Volume 14-12 No:180
183. Believers, fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you, so that you may remain God-fearing!. 184.(Fast) a certain number of days. But whoever of you is ill, or on a journey, shall fast instead the same number of days later on.Those who find fasting a strain too hard to bear may compensate for it by the feeding of needy persons. He who does good of his own account does himself good thereby; for to fast is to do yourself good, if you but knew it. 185. It was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed, a guidance for mankind and as a self-evident proof of that guidance, a standard to distinguish right from wrong. Hence, whoever of you is present in that month shall fast throughout it; but he who is ill or on a journey shall fast instead the same number of days later on. Allah desires that you have ease. He does not desire you to be afflicted with hardship. You are, however, required to complete the necessary number of days and to extol the greatness of Allah for having guided you aright and to tender your thanks (to Him). 186.If My servants ask you about Me, I am indeed near. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls to me. Let them then respond to Me, and believe in Me, so that they may be wise. (The Cow, "Al-Baqarah" 2; 183-6)
Commentary by Sayyid Qutb
Translation: A. A. Salahi and S. A. Shamsi
Last issue, the commentary in this column dealt with the obligation of fasting a equal number of days later. We also carried separately a number of traditions of the Prophet concerning the exemption from fasting while travelling. The overall impression which one gathers from these traditions is that it is preferable not to fast while travelling and to compensate by fasting one day later in place of each day of Ramadan on which one avails himself of this concession. The same rule applies to illness.
We must always realize that duties of worship aim primarily at the formulation of an attitude of mind which governs the behaviour of the believer which develops his conscience and helps him offer his worship in the proper manner and adopt a good standard of behaviour in life. From our point of view, we must always take the religion of Islam as a whole, as Allah willed it to be, with all the duties it imposes on us and look at it in the light of our overall duty of obedience to Allah in every respect. We must take it as a perfect, harmonious whole, which includes situations which require strenuous effort and situations of ease and concession, trusting the wisdom of Allah who knows best.
“Those who find fasting a strain too hard to bear may compensate for it by feeding a needy person. He who does good of his own account does himself good thereby; for to fast is to do yourself good, if you but knew it.
Fasting was first made an obligation in the second year after the Prophet’s settlement in Madinah, shortly before jihad, or the struggle for the cause of Allah, was made an obligation. As a new duty, fasting was very hard for Muslims. Allah, therefore, gave a concession to those who find fasting too much of a strain and who can do it only with great difficulty. They were allowed not to fast, provided that they feed a needy person. He also made it clear to them that to feed the needy is highly commendable, whether it is done voluntarily, i.e, not in compensation for not fasting, or by doing more than the minimum required. The compensation required for making use of this concession is to feed one person for each day one does not fast, and increase it to feed two or three or more needy people for each day. This is the meaning of the statement “He who does good of his own account does himself good thereby”. Allah follows this by recommending that fasting has great benefits for us. Most immediately apparent to us is the fact that it teaches self- control, bearing hardships and making a conscious preference of obeying Allah, even at the expense of one’s own rest and comfort. All these are necessary qualities in Islamic self-education. Health-wise, fasting is greatly advantageous.
These recommendations were made preliminary to the withdrawal of this concession from all people who are healthy and living at home. Fasting was soon to be made obligatory, without any concession. The concession continues only in the case of the elderly who find fasting much too hard to bear and are not fasting in Ramadan, but fasting on some other days. Imam Malik, the Prophet’s companion, lived until he was no longer able to fast. He used to compensate for it by feeding the hungry. It applies only to the very old, men or women, who cannot fast. They are allowed to compensate by feeding a needy person for each day of Ramadan. He told him that Ibn Abu Laila states that he went to see Ataa’ in Ramadan and found him eating. He told him that Ibn Abbas said that the final verse concerning fasting has restricted the earlier one, making it applicable only to the very old who may, if they so desire, feed a needy person in place of fasting. All this tends to prove that the rigours of fasting applies only to those who are healthy and living at home. Another encouragement for fulfilling this duty is provided by the fact that fasting is made obligatory in Ramadan, the month in which the Quran was revealed. It is the Quran that built the Muslim nation and Muslims must always be thankful to Allah for revealing the Quran to them and they cannot express their thanks better than by fasting in Ramadan, the month in which the Quran was revealed.
“It was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed, a guidance for mankind and as a self evident proof of that guidance for mankind and as a self evident proof of that guidance as a standard to distinguish right from wrong.” This is the verse which imposes the duty of fasting in Ramadan on all Muslims who are healthy and living at home, abrogating the earlier concession except in the case of the elderly people. “Hence, whoever of you is present in that month shall fast throughout it”- this means, anyone who lives to see the month of Ramadan. Since this is a general statement, the exemption given to the ill and the travellers is repeated here. “But he who is ill or on a journey shall fast instead the same number of days later on”. Since this is a general statement, the exemption given to the ill and the travelling people is repeated here “But he who is ill or on a journey shall fast instead the same number of days later on”. This is followed by a statement pointing to Allah’s mercy as He imposes a duty and exempts from it: “Allah desires that you have ease. He does not desire you to be afflicted with hardship.” This statement establishes the main rule concerning the Islamic studies. They are all made easy, removing all difficulty and hardship. Anyone who appreciates this rule would tend to look at life as a whole from an angle of ease. It imparts to the Muslim a special quality of kindly forbearance which helps him fulfill all his duties and obligations as well as all his serious activities in life with an air of ease which is akin to the flow of water or to the growth of a tree. He is always reassured, confident and happy as he always feels Allah’s mercy and His desire that His servants should have ease, rather than hardship.
The ill and the travellers are allowed to fast on later days so that they have a chance to fast a number of days equivalent to a full month, so that they do not lose any of the reward Allah gives for lasting: “You are required to complete the necessary number of days and to extol the greatness of Allah for having guided you aright.” Fasting is indeed a blessing from Allah, for which He deserves to be thanked and magnified. Islamic obligations generally aim at making the believers appreciate the value of the guidance Allah has given them. They cannot appreciate it better than at the time when they are fasting. For fasting turns their minds away from sin. They feel the truth of Allah’s statement as He imposed the duty of fasting on Muslims “So that you may remain God-fearing.” Thus we are in a better position to appreciate Allah’s grace represented in the imposition of this duty which may appear to be hard physically. We can now appreciate that it has a great educational objective. It prepares the Muslims for the highly important role their nation is supposed to play, guided by its sense of fearing Allah and abiding by the dictates of conscience. Inter-posed between the verses explaining the rules of fasting is a verse which represents a unique understanding of man. It reaches to the depth of human psychology . It offers a complete and highly treasured compensation for the difficulty of fasting, an immediate reward for the right response to Allah’s commands. The compensation and the reward take the form of man being close to Allah, and Allah’s answer of man’s prayer. This is expressed in a highly gentle and compassionate style. “If my servants ask you about Me I am indeed near. I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls to Me, Let them then respond to me, and believe in me, so that they may be wise”.
Allah says of Himself: “I am indeed near, I answer the prayer of the supplicant when he calls to Me.” How kind, compassionate and friendly. With such friendliness from Allah and closeness to him, the difficulty of fasting, no matter how great, appears very trivial. Every word in this verse adds to the air of friendliness and compassion. The fact that Allah considers the people His own, and answers them directly also adds to the air of compassion. He has not instructed His messenger to tell his people: “I am near.” He Himself gives the answer directly to His servants as soon as the question is made. He has not said “I hear their prayers”, but has assured them immediately by answering their prayers. It is indeed a verse which fills the hearts of the believers with friendly reassurance and complete confidence. It makes their life happy, peaceful and secure. In this atmosphere of friendliness and compassion, Allah directs His servants to respond to Him and to believe Him. Their response and faith should lead them to be wise and to follow the right path. Thus, the final benefit from such response is theirs as well. Indeed, Allah does not need anyone. If people are wise and rightly guided, the benefit is theirs.
The sort of wisdom which faith and the proper response to Allah’s call brings about is the proper wisdom. The way of life Allah has chosen for man is the only correct and proper way of life. All else stems from ignorance and lack of wisdom. Hence, it cannot lead to wisdom and is unacceptable to any wise person. When people respond to Allah, they can hope that their prayers may be answered. They should pray to Allah and must not show any impatience as they await the answer to their prayers. He himself decides when to answer their prayer.