Allah – the Most High – said: "The month of Ramadaan in which the Qur’aan was revealed, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance of the Criterion between right and wrong. So whosoever of you sights the crescent for the month of Ramadaan, he must fast that month." [Soorah al-Baqarah 2:185]
Allah’s Messenger, sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam, said:
"Islaam is built upon five: Testifying that none has the right to be worshipped except Allah and that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah, establishing the Prayer, giving the Zakaah, performing Hajj to the House, and fasting in Ramadaan." (1)
He sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said:
"There has come to you Ramadaan, a blessed month, in which Allah has made it obligatory to fast. During it the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of Hellfire are closed, and the rebellious devils are chained. In it is a night (Laylatul-Qadr) which is better than a thousand months. He who is deprived of its good truly has been deprived." (2)
From the many important lessons to be learnt from fasting are:
[1] Gaining Taqwaa
Fasting has been legislated in order that we may gain taqwaa, as Allah – the Most High – said: "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed upon those before you in order that you may attain taqwaa." [Soorah al-Baqarah 2:183]
Talq ibn Habeeb (d. 100H) – rahimahullah – said:
"When fitnah (trial and tribulation) appears then extinguish it with taqwaa." So he was asked as to what taqwaa was, so he replied: "Taqwaa to act in obedience to Allah, upon a light (i.e. eemaan, faith) from Allah, hoping in the Mercy of Allah. And taqwaa is leaving the acts of disobedience to Allah, upon a light from Allah, due to the fear of Allah." (3)
This is one of the best definitions of taqwaa. For every action must have both a starting point and a goal. And an action will not be considered as an act of obedience, or nearness to Allah, unless it starts from pure eemaan (faith in Allah). Thus it is pure eemaan – and not habits, desires, nor seeking praise or fame, nor its like – that should be what initiates the action. And the [goal of the] action should be to earn the reward of Allah and to seek His good pleasure." (4) So fasting is a means of attaining taqwaa, since it helps prevent from many sins that one is prone to. Due to this, the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said: "Fasting is a shield with which the servant protects himself from the Fire." (5) So we should ask ourselves, after each day of fasting: Has this fasting made us more fearful and obedient to Allah? Has it aided us in distancing ourselves from sins and disobedience?
[2] Seeking Nearness to Allah
The Prophet sallallahu `alaihi wa sallam said:
"Allah said: Whosoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine, I shall be at war with him. My servant does not draw near to Me with anything more beloved to Me than the obligatory duties that I have placed upon him. My servant continues to draw nearer to Me with optional deeds so that I shall love him." (6)
The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said:
"Whosoever reaches the month of Ramadaan and does not have his sins forgiven, and so enters the fire, then may Allah distance him." (7)
So drawing closer to Allah – the Most Perfect – in this blessed month, can be achieved by fulfilling one’s obligatory duties; and also reciting the Qur’aan and reflecting upon its meanings, increasing in kindness and in giving charity, in making du`aa (supplication) to Allah, attending the taraweeh Prayer, seeking out Laylatul-Qadr (the Night of Power and Pre-Decree), a night which is better than a thousand months, attending gatherings of knowledge, and striving in those actions that will cause the heart to draw closer to its Lord and to gain His forgiveness. Our level of striving in this blessed month should be greater than our striving to worship Allah in any other month, due to the excellence and rewards that Allah has placed in it. Likewise from the great means of seeking nearness to Allah in this month is making I`tikaaf (seclusion in the mosque in order to worship Allah) – for whoever is able.
Imam ibn al-Qayyim (d. 751H) – rahimahullah – said:
"Allah also prescribed I`tikaaf for them, the ******ive being that the heart becomes fully preoccupied with Allah – the Most High – concentrated upon Him alone, and cut-off from being preoccupied with the creation. Rather, the heart is only engrossed with Allah – the Most Perfect – such that loving Him, remembering Him, and turning to Him takes the place of all the heart’s anxieties and worries, so that he is able to overcome them. Thus all his concerns are for Allah, and his thoughts are all directed towards remembering Him and thinking of how to attain His Pleasure and what will cause nearness to Him and what leads him to feel contended with Allah instead of people. This in turn prepares him for being at peace with Allah alone, on the day of loneliness in the grave, when there will be no one else to give comfort, nor anyone to grant solace, except Him. So this is the greater goal of I`tikaaf. (8)
[3] Acquiring Patience
Imaam Ahmad (d.241H) – rahimahullah – said:
"Allah has mentioned sabr (patience) in over ninety places in His Book." (9)
The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said:
"The month of Patience, and the three days of every month, are times for fasting." (10)
Ibn `Abdul-Barr (d.464H) – rahimahullah – said:
"What is meant by the month of Patience is the month of Ramadan …So fasting is called patience because it restrains the soul from eating drinking, conjugal relations and sexual desires." (11)
He sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said:
"O youths! Whoever amongst you is able to marry, then let him do so; for it restrains the eyes and protects the private parts. But whoever is unable, then let him fast, because it will be a shield for him." (12)
So fasting is a means of learning self-restraint and patience. With patience we are able to strengthen our resolve to worship Allah alone, with sincerity, and also cope with life’s ups and downs. So – for example – with patience we are able to perform our Prayers calmly and correctly, without being hasty, and without merely pecking the ground several times! With patience we are able to restrain our souls from greed and stinginess and thus give part of our surplus wealth in Zakaah (obligatory charity). With patience we are able to subdue the soul’s ill temperament, and thus endure the ordeal and hardships of Hajj, without losing tempers and behaving badly. Likewise, with patience we are able to stand firm and fight Jihaad against the disbelievers, hypocrites and heretics – withstanding their constant onslaught, without wavering and buckling, without despairing or being complacent, and without becoming hasty and impatient at the first sings of hardship. Allah – the Most High – said: "O Prophet, urge the Believers to fight … So if there are one hundred who are patient, they shall overcome two hundred; and if there be one thousand, they shall overcome two thousand, by the permission of Allah. And Allah is with the patient ones." [Soorah al-Anfaal 8:65-66].
Thus, without knowledge and patience, nothing remains, except zeal and uncontrolled emotions, shouts and hollow slogans, speech that does not strengthen, but rather weakness, and actions that do not build, but rather destroy! So in this month, we should strive to develop a firm resolve for doing acts of obedience, and to adorn ourselves with patience – having certainty in the saying of our Messenger sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam: "And know that victory comes with patience, relief with affliction, and ease with hardship." (13)
[4] Cultivating Good Manners
The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said:
"Whosoever does not abandon falsehood in speech and action, then Allah the Mighty and Majestic has no need that he should leave his food and drink." (14)
He sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam also said:
"Fasting is not merely abstaining from eating and drinking. Rather, it is also abstaining from ignorant and indecent speech. So if anyone abuses or behaves ignorantly with you, then say: I am fasting, I am fasting." (15)
These narrations point towards the importance of truthfulness and good manners. Thus, this blessed month teaches us not only to abstain from food and drink, but to also abstain from such statements and actions that may be the cause of harming people and violating their rights – since the Messenger sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said whilst describing the true Believer: "A Muslim is one from whom other Muslims are safe from his tongue and his hand." (16) Thus it is upon us as individuals, to examine the shortcomings in our character, and to then seek to improve them – modelling ourselves upon the character of the last of the Prophets and Messengers, and their leader, Muhammad sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam – aspiring also for the excellence which he mentioned in his saying: "I am a guarantor for a house on the outskirts of Paradise for whoever leaves off arguing, even if he is in right; and a house in the centre of Paradise for whosoever abandons falsehood, even when joking; and a house in the upper-most of Paradise for whosoever makes his character good." (17) So by shunning oppression, shamelessness, harbouring hatred towards Muslims, back-biting, slandering, tale-carrying, and other types of falsehood, we can be saved from nullifying the rewards of our fasting – as Allah’s Messenger sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said: "It may be that a fasting person receives nothing from his fast, except hunger and thirst." (18)
[5] Sensing Muslim Unity
The Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said:
"Fast when they fast, and break your fast when they break their fast, and sacrifice the day they sacrifice." (19)
Imaam at-Tirmidhee (d. 275H) – rahimahullah – said:
"Some of the People of Knowledge explained this hadeeth by saying: Its meaning is to fast and break the fast along with the jamaa`ah and the majority of people." (20)
Thus, in this blessed month we can sense an increased feeling of unity and of being a single Ummah due to our fasting and breaking our fast collectively. We also feel an increased awareness about the state of affairs of the Muslims and of the hardships that they endure, because: "During the fast, a Muslim feels and experiences what his needy and hungry brothers and sisters feel, who are forced to go without food and drink for many many days – as occurs today to many of the Muslims in Africa." (21) Indeed, the unity of the Muslims – and their aiding and assisting one another – is one of the great fundamentals upon which the Religion of Islaam is built, as Allaah – the Most High – said: "And hold fast altogether to the rope of Allaah and do not be divided." [Soorah Aal `Imraan 3:103]. Allaah – the Most High – also said: "The Believers – men and women – and friends and protectors of one another." [Soorah al-Tawbah 9:44]
Shaykhul-Islaam Ibn Taymiyyah (d. 728H) – rahimahullah – said: "The welfare of people will not be complete – neither in this world, nor in the Hereafter – except with ijtima` (collectiveness), ta`awun (mutual co-operation), and tanassur (mutual help); mutual co-operation in order to secure benefits, and mutual help in order to ward off harm. It is for this reason that man is said to be social and civil by nature." (22)
Thus we see that Islaam lays great importance in bringing hearts together and encouraging ijtima` (collectiveness). This is not only reflected in the month of Ramadaan, but also in the other acts of worship as well. So, for example, we have been ordered by the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam to pray the five daily Prayers in congregation, and that it has been made twenty-seven times more rewardful than praying it individually. (23) Likewise, this similar collective spirit is demonstrated in the act of Hajj (Pilgrimage). Even in learning knowledge and studying it, blessings have been placed in collectiveness, as Allah’s Messenger sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said: "No people gather in a house form the houses of Allah, reciting the Book of Allah and studying it amongst themselves, except that tranquillity descends upon them, mercy envelops them, the angels surround him, and Allah mentions them to those that are with Him." (24) Likewise, even in our everyday actions such as, eating, Islaam teaches us collectiveness. Thus, when some of the Companions of the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said to him: O Messenger of Allah, we eat but to do not become satisfied. He replied: "Perhaps you eat individually?" They replied: Yes! So he said: "Eat collectively and mention the **** of Allah. There will then be blessings for you in it." (25) Indeed, even in the etiquettes of sitting the spirit of collectiveness is demonstrated. So, one day the Prophet sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam came across the Companions who were sitting in separate circles, so he said to them: "Why do I see you sitting separately!" (26) Similarly, Abu Tha`labah al-Khushanee radiallahu `anhu said: Whenever the people used to encamp, they used to split-up into the mountain passes and valleys. So Allah’s Messenger sallallahu `alayhi wa sallam said: "Indeed your being split-up in these mountain passes and valleys is from Shaytaan." Thereafter, whenever they used to encamp, they used to keep very close together, to such an extent that it was said: If a cloth were to be spread over them, it would cover them all. (27)
Thus, Ramadaan is a time to increase our sense of unity and brotherhood, and our commitment to Allah and His Religion. And there is no doubt that this sense of unity necessitates that: "We work together as required by Islaam as sincere brothers – not due to hizbiyyah (bigoted party spirit), nor sectarianism – in order to realize that which is of benefit to the Islaamic Ummah and to establish the Islaamic society that every Muslim aspires for – so that the Sharee`ah (Prescribed Law) of Allaah is applied upon His earth." (28) So we must examine ourselves during the Ramadaan and ask: What is my role – and each of us has a role – in helping this precious Ummah to regain its honour, and return to the Ummah its comprehensive unity and strength, and victory that has been promised to it? Likewise, we should reflect upon our character and actions and ask: Are they aiding the process of unity and brotherhood, or are they a harm and a hindrance to it?
So we ask Allah to grant us the ability to change ourselves for the better, during this blessed month, and not to be of those who are prevented from His Mercy and Forgiveness. Indeed He is the One who Hears and He is the One to Respond.
Footnotes (summarized):
1. Al-Bukhaaree and Muslim
2. Saheeh: an-Nisaa’ee, authenticated in al-Albaanee’s Takhreej ul-Mishkaat
3. Ibn al-Mubaarak in Kitaab uz-Zuhd and ibn Abee Shaybah in Kitaab ul-Eemaan
4. Risaalatut-Tabookiyyah of Imam ibn al-Qayyim
5. Hasan: Ahmad, authenticated by al-Albaanee in Saheeh ut-Targheeb
6. Al-Bukhaaree
7. Saheeh: Ahmad and al-Bayhaqeee, authenticated by al-Halabee in Sifat us-Sawmin-Nabee
8. Zaadul Ma`aad of Ibn al Qayyim
9. Related by Ibn al Qayyim in Madaarij us-Saalikeen
10. Ahmad and an-Nasaa’ee, authenticated by al-Albaanee in Irwaa al-Ghaleel
11. At-Tamheed of Al Haafidh ibn Abdul Barr
12. Al-Bukhaaree and Muslim
13. Saheeh: Ahmad, at-Tabaraanee in al-Kabeer, authenticated by al-Hilaalee in as-Sabrul Jameel
14. Al-Bukhaaree
15. Saheeh: Ibn Khuzaymah and al-Haakim, who authenticated it.
16. Al-Bukhaaree and Muslim
17. Saheeh: Abu Daawood and al-Bayhaqee, authenticated by al-Albaanee in as-Saheehah
18. Saheeh: Ahmad and ibn Maajah, authenticated in Saheeh ut-Targheeb
19. At-Tirmidhee, authenticated by al-Albaanee in as-Saheehah
20. Jaami`ut-Tirmidhee
21. From the words of Shaykh Bin Baaz, as occurs in Majmoo` al-Fataawaa wa Maqaalat Mutanawwi`ah
22. Al-Hisbah fil-Islaam of Ibn Taymiyyah
23. Al-Bukhaaree and Muslim
24. Muslim
25. Hasan: Abu Daawood, authenticated by al-Haafidh al-`Iraaqee in Takhreejul-Ihyaa
26. Muslim
27. Saheeh: Abu Daawood and Ibn Hibbaan, authenticated by al-Albaanee in Takhreej ul-Mishkaat
28. Suaalu wa Jawaabu Hawla Fiqhil-Waaqi` of Sh. Al-Albaanee