Thursday, September 28, 2006

Basic Elements of Fasting

Basic Elements of Fasting
Tajuddin Shu’aib

In the name of Allāh, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful;
All the praise and Thanks are due to Allāh, the Lord of the al-ā’lamīn. I testify that there is none worthy of worship except Allāh, and that Muhammad, sallallāhu alayhi wa sallam, is His Messenger.

There are two basic elements that constitute the essence of Islamic fasting. The observation of these elements makes one's fasting acceptable.

The first element of fasting is abstinence of fast breakers from the break of dawn (fajar) until sunset. For the fast breakers, the Lawgiver, in no uncertain terms and free from any ambiguity and confusion, meant abstinence from food and drink and sexual relations. Any nourishment taken by mouth or nose, or drink of any sort, water, juices, milk, etc., should be avoided. Also, sexual intercourse during daytime is prohibited.

In this element, the period of observance is daily. It is not Islamic fasting when fasting takes place at night. Indeed, we are encouraged to break the fast without any delay as soon as the sun goes down. The proof for this first element is the saying of  Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala  , Allah  the Greatest or Most High: "...And now associate with them and seek what Allah has ordained for you and eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from its black thread." (Al-Baqarah, 2:187)

This verse defines the time limits in which the worshiper is obligated to exercise abstinence. The first part of the verse is an indication of Allah's mercy upon the worshipers by making it easy for them during night hours in their relations with their spouses. For when verse (Al-Baqarah, 2:185) was revealed, it restricted daily as well as nightly relations with spouses. It was obviously difficult for the believers.

Imam Al-Qurtubi and others reported: 'Umar bin Al-Khattab (radiallāhu`anhu) returned home late at night after visiting the Prophet (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam). When he came home, he felt the urge for his wife, so he slept with his wife, breaking the rule. Early in the morning he went to the Prophet (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) and informed him about the incident. He said, "I seek pardon from Allah and you. My soul tempted me to have relations with my wife. Can you find permission for me in this offense?" The Prophet, (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) asked whether he really was serious about this. 'Umar (radiallāhu`anhu) replied, 'Yes.' The Prophet (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) did not have an answer for him, but told him Allah has to decide on this.

By the grace of Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala, before 'Umar arrived home, Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala revealed verse (Al-Baqarah, 2:187), permitting believers to enjoy their wives during the night. So this is what the verse is referring to. It sets the limit of abstinence. It does so in metaphorical language draped with flair and beauty, as it describes the starting and the ending time of fast. Eat and drink until the white thread, i.e., the first rays of light finds its way through the horizon, the black thread. At that time, one must stop eating and start the observance of fasting.

The second element of fasting is niyyat (intention). In Islamic practices, niyyah is highly rated. This remarkable element is not unique to fasting; it permeates every ounce of the believer's undertakings from Salat, to Zakat, to Hajj. It is the difference between whether the actions are religious or irreligious. For instance, fasting for political reasons, or as a weapon of passive resistance, or hunger strikes, or starving for dietary reasons, or weight control, or even on medical advice - all of these are not proper Islamic fasting, because they lack one main component: that is, the niyyat. This is why niyyah for fasting is to worship Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala by abstaining from fast-breakers from the break of dawn to sunset.

The act of abstinence is not meant to starve you; it is an act of worship, like Solāt. It is the lack of intention that makes ones acts non-Islamic. Interestingly, you can pursue your regular activities, which have nothing to do with religion, such as maintaining your livelihood and earn a religious reward by the intention.

The Prophet (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam)  told the believers that by declaring niyyat, their relations with their spouses would become charity. The companions asked how would that be a charity (sadaqah)? The Prophet (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) responded, "Don't you know that if he does it in an unlawful way it will be a sin on him? They said, "Yes." "The same", he said, "When he does it in a legal way, it is charity." (Muslim)

The evidence for intention, niyyat, is mentioned in Al-Qur'an and Sunnah. Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala states: "And they have been commanded no more than to worship Allah, offering Him sincere devotion." (Al-Qur'an, 98:5)

"They" in this verse refers to the People of the Book, indicating that intention was part of their religious belief, or that they were commanded as the believers were through Prophet Muhammad (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam)  to worship Allah sincerely. The structure of this verse is instructive. It did not mention who commanded. Of course, it is Allah. This form is used, mentioning Allah indirectly, to indicate that the acts of worship are difficult, and He did not want us to think of them as a burden for the sake of it. He commanded us to fast because he knows we cannot do without this acts of worship.

We see the same use when Allah speaks of fasting: "...Fasting is prescribed to you..." (Al-Baqarah, 2: 183) Also, "the law of equality is prescribed to you." (Al-Baqarah, 2: 178) In both verses, it did not say "who" the subject is.

It is not directly mentioned, whereas or when Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala speaks of His rahman, mercy, He mentions Himself as if He is informing us that Your Lord has inscribed for Himself mercy. This is like a father or guardian instructing his minor, "You ought to do this and that" instead of telling him "To do this." Or perhaps Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala did not mention His name directly to indicate that He Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala is not the only One who commands you to worship Him. Your intellect and reasoning also command you to worship your Creator, for He has endowed you with His mercy.

Liya'abudu (to worship) - generally means to humble - but has become a name for every type of worship rendered with humbleness and utmost respect to Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala. However, the key word is mukhlisīn, purely intending in their hearts for the pleasure of Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala the worship Allah alone. One should declare in his heart that the act he or she is about to undertake is intended for Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala. It is not for eye service (riya), ear service (sum'ah), saying to be heard, or for any other reasons.

The most important thing in Islam is not the quantity of worship ( ‘ibadah) but the quality. By quality is meant that it is intended for none but Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala. On the other hand, Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala is telling the believer and humanity, you know that I have created everything in creation just for you that is all of creation. Not half one-third, one quarter, or a fifth of it, but all of it.

"It is He who has created for you all things that are on earth." (Al-Baqarah,2:29) If that is the case, you should not intend with your acts but for Allah alone. Do not intend in your deeds half for Allah and the rest for someone else. You cannot fast three-fourths of a day for Allah and one-fourth for someone else. Nor can you sacrifice two sheep, one for Allah and the other for the ruler. Allah would never accept that. That is the proof of niyyah in Al-Qur'an.

In a hadith related by 'Umar bin Al-Khattab (radiallāhu`anhu), he said: "I heard the Messenger of Allah Messenger (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam), saying:

"Deeds are but by intention, and every man shall have all but that which he intended. Thus, he whose migration was for Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala and His Messenger, his migration was for Allah and His Messenger, and he whose migration was to achieve some worldly benefit or to take some woman in marriage, his migration was for that for which he migrated." (Bukhari&Muslim)

This hadith pronounced by the Prophet (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) explains, in effect, the above verse and attempts to educate the believers before they embark on a course of action. At the outset, as the persecution of the believers reached its peak, the Prophet and the believers were ordered to immigrate to Abyssinia, then finally to Medinah, where the Prophet and the believers settled. Migration was, and still is, a sign of faith and a great honor in the sight of Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala. He Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala described those men and women who endured that experience as "Al-Muhajirun," declared in Surah Al-Baqarah, 2: 218.

“Those who believe and adopted exile and fought (and strove and struggled) in the path of Allah...."

So every person who has an ulterior motive claims he is emigrating to Medinah, to please Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala. But the Prophet (sallallāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) made it clear to the believers that Hijrah is not the pain and hardship of traveling and missing the loved ones, but the intent behind it. The hadith defines what constitutes Allah's perception of the deeds of the believer. Hence, the elements of fasting are two: to worship Allāh Subhānahu Wa Ta’ala by abstaining from fast - breakers, combined with intention.


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