In the month of Ramadan Muslims are to fast from dawn to sunset (see note at the end of this section). The following verses clarify this principle further.
(2:183) O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, that ye may ward off (evil).
(2:184) (Fast) a certain number of days (designated for fasting); if one is ill or travelling, an equal number of other days may be substituted; and for those who can afford it there is a ransom: the feeding of a man in need — but if one volunteers (more righteous works), it is better for him. But fasting is better for you if you only knew.
(2:185) The month of Ramadan in which was revealed The Qur’an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you; and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure ye may be thankful.
(2: 187) It is made lawful for you to go unto your wives on the night of the fast. They are raiment for you and ye are raiment for them. Allah is aware that ye are deceiving yourselves in this respect and He hath turned in mercy toward you and relieved you. So hold intercourse with them and seek that which Allah hath ordained for you, and eat and drink until the white thread becometh distinct to you from the black thread of dawn. Then strictly observe fast till nightfall and touch them not, but retreat to the mosque [see section 11.4.i]. These are the limits imposed by Allah, so approach them not. Thus Allah expoundeth His revelations to mankind that they may ward off evil.
Note: In places where the duration of the day is very long compared to the middle nations, i.e. the Middle-Eastern countries, the duration of the fasting should be based on logic and reason. Surely Allah would not want anyone in such places to bear more hardship than others living in the Middle East, where the average duration of the day is about 12 hours. This is supported by verse 2:185 above.
11.4.1 Traditionally, the fast is understood to serve the following purposes:
(i) Submission to the Will of Allah according to the Qur’anic injunction.
(ii) Promotion of a sense of compassion for those currently suffering economic hardship.
(iii) The devotion of the month in prayer and meditation in the mosque.
The traditional thinking of (i) and (ii) above are valid, but as far as (iii) is concerned, prevalent understanding is wrong, as it goes against the very concept of what the Qur’an is trying to teach us. The point is clarified by looking at additional prayers (taraveeh) that are performed by Muslims during the month of Ramadan.
11.4.2 Taraveeh prayers during Ramadan
(2:187) […] then strictly observe the fast till nightfall and touch them not, but retreat (akfa) to the mosques.
The Arabic root akfa means ‘to retire’, ‘to withdraw’, ‘to devote’ or ‘to be busy’. During the month of Ramadan Allah expects us to spend some time in the mosque. The question is: what does Allah mean by this? We know that the Qur’an was first revealed during the month of Ramadan, which is therefore a holy month. Muslims have interpreted this time in the mosque to be spent in additional prayers varying from eight to twenty rakats every night during the whole of Ramadan. The person or persons who lead the prayers are supposed to complete the recitation of the whole Qur’an at least once during this month. The recitation is carried out at very fast speed in spite of the Qur’anic instruction: “[…] and recite the Qur’an in slow, measured rhythmic tones” (73:4). Those who attend the prayers stand in devotion listening to this very fast recitation without understanding a word of it. They attend because they are under the impression that Allah will shower them with His blessing for this devotion. Usually a hafez (one who has memorised the whole Qur’an) leads the prayer. People also attend the mosque in vast numbers on the 27th day of Ramadan hoping to secure additional blessings. This is because this particular night is taken as the ‘Night of Power’ which is ‘better than a thousand months’, as the Qur’an was first revealed on this night. On this night the angels, by permission of their Sustainer, descend on the earth with all the decrees (97:1-5). However the date 27th Ramadan is based on tradition as the exact date or night is not specified in the Qur’an.
Let us now see if there is any logic in this method of reciting the whole Qur’an without understanding what is being recited (see verse 73:4 above, and also section 11.2). Effectively, what the Muslims are doing is telling Allah what is in the Qur’an. But Allah already knows what is in the Qur’an. He does not require this reminder. What He wants is for the believers to understand the Qur’an so that they can be guided by its teachings, and what better time than the month of Ramadan to renew our understanding of the Qur’an! What needs to be done is for people who look after the mosques to organise lectures and seminars by inviting scholars who are well-versed in the Qur’an. In fact, all the mosques should publish their program in advance so that people can attend lectures and seminars according to what suits them best, to enhance their knowledge of the Qur’an. One would not be required to attend every day or night but only at those times that would help him or her enhance their knowledge of the Qur’an, and thereby propagate the deen to mankind. Obviously, there would still be times allocated for prayers, prayers to thank and praise Allah and to ask for His mercy and forgiveness. However, there is no point simply following a ritual which has no meaning. The Hadith literature states that the taraveeh prayer was not introduced during the time of the Prophet but later during the Caliphate of Omar, and as is usual, most Muslims follow blindly what is in the Hadith instead of getting their guidance from the Qur’an. Of course, the Qur’an is there to recite from, but the main point is that we must try and understand its message. In fact, by following this message and by discussion and implementation of the structure of the deen in everyday life, we could propagate a social order to the world which would be both exemplary and beneficial. Note the instruction and the warning in the following verse:
(3:187) And (remember) when Allah laid a charge on those who had received the Scripture: Ye are to expound it to mankind and not to hide it. But they flung it behind their backs and bought thereby a little gain. Verily, evil is that which they have gained thereby.
11.4.3 Physical benefits of fasting3
Over the past 100-150 years, the diet of mankind has changed dramatically. Our food — once fresh, wholesome, unrefined and unsprayed — is now frozen, canned or refined and treated with all manner of toxic pesticides, preservatives, colourings and other chemicals.
The accumulation of waste matter or toxins in our body is a major cause of disease. And overeating is one cause of this accumulation. Fasting may well be the key to purifying our bodies.
During fasting there is an increase in the amount of energy available for the eliminative process, due to the absence of large amounts of food requiring digestion and assimilation, both of which require energy. The body is able to redirect this increased energy towards the elimination of the obstructions to the vital life force i.e. the toxins. During the first three days of fasting, the elimination activity is manifested by the appearance of a coated tongue, bad breath, headaches, muscular aches, diarrhoea/constipation and general debility. These symptoms are due to the increase of toxins in the blood stream and their passing out via the channels of elimination. The sooner these unpleasant symptoms appear, the more toxic the system. By the fourth day, one may find eliminations are much reduced. This is usually accompanied by a feeling of well-being, greater clarity of mind and abundant energy. This condition lasts in degrees of varying intensity, interspersed with periods of a lack of energy, fatigue and difficulty in concentration as more toxins are eliminated. This period lasts until about the tenth day when a healing crisis may occur. During this process the body is able to eliminate a large number of deep-seated toxins and waste matter. This manifests itself in various ways — from flu-like symptoms to skin eruptions or other eliminative processes. After this, a person will once again experience a further improvement in health and vigour.
Fasting should always be terminated with extreme care. Usually, a little fruit is ideal. Main meals should be moderate in quantity and consist of best quality natural food (no junk), since the body will be building tissues from this material.
Ramadan thus provides an ideal opportunity for initiating this necessary change through self-discipline and purification.