Ramadan, the month of mercy, the Holy Qur’an and victory is once against upon us. I was fortunate enough to attend a Ramadan seminar held by Alhuda Courses with Shaykh Waseem Ahmad this year. As some of you have requested, I will share some of the theological and spiritual points made during the seminar. I hope it is a beneficial and useful read.
Background to Ramadan
Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic Calendar and the only mentioned by name in the Holy Qur’an - a reminder of the sanctity and value of this month over other months. In a hadith, the Prophet ﷺ states:
“Rajab is Allah’s month, Sha’aban my month and Ramadan the month of my Ummah”.
Other ahadith outline: “The Fast it for Me and I am its reward” [Hadith Qudsi – Muslim]
“Fasting and Qur’an will intercede for the slave on the Day of Judgement. Fasting will say: ‘My Lord, I stopped him from food and pleasures by day so grant me intercession for him.’ The Qur’an will say: ‘I stopped him from sleep by night so grant me intercession for him. He said, They will both be given intercession.” [Musnad Imam Ahmad]
In this month, many blessings occurred, the first and foremost being the revelation of the Holy Qur’an in its entirety, the revelation commencing, the Prophet ﷺ was instructed to announce his Prophethood, the Muslims defeated the Quraysh in the Battle of Badr and several years later, the Muslims reclaimed Makkah Sharif.
Despite all these blessings that Allah SWT bestowed upon the Muslims, it did not come easy. Hadrat Jibrael AS (Angel Gabriel) reported to have held the Prophet ﷺ and asked him to recite on three occasions and only after the recitation of five verses did his mission begin. Not only would the Qur’an be reviewed during the last ten days of Ramadan each year thereafter, during the nearing of the death of the Prophet ﷺ, Hadrat Jibrael AS came during the last twenty days and reviewed the Qur’an twice.
In Surah al-Baqarah chapter 2 verse 185, Allah SWT says:
“Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, as guidance for mankind, with clear proofs of the guidance and the criterion”.
Another famous verse from Surah al-Baqarah states:
“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, that ye may ward off (evil)”
In other words, as Shaykh Waseem mentioned, fasting is a manner in which to increase taqwa (piety) by safeguarding. For those who can control the desire to eat and drink, may well be able to control other worldly desires. Imam Zuhri once narrated a hadith (saying of the Prophet ﷺ) concerning a conversation between the nafs (self/ego) and Allah SWT. Allah SWT asked the nafs, “who am I?” to which the nafs responded, “who am I?” Allah SWT punished the nafs and placed it in the fire. After some years had passed, Allah SWT asked the nafs once again, “who am I?” the nafs once again responded, “who am I?” Allah SWT once again punished the nafs but this time placed it in freezing cold temperatures. After several years, the nafs was asked the same question and once again defied Allah SWT with its insolence. Allah SWT this time starved the nafs for a thousand years. After a thousand years had passed, Allah SWT once again asked “who am I?” to which the nafs responded, “You are Allah SWT, the Most Gracious, the Most Merciful”.
Conditions which make fasting an obligation
As the underlying reasons of why we fast have been discussed, let us now observe Shaykh Waseem’s advice on what exactly fasting is, who needs to observe this practice, and how to make the most prior to, during and after Ramadan.
Fasting comes from the word sawm and siyam, lexically signifying refraining or abstaining from something until “the true dawn” or sabah al-sadiq e.g. from food, from futile speech, certain actions. Legally it pertains to abstaining during the day (from dawn to sunset) from fulfilling the desire of the stomach and carnal desires, whilst intending it for Allah Almighty).
As the celebrated Imam Ibn ‘Ata Illah RAH is famously quoted as saying in his Hikam:
“Among the signs of success at the end is the turning to Allah Ta’ala at the who is illumined at the beginning is illumined at the end.”
Therefore, it is important to stress the importance of intention. The Fast is only valid if the intention is made during the night until the middle of the day (mid-point between dawn and sunset). This is valid for the month of Ramadan, vows to fast a specific day, nafl (voluntary prayer).
Your actions are according to intentions, therefore affirming your intention with both your mind and heart is beneficial for you and it reminds you of your intention.
Note, the intention is required prior to the true dawn period and the type of fast needs to be specified e.g. whether it is an unperformed Ramadan fast (qada), making up a ruined nafl fast (qada of nafl), when one is making a kaffarah fast and if one vows to fast on a non specified day.
A hadith narrated by Hadrat Abu Huraira RA states:
The Prophet ﷺ would congratulate his companions saying:
‘The month of Ramadan has come to you, it is a blessed month, Allah Almighty has prescribed its fasts upon you. In it the gates of Paradise are opened, the doors of Hell closed and the devils locked up. In it is a night better than a thousand months and whoever is deprived of its guidance is surely deprived.’
Shaykh Waseem encouraged attendees to ensure they are in the right frame of mind. This may include fasting on Monday’s and Thursday’s during Sha’ban, increasing in worship – especially at night and reading the Qur’an.
Some of the conditions which make fasting an obligation on somebody include, being a Muslim (affirmation of the tongue and more importantly in the heart), sane, mature/pre-pubescent, free from ill health, free from menstruation and postnatal bleeding (breastfeeding is optional), free of fear of death due to hunger and thirst and a resident. For those who fulfil these criteria, they are obligated to fast. For those who are in doubt, Shaykh Waseem mentioned that they may as long as the fast may not hinder one’s preservation of life. If it at a later date, they are able, they may make up the fast(s) outside of Ramadan. This is mentioned in Surah al-Baqarah (chapter 2, verse 184): “Then make it up on other days.” This is an obligation if one is physically able though this does not have to be a consecutive action. Though they may be made up at any point in one’s life, they should be made up as soon as possible. Particularly prior to next Ramadan. Should they not be made up this is classed as disliked in the Hanafi madhab, in the Shafi’i madhab one is required to give fidya (expiatory payment) alongside making up the fast(s) that have been missed.
Should the individual be unable to make the fast up due to health circumstances etc., they should give fidya which amounts to around half of a measure of wheat to somebody who meets the criteria of zakat (charity) i.e. eligible for charity, Muslim etc. Should the individual choose not to fast even though there is no valid reason as why they forfeited the past, they require expiation (kaffarah). The expiation is to free a slave; if that is not possible, to fast two consecutive months i.e. sixty days; and if that is too difficult, to feed sixty poor people (two meals). The broken fast must also be made up. Kaffarah should also be made should one have intended to fast prior to dawn but i) Intentionally ate or drank without an acceptable reason ii) Intentionally had sexual intercourse.
Situations which do not nullify the fast
The following are situations which do not nullify the fast; eating, drinking, or having marital relations forgetfully, wet dream (male of female), applying oil to the body or kohl to the eyes (even if it reaches the throat), cupping (hijamah), if a person backbites (the reward is lost), if one intends to break his fast but does not do so. Although whether our fasts are accepted is knowledge only Allah SWT has, if you do not do anything that invalidates the fast, outwardly your fast is complete. Shaykh Waseem also informed us of the hadith where the Prophet ﷺ advised a companion who ate out of forgetfulness, “complete your fast, Allah gave you that food and drink”. What is more, if we see somebody who is ill/elderly who eats out of forgetfulness it is advised we do not say anything to them. If however we view somebody who seems to be young and able, it is good to remind them gently before consuming another mouthful.
Other situations which do not nullify the fast include smoke entering the throat unintentionally, dust (of flour), a fly or the taste of medicine entering the throat. This is why it is best to not light bukhoor (woodchips soaked in fragranced oil), also. Moreover, if one awakens in a state of janabah (ritual impurity) or starts the fast whilst requiring a ghusl (ritual washing). Shaykh Waseem mentioned though legally, one may fast in this situation, it is not recommended and ghusl should be conducted before 12 noon. This ruling does not apply if this is other than marital relations i.e. menstruation or post-natal bleeding. Moreover, river water entering the opening of the ears or applying ear drops also does not hinder one’s fast, though if it entered the nose or mouth, the fast is invalidated.
Likewise, vomiting intentionally/unintentionally, even if it is a mouthful and some of the vomit goes back down the throat does not annul the fast. A mouthful is classed as something which cannot remain in your mouth. Swallowing food already in the mouth which is less than the size of a chick pea (happened to be there before the fast commenced) or chewing something like a sesame seed that comes from the outside of the mouth provided that the taste does not reach the throat does not rescind your fast either. However, if the food in your mouth is any larger in size than a chickpea, it would.
Intramuscular injections (i.e. outside of a cavity etc.) such as insulin shots, a dentist injecting your muscles/gums is also acceptable on the condition that the solution within the injection does not go down your throat.
Situations which nullify the fast
As we have discussed what Shaykh Waseem outlined does not nullify a fast, let us now examine what he explained does and should be avoided. One of the nullifiers is the start of menstruation/postnatal bleeding. In which case, the woman must make up her fast for that day, regardless of the time the discharge began. Others include; accidentally swallowing water used for gargling; Eating the pre-dawn meal believing it to be night but fajr has commenced or breaking the fast believing it to be maghrib but the sun has not yet set; Consuming anything that is not nutritious (sand, wood) and any particles deliberately inhaled through the nose. No penalty is applied for the above rulings, though the fast of the day does require making up.
What is more, though the application of attar (a fragrant essential oil) is permissible in the hanafi madhab, Imam Shafi’I RAH warned against the use of it in Ramadan.
On the other hand, tasting food for family, chewing food for a child and using a toothbrush are permitted as long as the food or aftertaste from the toothbrush is not swallowed. To avoid the latter, the employment of a miswak (cleaning twig from the Salvadora persica tree) is recommended and rewarding. These acts with the addition of kissing etc., gathering saliva and swallowing it along with doing anything that will make a person weaker such as cupping or acupuncture are disliked however.
Necessary to refrain from eating
The following outlines when it is necessary to refrain from eating; if a person breaks their fast it is wajib (necessary) to not eat in respect of the month of Ramadan; if a woman becomes free from menstrual or post-natal bleeding after fajr; if a boy matures; if a non-Muslim becomes a Muslim. The latter two however do not need to make up the fast for the day.
Recommended acts of fasting
Some of the recommended acts of fasting include the Pre-Dawn Meal (suhoor). In a hadith mentioned in Sahih Bukhari, the Prophet ﷺ is reported of saying:
“Observe Suhoor, for verily there is blessing in the Suhoor”.
In another hadith mentioned in the Musnad (collection) of Imam Ahmad states:
“Hadrat ‘Irbaadh bin Saariya (May Allah Almighty be pleased with him) narrates: ‘The Prophet ﷺ invited me to Suhoor in Ramadan by saying “Come! Join in the blessed meal.”
Other recommended acts include; to open the fast with haste after sunset; increase in the recitation of The Holy Qur’an; Be more generous; and use a miswaak (particularly after half the day has passed).
In another hadith mentioned in the Musnad of Imam Ahmad, the Prophet ﷺ states: “there are two joys for the fasting person, one at iftaar and one at meeting his Lord.” If in sha Allah you have met the criteria, besides contemplating and enjoining in the blessings of iftaar (dusk meal), know that the du’a (prayer) at the time of iftaar is one of high significance. Ibn Majah reports the Prophet ﷺ of saying “Verily at the time of iftaar the fasting person has a dua that is not rejected.”
During a lecture once, one of our teachers reminded us that our prayers are like that of a spiritual tree, the fardh (obligatory) prayer is the trunk, the sunnah (tradition of the Prophet ﷺ) are the branches and the nawafil (voluntary) are the leaves/fruits. Though it is important to note that making up prayers one may have missed throughout their lives takes priority as Dr. Umar Faruq Abd-Allah recently highlighted, salatul taraweeh is considered to be Sunnah Mu’akadah (obligatory sunnah prayers) on both men and women in the hanafi madhab. Congregration is Sunnah Kifayah (compulsory duty for a group) (for men) and prayed after Isha (the night) prayer. Salatul taraweeh contains 20 units before the Witr prayer. It is also considered Sunnah Kifayah to finish the Qur’an once.
Conclusion, eid and beyond
Ramadan is amongst one of the most blessed opportunities Allah SWT grants us to hold a mirror up to ourselves. There may be times where we may not be that happy with what we see but half of solving a problem is the ability to identify it. Shaykh Waseem reminded us that the stomach is the centre of bodily powers and energies. It is from the stomach that we identify with weakness or strength, piety or disobedience, wickedness or righteousness. Excessive eating is an illness which instigates other illnesses which are harmful to our mind, body and soul. By controlling what we eat, what we speak of, what we see, what we listen to and what we think, we are less likely to become slaves of our self and closer to Allah SWT as a result. Ramadan is a time to reflect and by having more time to worship invites us to enjoin in reconnecting with the Qur’an, our Islamic studies, dhikr (remembrance of God) and salawat (prayers on the Prophet ﷺ).
While we try our best to make the most of this month, it is also important to remember that Ramadan is not a race, rather a month which helps us build good habits that we may continue to uphold throughout the year. Our religion does not start and stop in Ramadan so even if it seems the only thing you have mastered in this month are your 5 daily prayers, reading the Qur’an (albeit a little), meeting family and friends, spending money on your family and relatives (fitrana) and observing modesty according to the sunnah, this is still a huge achievement and you should not deem it otherwise. As Shaykh Waseem reminded us, “you cannot erode a stone with one splash of water, rather, drip by drip may it erode over time, so too does it take time to be rid of the nafs”.
Wishing you and your families a beautiful Ramadan and many more beautiful moments after to come. If there are any errors, I apologise and they are from me and if there is any good it is from Allah SWT. Please remember Shaykh Waseem, Alhuda courses and myself in your du’as, wa alaikum asalaam wa rahmatullah :)