Fasting - The Key to Heaven

By Dr. M. H. Durrani


      Ramadaan, tthe ninth month of the lunar year of the Muslims, is the month of fasting. A Muslim is to commence fasting till the last day of that month. But if any one is sick or on a journey and cannot fast, he must make up the break.

      All that a Muslim is called upon to do is to forego one meal per day during the fasting month. He can have his first morning meal before daybreak, and the second one, after sunset.

      The rigidity of the rule relating to fasting is relaxed in the case of those who may be either sick or on a journey during the fasting month. Such men have to fast a like number of other days when they have recovered or are no longer on a journey. God has thus made things easy and not difficult for them.

      The month of Ramadaan, particular sanctity is attached to this month as it was in this month that the Holy Qur'aan was revealed:

"The month of Ramadaan is that in which the Qur'aan was: revealed a guidance to men and clear proofs of the guidance and the criterion. So who­ever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein, and whoever is sick or on a journey, (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days. Allaah desires ease for you, and He desires not hardship for you, and (He desires) that you should complete the number and that you should exalt the Greatness of Allaah for having guided you that you may give thanks." (2:185)

      In addition to the fasts of obligation, Muslims have, by way of expiation or penance, to fast for a certain num­ber of days, for their sins of commission or omission and to attain higher moral level.

      The Muslim fast is not meant for self-torture. Although it is stricter than other fasts, it also provides allevia­tions for special circumstances. If it were merely a tem­porary abstinence from food and drink it would be salutary to many people, who habitually eat and drink to excess. The instincts for food, drink, and sex are strong in the animal nature, and temporary restraint from all these,enables the attention to be directed to higher things. This is necessary through prayer, contemplation and acts of charity, not of the showy kind, but by seeking out those really in need. Certain standards are prescribed but much higher standards are recommended. Hence, the Muslims are required to fast every year, and special Divine Blessings are promised to them in the concluding days of the fasts. However, it is not a new institution introduced by Islam. It was in practice in pre-Islamic days also. (See Qur’aan.. 2:183)

      The Christians observe Lent, i.e., six weeks (Sundays excepted), i.e., 36 days devoted to fasting and penitence in commemoration of Christ in the Wilderness. And thought that this represented the 10th of the whole year. As a religious tax they paid a tithe; so too, the tax on our food and drink. Holy Prophet Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wasallam) too has said:

"Whoever fasts the whole month of Ramadaan and adds thereto six days of the succeeding month, Shawwal, this is as if he fasts for the whole year."

      That also makes 36 days, and the Qur'aan says:

"Whoso bringeth a good deed will receive ten fold the like thereof." (6:161)

      The lunar month has 29 or 30 days; and the lunar year about 354 days. If we fast one year, 29 plus 6 is 35 and in another 30 plus 6 is 36, their tenfold 350 and 360 days of alternate merit cover. In fact, the whole lunar year of the Muslims, and not exactly so by the Christians, who follow the solar year, which is always of more than 360 days.

      Fast is as it is described in the Holy Quran, it is also in the other religions, but apparently no where masses observe it as they do among Muslims.

      Sometimes it is obligatory for each adult, man or woman, such as in the month of Ramadaan. At others it is obligatory on sinners, as a penitence and expiation, for instance on violation of an oath constrained by circumstances, etc. At yet others, it is only meritorious, supererogatory, not causing a sin for those who do not do that, for instance, the six days of the month of Shawwal etc. The Holy Prophet has also forbidden to fast on certain occasions, for instance the Eid days (on 1st Shawwal and 10th Dhil-Hijjah). He has also ordered Muslims should not fast, even as a supererogation, for long periods, saying: you have duties to fulfill even with respect to yourselves. Our self does not belong to us, but God, and this self is but a deposit confided to our care and we are responsible for his well being.

      Among Christians, they have made a distinction between the clergy and the laymen. The priests probably fast to a certain extent, even no laymen are practically exempt: Whoever works does not require to fast, be that a student, a teacher, a merchant or other. Among Jews the rigour of the one long fast of 24 hours seems to be responsible to the fact that very rare religiously minded persons observe it annually.

      Jews and Christians have a solar calendar, either directly or a lunar calendar with the intercalation, so that the time of fast comes always in the same season. Muslims follow a purely lunar calendar, and consequently their month of fasting, Ramadaan, rotates gradually in all seasons of the year.

      Which of the two systems is better?

      The globe of the earth on which we live has not the same climate everywhere. Man suffers from every kind of excess, be that of heat or cold, and they (heat and cold) are only relative from region to region. For instance winter is a pleasant weather in Mecca, but not so near the pole (Canada, Northern Europe). Summer is the best season near the pole, but not all so near the equator and sandy deserts. Spring may be a midway but in many countries near the equator (South India for instance) do not know it, where there are only three seasons; winter, summer and monsoons.

      For a world-wide religion, if we fix some season, it will be either perpetual ease for some or a perpetual hard-ship for others. If seasons are regularly to change for the fasting period, ease and hardship will alternate and nobody will grudge against the law given. Further the change of seasons, for fasting, means also that one gets accustomed to fast in all sorts of seasons. And this habit, and the capacity to fast both in the chilly winter and the burning summer gives the faithful a power of endurance, which serves him in adversity of different occasions; during the siege of war, during the strike of food merchants, etc.

      No world community can follow fasting according to the solar year without hardship to its followers. Having fasted in Paris for 29 days in January, I shall land after a few hours of flight in South Africa or South America, and to my bewilderment no mosque will be preparing for the Eid because that will not be the fasting season there. Again, I can simply avoid all fasting: At the end of December I shall leave Paris and pass a month in South Africa: that is not the fasting month there; in February I return to Paris and quietly disregard the fasting in July (which will exist in Southern regions, but not in the Northern ones).

      As from the health point of view many Western Doctors prescribe fasting as method of cure, the length and duration of this privation varying according to the sickness and the physical conditions of a patient. There being no intention of a spiritual search, they do not benefit ?reby spiritually.

      Muslims fast with the intention of complying with the order of God. They have therefore a piety, and at the same time they do not lose the physical and material benefits of fasting.

      From whatever point of view you study the Muslim fast, it compares favourably with its counterparts in other civilizations. In the words of the Holy Qur’aan (7:42-43)

"And as for those who believe and do good, we impose not on any soul a duty beyond its scope they are the owners of the Garden, therein they abide. And We shall remove whatever ill feeling is in their hearts."

      Fasting is not a new institution introduced by Islam. It has in all ages and among all nations been an exercise in times of sorrow, mourning and afflictions. But Islam has introduced quite a new meaning into the institution of fasting.

      Let us know the precise terms of the Holy Qur’aan in which this order has been promulgated:­

      0 you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil”. (2:183)

      In Islam, the object of fasting is that man may learn how he can shun evil. This is plainly stated in the concluding words, “that you may guard against evil”. Hence fasting in Islam does not mean simply abstaining from food, but from every kind of evil. In fact, abstention from food is only a step to make a man realize that if he can, in obedience to Divine injunctions, abstain from that which is otherwise lawful, how much more necessary is that he should abstain from the evil ways which are forbidden by God.

      Islam claims to be the same religion as was repeatedly revealed to mankind by the intermediary of successive prophets, and its main duty is to revive the eternal truth and to purge it of later additions corrupting and concealing the truth.







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