What is Ramadan?

EsinIslam Ramadan Explorer

Tajuddin B. Shu'aib

Ramadan is derived from the Arabic root word ramida or ar-ramad denoting intense scorching heat and dryness, especially the ground. From the same root there is ramdaa, sunbaked sand, and the famous proverb: "Kal Mustajeer minar Ramadan binnar'' - to jump out of the frying pan into the fire.

And in a hadith the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said:

"The prayer of repenters is due when the young camel can feel the sun's heat early in the morning." (Reported by Muslim)

Thus, the word Ramadan is so called to indicate the heating sensation in the stomach as a result of thirst. Others said it is so called because Ramadan scorches out the sins with good deeds, as the sun burns the ground. Some said it is so called because the hearts and souls are more readily receptive to the admonition and remembrance of Allah during Ramadan, as the sand and stones are receptive to the sun's heat. The framers of this beautiful language may have been inspired by Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala) in naming this month Ramadan. Otherwise, the relation between the heat and its properties is miraculously similar to that of Ramadan. While the heat represents the matter that helps shape, form, and mold virtually every matter - from metal and plastics, to plants and living cells - Ramadan undoubtedly helps a serious believer remold, reshape, reform, and renew his physical and spiritual disposition and behavior.

Legal Status of Ramadan

The observation of Ramadan is mandated by two Islamic sources, Al-Qur'an and Sunnah, along with Ijmaa, the consensus of the scholars. Al-Qur'an states:

"O, you who believe fasting is prescribed to you, as it was prescribed to those before you that you may acquire self-restraint." (Al-Qur'an, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:183)

The proof in this citing is very obvious, for whenever Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala) uses the word ‘kutiba', which means, among other things, prescribed or written, it indicates the action that follows it becomes mandatory upon the believers, men and women. After establishing Sawm, the verse emphasized that this was not the first time the obligation of fasting had been established, for it stated that previous nations received the same mandate. We are not certain about the time, date, and amount.

Many scholars state the introductory clause ‘kamaa' implies and refers to the analogy between our fasting today and the fasting of previous people. There are similarities in the time and amount, but what happened to Ramadan is that the high priests, before the time of Prophet Muhammad (sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) added more days than were prescribed for them. It became difficult and they could not do it, so they moved the date to spring until they neglected it altogether.

In a hadith it is reported by Daghfal Imam Hanzalah (radhiyallahu ‘anhu) that the Messenger of Allah (sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) said:

"The Christians used to fast one month. So when a man fell ill amongst them, they vowed if Allah cured him, they would increase ten more days to their fasting. He was cured, and the fast became forty days. Then another man ate meat; his mouth pained him. They vowed again if Allah cured him, they would add seven more days. He was cured and the fast increased to forty-seven days. Then a king fell ill. They vowed again if Allah cured him, they would complete seven to ten days and move their fast to the spring. The king was cured and the fast increased to fifty days.'' (see Tafseer Al-Qurtabi)

This is how the pillar of religion was neglected. Even some Christian writer complained,

"For nearly a century and a half, fasting has been out of vogue, at least in the churches of the West. The very idea of someone actually fasting today seems strange to most twentieth century Christians. They associate it with medieval Christianity." (Fasting a Neglected Discipline)

Some said the analogy is referring to the manner of fasting - restraint from food and drink and marital relations. The verse ends with a strong hint to the spiritual benefit of fasting:

"That ye may acquire self-restraint."

The word used is ‘tataqun'. It is originally from waqa, to protect, the same base word used for fear of Allah, taqwa; for when you fear Allah, you protect yourself against His wrath and against things that will destroy yourself.

Taqwa (fear of Allah), is easily achieved with fasting for the simple reason that, when you fast, you become weak for the lack of nourishment, which means your cravings are diminished. With diminished cravings, the sins are greatly lessened, because there is no energy to fuel them, praise be to Allah. When sin is lessened, the barometer for taqwah rises.

Elsewhere Allah (Subhanahu wa Ta'ala) states:

"Ramadan is the month in which was sent down the Qur'an as a guide to humanity and as a clear sign for guidance and judgment (between right and wrong). So anyone of you who witnesses the month should spend it in fasting..." (Al-Qur'an, Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:185)

This verse contains important rules and reasons for fasting that will be explained later. However, what concerns us here is the statement,

"So anyone of you who witnesses the month should spend it in fasting."

There are exceptions, like when traveling, which will be explained later.

The above examples have been the proof from in Al-Qur'an. As for the proof from hadith, there are many, amongst them a hadith reported by Bukhari and Muslim in which the Messenger (sallAllahu ‘alaihi wa sallam) states:

"Islam is built on five (pillars), testimony that there is no deity worthy of worship but Allah, and testimony that Muhammad is His messenger, establishing Salat, giving Zakaat, observing the fast of Ramadan, and pilgrimage to the House of Allah." (Reported by Bukhari / Muslim)

The hadith established fasting during the month of Ramadan as one of the pillars on which this religion is built. This hadith reinforces the obligation of fasting as stated in Al-Qur'an. We will see later that there are other Hadiths that explain in detail how to observe the 'Ebadah, the worship of fasting.

Because of this collection of proofs from both Al Qur'an and the Sunnah, the Muslim scholars agreed in Ijima'a that abstinence from physical nourishment and sex associated with intention to seek Allah's pleasure is mandatory upon every believer. Before verse (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:185) was revealed, Muslims were commanded to fast three days in every month (see verse Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:183). This verse (Surah Al-Baqarah, 2:185) was revealed on Monday, Sha'aban 2, in the second year of Hijrah, thus, abrogating the earlier order.

Source: Essentials of Ramadan


EsinIslam Ramadan Team

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