Introduction and Definition of Ramadan:
Ramadan is an Arabic word, and roughly translated as intense heat or sun-scorched ground. It is for that reason that it is called Ramadan due to its dry sensation of thirst and burn of the stomach when fasting. Ramadan is the ninth month of the lunar Islamic calendar. It was mandated to Muslims in the 2nd year of Hijrah; thus, it is one of the pillars of Islam. Ramadan was also mandated to people before Muslims.
Allah said, “O you who believe! Observe Asawm (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious)” (2:183).
It is a blessed and significant month, for it is the month of Qur’an. It was in Ramadan when the Qur’an was revealed to Prophet Muhammad (pbuh), as well as Injeel to Prophet Issa, Torah to Prophet Musa, Zabur to Prophet Da’ud, and Suhuf to Prophet Ibrahim peace be upon all of them.
Allah said, “The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong)” (2:185).
The word fasting is sawm in Arabic, and it is interpreted as to abstaining from something. During the whole month of Ramadan all applicable Muslim adults fast, commencing and ending with the sighting of new moon, and the entire day is spent on fasting from dawn to dust. It is recommended to break the fasting with dates and/or water, and to have a meal before the dawn prayer. However, if the fasting person drinks or eats unconsciously during the day, the person will stop when he or she remembers and continues fasting the rest of the day. Fasting the month of Ramadan is the fourth pillar of Islam.
Things to Fast from:
The word sawm literally means to “abstain.” However, in the Islamic shar’ah it means abstaining from food, water, sexual activities, and smoking during daylight. One is also not allowed to engage in any misconduct whether that is gossiping, slandering, lying, or harming others physically or psychologically. Parts of the rituals of Ramadan are to be peaceful and behave well, so that even if someone insults you while you are fasting, your response would to be do nothing but say “I am fasting; I am fasting.”
The Prophet said (pbuh) “Fasting is protection or shield, screen, or a shelter from the Hell-fire). So, the person observing fasting should avoid sexual relation with his wife or her husband and should not behave foolishly and impudently, and if somebody fights with his/her or abuses them, he or she should say to him or her twice I am fasting” , ( Bukhari).
Therefore things that we should fast from can shortly be summarized as the following categories:
- Abstaining from forbidden physical activities performed by mouth, stomach, or sex organs.
- Preventing from forbidden actions or speech such as vulgar talking, hearing, seeing or viewing forbidden items/or sites.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “He who does not desist from obscene language and acting obscenely, Allah has no need that he did not eat or drink” (Bukhari).
As the hadith stated, all the above actions and words can negate the fasting. Therefore, one should avoid anything that invalidates his or her fasting.
Importance and Benefits of Ramadan:
On the other hand, Ramadan is a blessed month and has lots of benefits for the observers; therefore, one does not just stop all the above desires of life without compensation or gaining a reward for it. The rewards of this month are numerous. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said this month is divided into
three parts or divisions. “Its beginning is Mercy, its middle is Forgiveness, and its ending is Libration from the Hellfire” (Bukhari).
Thus, the whole month is full of chances to make good deeds. The first part of the month is mercy, and Allah is always merciful, for He starts the word Most Gracious Most Merciful in the beginning of almost every chapter in the Qur’an. Even though Allah’s mercy is open anytime to anyone, He rewards us with His mercy in this month than in any other month. Second part of the month is forgiveness. Allah is most forgiving to His servants. The probability of being forgiven is greater than any other time. The last part of Ramadan summarizes the parts before it, because after receiving both mercy and forgiveness what one seeks is to be freed from the Hellfire or to enter Paradise. Thus the last part of Ramadan is liberation from the Hellfire. He wants us to take the advantages of this honored month in which the deeds multiple. Imagine if your neighbor dealer is selling his or her BMW for $10,000 in one day of the year where it actually is $20,000.00 for the rest of the year. Would you compete and benefit from this chance or would you buy it at the high regular price? Logically, intellectual person would take the chance and save that huge money. Thus, Allah gives the believer
who observe fasting a giant opportunity to secure themselves from the Hellfire.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said, “A blessed month has arrived. Observing it in fasting is mandated on you. During this month, the gates of Paradise will be opened and the gates of Hellfire will be closed and Satans or evils are chained. (Abu Hureirah).
For this opportunity of the Ramadan, the doors of Paradise are opened and those of the Hellfire are closed. The rituals and worshiping of Allah would be easier than other months, since big evils are jailed. Therefore, the temptations of evil would be less, which enables us to worship Allah more precisely and more frequently. In addition, fasting is by far the most intimate form of worship.
Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) said that Allah said, “I swore by the One in Whose Hand is the soul of Muhammad, the unpleasant smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk”. (Abu Hureirah).
The smell that comes from the fasting person is much better with Allah than a perfume. This distasteful breath is caused by the lack of eating and long period in which the mouth was covered. It is difficult and not easy to stay without water, food and any desires of life for such a long time. Nevertheless, the reward that such a devout person could deserve is expounded by the following hadith.
The Prophet (pbuh) said Allah said “He or she left his or her food, drink, and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward the fasting for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times” (Bukhari).
The reason fasting is for Allah is because every other pillar of Islam is carried out physically and cannot be hidden. When one performs, others could see and can even comment on his or her actions. However, fasting is different because no one knows whether one is fasting or not. For example, if one cheats around the corner and drinks water during Ramadan who could tell other than Allah? Therefore, Allah is the only One who can know such actions, for He is the knower of the Unseen. As mentioned above, Ramadan is the month of Qur’an; thus, Muslims are recommended to read the Qur’an, perform tarawih (an extra prayer performed during this month after ‘Isha prayer), and to read a section from the Qur’an every night. The Qur’an contains thirty sections (Juz); therefore, these thirty sections will be completed by the last night of the month. Within this month, Allah hides in it a night which is better than a thousand months.
Allah said; “The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descend in it by the permission of their Lord for every affair, Peace, it is, until the break of the dawn” (97: 3-5).
This night’s deed is equivalent to an amount of good deeds in 83 years and four months. Hence, it is the best interest of the fasting people to obtain the deeds of this night. This night could be in any night during the month; however, most scholars indicate that it is one of the odd nights of the last ten nights. Some scholars specifically indicated as the 27th night of Ramadan. Again, no one knows precisely other than Allah because geographically it is very hard to see the month at the same time. A person who lives in South Africa and one who lives in North America will not see the new moon at the same night. Thus, the only safer way to attain this night is to do all the rituals of this month by observing fasting, giving charity, performing prayers, reciting the Qur’an, participating in all rites of the month and avoiding any misconducts and bad habits for the whole month. It is in this night that first verses of the Qur’an were revealed to the Prophet (peace be upon him). It is the night in which Allah determines the courses of the world for the coming year. Ramadan is the month of discipline and self-training. It teaches us how to control ourselves, so that we can do and stop things in a certain time. It is the learning month, so if the lessons learned from this month are carried out after Ramadan whether it is dietary, righteousness, or how to control desires the impact will be long lasting. The fortune of having assets as fancy as airplane, ships, and sky rises buildings, or basic as niche, or food to eat whatever it may be is a bounty from Allah. It is a mandatory act for whoever is given that fortune to praise and thank Allah and at the same time to sympathize to those who are less fortunate.
Therefore one of the core values of Ramadan is to teach us to clean our heart from its vulgarity and arrogance so that we will help and to ease the vice between us. Ramadan has health benefits. The Prophet (pbuh) said in a hadith that a human being has not filled a container worse than his or her stomach. Therefore, filling the stomach all the time would cause some disease. Almost all the disease that people are afflicted with in these days are from what they eat. We are living in an era in which the majority of the population is overweight and heading to become obese. Thus, fasting will help one to control his or her diet, to manage their weight, and to lower their lipids and cholesterol. Fasting also gives a rest to digestive system to digest the food particles one at a time. This leads to another hadith in which the prophet said, fast, you will get healthier.
Therefore, the reasons and importance of fasting can be summarized as follows:
- Obligation from Allah: obeying and following Allah’s order
- Purifying the soul and gaining more piety: strengthening connection and devotion for Allah preformed by heart and mind
- Self-Control: to discipline one’s habit and to train his or her self by following an order that they can stop or do things in a certain times.
- Physical Health: to control one’s diet
- Sympathy for less Fortunate: appreciating Allah’s bounty of having what to eat so one might remember the need of those who do not have food.
Who must fast?
- All mature, sane, and health capable Muslims
Who will not fast?
- Children: who have not reached the age of puberty
Who is excused?
- Travelers: they will make up the missed days
- Sick individuals: they will fast the missed days later when they are cured
- Pregnant and breast feeding women: they might feed a poor person or fast later on according to different scholars’ opinions
- The elderly and patient: who has no hopes of regaining their ability or health, they will pay or feed one person every day
Who must not fast?
- Menstruating and Postpartum women: they will fast later after the blood is over.