The Fast of Ramadan
"Ramadan is the month wherein the Quran was revealed for the guidance of mankind and to serve as the criterion (of right and wrong). Whosoever of you is present in this month shall fast it, and whosoever is sick or on a journey shall fast an equal number of days later on. Allah desires ease for you and does not want to subject you to hardship so that you could complete the prescribed period (of fast) and that you may glorify Allah for having guided you, that perchance ye shall be grateful." (The Quran).
Stages of Development:
According to Ibn Kathir, the Muslim fast went through three stages of development until it reached its present state:
1)When the Prophet came to Medina, he used to fast three days every month in addition to the Day of Ashoura. As things were, Muslims were not required, when they first arrived in Medina, to fast more than three days every month. Mu'adh, Qatada and `Ata, claimed - as reported by Ibn Abbas - that those three days were meant by the verse..."for a fixed number of days".
2) The consensus of opinion however, differs. It considers the reference to "a fixed number of days" to mean the month of Ramadan. This difference of opinion over the number of days did not, in any case, touch the essential question of the necessity to fast three days every month.
3) Explaining the fast of the Day of Ashoura, Ibn' Abbas reported that the Prophet had noticed that the Jews in Medina observed the fast on that day. The Prophet asked the reason for it and he was told by the Jews that it was a memorable day on which God delivered Moses and his people from their enemy. Moses therefore observed it as a day of fasting, whereupon the Prophet told the Jews : "Moses is, closer to me than he is to you." He then observed the day as a fast and instructed the Muslims to fast upon it. He sent out a man to tour Medina on that day and announce to the Muslims that : "He who had already eaten shall abstain the rest of the day and he who had not, shall fast the day. Today is the Day of Ashoura."
4) When the fast of Ramadan was prescribed in the second year of the Hijra, the fast on those days was abolished. The Prophet said : "The fast of Ramadan has abolished every other fast".
5) It is reported that `Aisha once said "When the Prophet came to Medina he observed the Day of Ashoura as a day of fasting. When the fast of Ramadan was prescribed, the Prophet said:"Whoever wishes may fast upon it, and who ever wishes may drop it".
6) The second stage begins when God prescribed the fast of Ramadan. The new ordinance was announced in three verses. The first two were revealed together, followed later by the third.
In the first two verses, God said "You who believe". Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that ye may learn self-restraint. (Fast) for a fixed number of days, and whosoever of you is sick or on a Journey shall fast an equal number of days later on.
Those who can afford to fast (but do not) shall have to redeem themselves by feeding a poor person. But who is edoes good of his own accord it is better for him, and that you fast is better for you if you did but know."
God thus permits the sick and the man on a journey to miss fasting during Ramadan. A man will then have to make restitution of those days by fasting a similar number of days when he becomes well again, or when he is no longer on the road.
A man who is not sick or travelling and who is physically fit has a choice either to fast or not. In the latter case he has to pay the fidya (ransom), which is the feeding of a poor person for every day he does not keep the fast. In this connection, Mu'adh said that in the early days of Islam, a man could fast or disregard the ordinance, provided he fed a poor person every day he broke the fast. Al-Bukhari reported more than one hadith (saying of the Prophet) to this effect.
The third verse is the one in which God said :
"Ramadan is the month wherein the Quran was revealed for the guidance of mankind and to serve as the criterion, (of right and wrong). Whosoever of you is present in this month shall fast it, and whosoever is sick or on a journey shall fast an equal number of days later"... etc.
It is to be noticed that the verse remained silent about those "who could afford it." Al-Bukhari reported. according to many of the Prophet's companions, many Ahadith to the effect that the third verse had abrogated those before it and made it obligatory for the physically fit to keep the fast, thus abolishing the choice.
The third stage deals with the times of abstinence and indulgence there were times of abstinence during the night as well as during the day :
(a) when a man had said his `isha prayers (last evening prayers) he was supposed to abstain from (muftirat), that is food, drink and women after prayers.
(b) If a man slept (even before saying the `isha prayers) he should abstain when he awoke.
Thus saying the `isha prayers and sleep forced a man into a state of abstinence for the rest of the night and the following day until sunset. This was a hard condition for the early Muslims for a man might dose off before iftar (breakfast), and thus had to continue his fast until the same time next day. It is told that Qays Ibn Sarma al-Ansari spent the day working in the field. At sunset he returned home and rested while his wife was preparing his meal. When she returned with it he was sound sleep and when he awoke he had to continue the fast ;by mid-day he fainted. Later, he told the Prophet about it and God revealed the verse:
"It is lawful for you on the night of the fast to go unto your wives; they are your garment. Allah knows that ye defraud yourselves therein, so he turns towards you and forgives you. So go in unto them and seek what Allah has ordained for you, and eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct from the black thread, then observe the fast till nightfall."
Muslims were overjoyed by the relaxation.