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August 2009
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Our Dialogue

Fasting, to be a better person
By Adil Salahi
Q. Not all people are capable of being saintly figures. Does it therefore mean that fasting is more rewarding for this class of people and more needed for the more worldly? Fasting should move me to be a better person but I look forward to the table full of food in the evening more than the purely spiritual benefit. And this makes me feel tremendously guilty. What should I do?

Men are equal in their capacities to fulfil the piety and virtue which Allah has made incumbent upon them. Our bodies may weigh down our spirits so as to make them incapable of moving and rising towards Allah.

Our wish for material needs and welfare may overcome our humanity unless we keep up the exercise of our spirit and constantly turn to Allah in prayer rather than simply being satisfied with the mechanical performance of kneeling, prostration and recitation. Hence it is our duty wherever possible to stop all activities which tend to weigh us down, shackle our spirit or give dominance to our material welfare over our humanity.

Islam imposes fasting as a means for achieving virtue and piety. Piety, virtue and righteousness are all equivalent. The righteous are those who are pious, who prove their 'Iman' (faith) in Allah and who, by following the Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (Pbuh), fulfil the requisites of the verse where Allah says, "Fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may learn virtue and piety".

But if the purpose of fasting is that the body must abstain from food and drink from dawn till sunset and then in indulge in the enjoyment of all sorts of pleasures, we have missed the essence of fasting.

Such conduct is tantamount to bringing Allah to witness that the fast was not made in purification of the body and strengthening of the humanity. To those who are guilty of this, fasting is a burden and they may comply simply as an outward show of compliance to placate society. This is hypocrisy. This case is likened to the person who does not steal simply because the law prevents him from doing so. The enriching ethics and consequences of willing acceptance pass him by.

Eating a pre-dawn Meal
Q. How important is it to have Suhur (the pre-dawn meal) before commencing the daily fast?

Anas reported that the Prophet (Pbuh) said, "Eat a Suhur, for there are blessings in it." The reason why it is regarded as blessing is that it strengthens the fasting person, makes him more energetic, and makes the fast easier for him.

It would suffice to have a small portion of food, or simply a sip of water. Abu Sa'id Al-Khudri reported that the Prophet said, "The pre-dawn meal is blessed, so do not neglect it even if you only take a sip of water. Verily, Allah and the angels pray for those who have pre-dawn meals." You should delay the pre-dawn meal as the Prophet said, "My nation will always retain some goodness as long as they hasten to break their fast and delay eating the pre-dawn meal."
Using miswak and bathing to cool down
Q. Is it permissible to use the miswak stick to clean the teeth while fasting? Are we allowed to take a shower to cool the body in daytime during Ramadan?

It is permissible for the fasting person to use a tooth stick, called miswak, or a toothbrush. There is no difference if he used it at the beginning or the ending of the day or even during the day itself. The Prophet (Pbuh) would use his miswak while fasting. In a country like Saudi Arabia and Bahrain, where you live, or anywhere, where the summer heat is intense, one often feels like sitting in cool water in order to soothe the body from the heat.

Abu Bakr ibn Abdur Rahman reported from a number of companions that they had seen Allah's Messenger pour water over his head while he was fasting due to thirst or extreme heat. This is related by Ahmad, Malik and Abu Dawud with a Sahih chain. In the two Sahih of Bukhari and Muslim, it is related from Aisha (RA) that the Prophet would rise in the morning on a fasting day and then would perform ghusl (bathing). If during the bath, some water is swallowed unintent-ionally, the fast is still valid.
Lying and abusive talk while fasting
Q. Does lying, cheating and acts of dishonesty nullify a person's fast during the month of Ramadan?

If we read the Qur'anic verse, "O you who believe, fasting is prescribed upon you as it was prescribed to those before you so that you may learn self-restraint" (2:183), then we will know that one of the prime objectives of fasting is to control the prompting of the lower passions.

Allah stands in no need of the fasting of one who fails to stop his acts of dishonesty. The Prophet (Pbuh) said, "He who does not refrain from lying and from (all forms of) ignorance; Allah cares little for his refraining from eating and drinking". Far too much emphasis is placed in a society which has commercialized Ramadan in order to sell more foodstuff to hungry Muslims. Too little stress is placed on the spiritual advantages. If the correct emphasis is placed on the spiritual, we shall witness a re-vitalised Ummah as the month of Ramadan progresses.

The Prophet (Pbuh) said: "Fasting is a shield, so when one of you is fasting, he should not indulge in foul or foolish talk. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say: 'I am fasting, I am fasting".
It is indeed a great pity that many do not take heed of the lessons and wisdom of fasting. Their fasting in fact becomes reduced to merely starving themselves for the day. We cannot, however, say that their fasting is nullified. That decision we have to leave to Allah. But we can say with certainty that their reward for fasting is greatly diminished.
Extravagance in Iftar
Q: In the month of Ramadan, specially at the time of Iftar (breaking of the fast), a lot of dishes are prepared. Is this act not an extravagance and waste?

Eating of Halal (lawful) dishes and inviting others to eat these dishes is lawful. But extravagance either in the form of Iftar party or on any other occasion is not permissible. A very few eatables may be kept ready for Iftar to keep oneself away from committing the sin of excessive spending. The very aim of observing fasting is to attain Taqwa and also eating less. Unfortunately for us Muslims, Ramadan has become a month of not less eating, but consuming more and more!. Needless to say that to spend excessively on any occasion, we are committing wrong from both the worldly point of view as well as from the point of view of religion.
Sickness and Fasting
Q: Because of kidney trouble, my mother cannot observe fast during the month of Ramadan. Is a sick person exempted from observing fast? Is she to compensate for them? Can they be compensated by arranging food for the poor or certain amount can be given to the needy?

If a man suffers from such a disease, which cannot be cured easily, the fasts of Ramadan are in any way exempted. One has to compensate for them. For each Fast, a poor person has to be fed twice or equivalent amount is to be paid to a needy person. The man who is to be fed need not be a person who is fasting. He must be poor and needy. Similar is the case for paying compensation in the form of money. If the disease is temporary, the unobserved fast can be compensated for by its observation at a later date.