Islam and Moderation in Fasting
All praise belongs to Allah, You alone we worship, You alone we seek for help and forgiveness. We seek refuge in You from our sins and the evil within ourselves. Whomever Allah misguides, none can guide him, and whomever Allah guides, none can mislead him. And I bear witness that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah, and I bear witness that Mohammad is the Messenger of Allah.
Islam is the religion Allah intended for His slaves. Likewise, Islam is the religion of moderation and mildness, Allah said: “Thus We have appointed you a moderate nation, that you may be witnesses against mankind, and that the Messenger may be a witness against you.” Thus, Islam’s moderation is inclusive, and this is reflected in its beliefs, devotions, transactions, and etiquette.
One of the greatest acts of devotion is fasting, which was commenced in order to refine the soul and attain piety. The intent wasn’t to inflict distress and hardship on the worshippers by restraining them from both libido and gluttony. Allah said: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you that you may attain piety.” It is appropriate here to review some of the magnificent aspects of Islam and its moderation, and purpose behind the worship of fasting:
First: the definition of worship (in the Arabic language):
Linguistically it means submission and servitude. In Al-Lisān (al-‘Arab) it reads: the origin of servitude is humility and meekness. Worship is devotion and also obedience.
Worship in the Sharia:
Perhaps, one of the most outstanding definitions of worship is that of Ibn Taymiyya in which he states:
“Worship is a noun referring to whatever Allah loves of actions and utterances, both ulterior and apparent, such as fear, reverential fear, reliance, prayer, almsgiving, fasting and other than that from the laws of Islam.”
Also, one of the other definitions, is that of Ibn Al-Qayyim who said:
“(It is) the love of the utmost degree towards Allah with the utmost humility, which provokes one to act in His obedience and refrain from His prohibitions.”
He said in his famous An-Nūniyya:
“The worship of Allah entails the utmost love for Him, along with the humility of His slave, these two things are cornerstones, around them worship orbits, and it’s orbit is by obeying the Prophet not by giving in-to lust and satan.”
Fasting: an act of worship
The definition of fasting:
Linguistically, fasting means to restrain. i.e. restraining from any deed or utterance. An example of which is mentioned in the statement of Allah: “So eat and drink and be consoled. And if you meet any man then say: ‘Lo! I have vowed a fast to the Beneficent, and may not speak this day to any man.’” Fasting here refers to restraining one’s speech.
Technically, it is worshiping Allah through refraining oneself from eating and drinking and all other fast-nullifiers, from dusk to dawn.
The ruling of fasting during the month of Ramadan
Fasting is one of the greatest acts of worship in Islam, and from the most beloved to Almighty Allah. Also, fasting Ramadan is obligatory according to the Quran and Sunna. Allah said: “The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). Whosoever of you witnesses the month, let him fast during it, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desires for you ease. He desires not hardship for you. And (He desires) that you should complete the period (of fasting), and that you magnify Allah for having guided you, and that perhaps you may be thankful”.
Moreover, it’s one of the pillars of Islam as the Prophet (pbuh) said:
“Islam is built upon five (pillars):testifying that there is nothing worthy of worship but Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing regular prayer, giving of zakat, fasting Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to the House of Allah if one is able to.”
Some Fasting verdicts:
Fasting is a confidential act of worship only known to Allah. Therefore, it is unlimitedly rewarded, for Allah has kept the amount of the reward to His mighty self as stated in a Hadith Al-Qudsi: Allah said: “it is for Me and I will give recompense for it.” Perhaps, it would benefit us here to relate why Allah emphasizes on fasting in the Hadith: “Fasting, it is for Me and I will give recompense for it”?
This is a Qudsi Hadith narrated by the Prophet on behalf of the Almighty Allah. Allah said in it: “Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed receiving ten times it’s like, up to seven hundred times.” Allah the Most High said: “Except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will give recompense for it.” And as to why Allah kept it to His almighty self is because fasting is a secret between a person and his Lord, no one can see it but Allah. And there are two types of worship:
Apparent worship, due to its form being speech or action, and ulterior worship, due to its form being leaving (speech or action), as leaving something is only known to Allah. The one who fasts refrains from eating and drinking and sexual intercourse for the sake of Allah in a place seen only to Allah .Thus, Allah kept his reward to Himself because of the ultimate sincerity of this deed, according to what we have pointed out.
The scholars disagreed in this matter, some said: it is to honour fasting and emphasise its virtue and that it is not included in retribution: meaning that if someone was to oppress another person, then the oppressed one shall take from his virtuous deeds on the Day of Judgement except for fasting since Allah kept it to Himself, thus Allah shall bear on behalf of the oppressor what has been left of his oppression and the fasting reward shall remain entirely for him.
The fasting of Ramadan is one of the ways to achieve piety as Allah said “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain piety.” Thus, it is an act of worship that manifests the sincerity of a person’s faith, the completeness of his submission to Allah, the strength of love for Him and hope of what He has, and that is but for the believer forsaking his wishes and desires to draw closer to Allah and in obedience to Him, by which Allah’s pleasure is attained, and choosing Allah’s content over his desires.
The features of Islamic moderation in the act of fasting
As we noted previously: the purpose of fasting is for the human soul to achieve piety, refrain the soul from its desires, and prevent it from forbidden matters as in the Hadith of Prophet Muhammad:
“O young men! Whoever is able to marry should marry, for that will help him to lower his gaze and guard his modesty.”
Islamic moderation is reflected in the obligatory fasting in the following ways:
Despite the fact that fasting one month of a total of twelve months wouldn’t usually be regarded as toilsome, as one can even endure to fast far more than that; and despite the fact that one can fast and refrain from lust and gluttonous desires for even longer than the period from dawn to dusk, he who cannot fast this month because of an excuse or any other circumstance is allowed to break his fast and complete his fast later on. Allah said: “The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and (He desires) that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, so that perhaps you may be thankful.”
Furthermore, Due to Allah’s mercy, He who was unable to fast for any reason such as sickness or travel or likewise, is temporarily excused. Accordingly, the scholars have elaborated on this matter:
Allah said: “and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desires for you ease; He desires not hardship for you; and (He desires) that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, so that perhaps you may be thankful.”
Hence, there are two of patients: one of them, is if one developed a continuous illness with no hope of recovery such as cancer ,then he is not obliged to fast, for he is no state to fast . Instead, he feeds an impoverished person for each day he didn’t fast , either by feeding them all at once in a congregation that equates that number of non-fasted days as Anas bin Malik did when he grew old, or distribute food to one impoverished person for every day for the number of days, for each one a quarter of a sa’, which is half a kilo and ten grams of quality bran. And it’s even better to add meat or fat with it .Likewise, the elderly person who is unable to fast, he is directed to feed an impoverished person for each day.
The other: who is inflicted with a temporary illness like a fever, then this involves three cases:
The first case: fasting isn’t harmful nor difficult to his health, then he is obliged to fast as he does not have an excuse.
The second case: fasting is difficult but not harmful to his health, he is not supposed to fast due to the hardship he faces.
Third case: fasting harms his health, in this case fasting is disliked for him due to the harm it inflicts on his health .Allah said: “Kill not one another. Lo! Allah is ever Merciful unto you.” Moreover, harm is known to the patient by the harm he senses or by what a trustworthy doctor determines. In general, whenever a sick person breaks his fast in Ramadan, the same number of days which he did not fast must be made up later by fasting after Ramadan. And if he should die before he recovers, then the compensation is pardoned.
There are two types of travellers:
One: Whoever travels intending deceit (an alibi as to not fast), is not permitted to break his fast in Ramadan because deceit in respect to the obligations Allah has set does not cancel them.
Second: He who doesn’t have that (evil) intent, then there are three cases as follows:
First Case: Fasting exhausts him during a travel and finds it severely difficult, then it is forbidden for him to fast. Because the Prophet and the people were fasting during the Conquest of Makka. He was then told that the people were finding fasting difficult and were waiting for what he would do. He then called for a cup of water when it was after the Asr prayer and He drank and the people were looking at him. He was told afterwards that some of the people had continued to fast, and he said, “Those are the disobedient ones – those are the disobedient ones.”
Second case: fasting is hard and difficult for him but not as excruciating, then it is disliked for him to fast in this case due to the rejection of the permission that Allah has given him.
Third Case: he finds no difficulty in fasting, so he may choose the most convenient case for him, to fast or break the fast ,for Allah said: “Allah intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you” and “wants” here means: out of compassion. Thus, if they were the same for him, it is better to choose fasting since that is what the Prophet did, as reported by Muslim, that Abu Ad-Darda said,
“We went out with Allah’s Messenger during one of his journeys, on a very hot day, and it was so hot that one had to put his hand over his head because of the severity of the heat. None of us was fasting except the Prophet and Abdullah Ibn Rawaha.”
Moreover, the traveller is considered to be on a journey from the moment he leaves his country until he returns back to it. And if he happens to remain a while in the country he travelled to, then he is still considered a traveller as long as he doesn’t intend to remain in it after the purpose of his journey is fulfilled. Hence, he is permitted to use a traveller’s fasting permit, even if the journey was prolonged, for the Prophet never determined the period of when travelling ends. Therefore, he remains a traveller until proven otherwise. Also ,there is no difference between he who travels for Hajj or ’Umra and he who visits a relative etc., and the one who is constantly travelling such as Taxi drivers; as long as they have departed from their country, they are considered travellers and have travellers’ permits such as breaking the fast and combining ‘Asr and Dhuhr or Magrib and Isha’ prayer, or shortening the quad-prayers. And breaking the fast in their case is better than fasting if it’s easier for them to compensate for it in winter because the car owners have a country they belong to. Whenever they return to it, they are considered residents, and are compelled to follow what residents do.
Second Feature: the Sahur meal
Which means eating a meal late at night, i.e. at the end of night (and prior to dawn).
All the people of knowledge agree that Sahur is highly recommended. What proves that is what the Prophet said “Take Sahur as there is a blessing in it.”
The wisdom behind eating Sahur:
For blessings: This is demonstrated in what the Prophet ordered us to do and explained that it is a blessing: “as there is a blessing in it.” And blessing originally means prosperity and abundant good, and here it is the case because of what the meal increasing the fasting person’s strength, in addition to its reward.
Differing with the people of the Scriptures (Jews and Christians):
Since the sahur meal wasn’t enlisted in the previous religions, it is what Allah distinguished Muslims with .The Prophet said: “The difference between our fast and the fast of the People of the scriptures is that of the eating of Sahur.”
Allah and his Angels pray for those eating sahur:
This is based on what Sa‘id Al-Khudri narrated: the Prophet said: “Eating the Sahur is blessed. Do not neglect it even if you take a gulp of water, because Allah and His angels pray for those who eat sahur.” The meaning of Allah’s prayer for his worshipers is blessing them and complementing them in front of His angels, and that is a form of honour. As to what the angel’s prayer means, it refers to praying for them and ask forgiveness for them.
Don’t be too wasteful – based on what Abu Sa‘id Al-Khudri narrated: the Prophet said: “Eating the Sahur is blessed. Do not neglect it even if you take a gulp of water, because Allah and His angels pray for those who eat sahur.”
Delaying sahur till the last portion of the night – as what proves that delaying it is preferable is the statement of the Prophet : “There are three characteristics of the Prophets: hasting in breaking the fast, delaying Sahur and placing the right hand over the left in prayer.”
Eating dates for Sahur – The best thing one may take as Sahur is dried dates. The Prophet said: “The best Sahur of the believer is dates.”
Third Feature: Hastening the break of Fast
One of the most favourable etiquettes of fasting is hastening the breaking of the fast, if it’s become known to him that the sun has set by hearing the call for prayer or by another indication. Sa‘ad ibn Sahel narrated, the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The people (Muslims) will remain on the right path as long as they make haste in breaking the fast.” And the reason behind hastening the break of fast and delaying Sahur is so that fasting wouldn’t be prolonged, which is a mercy upon the ones fasting, it increases their strength to worship, as well as taking after our Prophet’s Sunna and contradicting the people of the scripture.
Fourth Feature: one should not fast a day or two before the month of Ramadan
Narrated Abu Huraira: The Prophet (pbuh) said, “None of you should fast a day or two before the month of Ramadan unless he has the habit of fasting (i.e. if his supererogatory fasting coincides with that day) then he can fast that day.” Al-Hafiz (Ibn Hajr) commented in Fat`h Al-Bari: “the meaning is not to fast out of precaution, fearing that you might miss the exact date for it is only known through looking at the crescent. Furthermore, the reason behind that might be to achieve moderation in worship and anticipation for this month.”
Fifth Feature: To forsake false speech, acting by it and abstaining from obscene language
The Prophet (pbuh) said: “Whoever does not give up false speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink.” Certainly, fasting prevents Muslims from sinning and that’s why the Prophet guided the one fasting to say to whoever insults him: “I’m fasting.” Abu Hurayra narrated that the Prophet (pbuh) said: “When any one of you is observing Saum (fasting) on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise the voice, and if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him, he should say: ‘I am fasting, I am fasting’.” This is to make him aware that the one fasting is obliged to forsake obscene language and to remind him of that.
Islam’s moderation is demonstrated in enforcing high moral values, emphasizing that one’s fast is never perfect unless he has self-restraint and anger management. These are some the features of the moderation of Islam in respect to the act of fasting, be it its time, rules or etiquette.