Fasting: A Means of Spiritual, Mental & Physical Rejuvenation

by Haj Dawoud S. Adeyola

The blessed month of Ramadan is anticipated to begin on the evening of May 15. 2018. It is the most sacred month in the Islâmic calendar and one in which fasting is required of all adult, sane Muslims who are not traveling or suffering from chronic health conditions. It is an act of submission and obedience to the Lord of the heavens and earth. He says:

“Fasting is prescribed for you as was prescribed for those who came before you so that, perhaps, you may learn piety.” [1] [1]Surat al-Baqarah (2) 183

Just as Islâm is not a new religion, fasting is also an ancient tradition that has been the practice of religious communities continuously. That is because the same truth that has been continuously revealed through all of the messengers and Prophets of Allâh (God Almighty) throughout time. In the above mentioned passage it is mentioned that fasting is “prescribed” or written as an obligation as it was for “those who came before” us. In the epochs of antiquity, man sustained himself primarily on vegetation, fruit and other natural products of the earth including hunting and trapping of animals. Because food supply was often in question for various reasons, it became necessary for man to focus his attention upon food production and retention. Often, in this case before his methods became sophisticated, and reliable, fasting became a way of life because of depletion of food resources. Superstition and ignorance combined to form the idea of this fasting as a religious duty or spiritual exercise. Some forms of paganism viewed such abstinence as necessary because the deities that they believed in and worshiped were jealous of the pleasures that men enjoyed and that by fasting they would gain favors with them.

For one fifth of the world’s population Islâm is both a religion and a complete way of life which is based on the principles of peace, justice, mercy and forgiveness. It is the way of life (deen) prescribed for mankind in order to ensure success in the present world that we live in and in the world to come Hereafter. It is not only a religion but a particular way of life that is distinct, unique and has many dimensions. Its most essential belief is that there is nothing whatsoever that is deserving of worship excep Allâh, the Most High and also that Muhammad is the last and final, messenger of Allâh who came as a continuation and completion of the work of previous divine Prophets such s Noah, Abraham , Moses and Jesus peace be upon all of them.

Among the People of the Book (ahlul kitaab) which includes Christians and Jews, fasting is a matter of scripture and prophetic tradition. Their fasting was a part of religious practice as seen in the example of the Day of Atonement which is practiced by the Jewish community to the present day. There is no mention of any other particular fast in the Old Testament of the Holy Bible except in Zechariah. from theses verses, it seems that the Bani-Israel, during their years of captivity, observed fasting in the fourth, fifth, seventh and tenth months for s total of four annually. Zechariah distinguishes the fasts by the months in which they were to be observed. The Mishnah and St. Jerome, however, allude to specific events that each fast as intended to commemorate. The current Jewish calendar contains twenty recognized fasts. Fasting among the Jewish people was observed with various degrees of assiduousness.

In the early Christian traditions, fasting was customarily combined with prayer and purging of the mind of worldly matters in order to devote themselves to worship and avoidance of worldly concerns. The Pharisees, an early Christian sect observed fasting on Wednesdays and particularly on Fridays both of which involved the abstinence from eating meat.

Ramadan Defined
Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islâmic calendar and Muslims in all parts of the world are enjoined to fast the month as a religious obligation. This practice known as as-siyaam is one of the five ‘pillars’ or essential practices of al-Islaam. The month lasts for 29 or 30 days based upon the visual sighting of the hilaal (crescent moon). The word Ramadan comes from the Arabic root ramida or ar-ramadi meaning ‘dryness’ or ‘scorching heat’. Fasting is waajib (compulsory) for adult Muslims except for those who fall under categories of either temporary or permanent exemptions.

The Prescription of Fasting
The month of Ramadan is truly a blessed occasion. It is mentioned specifically by Allâh in the Glorious Qur’ân as follows:

The month of Ramadan in which the Qur’ân was revealed (as) a guidance
for mankind, and clear proofs of the Guidance and the Criterion (of right and wrong). So, whoever of you is present, let him fast the month and whoever of you is sick or on a journey (let him fast the same) number of other days.

Allâh desires for you ease and He does not desire hardship for you.
(He desires) that you should complete the period (of fasting) and that you should magnify Allâh for having guided you, and that perhaps, you will be thankful.

This ayah (verse) gives three main reasons for the fasting and significance of the month of Ramadan:

1. The Glorious Qur’ân was revealed in this month. It is perfect Guidance, a clear criterion of right and wrong and the last of the divine revelations. It is also intended for the whole of humanity. al-Qur’án is an Arabic word which means ‘the reading’, ‘collection’ or ‘recitation’.

2. The Night of Destiny (Laylatul Qadr) the specific night on which the Revelation began. Allâh (swt) wants us to spend the entirety of this month in worship with the hope of attaining Laylatul Qadr which is the equivalent of 1000 months. If we serve Him through acts of worship such as prayers, charity, teaching, reciting the Qur’ân etc. the benefits are immeasurable

3. Fasting (as-siyaam) is the abstinence from food, drink and sexual relations for specified hours of the day (dawn until sunset) and has been described as a mercy from Him

While each of these subjects is dealt with extensively in this book by Professor Agwa, We will try in this section to put them into comparative, methodological and historical perspective because the Islâmic fasting (as-siyaam) carries specific connotations that are unique. Primarily intended to increase the spiritual consciousness and awareness of the individual, it is an institution that has been practiced since the very early days of man existence on the earth. Animals even have some forms of abstinence as seen in the process of hibernation for periods of time by large animals such as bears, skunks and also smaller species:

“Animals commonly prepare for hibernation by eating large amounts of food to build body fats and stores. They also seek a cave or prepare a burrow to protect themselves from severe winter temperatures. Decreasing environmental temperatures, food shortage, shorter days and hormones all influence the onset of hibernation. Awakening is simulated by warmer weather. Some hibernators gather and store food in the burrow before hibernating and awaken periodically to feed.”

Fasting among humans and specifically as a part of religious practice is a an ancient custom and practice. Joan A. Range has written the following:

“Fasting is the practice of abstaining from food, either completely or partially, for a specified period. It is an ancient practice found in religions of the world. Recent scientific research suggests that fasting may be healthful and, when engaged in carefully, may bring about heightened states of consciousness and sensibility. Traditionally, it has been a widely used form of ASCETICISM
and a penitential practice observed for the purpose of purifying the person or of atoning for sins and wrongdoing.”

Other religions have generally modified, minimized and in some cases virtually eliminated fasting as an obligatory practice and this fact is acknowledged by heir scholars:

“No student of ecclesiastical discipline can fail to perceive that the obligation of fasting is rarely observed in its integrity nowadays. Conscious of the conditions of our age, the Church is ever shaping the requirements of this obligation to meet the best interests of her children. At the same time no measure of leniency in this respect can eliminate the natural and divine positive law imposing mortification and penance on man on account of sin and its consequences. (Council of Trent, Sess. VI. can. xx)”

The Islâmic siyaam is the only religious fast that is practiced today in the same manner as it was originally done by its Prophet and/or leader. One probable reason for this continuous of the traditional siyaam from the time of prophet) Muhammad is the blending of abstinence with indulgence within the fasting day as well as the merging of physical and spiritual discipline into one practice as the Muslim scholar, Muhammad Asad describes:

“Twofold I learned, is the purpose of this month
of fasting. One has to abstain from food and drink
in order to feel in one’s body what the poor and hungry
feel. Thus, social responsibility is being hammered
into human consciousness as a religious postulate.
The other purpose of fasting during Ramadaan is
self-discipline, an aspect of individual morality
strongly accentuated in all Islamic teachings
(as for instance, in the total prohibition of all intoxicants
which Islâm regards as to easy an avenue of escape from
consciousness and responsibility). From these two elements,
I began to discern the outline of Islâm’s ethical outlook.”

Ethics is a crucial aspect in today’s world of corrupted values and leadership. Islâm, of course, stands for the highest of ethical standards and this is reflected in the guidelines for fasting in Ramadan. The word (sawm) literally means to refrain or abstain from something .the higher meaning of spiritual development is also posited as the real objective of fasting. Real or genuine fasting means to be in the service of Allâh (swt) with our entire selves i.e. with mind, body, soul an emotions while guarding oneself from disobedience. This is a cardinal obligation and an integral part of the structure of the Islâmic way of life. The Prophet has explained to us that al-Islâm is a superstructure or a mammoth house that is built on five pillars when he said:

“The superstructure of al-Islâm is built upon five (pillars),
testimony that there is none worthy of worship besides Allâh and that
Muhammad His servant and messenger; establishment of salaah (5
times daily prayer, payment of zakaah (poor-due), fasting in the
month of Ramadaan and pilgrimage to the House (at Makka).”

Prophet Muhammad is reported on the authority of Abu Hurairah (rAa) to have said, When the month of Ramadan comes, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hell are closed and the Devils are chained.:

Another tradition reported on the same authority is:

Whoever fasts during Ramadan with faith and expectation
of reward from Allâh will have his past sins forgiven and he
who prays during the night in Ramadaan with faith
and seeking reward from Allâh will have his past sins
forgiven; whoever passes Laylatul Qadr (the Night
of Destiny) with faith and seeking reward from Allâh
will have his past sins forgiven.:

“Every Act of the son of Adam is for his own self except for fasting. Fasting is Mine and I shall reward it!”

The Significance of as-Sawm (the Fasting)

Fasting in the blessed month of Ramadaan is the fourth of five basic pillars or required physical acts of the Islâmic way of life. Above and beyond the abstention from food, drink and sexual relations which form the core of the fasting, is the real objective of cultivating self-restraint while adhering to the commandments of Allâh, the Almighty. This can only be achieved by keeping the remembrance of Allâh fresh and actively alive in the mind and heart of the fasting person. The Muslim is subjecting himself to this rigorous fasting from dawn until sunset for a consecutive month only because Allâh has made it quite clear that this what He has prescribed not only for the followers of the prophet Muhammad (sAa) but also for previous divinely sent Prophets and messengers:

O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those who came before you so that perhaps, you may learn taqwaa

Another important significance of as-sawm (the fast) is the sincere and honest expression of gratitude and appreciation to Allâh for the magnanimous Gift of having received Guidance from the Lord of all the worlds in the form the Glorious Qur’ân and the Islâmic way of life (ad-deen). The entire month has an intimate and distinguished relationship to the Glorious Qur’ân and most Muslims endeavor to read, recite and study the Book of Allâh in its entirety at least one complete time during the month of Ramadaan. The siyaam (plural of sawm) was made obligatory in the second year of the hijra which refers to the migration of the Muslims from Makka to al-Madeena. The Islâmic siyaam , in addition to imposing physical limitations and discipline upon those observing the fast, builds character by feeding the soul a comprehensive diet of God-consciousness (taqwaa), caution and anticipation of reward. This is accomplished through dhikr (remembrance of Allâh), reading and recitation of the Glorious Qur’ân, extended night prayers (Taraweeh), mandated charity (zakaah), voluntary charity (sadaqah) and by abstaining from foul speech such as obscene language, lying , backbiting and gossip.

 

Basic Requirements of Fasting in Ramadaan

1. Definition: Fasting is the abstention from food, beverage and sexual relations between the hours of dawn and sunset
2. Obligation: Fasting in this month is absolutely required of each Muslim who is past the age of puberty and not insane, chronically ill or excessively old.
3. Intention: It is essential to have the specific intention for fasting each day of the month of Ramadaan.
4. Sahoor: This the early morning meal that should be consumed each morning of the fast prior to the fasting period which begins at the time of Salaatul Fajr (morning prayers)
5. Iftaar: This is the meal to break the fast at sunset time. It is traditional (sunnah) to break the fast promptly after the sun has set
6. Nullification of the fast: the fast is broken or spoiled if any eating, drinking or sexual activity occurs in the fasting period. If one mistakenly or forgetfully does something against the fast (by eating or drinking for example), the fast is not broken but he (or she) should immediately return to fasting. V omitting unintentionally in any quantity doesn’t invalidate the fast
7. Fasting exemptions

Fasting is not required of 2 categories of people

First category: temporary exemptions of which the days are made up later:
¥ the one who is sick or traveling
¥ pregnant women
¥ mothers nursing children
¥ menstruating women

Second category: permanent exemptions (fidya)
¥ the chronically ill or sick
¥ elderly persons
¥ mentally incompetent
If an individual is continuously sick or elderly to the extent that fasting may cause harm, he (or she) should feed or spend n charity an amount equivalent to the feeding of one person for each day of fasting that is missed. Sickness implies real suffering or requiring regular medication by mouth or injection.

1. Itikhaf: This is the confining and secluding of oneself for the purpose of fasting, prayers, remembrance (dhikr) of Allâh in a Masjid (or a private place during the last ten days of Ramadaan. It should begin on the evening of the twentieth day of Ramadaan and continues until the sighting of the new moon of Shawwal and the end of the fasting month. The Prophet Muhammad (sAa) would seclude himself in the Masjid for this purpose and continued this practice until he passed way. Women normally perform Itikhaf in their homes.

Ramadan is kareem katheerun (extremely honorable) because if Allâh (swt) will accept our deeds in this month we will have a great reward. Narrated Abu Hurairah (rAa):

“Allâh’s messenger said, “Fasting is a shield (or a screen or a shelter
from the Hell-Fire), So, the person fasting should avoid sexual
relations with his wife and should not behave foolishly and
impudently. If someone fights with him or abuses him, he should
say (to the person) twice, ‘I am fasting’. The Prophet (sAa) added
‘By in Whose Hands my soul is , the smell coming out of the
mouth of a person observing sawm (fast) is better with Allâh
than the smell of musk. (Allâh says about the fasting person),
‘He has left his food , drink and desires for My sake. The
sawm (fast) is for Me and I will reward (the fasting person)
for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.”