Allāh obligated fasting upon the nation of Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) just as He obligated it upon the previous nations,
“O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you just as it was prescribed upon those who came before you so that you may become pious.” (Qur’ān 2:183)
It was obligated upon the Muslims in the second year after their migration from Makkah to Madīnah. The Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) himself fasted nine Ramadans before he passed away. The religious meaning of the term fasting (siyām in Arabic) is to withhold intentionally from breaking one’s fast, both physically by not eating, drinking or engaging in sexual relations; and nor violating it spiritually by backbiting, rumour-mongering, speaking falsehood, cursing, lying, using foul language, listening to what Allāh has forbidden and looking at what He has forbidden. It starts at the beginning of the true fajr (i.e. dawn) and lasts until sunset. If a person withholds from these matters but without having the intention to fast for Allāh, then he has not fasted. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Indeed actions are but by intentions and for each person there is only what he intended.”
So if a person withholds from food and drink from the start of dawn until sunset but did not intend that for Allāh, then he is not fasting. A person must also withhold from the spiritual violations as mentioned above, because they reduce the reward of the fasting person or he may even lose all the reward because he is so utterly immersed in sin and transgression. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“Whoever does not give up false speech and acting upon it, and give up ignorant behaviour, then Allāh has no need for him to abstain from food and drink.” (Bukhārī, no. 6057)
He also stated,
“Fasting is not only from food and drink rather it is withholding from evil speech and sexual relations.” (Al-Hākim, 1/430, authentic).
So the person who withholds from food, drink and sexual relations (the physical things that break his fast) yet he does not withhold from the spiritual violations such as backbiting, tale-carrying and other sins then he has not truly fasted the fast that is demanded from him by his Lord. So it is possible that he receives little or even no reward for his fast.
The fast begins at the onset of the second fajr (the true dawn) being mindful of the fact that the first fajr (the false dawn) does not forbid a person from eating and drinking because the fast does not begin at the first fajr, nor is the fajr prayer permitted at the first fajr. The first fajr is recognised by a vertical light that appears in the horizon that is followed by darkness, and it is also called the false fajr. As for the second fajr, the true dawn, then it is a horizontally spreading whiteness in the horizon, and there is no darkness after it, only an increasing brightness in the sky. It is at this point one stops eating and drinking, and prepares to pray the fajr prayer. Allāh (the Most High) stated,
“Eat and drink until the white thread (of light in the horizon) becomes distinct from the black thread at the onset of fajr. Then complete the fast until the night.” (Qur’ān 2:187)
The Prophet strongly encouraged the Muslims to take the pre-dawn meal (sahūr) and not to leave it. Unfortunately many Muslims today neglect the pre-dawn meal and have thus left off an important Sunnah.
So one fasts until the night which refers to the setting of the Sun. If the Sun has set and darkness has appeared in the east, the fast of the Muslim has ended, just as the Prophet(peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“When the night arrives from over here, the day ends from over there, and the Sun has set, the fasting person breaks his fast.” (Bukhārī, no. 1954)
And the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) encouraged his Ummah to hasten to break the fast and not to delay,
“The people will not cease to remain upon goodness so long as they hasten with the breaking of the fast.” (Bukhārī, no. 1957)
The Prophet would break his fast with fresh dates, and if he could not find any, then with drier dates and if he could not find any, he would take some mouthfuls of water. It is better to have a light iftār with dates and water, and then pray as the Prophet would. Over-eating and filling the stomach with various assortments of food and drink at iftār time is in opposition to the Sunnah, so one should eat in moderation.
The wisdom behind the prescription of fasting is clear as Allāh (the Most High) stated, “So that you may become pious.” That is because fasting does not allow the soul to fulfill its desires with eating, drinking and sexual relations which are things that can, if not tempered, lead to ingratitude, transgression and being negligent of the remembrance of Allāh (the Most High). So when he is fasting the desires are weakened and it constricts the avenues for the Shaitān because the Shaitān flows through the Children of Ādam just like the flowing blood. So fasting weakens the pathways of Shaitān to the human, weakens the desires and breaks the vigour, so that the heart becomes soft. It is for this reason Allāh (the Perfect) said, “So that you may become pious.” So through fasting one achieves piety and becomes acutely aware of his weakness in front of Allāh and his utter reliance upon Him (the Most High) and his need for Him. He is likewise reminded of the favours of Allāh upon him: the blessing of food and drink. He is reminded also of those in need – so when he suffers from hunger and thirst, he remembers the less fortunate and the needy, and he feels compassion towards them. It is a month wherein the gates of Paradise are opened and not a single one locked, and the gates of Hell are locked and not a single one is left open; it is the month of forgiveness wherein the devils are restrained (see Tirmidhī, no. 682).
Fasting has tremendous benefits and great wisdom. The Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) stated,
“Every good deed of the son of Ādam will be multiplied manifold. A good deed will be multiplied ten times up to as many as seven hundred times, or as much as Allah wills. Allah says: ‘Except for fasting, which is for Me and I shall reward it. He gives up his desire and his food for My sake.’ The fasting person has two times of joy, one when he breaks his fast and another when he meets his Lord. The smell that comes from the mouth of a fasting person is better with Allah than the fragrance of musk.” (Ibn Mājah, no. 1638).
This shows the excellence of fasting over the rest of the deeds. Allāh has obligated fasting for the whole of the month of Ramadān. He (the Most High) stated,
“The month of Ramadān in which was revealed the Qur’ān, a guidance for mankind and a clear proof for guidance and a criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever from you sights (the crescent of the first night of) the month, he must observe the fasts. And whoever is ill or upon a journey then the same number of days must be made up later.” (Qur’ān 2:185)
Allāh obligated fasting in this month upon the healthy and resident Muslim; and He gave an allowance for the sick and the traveller, that he may break his fast and make up what he has missed after Ramadān. So fasting is an obligation upon every sane, adult Muslim either by fulfilling its obligation in Ramadān, i.e. for the one in good health and resident; or by making up later, i.e. for the sick person, the menstruating woman or the traveller.
Allāh’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said,
“When you see it (the crescent on the first night of the month) start fasting, and when you see it again cease fasting, and if there is cloud-cover then complete thirty days.” (Bukhārī and Muslim)
This hadīth proves that the month begins and ends with the sighting of the crescent moon, a sighting by at least one trustworthy Muslim, and if it is not sighted then the thirty days of the month leading up to Ramadan are counted in full. The Muslims should also strive to sight the moon on the night before the thirtieth fast, and if it is not sighted, they must fast the full thirty days. We see that the Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) attached fasting to the visual sighting of the moon and not to calculations. Pre-determined calculations for the start and finish of Ramadān are not permitted; it is considered as deviation, an innovation in the Religion never practised by the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and nor his Companions or the scholars of the early generations. The Muslims have been fasting since the time of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and they have always relied upon moon sightings with one’s eyes. Now there has appeared people who claim that the unity of the Muslims lies in a united start and finish to Ramadān! In reality however, the unity of the Muslims is in holding to a united belief, the belief that Allāh alone is to be worshipped, and following the Sunnah of the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) and the path of his Companions and to abandon innovated practices in religion. That is the basis of unity. Instead, we find people formulating their own opinions, and each group having its own beliefs. Unity will not be achieved like this. And, for the sake of argument, if they all fasted together on the same day and stopped fasting on the same day, they still will not have achieved unification of the Muslims! Ibn ‘Umar (Allah’s pleasure be with him) alone sighted the moon of Ramadan; then he informed the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) of that, and he in turn commanded the people to fast (Abu Dāwūd, no. 2342). This tradition remains till this day, and all praise is due to Allāh.
The Pious Predecessors of the Ummah (the Salaf) would pay special attention to this tremendous month by exerting themselves in the recitation of the Qur’ān, plentiful remembrance (dhikr) and refraining from acts of disobedience. Fasting is not merely to refrain from eating and drinking; it is also to refrain from all those affairs that Allāh (the Most High) hates from sin and disobedience to Him. So the early generations would strive in the obedience of Allāh (the Perfect) and they would be sincere to Allāh in this righteous act of fasting. It has been narrated from Imām Mālik (died 179H) that he would teach the people throughout the year but when the month of Ramadān would arrive he would devote his time to fasting and the recital of the Qur’ān. So you should give importance to the recitation of the Qur’ān in this month alongside pondering and reflecting over it, taking its admonitions, refraining from its prohibitions, understanding the permissible affairs and those that are forbidden, and understanding the threats of punishment and the promises of reward.
Allāh’s Messenger (peace and blessings be upon him) said:
“Whoever fasts Ramadān with true faith and hoping for reward, then his previous sins will be forgiven.” (Bukhārī and Muslim)
The reward for fasting is immense and without measure; and fasting requires patience upon the obedience of Allāh; and patience in abstaining from His prohibitions; and patience upon the difficult Decrees of Allāh that cause distress and hardship such as hunger, thirst, weakness in body and soul. So fasting gathers together these three types of patience. And when all three are adhered to, the fasting person is considered amongst the patient worshippers just as Allāh has stated:
“Only those who are patient shall receive their reward in full without measure.” (Az-Zumar: 10)
My brothers and sisters, the virtues of Ramadān are not attained until one fasts in the correct manner. So strive in perfecting your fasts and staying within the limits, and repent to Allāh for your shortcomings. Fill your days with obedience and piety, and your nights with prayer, recitation and supplication.
Compiled by Abu Khadeejah Abdul-Wāhid for Salafi Publications
See Tas-hīlul-Ilmām of Shaikh Sālih Al-Fawzān, vol. 3, pp. 193-210
See Rabee.net of Shaikh Rabee’ Ibn Hādī Al-Madkhalī
See Majālis Shahr Ramadān of Shaikh Muhammad Ibn Sālih Al-‘Uthaimīn