Chapter III - Fasting
Fasting is one of those religious institutions which; though universally recognized; have had quite a new meaning introduced into them by the advent of Islam. Fasting was generally resorted to in times of sorrow and affliction; probably to appease any angry “deity” by the heathen! In Islam; fasting is enjoined for the moral elevation of man and for his spiritual development. This object is made clear in the Holy Koran itself, where fasting is enjoined upon Muslims. Verse 183, Chapter II of the Koran is interpreted as follows:
“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, so that you more able to guard against evil.”
The Holy Koran does not content itself with simply enjoining the doing of good and refraining from evil, but teaches man the ways by walking is which the tendency to evil in him can be suppressed and the tendency to good improved. Fasting is one of these means. Hence fasting in Islam does not simply imply abstaining from food, but also from every kind of evil. In fact. abstention from food is but a step to make a man realize---- if he can, in obedience to divine injunctions, abstain from food and drink which are otherwise lawful for him---how much more expedient it is that he should refrain from evil, the consequence of which is no doubt evil. Fasting is actually like a sort of training of man’s faculties, for as every faculty of man requires training to attain its full force, the faculty of submission to the Divine Will should also require to be trained. Fasting is one of the means by which this is achieved.
In addition to that specified training, fasting has its physical advantages. It not only prepares man to bear hunger and thirst and thus to accustom himself to a life of hardship and frugality, so that he may not be too much given over to ease, but also exercises a very good effect upon health in general. It is a well—known teaching of the Prophet of Islam that hunger is the best cure to many ailments; this is a fact proved and defended now-a days by recent medical authorities. The injunction of fasting as a religious institution and a devotional practice in Islam is dealt with in the Koran in the second Chapter. Verse 183 thereof teaches that fasting is a religious institution almost as universal as prayer; and in Islam it is one of the four fundamental practical ordinances, the other three being prayer (salât), poor-tax (zakât) and pilgrimage, hajj). The Koran teaches that fasting was enjoined on all nations by prophets who passed before the Prophet Muhammad. In the Bible it is stated that fasting has in all ages and among all nations been an exercise much in use in times of mourning and affliction. Fasting has also been in vogue among the Hindus. Even Christians, who assume that they have no need of any religious exercise on account of Jesus' atonement, are commanded by that Prophet to keep the fasts:
“Moreover, when ye fast, be not, as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance. But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thy head and wash thy face” (Matt.,6:16, 17).
Again when the Pharisees objected to Jesus’ disciples not keeping the fast as often as John’s. his only answer was that when he would be taken away” then shall they fast in those days”(luke,5:38-----35).
But Islam has introduced quite a new meaning into the institution of fasting before Islam. Fasting meant the suffering of some privation in times of mourning and sorrow; in Islam, it becomes an institution for the improvement of the moral spiritual character of man. This is plainly stated in the concluding words of the verse of the Koran bearing on the privileges of the enjoinment, viz. “So that you may guard against evil doings.” The object is that man may learn how he can shun evil. As already stated all the institutions of Islam are actually practical steps leading to perfect purification of the soul. But along with moral elevation, which is aimed at in fasting, another object is hinted at. In fact, the twofold object is that Muslims may be able to guard themselves: (a) morally and spiritually, against evil, for he who is able to renounce the lawful satisfaction of his desires in obedience to Divine Commandments, certainly acquires the power to renounce unlawful gratification; and (b) physically against the opponents of the Muslims by habituating themselves to suffer tribulations which they must suffer in defence of the cause of Islam.
The number of days of fasting is definitely stated in verses 184, 185 and 186 of Chapter II of the Koran namely twenty-nine or thirty days of the month of Ramadan. The ninth month of the lunar calendar. But, whoever is temporarily sick or on a journey during the month of Ramadan, he shall fast a like number of other days. As regards those who cannot keep the fast on account of persistent or long-standing disease or who are too old or weak, including in this class the woman who is with child or who gives to suck, the practice is to give away the measure of one man’s food to a poor man every day during the whole month. It is pertinent to observe here that doing good to others (charity or otherwise) is enjoined in addition to fasting during the month of Ramadan. We are told that the Prophet who was universally recognized for his charity was most charitable during the month of Ramadan.
The number of days of fasting, as already stated, is either 29 or 30 days according as the lunar month of Ramadan may contain. Lunar months are not always the same with regard to their number of days. As to the duration of each day of the fast, it is from dawn to sunset. Nothing whatsoever is allowed to be eaten or drunk within that duration. Sexual intercourse is also strictly forbidden. But it is made lawful to go to the wives during the night of the fast.
It is meritorious to cut oneself from worldly connections during the last ten days of the month of Ramadan, passing day and night in a mosque. This practice is known as I’tikâf, i.e. seclusion. It is, however, voluntary and not obligatory.
An important question arises regarding such countries in which the day are sometimes very long----from dawn to sunset where it would be beyond the ability of ordinary men to abstain from food from the breaking of dawn to sunset. In this case a Muslim is allowed to keep the fast only for such hours of fasting as they are kept in ordinary countries. However, in cases of extraordinary difficulties. Muslims may postpone the fast to days of shorter length.