Fasting according to the Sunnah

By Imam Dr. A. Rashied Omar

The Sunnah or exemplary conduct of the Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) provides us with specific details of fasting as an act of worship. The Sunnah is recorded in the compilations of hadith works (recollections of the Prophet Muhammad’s sayings, acts and tacit approvals). Scholars of hadith have developed a sophisticated procedure of classifying hadith as authentic (sahih) or weak (da’if). The most acceptable and authentic hadith canons are: Sahih Al-Bukhari, Sahih Muslim, Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Al-Nasai and Musnad Ahmad Ibn Hanbal. We will reflect on a selection of these hadith in order to develop a picture of some of the key characteristics which adorned the Prophet Muhammad’s (pbuh) manner of fasting.

The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) has informed us that the month of Ramadan has many blessings and benefits. Among others, it is the month of mercy, caring and sharing, guidance and the revelation of the Qur’an, patience, self-control and self-discipline, repentance and forgiveness, and last but not least a month of peace, happiness and exultation.

In order to maximise the blessings and benefits of Ramadan it is necessary to observe the correct etiquette (adab) and sunnah way of fasting. We must guard against complacency and the erroneous belief that if we fulfill all the legal requirements of fasting in Ramadan, we will automatically obtain all the benefits of this blessed month. (Qur’an 2:183) Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have warned: “Allah does not need the fast of someone who does not abandon false speech or acting according to his false speec”. (Bukhari)

Eating the pre-dawn meal (suhur)

The Prophet (pbuh) recommended the pre-dawn meal (suhur) and described it as “a blessed nourishment”. It is obvious from a health point of view that the reason this meal is a blessing is because it strengthens and fuels the fasting person which effects more energy and makes the fast slightly easier. In addition to this, there is also the spiritual blessing which is not always perceivable to the rational mind. In a tradition related by Ahmad, the Prophet (may peace and blessings be upon him) is reported to have said:

“Verily, Allah and His angels pray for those who have pre-dawn meals.”

Observing the pre-dawn meal is not easy. It means rising before dawn and it no doubt affects our sleeping routines, but it has many secret benefits that can only be revealed if it is practiced.

Hastening and self-restraint in breaking the fast (iftar)

Hastening to break the fast at sunset is highly recommended by the Prophet (pbuh). This is a special time when the fasting person feels a great sense of achievement. Special care should be taken not to spoil it through gluttony and overeating. The Prophet (pbuh) has recommended breaking the fast with simple and healthy foods such as dates and water.

Reciting and studying the Qur’an and supplicating

Because Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was first revealed, the key purposes of fasting is to show gratitude and to commemorate this magnificent event. It seems obvious that this commemoration be accompanied by more intense reflection on the meanings and guidance that the Qur’an provides for us. Each fasting person needs to recite and reflect upon sections of the Qur’an on a daily basis during Ramadan. The Prophet (pbuh) has also informed us that the supplication of a fasting person

will not be rejected. In our rational and secular world, the power of supplication (du’a) seems to be largely underplayed. Sometimes our insistence that supplications be done in Arabic contributes to our inability to supplicate.

Being Generous

Al-Bukhari recorded that Ibn Abbas described Prophet Muhammad (may peace and blessings be upon him) thus: The Prophet was the most generous of people but would be his most generous during Ramadan.”

We should therefore not let our generosity during the blessed month of fasting be confined to the giving of fidyah and fitrah. We need to give beyond these legal obligations.

Refraining from actions that do not benefit the fasting person

Fasting does not merely entail abstaining from eating, drinking and sexual relations the daylight hours. The fasting person should also purify him/herself of bad behavioural patterns. The Prophet (pbuh) recommended that whenever the fasting person is annoyed with someone s/he should restrain him/herself by saying: “I am fasting.”

Maintaining one’s level of productivity and efficiency whilst fasting

Fasting during Ramadan should not be used as an excuse for sluggishness and idleness. During the fasting day Muslims are expected to go about their daily activities by maintaining or even increasing their levels of productivity and efficiency and may well be surprised at what can be accomplished. The Prophet (pbuh) discouraged sleeping too much while fasting.

Striving to raise one’s level of fasting during the last ten days of Ramadan

The Prophet (pbuh) has indicated that Laylatul Qadr (the night of power) is to be found within the last ten nights of Ramadan. He used to increase his acts of worship during the last ten days and has given us the institution of seclusion in the mosque (‘itikaf), which has many benefits, to practice in this period.

In conclusion, we have been blessed with experiencing another fasting month of Ramadan, let us emulate this acclaimed spiritual discipline of the Prophet (pbuh) and try our best to be gentle in our speech and dignified in our actions and conduct and with our hearts full of love and affection for Allah, the Most High, and each other. But most of all let us during this fasting month of Ramadan emulate the noble example of the Prophet (pbuh) by becoming even more generous to the oppressed and marginalized. Let us resolve to fast not merely as a duty but in order to build and increase our spiritual fortitude, love for Allah, the Lord of Compassionate Justice and solidarity with the poor and the marginalized.

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