From humble beginnings, Islam as a religious factor emerged in Arabia as a dominant force after the foundation of the State in Medina. The Muslim ideal of monotheism included worship not as a ritual but as a practical observance of subservience and obeisance to Allah. Following this spirit, the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) included Ramad’an in the list of days prescribed for fasting.
Historical references confirm that the Meccans used to observe fast on the day of Ash’ura, that is, the 10th of Muharram. After the Hijra the Prophet kept this tradition, which served to illustrate the relief felt by Moses (PBUH) and his nation after being delivered by God from the inimical fancies of Pharaoh and his cruel rule.
However, the formal Qur’anic injunction for fasting in the month of Ramad’an rendered all other moments prescribed for fasting as optional, while affixing a month for the formal practice. The Sahih Bukhari provides a reference to this:
Hazrat Aisha (Radi Allahu Anha) narrated that the people used to fast on ‘Ashura (the tenth day of the month of Muharram) before Ramadan was declared as a month of obligatory fasting. And on that day the Ka’ba used to be covered with a cover. When Allah Almighty commanded the fasting of the month of Ramadan as compulsory, Allah’s Apostle (PBUH) said, “Whoever is willing to fast (on the day of ‘Ashura’) may fast; and whoever wants to leave it can do so.”
The earlier injunctions were only meant for those who thought they were mentally and physically fit enough to do it. This marked the second stage of the history of fasting in Islam, in which the poor, the sick and the travelers were exempted from fasting. The third stage, wherein Ramad’an became a social obligation, was when the verse (2:185) was revealed which ordered making up for the days lost during an unnecessary circumstance.
“……And whosoever of you is present, let him keep fast in the month, and whosoever of you is sick or is journeying, (let him keep fast for the same) number of other days. Allah wishes ease for you; He wishes not hardship (suffering) for you; and (He wishes) that you should complete the period, and that you must magnify Allah for guiding you, and that peradventure you may become grateful.” (Surah Al- Baqara 02: 185)
As a societal institution, the importance of Ramad’an was somewhat intensified by the promise of rewards in return for deeds performed.
Ramad’an was enthusiastically welcomed during the lifetime of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), because of the Divine premise that the Qur’an had been revealed during this month.
Celebrated traditions also allude to the Lail-at-ul-Qadr, a night to which Power is ascribed, for it was on this blessed occasion that the Qur’an was revealed. The Qur’an also mentions to the importance of this night in Surah Al-Qadr (97).
Fasting was institutionalized not as a strict ritual, but as a practical example of forbearance and gratitude. The Qur’an allows the Muslims to enjoy eating and drinking, and legal sexual relations from the time of Iftar till Suhoor. It is apparent that the purpose of fasting is not to exercise a strict restriction, but is to attain piety, better defined as Taqwa (2: 183). Thus the Muslim fasts not except out of fear of God, in Whose court he stands as a slave.
Ramad’an provides a great opportunity for Muslims to orient their lifestyle according to Islam. The ban on music, illicit practices, abusing, picking up fights, and in general behaving in a misappropriate manner serves to mould individual and collective lives according to the Will of Allah. The medical benefits of Ramad’an are numerous and have been listed by various scholars as testimony to the divine nature of Islam.
In short, Ramad’an is an enormous opportunity to bring Muslims closer to their true creed, to eliminate differences between them and to weld them in a fraternal sympathy—the sense of brotherhood we’re so proud of.
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