Fasting – A Spiritual Experience
‘Believers, fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you, so that you may remain God-fearing! 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. 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 and to tender your thanks (to Him). 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’.
(Al-Baqarah: The Cow: 2: Verses: 183-6)
We must always realise that duties of worship aim primarily at the formulation of an attitude of mind which governs the behavior of the believer, which develops his conscience and helps him offer his worship in the proper manner and adopt a good standard of behavior 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. Fasting was first made an obligation in the second year after the Prophet’s (Pbuh) settlement in Madinah. 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.
Very Old, Men or Women.
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. 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 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. 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. “ 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.