Fasting the Month of Ramadan
By Sheikh Yusuf Estes
The fourth pillar of Islam is fasting. Allah prescribes daily fasting for
all able, adult Muslims during the whole of the month of Ramadan, the ninth
month of the lunar calendar, beginning with the sighting of the new moon.
Exempted from the fast are the very old and the insane. On the physical side,
fasting is from first light of dawn until sundown, abstaining from food, drink,
and sexual relations. On the moral, behavioral side, one must abstain from
lying, malicious gossip, quarrelling and trivial nonsense.
Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are menstruating,
pregnant, or nursing are permitted to break the fast, but must make up an
equal number of days later in the year. If physically unable to do so, they
must feed a needy person for each day missed. Children begin to fast (and
to observe the prayers) from puberty, although many start earlier.
In addition to the fast proper, one is encouraged to read the entire Quran.
In addition, special prayers, called Tarawih, are held in the mosque every
night of the month, during which a whole section of the Quran (Juz') is recited,
so that by the end of the month the entire Quran has been completed. These
are done in remembrance of the fact that the revelation of the Quran to Prophet
Muhammad (peace be upon him) was begun during Ramadan.
During the last ten days - though the exact day is never known and may not
even be the same every year - occurs the Night of Power (Laylat al-Qadr).
To spend that night in worship is equivalent to a thousand months of worship,
i.e. Allah's reward for it is very great.
On the first day of the following month, after another new moon has been sighted,
a special celebration is made, called 'Id al-Fitr. A quantity of staple food
is donated to the poor (Zakat al-Fitr), everyone has bathed and put on their
best, preferably new, clothes, and communal prayers are held in the early
morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends.
There are other fast days throughout the year. Muslims are encouraged to fast
six days in Shawwal, the month following Ramadan, Mondays and Thursdays, and
the ninth and tenth, or tenth and eleventh of Muharram, the first month of
the year. The tenth day, called Ashurah, is also a fast day for the Jews (Yom
Kippur), and Allah commanded the Muslims to fast two days to distinguish themselves
from the People of the Book.
While fasting per se is encouraged, constant fasting, as well as monasticism,
celibacy, and otherwise retreating from the real world, are condemned in Islam.
Fasting on the two festival days, 'Id al-Fitr and 'Id al-Adha, the feast of
the Hajj, is strictly forbidden.