The term fasting is actually an inadequate word for the Arabic Saum. It does not just mean abstinence from food and water but also self restraint, being careful, getting empowered against evil, avoiding overstepping the Laws, exercising caution, strengthening one’s ‘self’, preserving the ‘self’ against deterioration and good conduct. It is a means to discipline the heart and mind. This is in stark contrast to the way fasting has come down through history. Hermits, ascetics, saints, Sufi mystics, conscientious objectors, political prisoners etc have all used fasting for getting closer to their god or pressurising changes on politicians (the suffragettes of England and Gandhi are two examples of this latter). The Quran has the different approach to all other man made ideologies in that we are asked to develop our “selfs”, to have a strong personality that does not disintegrate under hardship but bears this with patient perseverance. A one month training course, not to short, not unbearably long, is prescribed for us. When we deny ourselves the instinctive life giving benefits of food and water we are exercising a most profound effect upon our selfs; babies instinctively suckle, they are not taught this, and we have to learn to overcome this, albeit for a few hours. It would not be a test if there were no hardships and it is the way we approach this that allows us to benefit from the fast or not do so (many people look like zombies during the month of Ramadan, not cleaning their faces properly in a vain attempt to look pious!)
When we succumb to our base desires, our personalities are diminished. We may think we have gained something, a new mobile phone, a watch, a girl or boyfriend, but these materialistic gains make us lose something from out selfs. Having healthy bodies is a must, but development of our minds is regarded by modern science to be just as important as physical prowess. Take athletics; how many times have you seen extremely fit individuals on a running track “psyching” themselves up for a race; we see people enduring extreme hardship when climbing mountains and it is only the mentally strong individuals who achieve this, not your average “Joe”. The limited mental training period for us normal humans is the fasting of Ramadan.
Fasting should remind us about those who “have not” and we should feel ashamed that the world was given to us by Allah with enough resources for everyone but it is the satanic mindset influences of the man made systems that are running the world today that has resulted in the abject poverty we see.
Now let us look at what the Wisdom of Allah has prescribed for us:-
Surah 2 verses 183-186.
2:183 (Creating an ideal society requires discipline and self-restraint among the individuals.) O You who have chosen to be graced with belief! Abstinence (from food, drink and sex during the daytime) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you get empowered against evil.
2:184 Just for a fixed number of days. But if any of you is sick or he is on a journey, he may make up the same number of days later. For those who can go through Abstinence only with hardship, there is a ransom: the feeding of an indigent. Any additional charity will bring additional reward. However, if you knew better, going through the training program of Abstinence is good for you.
2:185 The month of Ramadan has been chosen for this collective training since this is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, a Guidance for mankind, clearly explaining the ‘why’ of every Rule. And it is the Criterion of right and wrong. Hence, whoever witnesses this month should participate in the program of Abstinence. But if any of you is sick or on a journey, let him practice Abstinence for the same number of days later. God desires for you ease, and He desires for you no hardship. The postponement is to enable you to complete the period. The objective of this training is to establish the supremacy of God (on earth) for, He has shown you a well-lighted road, and for you to show gratitude.
[The entire Qur’an was revealed upon the Prophet’s heart (‘down-loaded’) in Ramadhan of 610 CE in the order as we see today. Thereafter, it was conveyed to people in stages. The concepts therein are not defunct theories and empty hypotheses. It has a Permanent Universal Code of Values and Laws. The yearly training of Abstinence in this month connects the Message with intensive reflection and study. Note: The Qur’an does not forbid menstruating women from praying or participating in the program of Abstinence. However, a menstruating woman may be considered unwell. The only thing forbidden by the Qur’an during menstruation is intimate husband-wife relationship. Shukr does not mean just verbal thanks. It involves showing gratitude in practice by sharing the God-given bounties with others. 2:87-97, 2:185 2:222, 2:233, 7:189, 9:32-33, 14:1, 16:2, 17:85-86, 26:193, 31:14, 42:52, 44:1-4, 46:15, 70:4, 81:17-19, 97:1]
2:186 (This training program has nothing to do with asceticism. The mystics think that self-denial will bring them close to God.) So, when My servants ask you about Me, surely, I am Near. I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me. Let them, then, respond to Me and believe in Me, so that they might follow the right way.
[God’s response = A sincere caller will be shown the right direction = This Divine Writ, Al-Qur’an has answers to all their questions. 3:193-195, 7:56, 8:24, 32:15-16, 40:60, 42:25-26]
2:187 (Abstinence is only for the daytime.) It has been made Lawful for you to go unto your wives on the night of the Abstinence. They are your garments and you are their garments - close to each other, source of mutual comfort, complementing each other, trustworthy and keepers of privacy, reason for décor, and redressers of faults. God knows that you would have deprived yourselves and so He turns to you and pardons your misconceptions. So, now you may have intimate relations with them and, besides, seek all good that God has ordained for you. You may eat and drink until you can discern the white streak of light against the black streak of night at daybreak. Then complete the Abstinence until sunset. Do not have intimate relations with them while on special assignments in the Centers of the Divine System. These are the bounds set by God - so come not near violating them. It is thus that God explains His Commands unto mankind clearly, so that they understand and live upright.
[I’tikaaf = Special task = To be deputed = Extra duty = Unique assignment. ‘Aakifoon = Those on I’tikaaf. Unfortunately, under the Ajami (alien) influences, the concept given to I’tikaaf has reduced this Sublime Ordinance to ten days of ascetic and ritualistic isolation in a mosque in the third part of Ramadhan. Obviously, this invented practice violates the Qur’anic injunctions against monasticism and human rights. (57:27). Libaas = Garment = Raiment embraces all the meanings rendered]
Fasting has been prescribed for all peoples throughout the history of Divine Revelation. The Jews still have fasting days and the Christians are supposed to fast during Lent (but most of them do not bother or treat it as a joke by just giving up one thing, like chocolate, when full abstinence from food and water etc during daylight hours is called for!). Fasting is for all able bodied persons but those who are ill, on a journey or work under extreme physical conditions are exempted by Allah. They are allowed to make the lost days up when they are able, or feed the poor (it must be poor people, not your relatives who you invite around for dinner as a ritualised fulfilment of this obligation).
The above verses also have establishing the supremacy of the Divine Permanent Values of the Quran as a consequence of fasting. Let me explain; Allah has ordered the universe in such a way that everything physical follows His pre-ordained laws. They are fixed and any deviation from them will result in chaos i.e. universal constants are fixed (E=mc2, etc) but as human beings have a free will our “controls” are a matter of choice. Anyone who sincerely decides to obey/follow the Divine commands nourishes their personalities, they benefit from the self imposed restrictions put upon them. By fasting we get used to thinking and practicing these voluntary restrictions which we then continue to develop throughout the year. Well, this is the theory; Muslims do not follow this so the benefits are not manifested in practice. It is a failing from us, not the system that Allah has given.
The permission to “approach your wives” is confirming that this is not a monastic fast but a personality building exercise. Having husbands and wives does not stop us “getting closer” to Allah; I use this phrase in its broadest sense, there is no mysticism meant.
Fasting has many medical benefits which have been proved my western science, for example, the kidneys excrete more bodily toxins resulting in a healthier body. Experiments on mice have shown increased life spans when they have been subjected to periods of food deprivation, which, I hasten to add, does not mean starvation! Unfortunately, we Muslims fail to take full advantage of the fast by rushing home at illegal speeds in order to get there for the frenzied rush at filling our stomachs to bursting point when the fast closes in the evenings! All thoughts of self control and the medical benefits go out of the window (or down the toilet) and the majority end up with upset stomachs, constipation and flatulence.
We can all quote Parwez Sahib:-
Tha, waw, qaf
Tauq: collar: anything which encircles: Raghib says tauq is the collar one is born with, like the collar of the Qumri (a bird): or artificial collar like golden or silver necklace: tataw waq: to wear a collar*: to make one wear a collar 3:176.
At taaqah: the Tajul Uroos , Raghib, and Ibn Faaris , Aqrabil Muwarid all agree that at taaqah means a force which can be employed to do something although unwillingly: that is, the work seems so difficult or disliked as if someone has put a collar around the throat: they quote the Qur’an where it says: la tuhammilna ma la taqata lana behi: 2:286 it does not mean that do not burden us with something which we cannot perform , it means works which are difficult for us: **.
About the orders of fasting, the Qur’an says: wa alal lazeena yutiqunahu fidyatun tu-aamu miskeen: 2:184
*Taj **Taj, Muheet, Raghib.
Ordinarily it is taken to mean that those who have the power or capability to fast (or to give fidya or compensation) can give up fasting by giving fidyah: these meanings are wrong: if those who can give fidyah are exempt from fasting then who is fasting farz or must for?
It means that those who can fast but with difficulty must give fidyah instead of fasting: because: yureedul laahu bikimul yusra wala yureedu bikumul asr: 2:185 God does not want to create difficulties for you but ease.
Al Munaar says that the Arabs say ayaqash shaiyi when the power is insufficient to do a certain thing or one has to face great difficulty in doing something: allazeena yuqeetunahu means old and weak: the disabled, who have no hope of recovering: the laborers or workers who usually toil for their livelihood: the prisoners who do hard work: if such people have difficulty in fasting and can not give fidyah too, then they may give up fasting: *the next part of this ayaat is: faman tatawwa khairan fahuwa khairul lahu : 2:184 the person who does good work with tolerable hard work it is better for him: here the difference between yutiqoona and tatawwa must be noted: yutiqoon means hard work and tatawwa has the element of obedience but with some difficulty.
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.