Friday, September 14, 2007

Why do Muslims Fast

Dear Friends, As Salaam Alaikum (Peace be upon you)

During the month of Ramadan, Muslims reflect on the purpose God has in mind in prescribing fasting.

[2:183]O YOU who have attained to faith! Fasting is ordained for you as it was ordained for those before you, so that you might remain conscious of God:

The Qur'an places before the reader a clear purpose to be achieved by fasting: that of maintaining 'God-Consciousness'. The Arabic text additionally implies that the attainment of God-Consciousness is not guaranteed but is a function of effort. The verse links this text's command to fast to God's previous revelations to humanity of the command to fast thus demonstrating the continuity of His messages to humanity.

[2:184][fasting] during a certain number of days. But whoever of you is ill, or on a journey, [shall fast instead for the same] number of other days; and [in such cases] it is incumbent upon those who can afford it to make sacrifice by feeding a needy person. And whoever does more good than he is bound to do does good unto himself thereby; for to fast is to do good unto yourselves – if you but knew it.

The Qur'an continues to expound some detail about fasting and what exceptions are provided for those who may not be able to fast. An alternative to fasting, that of feeding the needy, is provided for those who are unable to fast. The last part of the verse indicates that either additional days of fasting in the year beyond the days of Ramadan are recommended as highly beneficial or that the feeding of additional needy people is recommended when one cannot fast. The verse ends with an emphasis on the benefit of fasting to the person.

[2:185]It was the month of Ramadān in which the Qur’ān was [first] bestowed from on high as a guidance unto man and a self-evident proof of that guidance, and as the standard by which to discern the true from the false. Hence, whoever of you lives to see this month shall fast throughout it; but he that is ill, or on a journey, [shall fast instead for the same] number of other days. God wills that you shall have ease, and does not will you to suffer hardship; but [He desires] that you complete the number [of days required], and that you extol God for His having guided you aright, and that you render your thanks [unto Him].

This next verse now delves into a critical association fasting has to the revealed text of God. It declares that it is in the month of fasting that the Qur'an was first revealed to Prophet Muhammad (saw). Further it declares that the Qur'an is guidance for manking, containing self-evidence of that guidance, and acts as a critierion to distinguish truth from falsehood. The result of this verse within Muslim society has been the increased opportunities that are realized during this month for reading, hearing and understanding the Qur'an.

The verse now changes emphasis back to the necessity of commitment to fasting in this month with a declaration of those who are exempt from the requirement and the declaration of God's intent. God does not intend fasting to be a burden but intends it to be an opportunity to express your gratitude to Him for his guidance.

[2:186]AND IF My servants ask thee about Me – behold, I am near; I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me: let them, then, respond unto Me, and believe in Me, so that they might follow the right way.

The verse tense now changes to a personal tone where the Prophet Muhammad (saw), the original recipient of the verse, is being instructed to direct those who seek God to call upon Him. The verse tense is in the first person singular and the mood of the verse is intimate. God declares that "I am near; I respond to the call of him who calls, whenever he calls unto Me". After the declaration of His availability, God instructs "let them, then, respond unto Me, and believe in Me, so that they might follow the right way".

[2:187]IT IS lawful for you to go in unto your wives during the night preceding the [day’s] fast: they are as a garment for you, and you are as a garment for them. God is aware that you would have deprived yourselves of this right, and so He has turned unto you in His mercy and removed this hardship from you. Now, then, you may lie with them skin to skin, and avail yourselves of that which God has ordained for you, and eat and drink until you can discern the white streak of dawn against the blackness of night, and then resume fasting until nightfall; but do not lie with them skin to skin when you are about to abide in meditation in houses of worship. These are the bounds set by God: do not, then, offend against them – [for] it is thus that God makes clear His messages unto mankind, so that they might remain conscious of Him.

The last verse on this series clarifies what is permissible sexual relationship during the month of Ramadan. During the period of the night after the fast has been broken, sexual intercourse along with eating and drinking is permissible until the start of the next day's fast. An exception to this rule of permissible sexual intercourse during the night is made for those who intend to spend time meditating in the mosque at night. The verse ends with a reminder of the boundaries that God sets, the need to stay within those boundaries and the purpose of these boundaries as a reminder of God's message and a path to maintaining God consciousness.

Iftekhar Hussain