30 July, 2013

1434 RAMADAN MUABARAK 18- FASTING by Dr. Mohamed Rateb Alnabulsi

Fasting by Dr. Mohamed Rateb Alnabulsi

Ramadan is the month of repentance and forgiveness, obedience and good deeds, Remembrance and love, devotion and piety, nearness and intimacy. The Prophet (PBUH) said: "A great loser is he who witnesses Ramadan but fails to have himself forgiven."[1]

Hence, in Ramadan and all times, one should strive to go out of the darkness of ignorance and illusion to the enlightenment of knowledge and certitude, from the swamp of whims and caprices to the bliss of nearness and intimacy with the Lord, Most Gracious, and from resisting degradation to continuity of spiritual enhancement.
The following article is a modest attempt to understand the Verses tackling the issue of the Fast in the Holy Quran. But before dealing with the wisdom and secrets of the Fast, it is necessary to have a snapshot of the essence of worship, for the Fast is one of the great ritual kinds of worship.
Islam is the religion that Allah, All-Wise, accepted for His servants and the System that He, Most Merciful, chose for them. Therefore, strict observation of the rules and enjoinments of this System and devoted commitment thereto are the essence of worship, which is the ultimate goal of our existence. To this effect, Allah, Most Gracious, says: "I have only created Jinns and men that they may worship Me." [CI ; 56]
Some kinds of worship, such as truthfulness, honesty, trustworthiness, chastity, commtment to covenans and promises, seeking lawful things, and self-control are behavioral worships and are, therefore, based on the establishment of good relationships with other fellow humans. Other kinds of worship, such as prayer, the fast, and pilgrimage to Mecca, are ritual and are, hence, based on the establishment of good relationships with Allah, All-High, and the strife to achieve intimacy with Him and to attain divine enlightenement, guidance and tranquility from Him.

In fact, correctness of ritual worships, one of which is the Fast, is based on correctness of behavioral ones. The Prophet (PBUH) said: "Whosoever does not shun saying or doing falsehood, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink."[2]
The following Quranic Verse summarizes both kinds of worship. Allah, All-Mighty, quotes Jesus (PBUH) as saying: "And He (Allah) has enjoined on me prayer and charity as long as I am alive." [XIX ; 31]
In the above Quranic Verse, Jesus' words "And He (Allah) has enjoined on me prayer" refer to the establishment of good relationships between himself and his Lord, Allah, Most Gracious; and his word "charity" denotes the establishment of good relationships between himself and other fellow humans.

But if a Muslim carries out a Divine Command only because it conforms to his interests or because of the secrets and wisdom lurking behind it, this means that he believes in the Command rather than in the Commander. Belief should be in the Commander, and the purpose of carrying out any Divine Command should be worshiping Allah and seeking His Good Pleasure, not achieving safety and happiness in the present world. A true believer carries out Allah's Command just because it is from his Creator, Who has Power over everything and Who is All-Wise and Perfect, whether the wisdom behind such a Command be obvious or not. Hence, the important thing in this regard is that the motive of obeying Allah's Command must be only to worship and obey Him, not to gain benefits or avoid detriment. When Allah sees that one of his devout servants obeys Him, He, Most Gracious, shows him, after having fulfilled His Command, its miraculous nature, and the great wisdom and wonderful secrets lurking behind it. In this way a servant achieves his servitude to his Lord and understands the reason for His Command and the secrets and wisdom lurking behind it. Those who make fulfilling Allah's Command conditional on understanding the wisdom behind it and seeing its fruit do not worship Allah, but, rather, worship their own selves. Therefore, every Divine Command should be obeyed and vindicated only because it is from Allah, All-Mighty, and nothing else. In this way our Fast is elevated from a smart pragmatic behaviour into a sincere act of devotion.

When Allah, All-Wise, addresses all mankind, He addresses them with the basics of religion. Allah says: "O you people! worship your Lord, Who created you and those who came before you, that you may become righteous," [II ; 21]

But when He addresses believers who believe in His Existence, Perfection, and Oneness, He addresses them with the branches of religion: bidding and forbidding, laws and legislations, showing what is lawful and unlawful…ec. Allah, Glory to Him, says: "O you who believe! The Fast is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may attain self-protection," [II ; 183] By virtue of the above Verse Allah, Most Gracious, addresses His believing slaves: "O you who believe in Me, who believe in My Knowledge, who believe in My Wisdom, wo believe in My Mercy, and who believe in My Love! O you who love Me! I have prescribed the Fast for you." And when an Order comes to you from the One in Whom you believe and in whose Mercy and Wisdom you trust, you are sure that such Order is definitely for your own good. But you should by no means measure this according to your limited human mind but, rather, according to your Creator's Infinite Divine Knowledge, Wisdom, and Mercy, for Allah knows and you do not know.

A merciful father might sometimes say to his son: "O my son! I am your father, aren't I? Don't you trust in my good experience in life, my great mercy on you, and my concern about your safety and happiness? Leave this thing up to me and do not measure it by your young immature mind, your limited experience, or your short sight but by your father's mind, experience, and love."
The above explanation may clarify the connection between Allah's Words "O you who believe! The Fast is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may attain self-protection," [II ; 183] and the topic we are talking about.

In fact, the Fast is an act of abstention from food, drink, and sexual relations, which are lawful in themselves, from dawn to sunset, with an intention of worship and obedience to Allah, Most Merciful. Therefore, it is generously rewarded by the Lord, Most Gracious. To this effect, the Divine Hadith goes: "All of man's work is for him, except the Fast; it is for me and it is I Who reward for it. He abstains from his food, drink, and (sexual) desire for Me."
As for Allah's Words "as it was prescribed to those before you", they indicate that the Fast does not differ from one time to another, for it was a cultic observance in all revealed religions before Islam. In other words it has always been Allah's Divine System for mankind.

As for Allah's Words "that you may attain self-protection", they mean that you may abstain from committing sins and misdeeds and comply with obedience not only in Ramadan but also in all other months of the year.
The purpose is not that we should suppress our desires and caprices only in Ramadan, but then, after Ramadan, we yield to them. The real meaning of the Fast is to maintain such suppression at all times.
The purpose is not that we should control our tongues and keep away from slander and calumny only in Ramadan, but then, after Ramadan, we give free reign to our tongues in slander, backbiting and calumny. The real meaning of the Fast is to watch our tongues and hearts at all times.

The purpose is not that we should abstain from looking at, or doing, unlawful or indecent things only in Ramadan, but then, after Ramadan, we return to our previous sins and misdeeds, like a woman who demolished her spinning after she had knitted it. The real meaning of the Fast is to lower our gaze and abstain from committing sins and misdeeds at all times.
The purpose is not that we should seek lawful things only in Ramadan, for fear that our Fast should not be accepted, but then, after Ramadan, we neglect and fail to adhere to Allah's Laws concerning what is lawful and unlawful. The real meaning of the Fast is to stick to the Lord's Laws and Commandments at all times.

The purpose is not that we should keep away from the places or meetings that displease Allah, All-Mighty, only for the sake of the holy month of Ramadan, but then, after Ramadan, we go back to such places or meetings.
The purpose is not that we should watch our steps with Allah in carrying out our duties and responsibilities only in the holy month of Ramadan, but then, after Ramadan, we neglect and fail to comply with Allah's Commandments and laws, like a camel tied up and then released; it does not know why it was tied up and why it was released.
The important thing that should be perfectly understood is that Allah, the Almighty, has not chosen Ramadan to be only a month of obedience and devotion but also a school in which man learns and practices acts of obedience and tastes sweetness of nearness and intimacy with his Lord, Most Gracious. Such obedience and intimacy go on throughout the whole year. In this way Ramadan turns out a yearly station where man is provided with spiritual enhacement and is made to enjoy feelings of nearness and intimacy with his Lord, Most Merciful. The reason for which Allah has ordered us to abstain from food, drink, and sexual relations from dawn to sunset is that when, in compliance with Allah's Commandment, man abstains from lawful things, he will not commit unlawful things. This is because abstention from unlawful things is more appropriate than abstention from lawful ones.

When Allah chooses a month in which man's relationship with Allah is set right and reformed, it is meant to last throughout the whole year, for Allah is with him at all times.
When Allah chooses a place, like His Holy House, and calls believers to taste the sweetness of nearness to Him therein, He wants this nearness to be at all places, for Allah is with them at all places.
When Allah chooses someone and uncovers the truth for him, He chooses him in order to uncover the truth for people through him. Also, when Allah chooses someone in order to reveal to him His Divine Revelation and Religion, He does so in order that this Religion be communicated to all people. This is because Allah cammands believers to that which He commanded His Prophets and Messengers. To this effect, Allah, Most Gracious, says: "Therefore stand firm (in the straight path) as you are commended, you and those who, with you, turn (unto Allah); and transgress not (from the path); for He sees well all that you do" [XI ; 112]

When Allah chooses someone to make him happy forever, He does this in order that all people be happy by his Call.
To sum up, when Allah chooses a certain time, like Ramadan, a certain place, like His Holy House, and a certain man, like Muhammad (PBUH), He does so in order that all months, places and people be like them.
Then, Allah, Glory to Him, goes on to say: "for a fixed number of days" In other words, the days of the holy month of Ramadan are only a few days that Allah, Most Merciful, has chosen to consecrated for obedience, nearness and intimacy, which are meant to last throughout the whole year.
After that, Allah, Most Gracious, says: "but if any one is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period (should be made up) by days later" [II ; 185] In other words, Allah, Most Merciful, does not charge man with anything that is beyond his powers or abilities; and Allah is the only One Who knows man's powers and abilities, for He is the One Who created man with His Infinite Divine Knowledge, Wisdom, and Mercy. So, whenever there is hardship or inability there is ease and exemption. Breaking the Fast during the holy month of Ramadan, however, should be decided by an expert devout Muslim physician and in accordance with the Holy Quran and Prophetic Sunna. Travel to a distance of more than eighty kilometers exempts travelers from fasting. But in case of physical ability it is preferable to observe the Fast even in travel or illness. To this effect, Allah, Most Merciful, says, "And that you fast is better for you if only you know." [II ; 184]

Then, Allah, All-High, says: "Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance you shall be grateful." [II ; 185] In the context of the above Verse, it is noticeable that Islamic Shari'a is full of mercy, interest, justice, and wisdom. Any issue that goes from mercy to cruelty, from the better to the worse, from justice to injustice, and from wisdom to its opposite, is by no means part of the Islamic Shari'a even if it is included therein by thousands of interpretations.
After that, Allah, Most Gracious, says: "to complete the prescribed period," i.e. the days of Ramadan, "and to glorify Him in that He has guided you", i.e. being rightly guided to Allah, complying with His System, seeking and enjoying nearness and intimacy with Him, are all ripe fruits of the Fast. Man's original nature incites him to thank the Benefactor for his Benefactions and Favors, most important of which is the Favor of Guidance. O Lord! What can he who loses You ever find; and what can he who finds You ever lose?!

Having tasted the sweetness of nearness and intimacy with the Lord, Most Merciful, in the month of Ramadan, the faster naturally turns to his Lord with gratitude for the great Favors and Blessings of knowledge and intimacy. That is why Allah, Most Gracious, says, after the Verses speaking about the Fast: "When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them). I answer the invocations of a supplicant when he calls upon Me. So let them respond to Me and believe in Me so that they may be led aright." [II ; 186]
In the above Verse Allah, Glory to Him, confirms that after having been guided to Allah, man's pure nature drives him, to turn to Him with gratitude and devotion. In other words, Knowledge of Allah, Most Gracious, gaining His Love and being on intimate terms with Him motivate one to turn to Him, Alone, with gratitude, prayer and supplication. Such is the reality of Monotheism and the essence of Islam as well as all revealed religions.

In a religious relic it is narrated that: "Three kinds of supplications are inevitably answered (by Allah): that of a faster until he breaks the Fast, that of a righteous ruler, and that of a wronged person, which Allah raises over clouds, and for which gates of heavens are open. Allah says: "By My Might! I shall help you even if after a while."[3]
If we contemplate the Quranic verses and the questions therein, we find that the answer to each of the questions starts with the word "Say", like, for example: "They ask you how much they are to spend. Say: 'what is beyond your needs.'" and "They ask you concerning the Mountains. Say: 'My Lord will uproot them and scatter them as dust.'" However, this does not apply for the Verse: "When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them)" where the word "Say" is not mentioned between the question and answer. Therefore, scholars said: the absence of the word "Say" from this Verse is an indication from Allah to His believing servants that there is no need for any mediation between man and his Lord, Most Gracious, when he desires to ask and supplicate Him.

One day, the Prophet (PBUH) was asked: "O Messenger of Allah! Is our Lord near so that we Call him quietly? Or is he far so that we Call Him loudly?" Therefore the following verse was revealed: "When Ibadi (My servants) ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them)" [II ; 186]
The word "Ibad ", as used in the above Verse, is different from "Abeed " for all human beings are "Abeed" to Allah in the sense that they are in need of Him for their existence, survival, and everything; and they are subjugated to Him. But the word "Ibad" denotes those who have known Him, complied with His Religion, and sought His Good Pleasure out of their own will and choice. Hence, the word "Abd " whose plural is "Abeed " means "a servant by subjugation", but the word "Abd " whose plural is "Ibad" means "a servant of gratitude". Allah says: "nor is your Lord ever Unjust (in the least) to His Abeed (servants by subjugation).‏" [XCI ; 46]
Therefore, when Allah says: "When Ibadi (My servants who show gratitude) ask you concerning Me", He means His "servants of gratitude" who have known Him, complied with His Religion, and acknowledged His Favors and Blessings upon them.
Now, the question is: Why does Allah say: "I am indeed close (to them)"? In fact He says so in order that a believer feels that Allah is with him at all times and places, and in all situations. All he has to do is invoke Him faithfully and sincerely; and Allah will surely respond to his invocation. But due to weakness of faith some people call upon others than Allah for help or the fulfillment of desirable things. That is why Allah says: "If you invoke them, they will not listen to your invocation; and if they were to listen, they cannot answer you." [XXXV ; 14]

Another question is: Why does not Allah, sometimes, respond to those who invoke Him? The Prophet (PBUH) answered this question when he said: "Man verily travels a lot, rumpled and dusty, stretching out his hands to the heaven and invoking: 'O Lord! O Lord!' But his food is unlawful, his dress is unlawful, and he was fed by unlawful stuff; so how will he be answered?"[4] Allah, Most Gracious, says: "When My servants ask you concerning Me, I am indeed close (to them), I listen to the prayer of every supplicant when he calls on Me. So let them respond to Me and believe in Me that they may be rightly guided." [II ; 186] In other words, when you believe in Allah and comply with His Commands, He will respond to your supplication. The words "that they may be rightly guided" means "hopefully they will be guided to an accepted invocation or happiness and prosperity in the present world and the Hereafter". When an invocation is rejected or not answered, this is due either to the supplicant's corruption and deviation from Allah's Religion or to the fact that it is not merciful or wise to be answered. However, whether answered or not, a believer's invocation symbolizes an act of devotion and worship on his part. To this effect, the Prophet (PBUH) says: "Invocation is worship" And Allah, All-Mighty, says: "And your Lord says: 'Call on Me; I will answer you. But those who are too arrogant to serve Me will surely find themselves in Hell in humiliation!" [XC ; 60]

Scholars said: the Fast lessens the burdens on man's heart and blood vessels, for it minimizes the fat and acidity in the blood and, hence, protects from arteriosclerosis. And physicians hold that man's life expectancy is in positive proportion to that of his arteries. The Fast also eases the kidneys and the excretory apparatus, as the outcomes of metabolism are minimized, and, consequently, it protects from arthritis. Also, it causes the sugar of the liver to move, which makes the fat stored under the skin and protein of muscles move, too. Hence, the Fast of Ramadan is considered by physicians as an annual course of protection against lots of diseases. Moreover, it is considered as a remedial course for some diseases; and it protects from diseases of senility, which is caused by over-use of organs of the body.

From the above-mentioned it may be said that, besides its being an act of worship and devotion, the Fast provides the human body with protection, remedy, and good health.Moreover, in Prophetic Tradition it is narrated: "The Prophet (PBUH) used to break his Fast by eating some dates and then performing prayer. If dates were not available, he would drink some water instead."[5] It was also narrated by Salman Ibn 'Amer that the Prophet (PBUH) said: "When one of you breaks his Fast, let him do that by (eating some) dates, for they are blessed. If he does not find dates, then water is a purification."

The above two Prophetic Hadiths provide evidence of the Prophethood of Muhammad (PBUH), for scientists hold that 75% of the dates, which a faster eats, consist of easily digested mono-sugar that is assimilated by the body in less than ten minuets, giving the faster the feeling that he is not so hungry and causes him to eat moderately after having performed the Maghrib (Sunset) prayer.
Fatty and protein foods, however, need more than three hours to be digested and assimilated by the body. So when man eats more fatty food, he will not feel satisfied but rather full; and there is a great difference between feeling satisfied and feeling full but not satisfied. Therefore, the Prophet (PBUH) used to break his fast by some dates and then perform the sunset prayer. After that, he would sit down to eat. And whosoever fails to follow the Prophet's Tradition in breaking the Fast looses a lot of the good benefits of the Fast.

Dates consist of mono-sugars, which are the fastest ones in terms of digestion and assimilation in the human body. This is because the sugar of dates moves from the mouth to the blood in less than ten minuets. Dates also contain cellulose fibers which have marvelous effects on digestion and in protecting intestines from fatal diseases. They also contain proteins, which repair tissues, and a small amount of fats. They contain five kinds of principal vitamins and eight kinds of minerals. Five grams of dates contain from one half to one fifth of the body's need from minerals. They contain 12 amino acids, as well as constrictive and colouring materials.
Moreover, dates protect from constipation, which causes more than fifteen diseases, and have positive effects in protecting from anemia, and hypertension. They help in healing fractures and are laxative and soothing. They are also non-contaminated.

It is also advisable, even one is not fasting, to begin breakfast with some fruit, if available, as it contains mono-sugars, before eating heavy food which contains fatty matters that are difficult to digest. This can be deduced from Allah's Words "…and with fruit, any that they may select, and the flesh of fowls, any that they may desire." [CVI ; 20-21]


[1] - It is a True Hadith narrated by At-Termidhi, number (3539).
[2] - It is a True Hadith narrated by Al-Boukhari (4 \ 99), Abu dawod, and At-Termidhi.
[3] - It was narrated by At-Termidhi (2825), Ibn Majah (1752), and Imam Ahmad (2 \ 305).
[4] - It was narrated by Imam Muslim (1015), At-Termidhi (2517), Ibn Majah (66), Ad-Daremi, and Ahmad (3 \ 176).
[5] - It was narrated by Abu Dawod and At-Termidhi, after Anas Ibn Malik.
2007 Nabulsi


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