‘Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many learn piety and righteousness’ (Q 2:183). The month of Ramadan is a special time full of God’s blessings and great wonders. In this month the Holy Qur’an was revealed, therefore establishing the prophethood of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh). Hidden in the month of Ramadan is Laylat al-Qadr (The Night of Power), a night which is more valuable than a thousand months.
In Ramadan ‘the gates of heaven open, the gates of Hell are locked and the devils are chained.’[i] The month of Ramadan brings us closer to God. The following Quranic verse affirms this meaning: ‘And when My servants ask you about Me, say: ‘I am near; I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls; so they should answer My call and believe in Me, that they may be rightly guided.’ (2: 186). In Ramadan the daytime is marked by fasting and abstinence, while the evenings are illuminated by prayers. Spiritual enlightenment deepens during the last ten days of Ramadan through supererogatory prayers and abstinence. This spiritual depth is also reflected in the community through almsgiving and by helping the poor and the needy.
Fasting during Ramadan cleanses one from earlier sins. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said: ‘The time between the five prayers, two consecutive Friday prayers, and two consecutive Ramadans are expiations for all that has happened during that period, provided one shuns the major sins.’[ii] Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) also noted that ‘Whoever fasts during Ramadan out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.’[iii] One who reaches the month of Ramadan but does not take advantage of this opportunity has lost a great deal.
We would like to talk about Ramadan in more detail.
The Arabic word for fasting, ‘sawm’, means abstinence from what is desired by the carnal self.
Based on the Quranic verses and sayings of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), fasting involves abstinence from the greatest human desires: eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse from dawn until dusk, with the intention of pleasing God. This abstinence represents an act of worship and is performed with the awareness of fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam and achieving the purpose of existence. In fully observing the month of Ramadan, believers walk towards their purpose of creation; they become worthy of paradise.
The Gate to Heaven
The reward for fasting is immense. According to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh): ‘He who observes the fast for a day in the way of God, God would remove, because of this day, his face farther from the Hellfire to the extent of seventy years’ distance.’[iv] Fasting is a unique worship as per Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) advice to Abu Umamah: ‘I recommend fasting to you, as there is no equivalent to it.’[v]
Fasting is a way for the faithful to acknowledge their servanthood to the Creator and aspire for the ‘Rayyan’ gate to heaven, related in the following hadith: ‘In Paradise there is a gate which is called Rayyan through which only the observers of fast would enter on the Day of Resurrection. None else would enter along with them…’[vi]
As believers contemplate their rewards in the hereafter, their hearts are filled with peace and happiness. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) states the following: ‘There are two (occasions) of joy for the observer of the fast. He feels joy when he breaks the fast and he is happy when he meets his Lord.’[vii]
Fasting Develops Self-Control
Fasting is one way in which God refines us, as reported in the verse: ‘We will certainly test you with some fear and hunger, and with some loss of property and lives and crops. Announce the good news to those who endure patiently.’ (2: 155). Jews and Christians fast as well, although the forms and time periods differ.
Fasting is instrumental for controlling the self and developing a stronger willpower, as ‘fasting is a shield.’[viii] It helps regulate temptations and desires, thereby protecting the individual from wrongdoing and extreme indulgence. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) described the protective aspect of fasting in the following hadith: ‘O young men, those among you who can support a wife should marry, for it restrains eyes from casting (evil glances), and preserves one from immorality; but those who cannot should devote themselves to fasting for it is a means of controlling sexual desire.’[ix] Through fasting, one becomes ‘liberated’ from worldly attachments, and seeks true happiness through connection with God.
While fasting, people refrain from satisfying even their most essential needs and legitimate desires for the sake of God. In return for this exceptional worship, God promised to reward them generously. God says: ‘Every act of the son of Adam is for him, except for fasting which is exclusively for Me, and I will give recompense for it.’[x]
Above all, overindulging in earthly luxuries hardens the heart and enslaves us to our carnal desires. Giving in to temptation and lacking the willpower to regulate our behaviour can be destructive. On the other hand, eating less is a method for elevating the spirit and giving it dominance over the body. Hunger tames the carnal self and helps it to move from a state of arrogance and egoism to one of surrender.
Fasting helps believers purify their souls, as Ramadan is an opportunity for mindfulness and paying attention to our intentions. Fasting holds the power for self-transformation.
The Relation of Fasting and Thanksgiving
The Qur’an states, ‘He gives you all you ask Him for. And were you to count God’s favors you will never be able to exhaust them.’ (14: 34)
Fasting helps us to appreciate God’s favours, the value of which we are unaware. A fasting believer is a person who lives in poverty amongst riches. He goes hungry and keeps himself from eating until iftar by choice. We are so used to God’s continuous providence that we only give thanks for the occasional ‘extra’ blessings; fasting helps us realize that even the things they take for granted, like bread and water, are great blessings we’re often oblivious to. There is the giving of alms (zakat) in everything, and the zakat of the body is fasting.
Fasting allows one to experience deprivation, and this awareness encourages one to help the poor. The wealthy believer will share his wealth with love and mercy. Fasting then becomes a form of social worship, even though it may appear as an individual affair.
The Relation between Fasting and Health
Another practical benefit of fasting concerns our health and wellbeing. Fasting is often suggested as a form of protection from illnesses since overeating is an invitation to many ailments. Fasting is an asceticism of the spirit and a diet for the body. The soul takes advantage of the empty stomach and makes itself open to development, thus attaining a higher spiritual rank.
- THE NIGHT OF QADR (Power)
The Night of Qadr (Power) is the most blessed night of the year. It was the night when the single most important event in human history unfolded: the Glorious Qur’an was revealed upon the command of God to His Messenger (pbuh) during this night. The meanings of the night of Qadr vary; it could mean the night of power, decree, majesty and honour. On this night, the Divine Decrees are issued, the appointed time of everything is fixed, and blessings are apportioned.
Worship during this night is greatly rewarded as Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) mentioned: ‘Whoever stands in prayer during Laylat-ul-Qadr, with faith and being hopeful of God’s reward, will have his former sins forgiven.’[xi] So valuable it is that a special sura has been devoted to it in the Qur’an. The complete Qur’an was sent down from ‘The Preserved Tablet’ on this night to the ‘The House of Glory’ in the lowest heaven, from whence it was revealed piecemeal to the Prophet (pbuh) over a period of twenty-three years. This is a very large blessing for the followers of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh).
The Prophet’s (pbuh) advice, found in different hadiths, suggests that one should expect the Night of Qadr in the last ten days of Ramadan, especially on odd numbered days. God’s mercy and peace surrounds believers until dawn. The angels pray for the believers and send salutations of peace to those who are occupied in prayer until dawn. The morning following the night is also full of goodness and it is serene, tranquil, and peaceful.
C. ITIKAF (RETREAT FOR PRAYER)
The meaning of ‘itikaf’ is to continue to do something. In religious terminology it means to stay in (or to retract to) a mosque or a similar temple for the purpose of continuous prayer. When one participates in itikaf, he strives to prepare his heart so that he can ‘let God in’. In other words, itikaf is to continuously and persistently knock on God’s door saying, ‘please open Your door to me’, ‘I won’t leave Your doorstep until You forgive me’, ‘hold the hand that I stretch out to You and don’t let go’, and ‘do not reject me’.
During itikaf, believers completely give themselves up to prayer and reflection. Believers recite the Holy Qur’an, pray, and keep busy with Dhikr. They read books on God and extend the horizons of their wisdom. At night, they perform the special prayers, tarawih. Also, they pass the time before dawn in another special prayer, tahajjud, in hopes to attract God’s mercy. Moreover, the believers eat less, sleep less, speak less, and detach from worldly deeds. During these holy days and nights they completely focus on the feeling of unity with God. They try to stay alert for the gentle inspiration that may come from Him. From this perspective, it would be correct to say that the believers who have retreated (to itikaf) have stationed themselves to witness the appearances of the Lord.
- ALMS OF FITR (ISLAMIC CHARITY)
The monetary worship that is carried out during Ramadan is called Alms (Islamic charity) of Fitr. The alms of Fitr must be delivered to the needy during this month and it must be in monetary form.
Fitr is an Arabic word that means to end fasting. The word ‘iftar’ comes from the same root. Fitr also means ‘natural’ (fitrat), in which case the deeper meaning becomes to thank God for having given us the ability to believe in Him, for allowing us to reach the month of Ramadan, for having helped us fast and pray, and for having strengthened our bodies to worship Him.
In religious terminology Fitr is defined as: ‘The alm that is required to be paid by each Muslim who has reached the end of Ramadan and has at least a small (nisab) amount of goods superfluous to his/her personal/basic needs.’ This definition is the one followed by the Hanafi sect. In the Shafii, Maliki and Hanbali sects there is no requirement to have a nisab amount, and is therefore obligatory for all fasting believers.
The requirement of fitr has been fixed according to the following narration of Abdullah b. Umar’s narration: ‘The Prophet (pbuh) has ordered all Muslims, man or woman, free or enslaved, to give fitr equal to one measure of barley or dates.’
It is also more virtuous to give zakat (the annual Islamic tax) during this month, but this is not obligatory. While zakat can be paid at other times, the giving of the Alms of Fitr is limited to the month of Ramadan. Although the giving of Fitr is required after sunrise on the first day of Eid (the holiday after Ramadan), it is preferable to give it before this time so that the needy can enjoy the Eid having fulfilled their needs.
During Ramadan believers perform a night prayer, called tarawih, following the isha prayer. The word tarawih is the plural of the word ‘tarwiha’, which means restfulness. Originally the sitting position that is adopted following every two or four units of this prayer was called tarwiha.[xii] The tarawih prayer enlightens the night, and helps start a spiritual preparation for the following day.
Performing tarawih is a muakkad sunna. Two examples are given here: ‘Whoever offers the night prayer during the month of Ramadan, believing in and expecting rewards from God, his former sins are forgiven.’[xiii] ‘God has made it obligatory (fard) on you to fast during the month of Ramadan. And I made it sunna on you to stand up offering prayers during the night in the month of Ramadan. Whoever fasts out of sincerity to God, believing in and expecting rewards from Him, and offers the night prayer, will be as clean of his sins as he was on the day he was born.’[xiv] Scholars have agreed that what is meant by ‘the night prayer’ in these hadiths is the tarawih.
God Almighty, who constantly creates occasions for believers to seek out His forgiveness, offers Ramadan as an invaluable opportunity and urges us to take advantage of it. The days of itikaf are especially valuable, where most of the time is devoted to constant worship and reflection. The month of Ramadan is a blissful month during which God Almighty pours down His blessings upon His creatures.
Believers can continue to cultivate the benefits of fasting year-round. After Ramadan, believers can fast for six days during the month of Shawwal; this is considered as having the same reward as fasting for a whole year. They can also fast during the 13th, 14th, and 15th of each month of the lunar calendar, as well as on the days of Arafa and A’ashuraa. In addition, to fast on Mondays and Thursdays is sunna.
One can also search for avenues to forgiveness by making the most of Fridays. Daily prayers, by themselves, are grounds for forgiveness. In fact, when one third of every night is over, God virtually calls out from the skies: ‘Are there not any who pray to me, let me accept their prayers; are there not any who ask for something, let me grant them what they ask for; are there not any who ask for forgiveness, let me forgive their sins.’[xv]
May God include us among those who make the most the month of Ramadan and earn His forgiveness. Amen.
[i] Bukhari, Sawm 5; Muslim, Siyam 1
[ii] Bukhari, Muslim,
[iii] Bukhari, Salat al-Tarawih 1, Muslim, Salat al-Musafirin 174
[iv] Muslim, Sawm, 2572
[v] Nasai, Siyam 43
[vi] Bukhari, Sawm 4; Muslim, Siyam 166
[vii] Riyad-us-Saliheen 2566
[viii] Riyad-us-Saliheen 2565
[ix] Bukhari, Sawm 10; Muslim, Nikah 1
[x] Riyad-us-Saliheen 1215
[xi] Riyad-us-Saliheen, 1189
[xii] Ibn Manzur, Lisanu’l-Arab, rvh mad
[xiii] Bukhari, Salatu’t-Tarawih, 1; Muslim, Salatu’l- Musafirin, 174
[xiv] Nasai, Qiyam, 40; Ibn Mace, Iqama, 173
[xv] 20 Ibrahim Halebi, Multeka, 119