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Ramadan fasting and what we should know about it

Fasting is a blessing from God like other practices of Islam. Contrary to what many people believe, fasting did not start with prophet Muhammad. It started with prophet Abraham like other practices of Islam. The Quran confirms that all the messengers and prophets who are chosen after Abraham, including Moses and Jesus, observed these religious practices. However, Ramadan fasting is decreed for us to be grateful to God for giving us the Quran in the month to attain salvation, and the commandment is found in a few verses of the Quran while there are also references to fasting from the Bible as well.

References from the Quran

The commandment of Ramadan fasting is very straightforward in the Quran but with appropriate details including options and objective so that we can fulfill this obligation to attain our salvation:

Fasting is decreed as a practice essential for our salvation, and its practice as a key component of seeking salvation, has been part of Islam since the time of Abraham:
[Quran 2:183] O you who believe, fasting is decreed for you, as was decreed for those before you, so that you may attain salvation.

Fasting is prescribed for us for a number of days each year accommodating necessary alternatives. If a person is unable to fast for some reason, God gives him or her other options to supplement it. Therefore, those who are sick, pregnant, elderly, or traveling, can make up an equal number of days later in the year. If they are physically unable to do this, they can feed a needy person for every day missed but fasting is good for us if we can fulfill this obligation being an opportunity for us for the growth and development of our souls:
[Quran 2:184] Specified days. But whoever is ill among you or on a journey, then the prescribed number in other days. And for those who can do it (but with hardship), there is a ransom of feeding a poor. But whoever volunteers good, then it is better for him. And if you fast, it is better for you if you knew.

Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic lunar calendar in which the Quran was revealed as our guidance, teachings and laws. God has decreed for us fasting during the entire blessed month to glorify Him for guiding us as well as to express our appreciation:
[Quran 2:185] Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was revealed as guidance for the people, clear proofs of the guidance, and the statute book. So whoever among you witnesses the month, then he should fast in it. But whoever is ill among you or on a journey, then the prescribed number in other days. God wishes for you ease and He does not wish for you hardship so that you can complete the prescribed number, and that you can glorify God for what He has guided you so that you may be grateful.

In the month of Ramadan, the Muslims (Submitters) are to fast from dawn to sunset, abstaining from food, drink, and sexual relations to attain salvation. However, sexual relation is allowed with their wives at the night of fasting but it is prohibited if someone has decided to retreat to the masjids. Thus God has made His revelations clear to the people so that they can be righteous:
[Quran 2:187] Permitted for you is to approach unto your wives during the nights of fasting. They are garments for you and you are garments for them. God knew that you used to betray your souls. So He has redeemed you and has forgiven you. Now, you may have relation with them and seek what God has prescribed for you. And you may eat and drink until the white thread becomes distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn. Then, you shall fast until the night. And do not have relation with them while you are devoted in the masjid. These are the God given limits, so do not transgress them. Thus, God makes His revelations clear to the people so that they may be righteous.

References from the Bible

Even though Ramadan fasting itself is not directly mentioned in the Bible but there are references to fasting in the Old and the New Testament. The following verses indicate that the Jews and Christians used to fast in different occasions or as and when required to be humble to God as well as to please Him abstaining from food and drink:

From the Old Testament
[Daniel 3-4] 3 And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting and sackcloth and ashes. 4 And I prayed unto Jehovah my God, and made confession, and said, Oh, Lord, the great and dreadful God, who keepeth covenant and lovingkindness with them that love him and keep his commandments.
[Ether 4:16] “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
[1 Samuel 7:5-6] 5 Then Samuel said, “Assemble all Israel at Mizpah, and I will intercede with the LORD for you.” 6 When they had assembled at Mizpah, they drew water and poured it out before the LORD. On that day they fasted and there they confessed, “We have sinned against the LORD.” Now Samuel was serving as leader of Israel at Mizpah.
[Ezra 8:21-23] 21 There, by the Ahava Canal, I proclaimed a fast, so that we might humble ourselves before our God and ask him for a safe journey for us and our children, with all our possessions. 22 I was ashamed to ask the king for soldiers and horsemen to protect us from enemies on the road, because we had told the king, “The gracious hand of our God is on everyone who looks to him, but his great anger is against all who forsake him.” 23 So we fasted and petitioned our God about this, and he answered our prayer.
[Jonah 3:5-10] 5 The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth. 6 When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. 7 This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh: “By the decree of the king and his nobles: Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. 8 But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. 9 Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.” 10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.

From the New Testament
[Acts 27:33] Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything.
[Matthew 6:16-18] 16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.

Benefits

The religious practices instituted by God are blessings from God. If we can practice our religious duties the way we are supposed to do, we get many benefits. Furthermore, these practices allow us to be more conscious of God in our lives. The practices essentially constitute the nourishment required for the growth and development of our souls to make it to Heaven. They are for our own good. God is in no need of any of our prayers and worship. Fasting, like all other religious duties, helps us to remember God and appreciate His blessings.

Besides nourishing our soul, the real self, fasting also has numerous, scientifically proven benefits for our physical health and the mental well-being of our body. The time, length and nature of the fast all contribute to its overall positive effect. Fasting gives our digestive system a rest and improves our physical health. In his book “Fasting and Eating for Health,” (ISBN 031218719X) Joel Fuhrman, M.D. notes that “The fast does not merely detoxify; it also breaks down superfluous tissue—fat, abnormal cells, atheromatous plaque, and tumors—and releases diseased tissues and their cellular products into the circulation for elimination. Toxic or unwanted materials circulate in our bloodstream and lymphatic tissues, and are deposited in and released from our fat stores and other tissues. An important element of fasting detoxification is mobilizing the toxins from their storage areas.”

Ramadan varies every year

The full moon occurs when the Sun and Moon are located on opposite sides of the Earth. In this situation, the face of the Moon visible from the Earth is completely illuminated by the Sun. More specifically, the full moon occurs when the geocentric apparent longitudes of the Sun and the Moon are 180 degrees apart. This is a fancy way of saying that the Sun and the Moon are on opposite sides of the sky. The Moon takes 27.3 days to orbit the Earth. But because the Moon is orbiting around the Earth in the same direction that the Earth is orbiting the Sun, the Moon takes an additional 2.2 days to return to the same position in the sky, where it’s perfectly lined up with the Sun. That’s why the amount of time it takes to go from a full moon to a full moon is 29.5 days long. Astronomers call this length of time a lunar month.

A lunar month is approximately 29.5 days, which is the time it takes for the moon to orbit the earth. Because a lunar month is, on the average, one day shorter than a solar month, a lunar year is 10-12 days shorter than a solar year. Therefore, the month of Ramadan comes 10-12 days earlier each year. This way we get to fast when the days are very warm and long in summer as well as when they are cool and short in winter. This beautiful design by God is also a test for us to see if we will fast regardless of the length or temperature of the days of Ramadan.

Is Moon Sighting Necessary?

God gave us scientific knowledge to determine exactly when a lunar month will begin and end. Therefore, there is no need to sight the crescent of the moon to start fasting, like some traditional Muslims do. Any observatory or astronomy center should have that information for your area. Some almanacs, magazines or newspapers also report the times for the phases of the moon. To determine when one should start fasting, compare the time the new lunar month begins with the time of sunset, the beginning of a day in the Islamic calendar.
What is an Islamic Day?

The Islamic day is the same as the Hebrew day. It begins at sunset and ends at the next sunset. In this system, the night comes before the day. Therefore, when we talk about, for instance, Friday night, we are actually referring to Thursday night because that night actually belongs to Friday according to the definition.
The Night of Destiny

In 97:1-5, God is stating that we have no idea (ma-adraka) how awesome that night is: it is better than thousand months, the angels and the Spirit descend, by God’s leave, with every single command on that specific night, peace it is until Dawn (when the process ended). All of this is referring to a process that was completed in the past by God along with the Gabriel and the angels. Thus, God is exclusively referring to a specific night that took place over 1400 years ago and a specific objective of revealing Quran to mankind.

Pinpoint of the Night of Destiny

The exact date for this unique night has become a long-standing bone of contention within the Muslim communities. Just as they argue about when Ramadan starts and ends, they also disagree on the date of this night. According to tradition this night is so elusive that they try to stay up all nights during the last ten days of Ramadan so as not to “miss out” any chances of experiencing it. Others hold the opinion that the exact date of this night is the 27th of Ramadan. Many, if not all, of these varying opinions are based on the hadith or historical records dating back to early Islam.

The following information pinpoints the date of this special night on the night of 27th Ramadan. The information is not completely new; part of it has been around among the traditional circles for some time. What makes it interesting is that it is purely derived from the Quran, from the very sura that deals with this subject, namely Sura 97 quoted above.

Sura 97 (Al-Qadr) contains three occurrences of the phrase “laylat al-qadr” (the night of destiny). The Arabic phrase “laylat al-qadr” itself consists of 9 letters. Therefore, within this sura, there are 27 (3 X 9) letters that participate in the proper name of this very special night. “Peaceful IT is until the advent of the dawn” (Arabic: salamun HIYA hatta mathlail fajr). The word IT (HIYA) refers to the night in question. It is interesting that the location of this word is 27th out of the 30 total words that comprise this sura. While 30 is the universally accepted number of days in a month. The plural forms of the Arabic word “days” (“YAWMAYN” and “AYYAM“) mentioned in the Quran 30 times to give us an indication of the number of days in a month, just as the day in singular form (YAWM) is mentioned in the Quran 365 times for the number of days in a year. Hence, the exact time of “laylat al-qadr” is hinted at within the text of the Quranic chapter that deals with this very subject.

Tarawih and Eid prayer

There is even something called a ‘Tarawih’ prayer which makes a special appearance in Ramadan consisting of various ways to go about it depending upon the preference of Hadith by the hundreds of unauthorized sects around the world (6:159, 30:32). Some Tarawih sessions make people stand and sit so much that they end up bored and tired. Most mosques divide the Quran into 30 equal parts and recite a part each night of Ramadan just for the sake of finishing it, even though no one cares to listen or understand (2:171, 7:204). Instead of these false and uncomfortable religious gatherings, people should follow God’s command in the Quran to meditate in the night (17:79, 25:64, 26:217-219, 73:2), reflecting upon His name (50:40) and seeking His mercy in Ramadan and throughout the year as well (3:191-192, 20:130, 32:15-16, 40:55). There is also something called Eid prayer on the 1st morning of the Shawwal followed by the Ramadan is another innovation.

Conclusion

Fasting is a gift for us from God, and there are references to fasting in the Quran and also from the Bible. God introduces Ramadan fasting for us in the verse 2:183 telling us that He has decreed it to help us attain salvation. In the verses 2:184-185, He tells us that it is best to fast if at all possible, but if it is not possible He gives us alternatives to be appreciative to Him for guiding us. In the verse 2:187 He informs us details on how to fast clarifying His revelations for the people, that they may attain salvation. God would never ask us to fast if it was not beneficial for us, both spiritually and physically. Hence, there are many health benefits from fasting but the real benefits are spiritual as we feed our souls during fasting. To receive the spiritual benefits of fasting, we should maintain our righteousness and refrain from any behavior that may jeopardize the positive growth of our souls.

The knowledge we have now can help us determine the exact date when the Ramadan starts and ends every year. We can have this information from any observatory or astronomy center for our area. Some almanacs, magazines or newspapers also report the times for the phases of the moon. The Night of Destiny is no more elusive to us as it is derived from the Quran, from the very sura that deals with this subject, namely Sura 97 to be the exact date is on the night of 27th Ramadan. Since there is no mention in the entire Quran that the angles and the Spirit descend annually on the Night of Destiny to carry out any commands or grant us any wishes, any special rituals or extra rewards to be earned when we stay up all night in observance of that night is man-made occasion.

However, we are commanded by God to commemorate Him every night and we must do that by reading the Quran what we can afford of it without burdening our souls (73:1-8 & 73:20). During the Ramadan we may study the Quran as much as we can to be blessed with knowledge of our guidance being the blessed month through enhanced remembrance of God for the revelation of Quran. But we can earn lots of extra rewards commemorating God on the Night of Destiny as the night is better than a thousand months, is tradition not from God. Since He has told us to meditate with the Quran (17:79), and if we do that during the Ramadan, there will be a ripple effect on the positive growth of our soul when our body is relaxing, our heart is in a peaceful state and our soul is growing. Hence, the Ramadan fasting is an annual recurrent event decreed by God but not the observance of the Night of Destiny expecting extra rewards except a practice introduced by tradition.
Peaceful Friday, salaam and God bless. Tafazzal (6/1/2018).