Adapted from the book ‘Fasting – A great Act of Worship’ by Shaikh Muhammad ibn Saalih al-Uthaimeen and translated by Dr. Abdullah al-Farsi.
The Virtues of Ramadaan
Allah says: “O you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become Muttaqoon (the pious).” [Soorah al-Baqarah (2): 183] Fasting is a great act of worship, if it was not then Allah, the All Wise would not have made it obligatory on all nations.
Abu Hurayrah (radhi allahu anhu) narrates: “The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “When the month of Ramadaan starts, the gates of Jannah (Paradise) are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, and Satans are chained.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee vol: 3, no: 123 and Saheeh Muslim no: 2361 and 2362]
The gates of Jannah are opened as an encouragement for those who seek rewards from Allah and perform righteous deeds. Likewise, the gates of Hell are closed, since less sins are committed in this sacred month and the Shaytaan is chained in order to prevent him from misleading the people and attracting them to sinful acts.
Amongst the virtues of fasting is that it is an atonement of sins. Narrated Abu Hurayrah (radhi allahu anhu) that the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “He who observed the fasts of the month of Ramadaan out of sincerity and hoping for the reward from Allah, he will have his past sins forgiven.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee vol: 3, no: 125]
Abu Hurayrah (radhi allahu anhu) reported a Qudsi Hadeeth: “Allah says: “All the deeds of Adam’s children belong to them, except fasting, which belongs to Me, and I will reward it. Fasting is a shield (against the Hell and sins). If one of you happens to be fasting then he should avoid sexual relations with his wife, and should avoid quarreling. If someone quarrels with him, let him say: ‘I am fasting.’ By Him in Whose Hand is my soul, the smell of the mouth of a fasting person is better in the Sight of Allah than the musk.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 3, no: 118) and Saheeh Muslim (no: 2567)]
In this Hadeeth, Allah distinguished the sincere fast from all good deeds and He favored the fast to be greatly rewarded. Fasting is called a shield against Hell Fire because it protects the fasting person from shameful and unjust deeds, which in turn defend him from the Hell-Fire.
Fasting is a praiseworthy act, which carries two occasions of joy for the believer; one while he breaks his fast and enjoys the bounties of Allah, i.e. he was favored with the Mercy of Allah and granted the ability to fast and worship him, while others were deprived from this blessing. The second is when he will meet his Lord and enjoy the abundant rewards of fasting. Another virtue of fasting is its intercession on the Day of Judgement.
The Wisdom behind Fasting
Fasting is a great act of worship, which a Muslim performs by avoiding all his desires, solely to please His Lord, while hoping for His Mercy and Rewards. Fasting proves the slave’s great love for Allah and devotion to Him, because man by nature is desirous and he only prevents his desires and cherished acts to acquire something better and more esteemed.
Fasting is a means of attaining Taqwa (piety) and righteousness. The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “He who does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah does not need his refraining from eating and drinking.” [Saheeh Muslim (no: 2486)]
Thus, one who fasts refrains from all evil deeds and he is more inclined and receptive to the Words of Allah and His Commandments, which make it easy for him to become pious and devout to Allah.
A rich man’s fast is more appreciated because even though all the means and food present with him, he abstain from them following the Command of Allah and suffers the hardships faced by the poor and the needy. This helps him maintain humbleness and motivates him to help those in need; thus fasting prevents pride and egoism.
Apart from these spiritual benefits, fasting also includes various health benefits; it reduces the intake of food and relaxes the digesting system. Indeed, Great is the wisdom of Allah, and great are His Graces!
When does fasting begin?
Allah says: “So whoever of you sights (the crescent of the first night of) the month (of Ramadaan), he must fast that month.” [Soorah al-Baqarah (2): 185]
Fasting begins upon sighing the new moon. However, it is not incumbent on every individual to sight the new moon. If a trustworthy Muslim testifies the sighting of the new moon, then everybody should observe fasts.
Abu Hurayrah (radhi allahu anhu) narrated: “A bedouin came to the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) and reported: “O Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam), I have seen the new moon of Ramadaan.” Thereupon, the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) asked the man: “Do you bear witness that ‘Laa ilaha illa Allah.’” (i.e. there is no god worthy of worship except Allah)?” “I do.” said the bedouin. The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) further asked him whether he testifies that Muhammad (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) is the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam). The bedouin affirmed that too. Thereupon, the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) asked Bilaal (radhi allahu anhu) to announce the beginning of Ramadaan.” [Sunan Abu Dawood no: 2333 and 2334. It is weak according to Shaikh al-Albanee]
Ibn Umar (radhi allahu anhu) also confirmed the practice of sighting the new moon, saying: “The people were seeking the new moon. Having sighted it myself, I reported to the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam). He began his fast and ordered the people to begin theirs, too.” [Sunan Abu Dawood no: 2335 (saheeh)]
He who sights the new moon of Ramadaan must inform those in authority in the Muslim government or community. Once the Muslim government announces the beginning of Ramadaan upon the sighting of the new moon, it becomes incumbent on all Muslims to begin their fasts.
Astronomical calculations should not be relied upon, as the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) clearly commanded to initiate fasting on seeing the new moon and not upon astronomical calculations. If it becomes difficult to see the moon due to bad weather conditions, then the Muslims may complete the month of Shabaan, i.e. 30 days of the month preceding Ramadaan, and then initiate their fasts. He (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “Fast when it (the moon) is seen and cease fasting when it is seen, so if it is concealed by clouds, then complete thirty days of Shabaan.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 4 no: 106) and Saheeh Muslim (no: 1081)]
It is not permissible to fast a day or two before Ramadaan, assuming that it might be Ramadaan. Abu Hurayrah (radhi allahu anhu) reported that the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “None of you should start Ramadaan by fasting a day or two before it, except for a man fasting his usual fast, then let him fast that day.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 3, no: 138)]
Who should fast and who should not?
Fasting is obligatory on every sane, mature and healthy Muslim. Young children are encouraged to fast. [Saheeh al-Bukharee vol: 3, no: 181] Exempted are those who suffer terminal illnesses, or are too old to fast. Allah does not overburden His slaves.
Permission to abstain from fasting is granted to those travelers, who do not travel for the purpose of breaking fasts. Although it is permissible to break one’s fast during travel, it is praiseworthy to maintain the fast if no hardships are imposed. The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) was asked about fasting on a journey, he replied:“Fast if you wish and break it if you wish.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 3, no: 164) and Saheeh Muslim (no: 2487)]
Ibn Abbas (radhi allahu anhu) said: “Do not condemn one who observes fast, or one who does not observe it (in a journey), for the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) observed fast in a journey or he did not observe it (too).” [Saheeh Muslim (no: 2471)]
In any case, travelers should make up the missed days, once Ramadaan is over and they are back home.
Sickness: As for those whose sickness does not allow them to fast, they fall into three categories:
a) If fasting does not impose hardships and does not harm, then it is better to fast.
b) If fasting is hard but not harmful, then he is permitted to break his fast.
c) If fasting is harmful for him, then he is ordered to abstain from fasting, because Allah says: “Do not kill yourselves.” [Soorah an-Nisa (4): 29] “Do not throw yourselves into destruction.” [Soorah al-Baqarah (2): 195]
The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “There is (to be) no harm or reciprocating harm.” [(saheeh) Musnad Ahmad, Ibn Majah (Saheeh al-Jami as-Sagheer no: 7517)]
Missed days must be made up as soon as Ramadaan is over and one is healthy again:
Women: During menstrual period or the post-natal bleeding, women should abstain from fasting. [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 3, no: 172)]. They must make up their missed days as soon as the fasting month is over. The pregnant or breast feeding women, whose health or the health of the suckling baby might be effected due to fasting, should break her fast and make up the missed days later.
Mujahid: It is also recommended for those who engage in combat in the Way of Allah to break their fasts. The Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) once commanded his companions: “You are going to meet your enemy in the morning, abstaining from fasting is better for your strength, so break your fast.” [Saheeh Muslim (no: 2486)]
Praiseworthy Etiquettes of Fasting
(A) Suhoor: The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “Take (the meal of) Suhoor because there is blessing in it.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 3, no: 146) and Saheeh Muslim (2412)].
Even drinking a cup of water instead of a meal for Suhoor has blessings, since taking Suhoor implies obeying the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) and following his Sunnah. Besides, Suhoor also adds to the physical health with the essential nutrition and strength required to fast. [see Fatawah as-Siyaam, p.40]
(B) Iftaar: Breaking the fast as soon as the sun sets. The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “The people will not cease to be upon good as long as they hasten in breaking their fast.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee 4/173 & Saheeh Muslim 1093]
(C) Invoking Allah upon breaking fast.
The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “Indeed, there is for the fasting person, when he breaks his fast, a supplication which is not rejected.” [(Saheeh) - Ibn Majah (1/557) ]
“Dhahabadh dhama’u wabtallatil ‘urooqu wa thabatal ajru insha Allah”
“The thirst has gone, the veins are moistened and the reward is certain, Insha’Allah.”
[Abu Dawood (2/306)]
(D) Reciting the Qur’aan as much as possible during the month of Ramadaan.
Practices which Break the Fast
1 – Sexual intercourse in the daytime. The willful violation of the fast by this practice requires the fast of sixty consecutive days in order to make up the day. [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 3, no: 57) and Saheeh Muslim (no: 2457)]
2 – Willful ejaculation by means of kissing and caressing, etc. Wet dreams and unintentional ejaculation do not break the fast.
3 – Eating, drinking, smoking or taking any food substitutes such as receiving blood, glucose, or IV. substances during the fast.
4 – Intentional vomiting.
5 – Menstrual bleeding. [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 3, no: 172)] Regardless of the time when the menses begins. The same rule applies to the post-natal bleeding.
NOTE: Days in which the above 2 to 5 points take place are to be made up a day for a day once Ramadaan is over.
Applying Kohl (surmah), eye, ear or nose dropsdo not break the fast because they are neither food nor its substitute. Wearing perfumes, using the Siwaak or toothbrush without toothpaste do not break the fast, since it has been reported that the Prophet (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) used to do so. The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “The siwaak is a means of cleansing the mouth and pleasing the Lord.” [Saheeh al-Jaami as-Sagheer (no: 3695)]
NOTE: It should be mentioned here that using toothbrush with toothpaste in the fast is disliked.
Actions that should be avoided while Fasting:
Carelessness in performing other acts of worship: Performing the other acts of worship and duties is most important and Salaat is of specific importance, because without it no act of worship is accepted by Allah.
Not praying in Congregation: Praying in congregation is a great aspect in our religion, thus everyone must attend the prayer. It is reward twenty-seven times greater than the prayer performed individually. [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 1, no: 618)]. Once, the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) was about to burn the houses of those who did not attend the congregational prayers. This was due to the gravity of their sin. [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 1, no: 17) and Saheeh Muslim (no: 1369)]
Regularly attending the congregational prayer is directed to men; the best place for a woman is to pray is her house. The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “Do not prevent your women (from going to) the Masjid, but their houses are better for them.” [(saheeh) Musnad Ahmad, Abu Dawood, al-Haakim, Saheeh al-Jaami as-Sagheer no: 7458]
Bad behavior such as lying, cheating, music, backbiting, slandering, etc. The Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) said: “No slanderer shall enter Paradise.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 8, no: 82) and Saheeh Muslim (no: 180)] and: “There will exist in my Ummah those who will deem unlawful things lawful (such as) fornication, silk for men, intoxicating beverages and musical instruments.” [Saheeh al-Bukharee 7/494)]
In a Fatawah (religious ruling), the Shaikh further explains that the fasting of a person who engages in forbidden speech is not invalidated, but its rewards are diminished. The gravity of his sin(s) might be so immense that it outstrips all the rewards for his fast. [Fatawah as-Siyaam]
The Virtues of the Last Ten Days of Ramadaan It has been reported that the Messenger of Allah (sallallahu alaihi wa-sallam) worshiped Allah more in the last ten days of Ramadaan. [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 3, no: 241), and Saheeh Muslim (no: 2643-2644)]
He used to awaken his family in the night so that they may not loose the benefit of these blessed nights. [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 3, no: 241) and Saheeh Muslim (no: 2643)]
It is also reported that he used to make Itikhaaf by spending the last ten days in the Masjid. [Saheeh al-Bukharee (vol: 3, no: 242) and Saheeh Muslim (no: 2636)]