Fruits for the Week

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Fasting, like prayer, is also an act of worship and is the fourth pillar of Islam. It is compulsory for all Muslims, both men and women; but pregnant women, the sick and travellers are exempted from fasting. But travellers have to observe fasting after the end of their journey, pregnant women after the delivery of their child and the sick when they become well. Women during the period of menstruation need not fast but have to make up the lost days afterwards.

People in distress, hardship, or inconvenience are exempt from fasting but have to make up for the lost fasting days afterwards. Allah said: “Fasting is for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number should be made up from the days later. For those who can do it with hardship is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But he that will give more of his own free will, - it is better for him. And it is better for you that you fast.” (Al-Baqarah: 184). This permission not to fast during sickness or journeys is given to avoid unnecessary inconvenience and hardship to believers.

1. An institution of Islam

Fasting is another important institution of Islam. It has always been an obligatory duty on believers even before the advent of Prophet Muhammad (saw). All the previous nations were commanded to observe fasting: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may learn self-restraint.” (Al-Baqarah: 183).

Fasting has been universally recognized by all faiths. It was practised by people of all faiths in one form or another. It is practised by Hindus and Jews. Prophet Musa and Isa practised fasting and enjoined it on their followers. Disciples of Isa fasted but this institution later lost its true significance. Prophet Muhammad (saw) was asked to re-establish this institution in its proper place and form. He was ordered to fast during the month of Ramadhan.

2. Month of Ramadhan

Ramadhan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The Qur’an was first revealed in this month: “Ramadhan is the month in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, also clear signs for guidance and judgement between right and wrong.” (Al-Baqarah: 185)

Allah selected this holy month for fasting and made it compulsory: “So every one of you who is present at his home during that month should fast in it. But, if anyone is ill or on a journey, the prescribed period should be made up by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you in difficulties. He wants you to complete the prescribed period.” (Al-Baqarah: 185)

Muslims commence the fast with the appearance of the moon for the month of Ramadhan and end it with the new moon of Shawwal. Ibn Umar reported hearing Allah’s Messenger saying: “When you see the new moon of Ramadhan, start fasting, and when you see the new moon of the month of Shawwal stop fasting; and if the sky is overcast and you cannot see it and then regard the month of Ramadhan as 30 days.” (Bukhari)

Allah selected lunar months for fasting for very obvious and significant reasons. The lunar months rotate and share all seasons and weather over time. The month of Ramadhan would, accordingly, come in every weather and season and Muslims all over the world would have the experience of fasting in winter as well as summer, in shorter days as well as in longer days. Muslims living all over the globe will equally share the benefits and hardships of fasting during all weathers.

This would not have been the case if fasting had been prescribed according to the solar months for the convenience of fasting in shorter days and cooler weather would have permanently gone to one part of the world, and the hardship of fasting in longer days and hotter weather permanently to the other part.

(To be continued)

by Afzalur Rahman

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