Fasting (siyyaam or sawm) is an act of worship which involves abstaining from all food, drink, sexual activity and anything which is bound to break the fast from dawn (the time of calling to the Fajr prayer) till sunset (the time of calling to the Maghrib prayer).
The Wisdom behind Fasting
Allah ﷻ commands the believers to observe the fast for numerous reasons pertaining to this world and the hereafter. These include the following:
1⃣ It helps realise taqwaa (righteousness, piety, consciousness of Allah, guarding against evil) :
Fasting is an act of worship through which the faithful seek closeness to their Lord by giving up their passionate desires and placing themselves in opposition to physical temptations at all times and places, in secret and in public, knowing that Allah is watching them. As the Qur’an states, “O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you, just as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous (Soorat Al-Baqarah, 2:183)
2⃣ It provides ample training in refraining from sin and wrongdoing
When a fasting person desistsfrom engaging in permissible acts, in total obedience to Allah, he will certainly be able to bring his whims and desires under control, easily avoid sins and will not persist in falsehood and deviation from the truth. The Prophet ﷺ said, “A person who does not desist form deceitful speech and actions [while fasting] must know that Allah is not in need of him leaving his food and drink.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 1804) This means that those who do not desist from telling lies and deceiving others do not actually perceive the purpose of fasting.
3⃣ It helps us remember the needy and the distressed and encourages us to sympathise with them
Because the fasting person experiences the pangs of deprivation and hunger, which are only temporary, he realises the severe effects of such pains on his fellow Muslim brothers and sisters who might be deprived of the essentials of life for a long time and undergo extreme hunger and thirst. This prompts him to feel more compassion for them and help them.
Virtues of Fasting
Fasting has numerous virtues including the following:
1⃣ A person who fasts during this month, sincerely believing in Allah, in obedience to His commands and is certain of His rewards in the hereafter for doing so, will have all his past sins forgiven. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever fasts in the month of Ramadaan, out of sincere faith and in anticipation of Allah’s rewards [in the hereafter], will have all his past sins forgiven.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 1910; Saheeh Muslim: 760)
2⃣ The fasting person will experience great joy in the hereafter for the great rewards he will get and the bliss he will enjoy for fasting. The Prophet ﷺ said, “The fasting person has two moments of joy: one when he breaks his fast and the other one when he meets his Lord.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 1805; Saheeh Muslim: 1151)
3⃣ Paradise has a gate called Ar-Rayyaan through which only those who used to fast will enter, as the Prophet ﷺ said, “In Paradise there is a gate called Ar-Rayyaan, through which only those who fast will enter on the Day of Resurrection, and no one but they will enter it. It will be said, ‘Where are those who fasted?’ They will then get up, and none will enter it but them. When they have entered, it will be closed, and no one else will enter.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 1797; Saheeh Muslim: 1152)
4⃣ Every act of worship has a certain reward except for fasting, for which Allah, in His boundless bounty and mercy, will reward those who observe it abundantly. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Allah said, ‘All the deeds of the children of Adam are for them except for fasting, which is for Me, and I will reward it.’”(Saheeh Al-Bukhaaree: 1805, Saheeh Muslim: 1151)
For whom is fasting Ramadaan obligatory?
Fasting is obligatory for a person if he fulfils five conditions:
1- He is a Muslim
2- He is accountable (mukallaf)
3- He is able to fast
4- He is settled (not travelling)
5- There are no impediments to fasting
If these five conditions are met, then it is obligatory for a person to fast.
Kaafirs are excluded from the first condition. The kaafir is not obliged to fast and his fast is not valid. If he becomes Muslim he is not obliged to make up fasts from before.
The second condition:
He should be accountable (mukallaf). The one who is mukallaf is one who is has reached the age of puberty and is of sound mind, because a minor or one who is insane is not accountable.
The one who is of sound mind is the opposite of one is insane, which is one who has lost his mind, whether he is insane or feeble-minded. Everyone who has lost his mind, in whatever sense, is not accountable and he is not obliged to do any of the obligatory duties of Islam, be it prayer, fasting or feeding the poor; he does not have to do anything at all.
The third condition:
Being able to fast. The one who is unable to fast does not have to fast, because Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):
“and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number [of days which one did not observe Sawm (fasts) must be made up] from other days”
But being unable to fast falls into two categories: temporary inability and permanent inability.
Temporary inability is that which is mentioned in the verse quoted above, such as one who is sick but hopes to recover, and the traveller. These people are allowed not to fast, then they have to make up what they missed.
Those who are permanently unable to fast, such as one who is sick and has no hope of recovery, or those who are elderly and are unable to fast, are mentioned in the verse (interpretation of the meaning):
“And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (e.g. an old man), they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a Miskeen (poor person) (for every day)”
As Ibn ‘Abbaas (may Allaah be pleased with him) interpreted it, it refers to the old man and old woman who are not able to fast, so they should feed one poor person for each day
Those Who Are Exempt from Fasting
To make it easy for people, Allah ﷻ has exempted some of them from fasting. They are:
1⃣ Sick people whose medical condition is bound to be further worsened by fasting are permitted to break the fast but must make up the missed fasts after Ramadaan..
2⃣ People who cannot possibly observe a fast due to old age or sick people for whom there is no hope of recovery may also break the fast but must feed a needy person for every day missed, by giving him 1.5 kg of the staple food common in the country..
3⃣ Travellers, while moving from one place to another or during their temporary residence which lasts less than four days, are allowed to break the fast but have to make up for the fast days they have missed after Ramadaan. As the Qur’an states, “But those of you who are sick or are on a journey must fast an equal number of other days. Allah wants ease for you, not hardship.” (Soorat Al-Baqarah: 185)
4⃣ Menstruating women , and women experiencing post-natal bleeding are forbidden to fast but must make up an equal number of days after Ramadaan. Even if they fast, it will not be valid.
5⃣ Pregnant and nursing، women are permitted to break the fast if they fear it would be dangerous for them or for their babies if they fast. They must, however, make up for the fast days they have missed after Ramadaan..
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