3rd Pillar: Fasting
by A. Asim
“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)
..And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew." (Q 2:184)
What is Fasting?
Sawm comes from the Arabic root meaning to ‘Fast’. In Islam is an obligation for all of mankind to do in the Month of Ramadan (9th month of the Islamic calendar). However Muslims can fast other than Ramadan just to gain reward and purify themselves at any time. In the Month of Ramadan (consisting of 29/30 days) while fasting Muslims must reframe from food, drink, sexual activity and smoking etc., from sunrise until sunset. Islam is not oppressive, those who are unable to fast such as mentally or physically unfit, under age of 12, too old, pregnant, breast feeding, menstruating or travelling than fasting is not compulsory on them. Although Muslims that do not fast for the reasons given or are not able to complete their fasts than they are required to compensate for the missing fasts within a year by making up for the fasts on a later date or by making a donation to the poor instead.
Importance of fasting
Sawm (fasting) is the third pillar of Islam. It is fard (obligatory) for all of mankind to perform, so that we may learn the Taqwa (Obedience to Allah). Taqwa teaches us how to love Allah and obey him and always be righteous. It is also seen as a type of ibaadah (prayer) to please Allah (SWT), as we fast only for Allah (SWT). The fasting is not just a spiritual enlightenment by keeping away from sinful acts so that afterwards we remain free from bad habits forever; it is also for us to know how it feels to be hungry. There are many people in the world who do not have enough to eat as the poor are in need of our help. We must share with others whatever Allah (SWT) has given us. Fasting teaches us to always be patient and share the blessing of Allah (SWT) with others. To gain the pleasure of Allah (SWT) we must be ready to give up those things we love. However Sawm without giving up the bad habits is like going hungry, there are no reward for such a fast and no spiritual enlightening.
In the pre-Islamic era fasting was the norm in various religions however other religions sectioned off fasting for particular people in their community whereas Islam introduced fasting as a must for everyone. A few examples; fasting was not compulsory for the non-Brahmans among Hindus, Zoroastrians fasting was merely for the pious priests and Greeks fasting was only for the women. Islam never detailed nor limited fasting to any specific segment of its amah (community) as other religions did, it is a compulsory act in Ramadan for all Muslims. In the Glorious Quran although fasting is compulsory for everyone but just like other fards (compulsory) acts Islam has made it flexible for its followers according to their capability, for example children, expecting women, nursing women, traveller, mentally/physically ill, old aged and women in menstrual period are exempted. Those who temporarily cannot fast must make up for the days missed after and those who are permanently undermined will have to feed one poor person in place of every missed fast so that none misses out on the rewards of Allah (SWT). A lot of this can be found in the Quran and Hadiths. Also pre Islamic history many religions forced their followers to starve for a number of days, whereas Islam fixed the fasting period to one month, every day from sun rise until sun set they are forbidden to eat or drink, after sunset daily they can eat all they can. Pre-Islamically the husband and wife would sleep separately at nights during the fasting period, as this is unnatural and impossible for forbid sexual intercourse, Islam than allowed husband and wife to sleep with each other during fasting period although they cannot have sexual intercourse during fasting but once they break their fast they are allowed. Islam presented mercy to every Muslim in every act e.g. forgetfulness, error and faults are excused in Islam as it was unintentional. Historically the Jews purpose of fasting was to honour/memorise hardship and grief, whereas fasting in Islam was to not just familiarise Muslims of just the needy but also of cleansing one’s self physically and their soul. As looking through the Jahilia period (pre-historic ignorant age) religion was very tough and was not accommodating to all individuals in their community. Within Islamic history fasting was also presented by many prophets e.g. Prophet Esa (Jesus) AS and Musa (Moses) AS. Islam however brought forth equality, wisdom, morality, spirituality, materiality and great divinity from Allah (SWT) through the Quran and Sunnah (Hadith) by sending a well-hearted Prophet Muhammad (SAW). Islam also allowed flexibility within the Ummah according to their ability, capability and situations, it is a religion which understands the fact that we are all servants of Allah (SWT) and at the end of the day just human therefore we are tempted into forbidden acts, desires and consciousness but Islam teaches us patience, understanding and most importantly Taqwa (God consciousness) through such acts such as fasting.
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)
"Ramadan is the (month) in which the Quran was sent down, as a guide to mankind and a clear guidance and judgment (so that mankind will distinguish from right and wrong).." (Q 2:183)
For a certain number of days only; so whoever is sick among you, or on a journey, the same number in other days; and those who do not have the strength for it must give a redemption by feeding a needy person; so whoever increases the good of his own accord, it is better for him; and fasting is better for you, if only you realise. [Baqarah 2:184]
The month of Ramadan in which was sent down the Qur’an - the guidance for mankind, the direction and the clear criteria (to judge between right and wrong); so whoever among you witnesses this month, must fast for the (whole) month; and whoever is sick or on a journey, may fast the same number in other days; Allah desires ease for you and does not desire hardship for you - so that you complete the count (of fasts), and glorify Allah’s greatness for having guided you, and so that you may be grateful. (Baqarah 2:185)
Indeed the Muslim men and Muslim women, and the believing men and the believing women, and the men who obey and the women who obey, and the truthful men and the truthful women, and the patient men and the patient women, and the humble men and the humble women, and charitable men and the charitable women, and the fasting men and the fasting women, and the men who guard their chastity and the women who guard their chastity, and the men who profusely remember Allah and the women who profusely remember Allah – for all of them, Allah has kept prepared forgiveness and an immense reward (Ahzab 33:35)