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The Blessed Month: Extended Fasting Is Prohibited And Does Not Add More Value

Islamic Perspectives - Muslim Journals

Arab News & Information - By Adil Salahi

It is well known in Islamic worship that when we have fulfilled a duty as it is required of us, we may voluntarily add more of the same duty. When we have offered the five daily prayers, we may volunteer to pray even more. We may pray what the Prophet (peace be upon him) has recommended us before or after each one of the five obligatory prayers. This is known as sunnah. We may also volunteer more than that, especially at night, and we may choose to make our prayer long, reciting long passages from the Qur’an in each rak’ah. We do this because we hope to be rewarded generously by God.

Pilgrimage is made obligatory to every Muslim once in his lifetime. After having done the obligatory pilgrimage, one may volunteer to do the pilgrimage again. Every time, he receives the reward of being forgiven all his past sins. Similarly, when one has paid the amount of zakat he is required to pay, having calculated it according to the required percentage, one may voluntarily pay more in charity, giving the poor or the needy or other beneficiaries of zakat, when the need arises.

All this is approved by the Prophet, in verbal statements and in practical examples. The Prophet used to do more of worship than what was required. He used to pray for long hours at night, give in charity as much as he could and add more of other types of worship. He refers to voluntary worship in a Hadith which mentions that a bedouin asked him once what obligatory worship he must do, enquiring about all types of worship, one by one. In answer to his question about prayer, the Prophet said that the obligatory part was “the five daily prayers, unless you wish to do more voluntarily.” With regard to fasting, the Prophet answered that the obligatory part was “the month of Ramadan, unless you wish to do more voluntarily.” When the man finished his questioning, asking about all aspects of worship, he said to the Prophet: “By Him who sent you with the message of truth, I shall volunteer nothing. I will confine myself to what is obligatory.” When the man had gone, the Prophet said that “he shall prosper if he keeps his word.”

It is clear from this Hadith that the principle of voluntary worship is both acceptable and applicable to all types of Islamic worship. As far as voluntary fasting is concerned, the Prophet has recommended us to fast voluntarily six days a year, starting from Shawwal. This is perhaps the minimum. He also recommended fasting three days in the middle of every lunar month, and he has told us that if we want to fast more, we may fast on Mondays and Thursdays of every week. He added that the best and most complete method of voluntary fasting was that done by Prophet David, who fasted on alternate days throughout the year.

All this voluntary fasting is made in terms of quantity. We may fast a small or large number of days, beginning always at dawn and finishing always at sunset. The question arises about a voluntary increase in the quality of fasting, which may take the form of extending one’s fast beyond sunset, right into the second day, and perhaps continuing into a third day without a break. This is termed as “extended fasting.” It is authentically reported that the Prophet used to do this. Hence, it was not surprising that some of his companions wanted to do the same. Similarly, devout people may wish to do this as an act of self-denial in pursuit of God’s pleasure. It is important to know what Islam says with regard to this type of extended fasting.

An authentic Hadith reported by Anas quotes the Prophet as saying: “Do not practice extended fasting.” They said: “But you do so.” He said: “I am not like any of you. I am given food and drink.” Al-Bukhari relates this Hadith in several versions, with different chains of reporters, which makes it highly authentic. For our purposes, it is useful to quote one or two other versions. Abu Saeed Al-Khudri, a companion of the Prophet, reports that he heard the Prophet saying: “Do not resort to extended fasting. If any of you want to extend his fast, he may do so until dawn.” They said: “But you, Messenger of God, do extend your fast.” He said: “I am unlike you. I spend my night being fed and given drink.” Another version reported by Ayesha states that God’s messenger has prohibited extended fasting as a gesture of compassion toward his followers. When they mentioned that he himself used to extend his fast, he answered: “I am unlike you. I am given food and drink by my Lord.”

It is absolutely clear from all these versions that extended fasting which means that a person continues his fast through the night into the second day is met with disapproval by the Prophet. The fact that he did so is acceptable as a special privilege to him only. How he was given food and drink, and at what time, are matters that have not been defined clearly in these Hadiths. Scholars suggest that this may have been during the night, when a person who is fasting may eat and drink. What he used to be given must have been something to help him overcome the feelings of hunger and thirst and to give him physical strength so that he could continue fasting. It could not have been food and drink of the type we eat and drink. Otherwise, he would not be extending his fast.

The reasons for the Prophet’s disapproval of extended fasting is that it is much too hard for anyone. The point which is emphasized in fasting is voluntary abstention from satisfying the most essential natural needs of one’s body. It is not meant as an exercise in affliction. To extend fasting for another day is to afflict oneself with something that God does not require of us. Hence, the Prophet wanted to make that absolutely clear, pointing out that in his own special case, extended fasting was not an affliction of the same sort, because he was given something to help him overcome the effects of such a long fast.

The question is whether extended fasting is strongly discouraged on the basis of these Hadiths or it is forbidden. Some scholars are of the opinion that it is strongly discouraged or reprehensible, while the overwhelming majority maintain that it is forbidden. This is clearly stated by Ibn Hazm and the Thahiri school of thought. In the other schools of thought the view that it is prohibited is the stronger one, especially in the cases of the Shafie and the Maliki schools. According to Imam Ahmad, the founder of the Hanbali school of thought, it is permissible to extend fasting till dawn, but not into the following day. Scholars have different opinions about whether continuing one’s fast till dawn constitutes a form of the extended fasting of which the quoted Hadiths speak.

It is perhaps more accurate to say that at sunset fasting is finished. Whether one eats and drinks or not is immaterial; he is no longer fasting. This means that to abstain from eating is no more than tormenting oneself, which is forbidden in Islam. Even when fasting is extended till dawn, which is not prohibited according to the above quoted Hadith, it applies only to a person who can bear it without difficulty. If he finds it difficult, then it is prohibited in his case.

Those scholars who argue that extended fasting is only discouraged rely in some of their arguments on a Hadith which tells us that the companions of the Prophet did not respond very quickly to the Prophet’s disapproval of extended fasting. Therefore, he bid them extend their fast with him fasting the first and second days. Then the moon of Shawwal was sighted. The Prophet said to them: “Had it been delayed, I would have caused you to continue fasting.” Abu Hurairah, the reporter of this Hadith, mentions that the Prophet has intended as a punishment to them for their slow response. Those scholars argue that had it been forbidden to extend fasting into the second day, the Prophet would not have bid his companions to do it. It is clear, however, that he did so as a punishment. Hence, it must not be taken as approval. If you punish your child for something naughty he does, your punishment does not mean that you approve of his action, even when the punishment takes the form of allowing him to indulge in that naughty thing until he suffers its consequences.

In short, extended fasting is prohibited and does not add to one’s worship of fasting, since at sunset fasting is over, whether one eats and drinks or not. This is based on the Prophet’s Hadith: “When the night comes down from this end and the day departs from that end, a fasting person has finished his fast.”



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