(Tr. by Shehzad Saleem)
After the prayer and zakāh, the fast is the next important worship ritual of Islam. In the Arabic language, the word used for it is صَوْم (sawm), which literally means "to abstain from something" and "to give up something". As a term of the Islamic sharī'ah, it refers to the state of a person in which he is required to abstain from eating and drinking and from marital relations with certain limits and conditions. A person expresses himself through deeds and practices; hence when his emotions of worship for the Almighty relate to his deeds and practices then these emotions, besides manifesting in worshipping Him, also manifest in obeying His commands. Fasts are a symbolic expression of this obedience. While fasting, a person, at the behest of His Lord, gives up things which are originally allowed to him to win His pleasure; he thus becomes an embodiment of obedience and through his practice acknowledges the fact that there is nothing greater than the command of God. So if the Almighty forbids him things perfectly allowed by innate guidance, then it is only befitting for a person who is the servant of his Creator to obey Him without any hesitation whatsoever.
A little deliberation reveals that this state of a person in which he experiences and acknowledges the power, magnificence and exaltedness of the Almighty is also a true expression of gratitude from him. On this very basis, the Qur'ān says that the fast glorifies the Almighty and is a means through which gratitude can be shown to Him: The Qur'ān says that for this very purpose the month of Ramadān was set apart because in this month the Qur'ān was revealed as a guide for human intellect having clear arguments to distinguish right from wrong so that people could glorify God and express their gratitude to Him.
The excellence a person can attain in this ritual of worship is that while fasting he imposes certain other restrictions on himself and confines himself to a mosque for a few days to worship the Almighty as much as he can. In religious terminology, this is called اِعْتِكَاف (i'tikāf). Though this worship ritual is not incumbent upon the believers like the fasts of Ramadān, it occupies great importance viz-a-viz purification of the soul. The cherished state which arises by combining the prayer and the fast with recitals of the Qur'ān and the feeling of being solely devoted to the Almighty having no one around helps achieve the objective of the fast in the very best way.
i. History of the Fast
Like the prayer, the fast is also an ancient ritual of worship. The Qur'ān says that fasting has been made obligatory for the Muslims, just as it was made so for earlier peoples. Consequently, this is a reality that as a ritual of worship which trains and disciplines the soul, it has existed in various forms in all religions.
ii. Objective of the Fast
The objective of the fast as delineated by the Qur'ān is that people adopt the taqwāof God.In the terminology of the Qur'ān, taqwā means that a person should spend his life within the limits set by Allah and should keep fearing Him from the depth of his heart that if ever he crosses these limits, there will be no one except God to save him from its punishment.
iii. Sharī'ah of the Fast
Following is the sharī'ah of the fast:
a. The fast is abstention from eating and drinking and from having sexual intercourse with the wife with the intention that a person is going to fast.
b. This abstention is from fajr to nightfall; hence eating and drinking and having sexual intercourse with the wife during the night is permitted.
c. The month of Ramadān has been fixed for fasting; hence it is obligatory for every person who is present in this month to fast.
d. If owing to sickness, travel or any other compelling reason a person is not able to keep all the fasts of Ramadān, it is incumbent upon him to make up for this by keeping in other months an equal number of the fasts missed.
e. Fasting during the menstrual and puerperal cycles is forbidden. However, the fasts missed as a result must be kept later.
f. The pinnacle of the fast is the i'tikāf. If a person is given this opportunity by God, he should seclude himself from the world for as many days as he can in a mosque to worship the Almighty and he should not leave the mosque except because of some compelling human need.
g. During i'tikāf, a person is permitted to eat and drink during the night but he cannot have sexual intercourse with his wife. This has been prohibited by the Almighty.