Sha’ban is the month when the verses of fasting were revealed and Ramadhan became obligatory to fast. Prior to this the fast of Ashura was compulsory but from this point on that now became highly recommended instead.
First verse: Obligation & Cause
Quran 2:183 – O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be mindful of God.
We are addressed directly by the Quran. Allah speaks to each and every one of us. So feel that in your heart. We need to look at both the Quran and sunnah to understand our religion in it’s entirety as they are inseparable from each other. The Quran informs us about the Prophet ﷺ and in turn the Prophet ﷺ explains the Remembrance as it was revealed to him and to us, but through him.
The verse starts by saying fasting has been ‘kutiba’ I.e. written upon us literally but it is not clearly stated by who, although we know this is Allah. There is an etiquette in the Quran that teaches us why He is not mentioned by name. Everything good or bad comes from Allah and this is our belief. Not like the faith of previous nations who attributed all good to Allah but evil to the Prophets or themselves.
Allah did not use the word ‘kataba ‘ which implies specificity and say that Allah has prescribed fasting upon us because we know that fasting is a difficult act. To avoid any negative links or opinions being attributed to Allah, He refrained from mentioning His name as we should only have good expectations of Allah.
The True Fast
To fast is given as an order and it is clear that there is no element of choice within the command. There is hardship within fasting and even if you don’t like it there is no room for movement on the divine matter and the reward for it is therefore with Allah alone. ‘Perhaps it maybe that you love something and it’s bad for you and perhaps it maybe that you hate something but it’s good for you. And Allah knows whilst you do not.’ (Quran 2:216)
‘As-Siyam‘ is a definite word meaning ‘the fast’. Fasting literally means abstaining from anything. We see examples of this in the Quran when Maryam was told by the angels, after giving birth to Isa, to tell people that she had taken a vow to fast, I.e a fast of silence to avoid their questions. However the standard definition of fasting is not eating, drinking or engaging in marital relations from sunrise to sunset. This is ‘a fast’ but not ‘the fast’ which is mentioned.
‘As-Siyam‘ is a higher degree of fast which means abstaining with your eyes, ears, tongue, body and heart from all that Allah has made forbidden for us. This includes false talk, backbiting and many other sins. The Prophet ﷺ said there are many people who look like they are fasting but they are not fasting with Allah. They are not meeting the criteria of ‘As-Siyam‘ and all they get from it is hunger and thirst. Rather fasting is truly the detachment of the heart from anything other than Allah.
Fasting has been prescribed upon us just as it was prescribed upon the people that came before, such as the Christians and Jews. Allah required every nation that has ever lived to fast in the same way that we fast Ramadan for a complete month. However, they started to alter the revelation and the nature of the obligation placed upon them. The Christians made it longer and eventually it reached 50 days out and they could no longer maintain it. This is a message that fasting is a hardship but it applied to all people without exception.
‘La’alla’ is something that puts a state of concern or worry in your heart. This is the possibility of something happening but in a state where one is fearful regarding it. Every time this word is mentioned there is a potential for misunderstanding caused by using the word literally to mean ‘maybe’. This may create a doubt about its occurrence or ignorance regarding the knowledge of Allah. However Allah has absolute knowledge about everything and this will never change and suggesting this entails disbelief.
Allah knows that if you fulfil the requirements of the fast then you will be granted the reward He has mentioned and become God-fearing. He didn’t provide a guarantee because the nature of the human is that they will become lazy and neglectful if this is offered and so this is left open with a ‘maybe’ statement to prevent complacency and ensure constant striving.
Imam Sabawi who wrote a text on Arabic grammar was once seen in a dream. He said Allah forgave me and entered me into paradise because in the beginning of my book I wrote, ‘The one who is most known is Allah‘ in the discussion of the highest of definite words in Arabic. Dreams can often give us a window into the states of people and how they achieved those states. Therefore we should take heed and lessons from this.
Reasons for Fasting
Reasons for performing particular actions like fasting are not always given in the Quran or they may be given but briefly. The reason for fasting is ‘tataqoon‘ – literally to gain protection. The definition of taqwa is often given as fulfilling obligations and refraining from prohibitions to protect oneself from the anger, rage and punishment of Allah. It is important to remember that for a believer punishment in this world is a mercy. It is a form of cleansing and purification. Therefore we show gratitude that we are being afflicted in this world and not the next and in our worldly matters and not our religious matters. For Allah says, ‘And We will certainly make them taste the nearer punishment before the greater punishment, so that they may return.’ (Quran 32:21)
Fasting is a form of protection from the wrath of Allah by enduring the difficulty in this world with a proper fast for the sake of Allah. It also allows us to increase in our awareness and complete servitude to Allah through the hardship of fasting so that you can be from the company of those who are people of taqwa and enter the garden through this blessing.
May Allah allow us to make the most of this blessed month, accept our actions and maintain its effect and traces throughout the year. Ameen.
I will be releasing further verses related to fasting in revelation over on my blog inshaAllah. Do subscribe and follow me on my blog and social media channels on Instagram and Facebook.
Saima Hussain is a former Doctor and Teacher turned homeschooling mother of five based in the UK. She is on the path of seeking beneficial knowledge with an aim to seek, reflect and share via her blog Rabbe Zidnee Ilma. Currently she is studying Quranic Arabic and a Collaborative Aalimiyyah. She also shares aspects of her life and homeschool journey in cultivating good manners and character within her Little Muslims via Facebook and Instagram.