Fasting and Its Merits
Fasting is the English translation of the Arabic word, siyam or sawm, which literarily means ‘to restrain’
Allah used the word generally in the Qur’an when He revealed the conversation between Angel Jibril and Maryam, during which the former instructed the latter as follows:
‘…And if you do see a man, say, ‘I have vowed to remain silent for Allah‘ (Maryam: 26).
However, in the Shari’ah, the word, sawm, is described as the worship of Allah with the intention of pleasing Him, by restraining from physical nourishment, food, drink, sexual association, and other fast-breakers, from the period between the break of dawn until sunset.
The merits of fasting are numberless, but some of them will be mentioned here:
1. Fasting helps a serious believer remould, reshape, and reform his physical and spiritual disposition and behavior
2. It serves as a shield that protects a believer from sinful acts
3. It serves as an expiation of sins for the observer
4. It distances the believer from hellfire just as the heaven and earth are apart (from each other)
5. Those who fast are assured of entry to paradise through a special door called: Rayyān.
6. It avails a believer, the special grace of having his supplication answered by Allah
7. It makes the believer acknowledge the mercy of Allah on him, through the experience of hunger
8. It drives the believer to be generous to the poor, hence, promoting equitable happiness in the society
9. It instils in the believer, the exalted virtues of patience, perseverance, forbearance and forgiveness, both during and after the fasting period
Ramadan: Meaning and Special Virtues.
Ramadan is coined from the Arabic base word, ramida or ar-ramad which implies intense heat and dryness.
Hence, Ramadan is sometimes said to indicate the heating sensation in the stomach as a result of thirst.
Some also say that Ramadan is so called because it scorches out the sins with good deeds, as the sun burns the ground.
Yet, other say that it is so called because the heart is more readily receptive to the admonition and remembrance of Allah during Ramadan just as the sand and stones are receptive to the sun’s heat.
Of importance, however is that Ramadan is the 9th month in the Islamic calendar in which Muslims are obliged to fast for the entire month while devoting themselves to other acts of worship in a bid to increase their spiritual, physical and mental vibrancy.
Ramadan has some special virtues that set it apart from other months in Islam. These include:
1. The holy Qur’an was revealed in the month of Ramadan as a guide to humanity
2. Other divine books of Allah were also revealed in the month of Ramadan
3. The doors of Paradise are opened in the month of Ramadan, while the doors of Hellfire are closed
4. Laylatul Qadr, which is a majestic night that is better than 1000 months, occurs in the month of Ramadan
5. It is a month of patience; in it, the believers observe patience in obeying Allah; accepting His preordainment; and restraining from sins.
6. It is the month of ‘itikãf, a special seclusion in a stipulated masjid, for devotion to the worship of Allah
7. The night prayers observed in the month of Ramadan wipe off the past sins of the believer.
Ruling on Fasting in the Month of Ramadan
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is compulsory for every Muslim, who is mature, sane, able, resident and free from barriers (of fasting) such as Hayd (menstrual bleeding) and Nifas (post-natal bleeding).
This position is backed by the two sources of the Islamic law: Al-Qur’an and Sunnah, along with the consensus of the Muslims.
In the Qur’an, Allah says: O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may acquire piety (Al-Baqarah: 183).
Also, Abdullah bn ‘Umar narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: Islam is built on five pillars: testimony of faith, that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah; testimony that Muhammad is His Messenger; establishing Salah; giving Zakat; observing the fast of Ramadan; and pilgrimage to the house of Allah (Hajj)
As for the consensus, it occurs in Al-Mughni (of ibn Qudãmah); Marãbitul ‘ijmã’ (of ibn Hazm); At-tamhid and Al-‘ijmã’ (of ibn Abdul-bar); and Al-‘ijmã’ (of ibn Al-mundhir), that the Muslims unanimously agree on the obligation of fasting in the month of Ramadan and that whoever denies this is undoubtedly a Kãfir (disbeliever), with the exception of a person who makes such denial out of ignorance in which case he will be enlightened right away.
If he (the denier), however, persists in his denial, he will become a Kãfir as he would have denied an essential pillar of Islam which is established both in the Qur’an and Sunnah.
Ascertaining the Start of Ramadan Fasting
The start of Ramadan fasting can be ascertained in three ways: Direct Sighting; Testimony; and Approximation.
1. Direct Sighting: This is the direct, physical sighting of the new crescent moon of Ramadan. That is, once the new moon of the month of Ramadan is confirmed by an individual, they can start fasting. This is because Abu Hurairah narrated that the Messenger (peace be upon him) said: ‘Fast by sighting the new hilal (crescent moon)…’
2. Testimony: This is an indirect sighting of the moon, whereby a reliable, upright and trustworthy Muslim, who has witnessed the new crescent moon, informs others about such. This is because Abdullah bn ‘Abbas narrated that a Bedouin came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and said: ‘I sighted the new hilal (crescent moon of Ramadan)’ The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘Do you testify that there is no deity worthy of worship except Allah?’ The Bedouin said: ‘Yes’ The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘Do you testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah?’ The Bedouin said: ‘Yes’ The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘O Bilal, announce to (authorize) the people to start fasting tomorrow’
3. Approximation: The start of Ramadan can also be ascertained by approximating the days of Sha’aban to 30. This becomes the resort if the smog, fog or cloud blocks the sky, thereby, preventing the eyes from sighting the crescent.
In other words, if by the night of the 29th day of Sha’aban, we are not able to sight the crescent of Ramadan due to cloudiness in the sky, we are going to complete the counting of Sha’aban to 30 days. This is because Abu Hurairah narrated that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘…if there is a cloud, complete the counting of Sha’abãn 30 days’
Is the Sighting of a Country Valid for Another Country?
This matter borders on whether the sighting of the new crescent in a particular town, region or country, is good for another country or the entire Ummah to start fasting.
For instance, can Nigerians or Americans start fasting according to the crescent sighted in Saudi Arabia, UK or Ghana? Or, can those in the southwestern part of a country fast if the crescent is sighted in any other region in the country?
This is a matter over which scholars have differed. Their opinions are as follows:
1. The differences of region or distance are of no consequence in ascertaining the testimony of the crescent. In other words, if the testimony is ascertained by even one Muslim in any part of the world, other countries or regions can begin to fast.
2. The testimony of a country or region (say, Saudi Arabia), is only valid for people in that country or region and not for others. In other words, the Muslims in South Africa cannot fast according to the sighting of crescent in any other country unless the same crescent is sighted in South Africa.
3. The testimony of Makkah is valid for the rest of the world. In other words, the entire Muslims depend on when the crescent is sighted in the holy land.
4. The countries or regions in close proximity should depend on each other for sighting while countries or regions which are far apart, should not. In other words, while the testimony in Ghana is valid for Nigerians to start fasting, that of Saudi Arabia is not.
5. It varies with region in that people in a particular region will have one exclusive sighting or testimony as opposed to people in other regions. In other words, those in the northern region should sight the crescent independently from those in the southern, eastern and western regions.
6. The ruler of a country, region or town can direct that people under his jurisdiction should fast according to the sighting of other country or any state within his country. In other words, the leader of Muslims in a particular country or region can authorize the Muslims under his jurisdiction, to start fasting after confirming that the moon has been sighted in any other country (say, Saudi Arabia) or any state or region within his Jurisdiction.
Meanwhile, it is pertinent to state that where ‘6’ above becomes the case, it is advisable for an individual to act accordingly or in the least, not openly show that he is differing from the authority, simply because of the fitnah, confusion and arguments that may result from that.
What to Be Said at the Sighting of the Crescent
Talhatu bn UbaidiLlāh narrated: Whenever the Prophet (peace be upon him) sighted the crescent, he would say:
‘اللهم أهله علينا باليمن والإيمان، والسلامة والإسلام، ربي وربك الله’
‘Allāhumma ahillahu alaina bil yumni wal Imān, Wa-s-salāmata wa-l-Islām, Rabbi Wa rabbukaLlāh’
‘O Allāh, make it the beginning of prosperity, faith, peace and total submission. My Lord and mine is Allāh. (Sunan Tirmidhi)
It is obvious from the ongoing that the month of Ramadan presents a great opportunity for every individual, who is desirous of the pleasure of Allah. We are therefore, encouraged to make the most of this month, by engaging in acts of worship as much as we can.
May Allah make us witness the blessed month of Ramadan.