By: El-Bahay El-Kholi

The Fast of Ramadan
The Merit of Fasting
Things to Abstain from During the Fast
Exemptions from the Fast
Various Additional Regulations
The Night of Preciousness (Laylat al-Qadr)
Voluntary Fasting (al-Tatawwu')

Islambasics Library: Al-Siyam "Fasting"

The Merit of Fasting


Fasting enjoys, in the eyes of God, a grace unparallelled by other acts of piety and worship.

In a (qudsi hadith (utterances attributed to God outside the Quran), Allah says "All man's work belongs to him. A good deed is repaid from tenfold to seven hundred times". God said "Fasting belongs to Me and I repay."

The Prophet said : "By He in whose hands Muhammad's soul rests, Allah prefers the stench of the mouth of lie who fasts to the scent of musk".


The Merit of Ramadan

Al-Bukhari and Muslim both reported that the Prophet had said : "With the advent of Ramadan, the portals of Paradise are opened, the gates to hell are closed, and the devils are chained."

According to Abu Hurayra, the Prophet said at the beginning of Ramadan : "A glorious and blessed month has come Allah ordained that you fast during it. During this month, the portals of Paradise are opened, the gates of hell are closed, and the devils are chained. In this month there is one night which is worth more than one thousand months".


The Merit of Ramadan Fast

The Prophet said "Whoever fasts during Ramadan out of faith seeking no reward, will have all his past sins forgiven."

Abu Hurayra reported that the Prophet also said "Whoever breaks the fast even for one day in Ramadan without any legitimate reason, cannot compensate for it by a period of fasting at another time during the year".


Regulations Governing the Fast of Ramadhan 

Fasting means to refrain and abstain, from dawn till sunset, from certain things forbidden by Islamic Law. These are dealt with later. Fasting is divided into two main categories:

  1. Fard (obligatory fasting), which comprises the following:

    1. Ramadan fast.

    2. kaffara (the fasting of atoenement).

    3. Nadhr (rlating to the taking of a vow).

  2. Tatawwu' (voluntary fasting), which is confined to those additional days throughout the year which the Prophet used to observe as fasting days.


Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam

The Prophet said : "Islam is built on five pillars: the shahdda (profession of faith) that there is no God but Allah and that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah, salat (prayers), zakat (alms-tax), the sawn of Ramadan (fast) and hajj (pilgrimage).

Ramadan fast was prescribed on the second Monday of the month of Sha'ban, in the second year of the Hijra.

Fasting is obligatory for every Muslim provided that he or she is adult and in full possession of his or her faculties.

Exemptions for temporary causes include :

  1. Women in menstruation or child-birth bleeding.
  2. Persons in sick bed or on a journey.

These exemptions will be discussed later.


It is preferable that children, though they are not under obligation to fast, should be trained in fasting in order to prepare them for carrying out their adult obligations in this respect.

Al-Rabi Bint Mu'awwadh said in this connection "On the Day of Ashoura, the Prophet had a man tour the villages of the Ansar (the original inhabitants of Medina who supported the Prophet) ordering those who had not yet partaken of food to fast during the day and those who had eaten to abstain and fast the rest of the day. Later, we used to fast that day and have our small children fast upon it. We used to take them to the mosque and give them toys made of wool to distract them from their hunger until iftar time". (i.e. the breaking of the fast).  


The Official Beginning and End of Ramadan

1)The beginning of Ramadan becomes official when the new moon is seen. Its end is officially fixed when the new moon of the next month (Shawwal), is seen. Once the new moon of Ramadan is seen, fasting becomes obligatory for all those who are required to fast it. When the new moon of Shawwal is seen, the fast comes to an end, and everybody should break the fast. The Prophet said : "Fast when you see it (the new moon) and break the fast when you see it (the new moon)."

2)The seeing of the new moon becomes official by the testimony of one upright Muslim.

Ibn `Abbas reported : "A Bedouin came to the Prophet announcing that he had seen the new moon of Ramadan, whereupon the Prophet asked him: "Do you profess that there is no God but Allah ?"

The Bedouin said : "Yes." Then the Prophet asked him "Do you profess that Muhammad is the messenger of Allah ?" The Bedouin answered : "Yes". The Prophet then ordered Bilal  (his muazzin) to call on the Muslims to fast the next day".

3) As to the seeing of the new moon of Shawwal, announcing the end of Ramadan fast, the testimony of one upright Muslim is not enough.

In his commentary on Muslim's collection of hadith) al- Nabawi said that the ulamas were unanimous that the testimony of one upright Muslim for the Shawwal new moon is not enough, except Abu Thawr who considered it fair.  

4) In the event of it being impossible to see the new moon of Ramadabecause of weather conditions, then the month of Sha'ban (the month preceding Ramadan) should be a full thirty days.

The Prophet said : "Fast when you see the new moon and break the fast when you see the new moon ; but if it is hidden, let Sha'ban be completed as thirty days".

5) Likewise, in case of the new moon of Sha'ban not being visible because of bad weather conditions, Ramadan shall be a full thirty days, on the strength of the prophet's instruction to "fast when you see the new moon and break the fast when You see the new moon and if it is hidden by cloud or fog, count thirty days".

6) Man's knowledge of astronomy is now very accurate, so much So that astronomers can calculate the hour, minute and second (every day of the lunar year) of the appearance and disappearance of the moon in every country of the world.

This information is published in advance of every lunar year. Therefore, a man who has acquired this information can, even when he can not actually see the new moon, fix the beginning and end of his fast accordingly. The Prophet says in this connection: "Fast when you see it, and break the fast when you see it ; but if you cannot see it, calculate it." In his commentary on the Quran, al-Qurtubi said : "Matraf Ibn Abdullan, a prominent figure of the generation following the Prophet, and Ibn Qutayba, a famous linguist, stated that astronomical calculations should be resorted to in cases of cloudy skies, and that these calculations be regarded as official." This verdict was accepted at a time when the knowledge of astronomy was not so extensive and accurate as it is today. Such a verdict should be even more acceptable at the present time.

It is to be noted here that the Prophet, addressing the ordinary man, ordered that the month be counted as thirty in case the new moon could not be seen ; whereas, addressing people to whom astronomical knowledge was available, said that the month should be calculated.  

This is an example of the wisdom of the prophet in addressing each group of people according to their educational standards.

7) The appearance of the new moon may differ from one country to the other, even though they may all be in the same latitude. For instance, if the new moon is seen in one country, the appearance is valid so far as those countries to its west are concerned, but not so for countries to its east.

Kurayb told the following story...

"I saw the new moon in Damascus on Friday. At the end of the month I arrived in Medina. Ibn `Abbas asked me about the new moon and I said that I and everyone else had seen it on Friday, and that everyone including Mu'awiya observed the fast on that day. Ibn `Abbas said that the people in Medina had seen the new moon on Saturday and that they were still fasting in order to complete thirty days. I asked if the witnessing of the new moon and the fasting of Mu'awiya were not enough testimony for him. Ibn `Abbas replied "No, for this is how the Prophet instructed us".

Medina, where Ibn `Abbas lived, is to the east of Damascus. That is why Ibn `Abbas had to abide by the Prophet's instructions until the new moon could be seen on Saturday in Medina.

8) If the new moon is seen in any country, the people of every other country falling in the same day longitude should observe the fast on the same day.

9) There is a school of Muslim thought which considers that the people of any country where the new moon is seen can deputize for all Muslims everywhere in the world. Thus fasting begins with the seeing of the new moon in that country, likewise in all other countries even though the new moon might not have been seen there.


The Intention to Fast During Ramadan

For the fast of Ramadan to be valid, one has to make up one's mind, or formulate the intention, during the night of the day he will fast.

Hafsa reported that the Prophet said : "whoever did not make up his mind to fast before dawn, then his fast is not valid".

The intention is an act of the heart; it is not necessary to utter it; it is enough to harbour it. The Prophet said : "Acts are judged by the intentions prompting them".

Commenting on the hadith reported by Hafsa, al-Shukani said that it makes it necessary to formulate the intention to fast at any time of the night and that it is necessary to renew the intention every day of fasting.

The intention is essential only in the fard (obligatory fasting). It could be formulated during the day in the tatawwu' (i.e. voluntary) fast.



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