Fasting; from the man who wrote a dictionary of the Quran
Some individuals can be rightly called a true scientist of the Quran; Ghulam Ahmed Parwez is one such man. We are walking on the bridges that cross the rivers of knowledge that such individuals have built for us, availing ourselves of their hard work and supreme intellectual thought on matters that relate to the Word of Allah.
Recent discussion on fasting concerning Qamar Zaman has led me to look at what Parwez Saab had to say on this subject and I am humbly relating this to you here.
From Lughaat Ul Quran:-
Saad, waw, miim
Saam: to stop: to abstain: to be prevented: saama unil kalaam: stopped talking: kept quiet: saama unin nikaah: abstained from nikaah (wedlock): saama unis sair: stopped walking: saamul ma-u: the water became stagnant: masamun: the place to stand.
The Qur’an has termed siyaam as a ( farz) must: 2:183 it means to abstain from morning till night from eating, drinking or having sex: 2:187 these are the days of fasting during the month of Ramadan in which the Qur’an started being revealed: a man who is a resident (not traveling), and healthy (not sick) and his physique is such that fasting does not make him suffer, then siyaam is a must for him: 2:184 a traveler after the journey and the sick after being healthy must complete the count (of the days of fasting): 2:184 but he who suffers during fasting should instead feed a needy: 2:184.
Fasting is actually a sort of military training for making the momineen capable of bearing the difficulties of jihad (struggle for establishing God’s Deen): the Qur’an has itself said: la allakum tattaqoon: 2:183 so that you become capable of looking after the laws of God: litukabbirullaha ala ma hadaakum: 2:185 so that you can super impose the laws of God as given in the Qur’an over man made laws or system: wa la allakum tashkuroon: 2:185 so that your efforts can produce full results.
Saa-imun: one who abstains from the wrong way or one who fasts: 33:35 one who controls himself: one who stays within God’s limits.
Exposition of the Quran:-
183-184 Self-control is a prerequisite both for steadfastness and fortitude in the battlefield as well as for establishing a just and equitable socio-economic system. In other words, in case of a conflict between your physical drives and lofty human values, you should uphold the latter. Furthermore, you should habituate yourself to leading a hard and laborious life. For this purpose fasting has been made obligatory for you as it was for earlier communities, in order that you may live according to the Divine Laws and protect yourself from the pitfalls of life. Fasting is for a prescribed number of days (as fixation of time itself is an aid to disciplined life). If (during Ramadan) any of you is sick or on a journey (and misses some fasts) he must complete the prescribed number by fasting on other days. But if a person is neither sick nor on a journey yet cannot fast except with great hardship and, therefore, cannot make up missed fasts, he should provided food for a person in need in lieu thereof.
It is evident that the condition of the last named category of persons cannot be determined by Law. It is for you yourself to determine if you are unable to fast except with great hardship. If on assessing your own condition you conclude that the odds are even, then it is better for you to fast even if it is (relatively) hard for you, because the purpose which is served by fasting cannot be attained by providing food to another, provided you understand the rationale for fasting.
185 Here the question arises as to why the month of Ramadan was chosen for this collective (as well as individual) exercise in self-discipline. The answer is that Ramadan is the month during which the revelation of the Quran began which shows all humanity the clear path leading to its ultimate goal, revealing those permanent values whereby one can distinguish truth from falsehood. The discipline learned through fasting is an annual training to remain in a state of preparedness for the accomplishment of this lofty programme. Hence a person who is at home during this month should fast. If a person is sick or on a journey, he should, as already stated, complete the prescribed number of fasts by fasting on other days (and the concession allowed to a person who cannot fast except with great hardship has been mentioned earlier). Allah wants to make things easy for you and does not want to subject you to hardships and difficulties. Mark again that fasting is not a mere rite. Its purpose is to enable you to establish on the one hand supremacy of the Divine Laws in the world, in the light of the Guidance given to you (9/33) and on the other enable you to nourish your own potentialities.
186 In the context of the obligation to fast, do not think that by restricting the fulfilling of human needs to prescribed times and by abstaining from material indulgences, one is attaining closeness to Allah (as was believed to be the case amongst monastic cults). (O Rasool!) when My devotees ask you about Me, tell them that I am close to them at all times. (This means that) when anyone calls upon Me to lead him to the right path, My Guidance which is preserved in the Quran, answers his call. Therefore, tell them that the way to attain the nearness of Allah is to adhere to My Laws fully, believing implicitly in their validity (7/56, 8/24, 32/15-16, 40/60, 42/26). By following these Laws they will be able to walk firmly upon the right path of life.
187 Take note that fasting is only from dawn to dusk [*2] During other hours, eating, drinking or having sexual intercourse with one’s wife is not prohibited. The relationship between the two spouses is a most intimate one. Monasticism engendered the concept that celibacy is a means of attaining closeness to Allah, but He is well aware of the importance of the intimate relationship between spouses in fulfilling human needs, and also the perversions, fantasies and self-deception to which renunciation of marital relationships lead (57/21). Human beings may set unnatural limits upon themselves, but Allah’s Law rising above all such limits, dispels your doubts and anxieties and makes it clear that in the hours from dusk to dawn you are permitted to cohabit with your wives, as well as partake of food and drink. From dawn to dusk you are required to fast. If after dusk you are detained at your centre (of training or activity e.g. Masjid) in order to ponder or resolve some important issue or problem, then you should devote your total attention to the task in hand and refrain from going home.
These are the Laws laid down by Allah regarding matters which have been discussed above. You should adhere to them. Allah explains His Laws clearly so that people can fully understand and follow them.
188 (As mentioned earlier) always keep this fact in mind that the purpose of fasting is to create in you the self-discipline by means of which you can distinguish between what is lawful and unlawful in all spheres of life and to reject the latter no matter how strongly you are attracted to it. For instance, do not devour another’s property or bribe officials to give you that which belongs to another person when you are aware of the consequences that follow from acquiring anything unfairly. The purpose of fasting is, thus, to develop your personality in the manner described above.
189 We have stated earlier that fasting is during the month of Ramadan. This has led some people to think that some months are auspicious and some are inauspicious and they have referred the matter to you. O Rasool! Say to them that it is mere superstition to call some months (or days) auspicious or inauspicious. In fact, specification of time is only to determine the calendar. The advantage of having a calendar is obvious – for instance, it enables you to know when the Hajj is to be performed. Tell them clearly that superstition has no place in Deen. For instance, the belief that during the Hajj, the house should be entered from the back and not from the front-door is only a superstition. Righteousness is not associated with such rites. It is concerned only with the degree to which you adhere to the Divine Laws and with the sublimity of your character. Therefore, set aside such ignorant practices and enter houses during the Hajj as you do during other days.
Follow the Divine Laws and live according to your normal routine. this is the way to achieve success and bliss in life.
[*2] In lands where the length of the day or night is unusually extended, reasonable hours of fasting may be calculated as is done for the performance of normal activities of daily life. This is why Allah has stressed the importance of human reason alongside with Divine Revelation.
The following are a number of verses where Saum is mentioned and I have put Yusuf Ali translation along with Parwez Saabs in order to see the traditional religious meaning; some differ, some agree.
Surah 33 Y.Ali
35. For Muslim men and women,- for believing men and women, for devout men and women, for true men and women, for men and women who are patient and constant, for men and women who humble themselves, for men and women who give in Charity, for men and women who fast (and deny themselves), for men and women who guard their chastity, and for men and women who engage much in Allah.s praise,- for them has Allah prepared forgiveness and great reward.
35. (O Rasool! The education and upbringing of your household is all the more important, because they have to serve as models for other women. Remember that society consists of both men and women, who have to go through life hand in hand. If one of them lags behind, it is bound to hamper the progress of the other. It should be well understood that there is no difference in the potentialities of men and women; except certain biological differences which have been retained for the posterity of the human race.) Therefore, in an Islamic Society, both men and women should have the following qualities:
1 ) They should totally submit to the Divine Laws;
2 ) This obedience should not be mechanical, but must arise from the very depth
of their hearts. They should thus exhibit complete conviction in them;
3 ) They should utilize their developed potentialities according to the Divine Laws;
4 ) They are true to the covenant (9:111) which they have made with Allah ;
5 ) They remain steadfast when facing adversities, troubles or difficulties ;
6 ) They are always prompt in rendering service to others (like the fruit-laden branch of an easily accessible tree) ;
7 ) They are ever ready to sacrifice all their assets for the sake of the Divine Order ;
8 ) They abstain themselves from all that the Divine Laws prohibit them to do and they bear in mind the restrictions imposed by these Laws;
9 ) They guard their chastity fully ;
10) In short, throughout their lives, at each and every step, they act upon the Divine Laws.
These are the people to whom Allah’s Law of Mukafat shall provide full protection against all types of doom. They will get great reward for all their efforts and deeds. (In this regard there is no difference between men and women ~ 3:194; 4:124.)
Surah 19 Y.Ali
26. "So eat and drink and cool (thine) eye. And if thou dost see any man, say, 'I have vowed a fast to ((Allah)) Most Gracious, and this day will I enter into not talk with any human being'"
27. At length she brought the (babe) to her people, carrying him (in her arms). They said: "O Mary! truly an amazing thing hast thou brought!
Surah 19 Parwez
26. Eat (the fresh dates) and drink (the cold water from the rivulet) and then let your eyes rejoice (at the sight of your baby). (As for your concern about accusations or people's queries, you should keep a fast and) If anyone asks, you should inform only by gesturing, that you have vowed to fast in the name of Ar-Rahman and will therefore not speak to any person for the day.
Surah 58 Y.Ali
4. And if any has not (the wherewithal), he should fast for two months consecutively before they touch each other. But if any is unable to do so, he should feed sixty indigent ones, this, that ye may show your faith in Allah and His Messenger. Those are limits (set by) Allah. For those who reject (Him), there is a grievous Penalty
Surah 58 Parwez
3. (But such absurdities should not become everyday phenomenon; and be allowed to prevail in society. Such things do not happen in the society of decent and noble people.) People who (even inadvertently) call their wives as their mothers (or use similar words), and later repent and wish to take their words back then (the penalty for this is) before they resume their conjugal relations, they should free a slave. They must suffer some penalty so that they keep themselves under control and not utter whatever comes to their mind. This is being ordained so that you learn a lesson and realise that Allah is fully aware of all that you do.
4. If one does not have (a slave or if slavery no longer exists in that society), then he should fast for two consecutive months before they resume conjugal relations. If he is unable to do so (observe the fast for two consecutive months) then he should feed sixty indigent people. This is (being prescribed) so that you shall have absolute Eiman on the truthfulness of the system ordained by Allah and established through His Rasool.
Surah 66 Y.Ali
5. It may be, if he divorced you (all), that Allah will give him in exchange consorts better than you,- who submit (their wills), who believe, who are devout, who turn to Allah in repentance, who worship (in humility), who travel (for Faith) and fast,- previously married or virgins.
Surah 66 Parwez
5. (The life of husband and wife should be that of harmony, peace and affection. If such a situation does not prevail then it is better to part with each other. As such, if you continue to oppose him then he would have no choice but to divorce you. If this happens keep in mind that) His Rabb shall find him women who would be better wives than you. They would be better in the sense that they would submit to Divine Laws; believe completely in their truthfulness; and reserve all their capabilities for this mission. Should they have any slip, they would take immediate steps for correcting it. They would obey the Divine Laws under all circumstances and accompany the Nabi in his travels and in Jihad (9:112).
Women having these qualities would be willing to marry him, whether they are divorcees, widows or virgins.
Surah 5 Yusuf Ali
89 Allah will not call you to account for what is futile in your oaths, but He will call you to account for your deliberate oaths: for expiation, feed ten indigent persons, on a scale of the average for the food of your families; or clothe them; or give a slave his freedom. If that is beyond your means, fast for three days. That is the expiation for the oaths you have sworn. But keep to your oaths. Thus does Allah make clear to you His signs, that you may be grateful.
Surah 5 Parwez
89 (If you have taken an oath not to partake a particular lawful thing, mind it that) Allah holds you accountable only for oaths taken with serious intent and not for frivolous oaths (2/225). The atonement for breaking serious oaths is the feeding of ten poor persons with such food as your family eats, or the providing of clothes to them or the setting free of a captive. But one who cannot afford this should fast for three days. This is the atonement for breaking serious oaths which you have sworn wrongfully. Serious oaths which you have sworn rightfully must be kept. Thus, in this way Allah makes His directives clear to you. For this you should be thankful to Him.
The above shows that some verses traditionally thought of to mean fast should actually mean to uphold the Divine laws and abstain from wrong behaviour. Fast has been given as a means to correct ones character when one speaks in error or breaks an oath. Under these circumstances, if fast was not meant to be stopping eating and drinking but only abstaining from wrong actions, then why for three days or two months only? Surely we have to do so 24/7, 365 days a year. The fast is not a punishment, in my opinion, but a character building exercise, to remind us that we have to uphold what we say; we should not speak in haste, in anger, and must give careful consideration to everything we do. Characters are not built or developed in all the religions of the world, including the N2 Muslims, who look upon mindless rituals, gaining sawaab points for heaven, building homes in heaven etc, as the be all and end all of their lives. The Quran gives great importance to this aspect of our existence; character building, so that we survive into the hereafter with developed personalities.
To say that we can eat and drink in Ramadan and ONLY stop doing wrong, places no test upon us. Again, it should be for all times, not just for one month. Fast is not so arduous that we cannot do it, children can fast without harm (my 10 year old son recently did a few fasts to see how it was and he had no problems). But what it does do is remind us, during our daylight hours when we are active, that we are doing something for ourselves; eating and drinking negates this hold upon us; the reminder is not there!
This is what we should be doing as true believing Muslims:-
Surah 9 Parwez
(111) On the other hand, there are believers who have entered into a transaction with Allah, through the instrumentality of the Divine Order, Who purchases their very persons and their worldly possessions in return for the abiding blissful life of Jannat. They shall fight in the cause of Allah and slay and be slain and on the part of Allah the promise of Jannat is binding. Similar promises were also made in the Torah and the Bible and are reiterated here in the Quran. Who is better than Allah in fulfilling promises. O believers! rejoice then on the bargain effected which is a great achievement.
(112) Those who have entered into a transaction with Allah are:
1. They who realizing that they have taken a step in the wrong direction, immediately retreat;
2. Those who, after deep reflection come to the inevitable conclusion that every thing which is created by Allah, deserves Hamd and also strive to make the Divine Order worthy of that!
3. Those who appreciate the creations of Allah (1/1, 3/190, 41/53);
4. Those who travel abroad in the cause of Allah;
5. Those who bow down and fully surrender before Allah;
6. Those who enjoin what has been declared to be right by the Quran and forbid the opposite;
7. Those who, in short, live within the bounds prescribed by Allah.
O Rasool convey glad tidings to these Momineen.
But I do not see where doing the above makes us abandon fasting for one month in Ramadan which is prescribed in Surah 2, verses 183-189. Those looking to other verses to show that Saum is more than stopping eating and drinking (which it is) are ignoring Surah 2 which is clear. We cannot ignore some verses and follow others, the whole Quran is binding upon us:-
Surah 28 verses 85-88 Dr Shabir Saab
28:85 Surely, He Who has made this Qur’an a binding duty upon you, will assuredly bring you back to the Destination of Bliss. Say, "My Lord is best Aware as to who is rightly guided and who is obviously lost in error."
[I agree with Muhammad Asad that the second person singular in this verse applies to every person who chooses the Qur’an as the Guide. From then on, it is a change of direction to a new destination in this world and in the Hereafter]
28:86 (O Prophet) you never expected that this Book will be bestowed upon you. But it is a Mercy from your Lord (to all humanity). Hence, you shall never side with the rejecters.
28:87 And let them not divert you from God's messages after they have been sent down unto you. But, invite people to your Lord and be not of the company of those who uphold systems other than the Divinely ordained System of Life.
28:88 (Keeping pristine the Divinely ordained System of Life), call not upon human ‘authorities’ and manmade systems as gods side by side with God. There is no god but He. Everything is mortal except His Eternal Self. To Him belong all Governance and all Judgment, and unto Him you shall be returned.
Although Parwez Saab says he was always open to correction, in my humble opinion, he has got the correct understanding of the whole meaning of Saum, which includes fast, and we should do so with the right attitude, not according to the way others do so which includes:-
1. Treating it as an exercise in starvation and thirst only.
2. Staying up all night to eat at 4am and then sleeping to 4pm in the afternoon, reversing their days!
3. Not looking at the Quran to build their characters but looking to the sky for angels to bring them blessings, which they can only get from studying the Quran.
Just because they do not do it correctly does not mean we should not do so. We, who strive to understand the correct meaning of the Quran, will be put under a more severe test on Judgement Day because we should be doing the right things; those who do not know may be shown Allah’s Mercy, but we have no excuse.