Siyam Ramadan

(The fasting of Ramadan)

Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was brought down providing guidance for the people, as well as clear proofs of the guidance and the Criterion. So those of you who witness the month shall fast it, and for those who are ill or travelling, then an equal number of other days. God wants ease for you, and He does not want hardship for you, and for you to complete the count and magnify God for guiding you so that you may be thankful. 2:185

The "Fourth pillar of Islam" is the Fasting of the month of Ramadan. As with all other practices, all the details of Fasting are given in the Quran.

1- What are the hours for fasting?

The hours for fasting are outlined in the following verse:

You may eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinguishable to you from the dark thread, then maintain the fast until the night. 2:187

Abstaining from food and drink should start at the first thread of light at dawn. This usually takes place between an hour and two hours before sunrise, depending on the time of year. The fasting is then to be maintained until nightfall. The Quranic definition of the night is all the time between sunset and sunrise. For more details please see: Quranic Definition of the Night

2- When was fasting first decreed and to whom?

The Quran tells us that fasting is older than the Quran and was decreed to those before us:

O you who believe, fasting is decreed upon you as it was decreed upon those before you so that you may be reverent. 2:183

3- What is the meaning of 'siyam' in the Quran?

The word 'siyam', which is usually translated to fasting, is used in the Quran to mean abstention. Abstention could be from a number of things. For example, the word "Sawm" as used in 19:26 is used to indicate an abstention from talking:

So eat and drink and be happy, then if you see any human, say, "I have vowed a Sawm (fast) for the Almighty and so I will not speak today to any human being." 19:26

Then we have the word "Siyam" as used in 2:187, which refers to the abstention from eating and drinking:

You may eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinguishable to you from the dark thread, then maintain the Siyaam (fast) until the night. 2:187

O you who believe, Siyaam (fasting) is decreed upon you as it was decreed upon those before you so that you may be reverent. 2:183

The Quranic fasting is an abstention from eating and drinking during the fasting hours, as well as abstention from all sexual contact. Prior to the revelation of the Quran, sexual intercourse was prohibited throughout the fasting period. This has been modified with the revelation of the Quran to apply to the fasting hours only:

It has been made lawful for you to have sexual intercourse with your wives during the nights of the fast. 2:187

4- Who is obliged to observe the fasting and who is reprieved?

Fasting in Ramadan is obligatory on those who can physically withstand it. Sick people and travellers on long or arduous travels are exempted from fasting, but they must make it up by fasting other days when they are no longer sick or travelling.

For those who are ill or travelling, then an equal number of other days. God wants ease for you, and He does not want hardship for you. 2:185

5- The importance and benefits of fasting

Fasting and the month of Ramadan are given great importance in the Quran.

If you fast it is better for you if you only knew. 2:184

Ramadan is a Holy month because it is the month during which the Quran was revealed, and so the advent of Ramadan ushers in a time for reflection, soul searching and devotion to God. In many ways, the month of Ramadan serves as a tune-up for the soul.

The benefits of fasting are numerous. Undoubtedly the greatest of these is the fact that fasting is an act of worship of our Creator. Fasting is also a great exercise in self-control and the development of will power. The deliberate intention to shun physical satisfactions of the body during the 'fasting hours', allows the human being to attain a measure of spiritual ascendancy and closeness to God. Ramadan is also a time for reflection, reading the Quran, being charitable, purifying one's behaviour and doing good deeds in general. Ramadan is an opportunity to gain by giving up, to prosper by going without and to grow stronger by conquering weakness.

In addition, through experiencing hunger, fasting is a means of developing compassion for the poor and less fortunate who experience such feelings on a daily basis, and more so those who die from starvation. Consequently, this should develop in us the will to be more charitable as well as to be more thankful and appreciative of God's blessings. Fasting is also beneficial to health and provides a break in the cycle of rigid habits and over indulgence.

Some scholars believe that the last ten nights of Ramadan are of special importance in comparison to the rest of the month. They refer to the 'ten nights' mentioned in 89:2 in support of their claim. However, there is no reference, direct or indirect, made in 89:2 to fasting or to Ramadan. In addition, the Quran does not make any distinction between any of the various nights of the month. They also claim that the night on which the Quran was revealed, which is called the Night of Destiny 'Laylat Al-Qadr' (97:1) is a very special night. They support their claim by a number of hadith, one of which states that any prayer on that night is answered! Once again, this concept has no Quranic support. The truth is that God answers prayers to whom He pleases regardless of the time or date of the prayer.

In addition, it is claimed that the Night of Destiny is the 27th of Ramadan, but once again there is no Quranic evidence for that.
For more details on this subject, please see: The Night of Destiny

6- When does Ramadan begin and when does it end?

The month of Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar which is a lunar calendar. A lunar month is between 29 and 30 days, which is the time it takes for the moon to orbit the earth. Since a lunar month is on average one day shorter than a solar month, a lunar year is around 11 days shorter than a solar year. Therefore, the month of Ramadan comes 11 days earlier every year. This way the month of Ramadan rotates around the seasons and thus provides equal conditions for people living in different parts of the world. In the northern hemisphere, when Ramadan falls in the summer months, fasting is observed when the days are warm and long, whereas when it falls in the winter, fasting takes place when the days are cool and short. This is reversed in the southern hemisphere.

At one stage during the moon's orbit around the earth, the moon is in conjunction with the sun, with the sun's light hitting the side of the moon away from the earth. In this position, the moon (new moon) is invisible to us here on earth because the moon is between the earth and the sun, and its illuminated side is facing away from us.

As the moon continues to orbit around the earth, it starts forming a crescent moon. This will be shortly after the new moon even though the crescent will not be visible for several hours. The Quran tells us that fasting should start when we witness the month (2:185), and also that the crescent is the 'timer' for the month (2:189). Thus, fasting should commence on the first dawn after the first crescent moon (waxing crescent). Today we do not need to rely on the naked eye to 'witness the month', rather, the astronomical knowledge we have today allows us to determine the precise beginning of the lunar month.

Key words in 2:185

In 2:185 we note some key words which have an important bearing on the commencement of fasting. These words are: "those of you who witness the month shall fast it." The question here is: Since fasting is an obligation on all believers, why did God say only "those of you" rather than address all believers? The answer is that the believers will not all see the crescent at the same time. This is due to geographical differences in location. The crescent will be seen by some before others. As a result, believers should start their fasting at different times as well.
The policy of some governments to proclaim the start of fasting in their countries in tune with the Mecca timing, and before they witness the crescent, is thus contrary to the instructions in 2:185. If they do so they would have started fasting when someone else witnessed the crescent and not themselves!
The only valid case where tuning to Mecca’s timing can be justified is in locations where the sun does not set for 24 hours, or stays up for very long hours where it becomes a physical impossibility to fast. The example is in northern areas during the summer days.

Ending of the fasting

The fasting of Ramadan continues as long as we are still in the month of Ramadan. As soon as the thinnest new crescent appears, we would be in the month of Shawwal. We are not to fast except the month of Ramadan. Therefore, we should not fast that day. We must fast all complete days that occur before the rising of the new crescent. This means that if the new crescent rises in the middle of the fasting hours, then we should not fast that day, otherwise we would be fasting Ramadan plus a part of Shawwal. The Quranic instructions is to fast Ramadan only.
In the past, people only had the visual means to confirm the beginnings of every month. Therefore, they would have been entitled to end their fasting as soon as the new moon is witnessed, even if that occurred at times during their Fasting hours. However, nowadays the astronomical charts can give us an accurate timing for every phase of the moon. This allows believers to know beforehand the exact time to the Fasting. If for example the new moon was to appear on Wednesday at
midday, then the believers would not be required to fast the day of Wednesday.

The explanation for this is that the instruction in the Quran is to 'fast the month of Ramadan' (2:185) and nothing else. According to the example above, the new moon on midday on Wednesday signals the beginning of the 10th month which is Shawwal.
If the believers fast on Wednesday, they would be fasting the month of Ramadan and also part of the month of Shawwal, when as mentioned the Quranic instruction is to fast the month of Ramadan only.

7- How many different 'times' of the year are there for fasting?

Many scholars and Imams advocate the fasting of various days outside the month of Ramadan. Among these are:

- The 'Day of Ashura' (originally a Jewish practice).
- The 'Day of Arafat'.
- Every
Thursday and sometimes every Tuesday.

None of these days are authorised by God in the Quran, but originate from the alleged 'sunna of the prophet'. Needless to say, the prophet of God was commanded to follow the Quran and nothing else (46:9, 5:48) and thus it is totally insulting to the prophet to claim that he disobeyed God's command to follow the Quran alone and that he went on to follow and advocate non Quranic rituals.