TAFSEER OF QUR'ANIC VERSES ON FASTING
1. Islam proceeded step by step and by degrees in the imposition of most of its obligatory duties.The same was done in the case of the Fast.
At first the Holy Prophet advised the Muslims to observe fasts for three days in a month but this was not obligatory.
Then in the second year of the Hijrah this Command (v.183) about fasting in the month of Ramadaan was revealed.
There was, however, an option even for those who were able to fast but did not. They were required to feed one poor man as an expiation of one day's fast (v.184).
Then, after some time the final Commandment contained in the next verse (v.185) modified this, and the concession for able-bodied people was withdrawn but retained for a sick person or a wayfarer and by analogy for a pregnant or a suckling woman and for those old people who were not able to fast.
In a lengthy statement quoted by Imam Ahmad Ibn Hanbal [R.A.], the noble companion Mu'adh Ibn Jabal [R.A.] says:
"The Salaah and the Fast took their present form gradually. At first the Muslims faced Jerusalem during the Salaah but after years they were commanded to turn their faces towards the Ka`bah in Makkah.
Besides this, at first they used to inform one another about the time of each Salaah but afterwards the same was proclaimed by means of Azan (the call to prayer).
As to the Fast), when the Holy Prophet migrated to Al-Madinah, he observed fasts for three days in a month and also on the tenth of Muharram.
Then Allah made it obligatory to fast during the whole month of Ramadaan but allowed the feeding of one person as an expiation for one who did not observe fasts, though he could.
Afterwards this concession of feeding one person for one day of fast was cancelled in the case of healthy persons and the one not on a journey". (Tafseer Ibn Kathir, V1 / P.214)
Imam Al-Bukhari, Muslim, Abu Dawud and other scholars of Hadith have also quoted Traditions (Ahadith) from Sayyidah 'A'ishah [R.A.] and 'Abdullah Ibn Mas'ūd [R.A.] to the same effect.
In support of the same, Al-Imam Ibn Jarīr At-Tabari, the famous commentator (Mufassir) of the Holy Qur’an, has quoted Traditions citing the authority in full from several Companions and their followers.
In one of these Traditions, he quotes the following explanation of
Hadrat Mu'az Ibn Jabal:
"As the Arabs were not used to fasting, it was hard for them at first to observe fasts. They were, therefore, given the option to feed one poor person on the day they did not observe fast during the month of Ramadaan.
Afterwards a command was revealed, canceling this concession except in the case of a sick person or one on a journey."
He quotes another tradition from Abdullah Ibn 'Abbas [R.A.] to this effect. In the first command (v.184), Almighty Allah had allowed expiation for fasts even for an able-bodied person who could fast but did not.
In verse 185, which was revealed the next year, concession for an able-bodied person was cancelled but was retained for a sick person or a wayfarer.
2. In verse 184, "More than this" means to feed more than one person for each fasting day or to feed one and to observe fast as well.
3. The first command about fasting contained in verses 183-184 was revealed in the second year of hijrah before the battle of Badr. The subsequent verse (v.185), which superseded it, was revealed a year later and is inserted here because it dealt with the same subject matter.
4. In verse 185 Almighty Allah states …"but if one of you is ill or on a journey, he should make up for the same number by fasting on other days (later)."
It has been left to the option of the individual to observe or not to observe fasts during a journey.
Some of the Companions of the Holy Prophet observed fasts and some did not when they were on a journey with him and neither raised any objection against the other.
The Holy Prophet [S] himself sometimes observed fasts on a journey and sometimes did not. Once he saw people gathered round a man who had fallen to the ground and asked what the matter was with him.
The Holy Prophet was told that he had become too weak to stand on account of observing fasts. He remarked that it was no virtue to observe fasts in such a condition. During wartime, he used to issue orders allowing the postponing of fasts.
Sayyiduna `Umar Ibn Al-Khataab [R.A] related that they did not observe fasts twice during the month of Ramadaan when they went to war under the command of the Holy Prophet, that is, on the occasion of the battle of Badr and at the conquest of Makkah.
Abdullah Ibn `Umar [R.A.] says that on the eve of conquest of Makkah, the Holy Prophet declared: “As we are going to fight our enemy you should postpone your fasts so that you may conserve your strength to fight."
There is no clear injunction from the Holy prophet for the prescription of a minimum standard of distance for postponing the fasts. His Companions also differed in practice with regard to the standard.
But it is obvious that the fasts may be postponed for that distance which is commonly understood to be a journey and in which one begins to feel to be on a journey.
One may also leave the fast on the day one has to start on a journey.
There is a difference of opinion as to the postponement of the fasts for the residents of a place that is attacked by an enemy but Imam Ibn Taymiyyah maintained with strong arguments that the postponement of the fasts under such circumstances is permissible in order to engage in Jihad.
5. Almighty Allah states in verse 185 …"Allah desires ease for you, and does not desire hardship for you. (Therefore this method is being shown to you) so that you may complete the number of fast days and glorify Allah for the guidance He has shown to you and be grateful to Him".
Allah is so bountiful that He does not want to deprive His servants of the blessings of fasting. Therefore He has not confined it to the month of Ramadaan alone but has opened another way for its completion for those who fail to complete it during this month for genuine reasons.
They should make up the missed days by observing fast on other days in order to show their gratitude for the revelation of the Holy Qur’an during the month of Ramadān.
It is clear from this verse that fasting in Ramadān has been prescribed not only as a form of worship and training for piety, but also to show gratitude for the great favour of the Revelation of Qur’an during the month of Ramadān.
And the best way to show gratitude for a favour is to fulfill the object for which it has been bestowed and to prepare oneself for its completion as best as one can.
The object for which Allah has bestowed the Qur’an upon us is to reveal His will so that we may fulfill it ourselves and persuade others to do the same.
Fasting provides the best training for the fulfillment of this object and is both a devotion and a sign of gratitude for the favour shown in the form of the Qur’an.
6. In verse 186 Almighty Allah states: "And when My servants ash you, concerning Me, (tell them that) I am indeed near to them. I hear and answer the prayer of every suppliant when he calls on me. So let them respond to My call and believe in Me: That they may walk in the right way".
It means "Though you cannot see Me and feel Me with your senses, you must never imagine that I am far from you. Nay, I am so near to every servant of Mine that he can invoke Me and place his requests before Me wherever he may be.
So much so that I hear and answer even those requests which are not expressed in words but are made only in the innermost heart. As to the false and impotent gods you create in your ignorance and folly you have to go to them, and even then they do not hear and answer you.
But here am I, the Sovereign, the absolute Ruler of the boundless universe and possessor of all the powers and authority, so near to hear and answer you, that you need no recommendation or intercession for making any request anywhere and any time you like.
Therefore you should free yourselves from the folly of running from door to door after false gods, and accept My invitation and turn to Me and trust in Me and submit to Me and become My servant."
7. "….. That they may walk in the right way." (Verse 186)
That is, "They may learn from you this truth and adopt the right attitude, in which lies their own good".
8. Almighty Allah states in verse 187, "It has been made lawful for you to go to your wives during the nights of the fasts. They are like a garment to you and you are (like) a garment to them".
The relation between husband and wife is like that between clothes and the body. Just as they are close to and fit into each other and nothing intervenes between them, in the same way, husband and wife are closely related to each other and are a source of mutual comfort to each other.
9. Almighty Allah states in verse 187, "Allah knows what you used to do secretly among yourselves, but He turned to you (in mercy), and forgave you. Now you are permitted to have intercourse with your wives and enjoy what Allah has made lawful for you".
Although at first there was no clear injunction forbidding intercourse between husband and wife during the nights of Ramadaan, yet the Muslims had a vague notion that it was not lawful to do so and it was with guilty conscience that sometimes some of them went to bed with their wives.
There was thus a danger of developing a criminal and sinful mental attitude. Therefore Allah warned them of their dishonest behavior towards their conscience and then made it lawful so that they might do it with a clear conscience.
10. Almighty Allah states in verse 187, "… You are also permitted to eat and drink during the nights of the Fasting month, until you can discern the white streak (thread) of dawn from the blackness of night".
There was also a misunderstanding about the timings of eating and drinking during Ramadaan. Some were of the opinion that eating and drinking was prohibited after the 'Esha (night) prayer up to the sunset of the next day.
Others thought that one was permitted to eat and drink as long as one kept awake after the 'Esha prayer but could not do so after one had fallen asleep; they were often put to great inconvenience on account of these notions of their own creation.
In this verse their misunderstanding were removed and the duration of the period of fasting was fixed from and dawn of the morning to the sunset, and eating and drinking and intercourse with wives were permitted from sunset to dawn.
The Holy Prophet also directed that a meal should be taken before the dawn (of morning) as a preparation for fasting.
11. Islam has a set standard of time for its practices, which can be applied by people at every stage of civilization and in every part of the globe. That is why it does not fix the boundary lines of its religious practices by watches and clocks but by clear signs in the sky.
This is a standard that can suit the people of every age and country, and can be set by watches between these prescribed bounds to suit their circumstances and convenience. But these people who do not understand its philosophy raise foolish objections.
For example, they say that this standard cannot work near the Poles, because there the duration of the day and the night is of many months. They forget that even in polar regions, the signs of the morning and evening and mid-day and mid-night appear as regularly as in other places and the inhabitants regulate the timings of work, play, sleep, etc., in accordance with the appearance of these signs.
When there were no watches and clocks, the inhabitants of the Arctic Circle fixed their timings by these signs.
12. "Complete your fast till nightfall" means "Your fast ends where the boundary of night begins." It is also obvious that the boundary line of the night begins at the sunset: therefore the fast should be broken at the time of sunset for which we should look at the eastern horizon.
If we see the streakiness of the night rising up there, it is a signal for the breaking of the fast. In the same way, the rising of the white streak of the morning in the eastern horizon is a signal for the beginning of the fast.
It must be clearly understood that in the Islamic Code of Law there are no hard and fast limits exact to the second or minute for the duration of the fast. There is great latitude in both the limits.
Differences of a minute or a second either way do not make the fast defective. The fast becomes complete as soon as the darkness of night begins to rise in the east. It should, therefore, be broken at sunset.
In the same way, when the dawn of morning appears in the eastern horizon, the boundary line begins for observing the fast and eating and drinking should be stopped. But here too, there is an allowance for one to finish one's meal even though the dawn of the morning might have appeared, if one could not wake up in time for it.
There is a Tradition of the Holy Prophet to this effect: If one, while taking his meals, hears the call (adhaan) for the morning prayer (or the sound of the siren as in our age) for beginning the fast, one should finish the meal. Likewise he is enjoined to break the fast without delay as soon as the dark line of the night (maghrib sunset time) appears in the east.
13. Almighty Allah states in verse 187, "… But you should not have intercourse with your wives while you confine yourselves to the mosques (for I`tikaaf during the last ten days of Ramadaan".
I'tikaaf is a special voluntary practice of Devotional Seclusion, during the last ten days of the month of Ramadaan. One confines oneself to a Masjid and devotes one's whole time to prayer and meditation in addition to the prescribed obligatory religious duties.
One is required to abstain from all worldly pursuits, desires, lust, etc., and not to leave the mosque except attend to the call of nature, etc.,
14. "… Those are the limits set by Allah, so do not even go near them…"
The wording of the Commandment about the extreme limits is very significant.
It does not only prohibit their transgression but also warns one not to go even near them. It is very dangerous to roam about the boundary lines of the forbidden territory for one is liable to enter into it by mistake.
Going near them has, therefore, been prohibited. The Holy Prophet emphasized the same point, saying, "Every king has some reserved land and Allah's `reserved' land is bounded by those limits which prescribe the lawful, the right and the wrong. The animal which grazes near the last bounds of the reserved land might one day enter into it."
It is a pity that, in spite of this clear warning, some people, who are ignorant of the Islamic law, persist in going to the extreme limits and some "learned" people try to find excuses for them from some Islamic Code of Law that warns the Muslims not to go near the boundary line.
That is why many people get involved in vice and deviate from the straight path. Obviously, it is not an easy thing to demarcate these fine boundary lines and to control oneself from transgressing them, when one is roaming near them.