heated arguments. Even when one is in the right, it is better to let that right go and keep one’s emotional fast intact. Likewise, the negative emotion of jealousy is reduced, as every fasting person is reduced to the common denominator of abstinence; no one is externally superior to another in this regard. Continue reading

The Fiqh Of Fasting

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Dr. Abu Ameenah Bilal Philips
Language: English | Format: PDF | Pages: 80 | Size: 2 MB

Fasting (siyaam) in Arabic linguistically means to restrain or abstain from. According to the Sharee‘ah it means “abstaining from food, drink, sexual intercourse, and other acts mentioned in the divine law during the day in the prescribed way. It is followed by abstinence from foolish talk, obscenity, and other forms of prohibited and disliked speech, due to the narration of hadeeths forbidding them during fasting more so than at other times. [The abstinence should be] during a specified time, and under special conditions which are explained in the following hadeeths. The beginning of its obligation was in the second year after the Hijrah.

[1] – Aboo Hurayrah narrated that Allaah’s messenger (PBUH) said, “Do not fast one or two days just before Ramadaan, except in the case of a person who has been in the habit of fasting this way. He may fast on those days.” Collected by al-Bukhaaree and Muslim.

Aboo Hurayrah’s quotation of Allaah’s Messenger (PBUH) as saying, “Do not fast one or two days just before Ramadaan…” contains evidence supporting the use of the term Ramadaan as a general term for the month of Ramadaan. The hadeeth of Aboo Hurayrah collected by Ahmad and others attributed to the Prophet (PBUH),

“Don’t say: ‘Ramadaan has come,’ because Ramadaan is one of Allaah’s names. Instead, say, ‘The month of Ramadaan has come.’ ” is weak and cannot validly oppose what is found in the authentic [collections of al-Bukhaaree and Muslim].

“except in the case of a person5 who has been in the habit of fasting this way. He may fast on those days.”

The hadeeth is proof for the prohibition of fasting a day or two before Ramadaan. After narrating this hadeeth, at-Tirmithee said: “Doing this according to the people of knowledge was considered disliked (makrooh). They disliked that a person fast before the arrival of Ramadaan based on the very meaning of the term Ramadaan.” At-Tirmithee’s statement “based on the meaning of Ramadaan,” restricts the prohibition to precautionary fasts, and not fasting in general, like voluntary fasts, fasts due to vows, and other similar fasts. That restriction obviously implies that preceding Ramadaan by any other kind of fast is permissible. But that position is in conflict with the obvious meaning of the hadeeth which is general. Nothing is excluded from it except the fast of someone who regularly fasts fixed days and they coincide with the last days of Sha‘baan. If the Prophet (PBUH) had intended that the fast be limited by what at-Tirmithee mentioned, he would have said, “except one doing voluntary fasts,” or something similar. Prohibition of preceding Ramadaan with fasts was because the Lawgiver had linked the beginning of fasting the Ramadaan fast to the sighting of the crescent moon. One who precedes its sighting is in conflict with both the commands and prohibitions of the religious texts. The hadeeth also contains invalidation of the esoteric (Baatinites) practice of preceding the fast by one or two days prior to sighting the crescent moon of Ramadaan, and their claim that the particle preposition (laam) in the Prophet’s statement: صُومُوا لِرُؤْیَتِھِ Fast for its sighting means “greeting it”, because the hadeeth indicates that the laam cannot be correctly interpreted according to this meaning even though it carries that meaning in other contexts. Continue reading

Ramadan: Stop, Revive, Survive

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Sheikh Bilal Dannoun

Sheikh Bilal Dannoun explains many of the virtues of Ramadan as well as answering many common questions asked on the rules of fasting in the month of RamadanAllah says in the Qur’an:’Oh you who believe Observing As-Saum (fasting) has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious)’ Continue reading

The Beginning And The End

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AbdulRahman Bin Abdulkarim Al-Sheha
Language: English | Format: PDF | Pages: 122 | Size: 1 MB

The origin and creation of the universe is an issue which has concerned man throughout the ages, especially non-Muslims; since Islam has clarified and expounded all matters that need clarification. Therefore, Muslims are not puzzled or confused, (concerning the phenomenon that occurs in the universe) and they do not invent theories and hypothesis regarding these things, which may be discarded with the advent of a new theory.

We firmly believe that whatever is mentioned in the Qur’an and authentic Sunnah regarding these issues is the truth which all theories must conform to. All that differs with it would indeed be proven false.

Allah (SWT) the Creator of the seen and unseen worlds, is not in need of His creation; rather, His creation is in need of Him. Allah (SWT) says:

(O mankind! It is you who stand in need of Allah, but Allah is Rich (Free of all wants and needs), worthy of all praise. * If He wills, He could destroy you and bring about a new creation. * And that is not hard for Allah.) [35:15-7]

You alone would benefit from your belief and righteous deeds. Allah (SWT) says:

(If you disbelieve (then that is for your own harm), (for) Allah is not in need of you. (But) He is not pleased with disbelief for His slaves. And if you are grateful (by being believers), He is pleased therewith for you.) [39:7] Continue reading

Islam In Focus

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Hammudah ‘Abd al ‘Ati
Language: English | Format: PDF | Pages: 118 | Size: 1.5 MB

Newest available publication of this now famous book, thoroughly updated and edited, approved for sale by the Abdulati family. Published by amana publications. This book is the most popular written document on Islam. With its living and resourceful style, the book addresses both the young educated and  the adult intellectual in a scholarly yet fresh and simple mode of thinking and presentation. Continue reading

I’tikaaf

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Muhammad Saleh al-Munajjid
Language: English | Format: PDF | Pages: 23 | Size: 1 MB

This book deals with the rulings on I’tikaaf. This is done during the last ten nights of Ramadhan and the mu’takhif (person performing I’tikaaf) secludes himself in the masjid for that duration concentrating soley in pursuing the please of Allah (swt). Aptly described as an experience one never forgets in life. I’tikaaf means staying in the mosque for a specific purpose, which is to worship Allaah (may He be glorified). It is prescribed in Islam and is mustahabb according to the consensus of the scholars. Imaam Ahmad said, as was narrated from him by Abu Dawood: “I have not heard from any of the scholars that it is anything other than Sunnah.” Continue reading

Repentance In Ramadhan

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Ibraaheem ibn Hamad al-Mansoor
Language: English | Format: PDF | Pages: 06 | Size: 1 MB

This book is a consise work on the importance of repentance during the holy month of Ramadhan. It is an invigorating short book that insh’Allah will provoke an emotive response and inspire the reader to take advantage of the blessings Allah has permitted us… In the words of the author, this book was written ‘for everyone who wants to change his situation and his actions so as to earn the pleasure of his Creator and achieve happiness in this world and in the Hereafter’. Continue reading

The Islamic Month (The Month Of Ramadhan)

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Taqi Usmani
Language: English | Format: PDF | Pages: 36 | Size: 4 MB

The ninth month of the Islamic calender is called ‘Ramadhan’ and it is the most meritorious month of the whole year. Since there are many specific rules peculoar to this monht, we would like to deal with its characteristics in a rather detailed manner under different sections. The Holy Qur’an has expressly told us that the basic objective for which man is created is that he ‘worships’ Him: ‘And I did not create Jinn & Humans beings except that they should worship me’ The word used by the Holy Qur’an for worship is ‘Ibadah’ which has a much wider sense than ‘worship.’ In the English, word ‘worship’ normally indicates to some specific acts or rituals meant exclusively to show one’s reverence to his Creator. But the word ‘Ibadhah’ is not restricted to such acts or rituals rather, it emboides any act done in submission to Allah’s command and to seek His pleasures. Therefore, many acts which seem to be mundane in nature are included in the word ‘Ibadhah’ like earning one’s livelihood through Halal (permissible) means and in order to fulfill one’s obliagtion towards his dependants.’ Continue reading