Understanding Ramadan and Fasting

PIKIT, North Cotabato (MindaNews/31 July) — Allah (Subhanahu Wa Taala) enjoined all able-bodied Muslims to fast (refrain from eating and drinking from dawn till dusk) during the Holy Month of Ramadan. “O you who believe! Observing the fast is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become one of the Al-Muttaqun (pious)” (Holy Qur’an 2:183). Fasting starts before the white thread appears in the east (which is more or less 4:30 a.m. depending on location) and ends at sunset (which is more or less 5:45 p.m. depending on location).

Ramadan is the 9th month of the Muslim Hijrah calendar which was based on the lunar cycle. The Hijrah calendar has six 29-day months and six 30-day months (29-day & 30-day months arranged alternately) or a total of 354 days in one year. It follows that the Hijrah calendar moves back 11 days every common year with respect to the Gregorian calendar. That is why the start of Ramadan is not fixed in the Gregorian calendar. The first day of Ramadan coincided with August 1 this year. If you want to know the next Ramadan, count back 11 days from the Gregorian calendar. And so the first day of the next Ramadan falls on July 21, 2012.

Ramadan is one of the six 29-day months of the Hijrah calendar but there are rare instances where it is counted as having 30 days when the new moon is not visible on the night before the first or last day of the month. It is the Darul Ifta (organization of Islamic scholars) who announces the first and last day of Ramadan.

There are specific conditions to specific situations during the course of fasting. “Observe fast for a fixed number of days (29 0r 30), but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (of days of fast missed) should be made up from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty (e.g. an old man or the sickly) they have a choice to fast in other days or feed a miskin (needy person)..” (Holy Qur’an 2:184). Feeding the needy is called ‘fidyah’. Islamic scholars interpreted ‘feeding of the needy’ as feeding of at least two needy persons for one month.

A person on fast should not only refrain from eating (anything) and drinking (any water or fluid) but must keep his thoughts pure, his actions desired and his words nice, kind and gentle. Likewise, flirting and sexual intercourse are prohibited while one is on fast. At night, however, when fasting has been completed for the day, sexual acts are permitted but one must do hadath (cleansing bath for purification) to get ready for the next fasting day.

Fasting, therefore, should not only be thought of as mere skipping of meals. While fasting (avoiding food and drinks during the day) is an integral and paramount part of it, Ramadan offers a comprehensive program for spiritual overhaul including the practice of moderation in all mundane and carnal desires.

The fasting month serves as both physical and spiritual training for Muslims so that he is also expected to act and speak in the same way throughout the year. Thus, Ramadan takes this to the next higher plane, providing intense training for a whole month and offering purification for the body and soul.

Ramadan is the opportune time for Islam believers to get Allah’s mercy, forgiveness, and protection from Hellfire. This is the month for renewing the commitment and re-establishing relationship with the Creator. It is the spring season for goodness and virtues when righteousness blossoms throughout the Muslim communities. “If we combine all the blessings of the other 11 months, they would not add up to the blessings of Ramadan,” said the great Islamic scholar and reformer Shaikh Ahmed Farooqi (Mujaddad Alif Thani). It offers every Muslim an opportunity to strengthen his Iman (belief), purify his heart and soul, and to remove the evil effects of the sins committed by him.

“Anyone who fasts during this month with purity of belief and with expectation of a good reward (from his Creator), will have his previous sins forgiven,” said Prophet Muhammad, sall-Allahu alayhi wa sallam (s.a.w.). “Anyone who stands in prayers during its nights with purity of belief and expectation of a reward, will have his previous sins forgiven.” As other Hadith (recorded tradition of Prophet Mohammad, s.a.w.) tells us, the rewards for good deeds are multiplied manifold during Ramadan.

Along with the possibility of a great reward, there is the risk of a terrible loss. If we let any other month pass by carelessly, we just lost a month. If we do the same during Ramadan, we have lost everything. The person who misses just one day’s fast without a legitimate reason, cannot really make up for it even if he were to fast everyday for the rest of his life. And of the three persons (sinner, hypocrite) that the Prophet (s.a.w.) abhors, one is the unfortunate Muslim who finds Ramadan in good health but does not use the opportunity to seek Allah’s mercy.

One who does not fast is obviously in this category, but so also is the person who fasts and prays but makes no effort to stay away from sins or attain purity of the heart, thoughts and actions through the numerous opportunities offered by Ramadan. The Prophet (s.a.w.) gave this warning: “There are those who get nothing from their fast but hunger and thirst. There are those who get nothing from their nightly prayers but loss of sleep.”

Muslims should, therefore, strive to observe fasting in the purest of heart, intention and acts to make his month-long sacrifice valid and acceptable to Allah (s.w.t.). A Muslim who has valid fasts in the month of Ramadhan is a renewed Muslim. [Maugan P. Mosaid is  presently Municipal Administrator of Pikit, North Cotabato. Occasionally, he gives sermon and acts as imam (one who leads in Friday congregation prayers). He holds a PhD in rural development]