Saum or Fasting is a spiritual exercise. It is religiously obligatory and spreads over a period of one lunar month (29 or 30 days depending on the visibility of the moon) during the Islamic month of Ramadhan. Fasting implies that one must abstain for one full month from food, drink, smoking and sex from dawn to dusk. In fact, they are advised to keep away from all evil deeds and thoughts as well. By designating one particular month, Islam brings about uniformity in its observance among Muslims all over the world and binds them together as Muslim Ummah. It was during the month of Ramadhan that the Qur’an was brought from the highest to the lowest level of heaven. This has been referred in the following verse in the Qur’an:
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ هُدًى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَاتٍ مِّنَ الْهُدَىٰ وَالْفُرْقَانِ ۚ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ الشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ ۖوَمَن كَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ فَعِدَّةٌ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ ۗ يُرِيدُ اللَّـهُ بِكُمُ الْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ الْعُسْرَ وَلِتُكْمِلُوا الْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّـهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
“Ramadhan is the (month) in which was sent down the Qur’an, as a guide to mankind, and clear (signs) for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting.” (Surah Al-Baqarah –2:185)
According to a Tradition recorded in Sunan Imam Ahmad the Prophet Sallallahi Alaihi Wa Sallam said that other divine books were also revealed in the month of Ramadhan: “The Suhuf of Ibrahim was revealed during the first night of Ramadhan. The Torah was revealed during the 6th night of Ramadhan. The Injil was revealed during the 13th night of Ramadhan. Allah revealed the Qur’an on the 24th night.” (Tafsir Ibn Kathirin English, Vol.1, page 499). Fasting was obligatory also for the followers of prophets preceding the Prophet Muhammad (saws) as revealed in the Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
“O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before so that you may learn self restrain.” (2:183).
One observes fast to seek simply the pleasure of Allah (SWT) and keeps it conscientiously in private and public with no material benefit in sight. According to a Tradition the Prophet stated “Allah said every action of the son of Adam is for him excepting fasting for that is solely for Me. I give the reward for it.” (Bukhari). While fasting one should not use foul language, should not lose temper and raise one’s voice. According to another Tradition reported by Abu Hurairah the Prophet said “Fasting is not abstaining from eating and drinking only but also from vain speech and foul language. Allah does not need the fast of one who does not abstain from false speech or acting according to his false speech.” (Sayyed Sabiq-Sunan, Volume on Siam, pages 132-133).
This meticulous observance of fast for 29 or 30 consecutive days, observing prescribed abstinence, fills one with great spiritual satisfaction and clean conscience. This is unique to Islam, although fasting, in one form or other, is prescribed in other religions as well. The observance of Saum inculcates in human beings patience and perseverance, adherence to commitments, a spirit of self denial of the comforts and pleasures of life, adaptability to changing situations and stirs a feeling of sympathy and compassion toward the unfortunate conditions of other human beings who are deprived of the comforts of life. Fasting also makes a Muslim disciplined, steadfast and resilient. This enables him to be flexible and adaptable in his habits and exercise self-control on his physical needs during the day time particularly food, drink and sex. Fasting is also a serious test of an individual’s honesty, integrity and sincerity. This exercise in self-control and voluntary endurance of hardship can be extremely useful in times of real hardship. One of the most crucial battles of Islam – Battle of Badr (2 Hijra) – was fought during the month of Ramadhan.
Lailatul Qadr (The Night of Power)
• Lailatul Qadr is the night when the Qur’an was brought down by the angels from the Seventh Heaven to the Lowest Heaven and preserved there in “Lawh-Mahfooz” for Eternity. The Qur’an declares this night to be the most blessed night surpassing even one thousand months in Divine Blessings (97:3).
لَيْلَةُ الْقَدْرِ خَيْرٌ مِّنْ أَلْفِ شَهْرٍ
According to Tafsir Ibn Kathir “It is the night when angels including Arch Angel Jibrael (Gabriel) descend from Heaven to earth. On Laylatul Qadr, the Divine decrees of the coming year including life span, provision and what will happen until the end of the year (44:4).” (Volume 8, page: 671).
• The date of Laylatul Qadar differs from the date on which Muhammad (saws) received the first revelation, which was the night of 24th Ramadhan. It has to be one of the odd nights in the last ten days of the month of Ramadhan. According to Ubayy ibn Ka’ab: “He who likes to seek that night should do so on the 27th Ramadhan. It is the night during which Prophet ordered us to make prayers.” (Muslim, Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi and Ahmad)