The Almighty has directed Muslims to fast in accordance with the sharī‘ah which has always existed regarding the fast in the religions of the Prophets. The Qur’ān has stated that the fast has been made obligatory on the Muslims in the same manner as it was made obligatory on earlier peoples. A few number of days have been fixed for this ritual. This last statement is meant to raise the spirits. The implication being that if the blessings of Ramaḍān are kept in consideration, then 29 days or 30 days are not a long period; they are a short period and a person instead of becoming anxious should make himself ready to fully reap their benefits.
After these introductory statements, the real directive is mentioned. It is said that people who are unable to fast because of illness or travel should make up their missed fasts by either fasting later or by feeding a poor person. This directive ends with the words: فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيْرًا فَهُوَ خَيْرٌ لَّهُ وَأَن تَصُومُواْ خَيْرٌ لَّكُمْ إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ (Then he who does a virtuous deed of his own accord, it is better for him and if you fast then this is even better for you, if you but knew it). In other words, this atonement for not fasting is a minimum requirement which should be fulfilled. However, if a person feeds more than one needy person or does some other virtuous deed with them, then this will prove better for him. And to Allah even better is that a person instead of feeding others makes up the missed fasts in other days.
However, the very next verse beginning with the words شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِيَ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ shows that the permission to feed a needy for a missed fast was later revoked. Consequently, the whole directive has been repeated after this verse while omitting the words beginning with وَعَلَى الَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ and ending with إِن كُنتُمْ تَعْلَمُونَ. Since it is difficult to fast in other days than Ramaḍān, the Almighty did not make it incumbent until people got used to it. Hence, it has been said in the Qur’ān that feeding the needy for missed fasts has been revoked so that people could keep their missed fasts and are thus not deprived of the blessings hidden in them.
This then is the real directive of the fast. It seems that after receiving this law, certain questions arose in the minds of the Muslims. One of these questions related to having sexual intercourse with the wife in the nights of the Ramaḍān. This notion probably originated because among the Jews, the next fast would start right after one had broken his fast and they would consider eating and drinking and having sexual intercourse with the wife as prohibited. Muslims thought that they too would have to follow the Jews in this matter. However, some of the Muslims in spite of thinking so deviated from the view they held. This was something unseemly because if a person considers something to be a requisite of religion and still does not act according to it regardless of the fact that it is actually a requisite or not, then this is not permissible to him. The Qur’ān has called this attitude as deceiving one’s conscience and has clarified:
أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ لَيْلَةَ الصِّيَامِ الرَّفَثُ إِلَى نِسَآئِكُمْ هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ عَلِمَ اللّهُ أَنَّكُمْ كُنتُمْ تَخْتانُونَ أَنفُسَكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَعَفَا عَنكُمْ فَالآنَ بَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَابْتَغُواْ مَا كَتَبَ اللّهُ لَكُمْ وَكُلُواْ وَاشْرَبُواْ حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْفَجْرِ ثُمَّ أَتِمُّواْ الصِّيَامَ إِلَى الَّليْلِ وَلاَ تُبَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَأَنتُمْ عَاكِفُونَ فِي الْمَسَاجِدِ تِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللّهِ فَلاَ تَقْرَبُوهَا كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللّهُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ (187:2)
It is now lawful for you to lie with your wives on the night of the fast; they are apparel to you as you are to them. God knew that you were deceiving yourselves. He has relented towards you and pardoned you. Therefore, [without any hesitation] you may now lie with them and [without any hesitation] seek what God has ordained for you. And eat and drink until the white thread of the dawn is totally evident to you from the black thread of night. Then complete the fast till nightfall and do not lie with them [even at night] when you are stationed for i‘tikāf in the mosques. These are the bounds set by God: do not approach them. Thus He makes known His revelations to mankind that they may attain righteousness. (2:187)
After this clarification made by the Qur’ān, the statutes on which the law of the fast and the i‘tikāf are based are as follows:
1. 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.
2. This abstention is from fajr to nightfall; hence eating and drinking and having sexual intercourse with the wife during the night is permitted.
3. The month of Ramaḍān has been fixed for fasting; hence it is obligatory for every person who is present in this month to fast.
4. If owing to sickness, travel or any other compelling reason a person is not able to keep all the fasts of Ramaḍān, it is incumbent upon him to make up for this by keeping equal number of the fasts missed in other months.
5. 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.
6. 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.
This law regarding the fast is substantiated by the consensus of the Muslims and by their perpetual practical adherence to it and the Qur’āntoo has explained it to a great extent. Following are the explanations afforded by the words and deeds of the Prophet (sws) regarding the fast:
i. The Ramaḍān should begin with the sighting of the moon and it should end with it too. The Prophet (sws) is reported to have said: “Begin the fast with the sighting of the moon and break the fast with sighting it too. Then if the weather is not clear, end the month of Sha‘bān by completing thirty days.”
ii. Fasts should not be kept just one or two days before the Ramaḍān begins. The Prophet (sws) did not approve of this practice and remarked that the only exception to this is the person who keeps fasting.
iii. One should eat the sahūr (pre-fast meal) before beginning the fast. The Prophet (sw) asked people to eat it because eating it brings blessings.
iv. If the adhān begins and a person has a plate in his hand, then he should go on to finish what he is eating; there is nothing wrong in this.
v. During the fast a person can be intimate with his wife in whatever way he chooses except for having sexual intercourse with her. ‘Ai’shah (rta) narrates that during the fast the Prophet (sws) would kiss her and press her closely to him.
vi. The fast can be kept in the state of janābah (ceremonial uncleanliness). ‘Ai’shah (rta) narrates that the Prophet (sws) sometimes would begin the fast in this state and then do ghusl (the ceremonial bath) after the time of fajr.
vii. If a person eats forgetfully then this does not break the fast. The Prophet (sws) remarked that it is Allah who has fed him.
viii. The Prophet’s way of observing i‘tikāf was to sit in a central mosque during the last ten days of the Ramaḍān. ‘Ai’shah (rta) narrates that a person who has sat for i‘tikāf should not go to visit the sick, nor participate in a funeral procession nor go near his wife nor go out of the mosque except for some compelling human need.
ix. Intentionally breaking the fast is a grave sin. If a person commits this sin he should atone for it. The atonement which the Prophet (sws) prescribed was the same as the one the Qur’ān has prescribed for ẓihār. However, it is evident from the Ḥadīth that when the person expressed his inability the Prophet (sws) did not insist on it.
x. The supplication ascribed to the Prophet (sws) for breaking the fast is:
ذَهَبَ الظَّمَاءُ وَ ابْتَلَّتِ العُرُوقُ وَ ثَبَتَ الاَجْرَ اِنْ شَاءَ اللهُ تَعَالى (أبو داؤد ، رقم: 2357)
The thirst has been quenched, the canals are brimming with water and if God wills then the reward of this [fast] has also been acknowledged.
(Translated by Shehzad Saleem)
. Bukhārī, No: 1810; Muslim, No: 1081.
. Bukhārī, No: 1823; Muslim, No: 1096.
. Abū Dā’ūd, No: 2350.
. Bukhārī, No: 1826; Muslim, No: 1106.
. Bukhārī, No: 1829; Muslim, No: 1109.
. Bukhārī, No: 1831; Muslim, No: 1155.
. Bukhārī, No: 1921; Muslim, No: 1171; Abū Dā’ūd, No: 2473.
. Bukhārī, No: 1834; Muslim, No: 1111.
. Abū Dā’ūd, No: 2357.