Bismillah Ar-Rahmaan Ar-Raheem. Alhumdulillah. Peace and blessings on Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wa alihi wa sallam), his Noble Companions and Family. Dear Committed brothers, dear committed sisters,
Assalaamu Alaykum, I am Zafar Bangash welcome to Ramadhan journey- a program that aims to examine the multiple dimensions that are associated with the blessed month of Ramadhan. Ramadhan the moth of fasting is linked with a number of important events in Islamic history the most important of which is the revelation of the noble Qur’an from the Al Lawhul Mahfudh in its earthly form revealed to the noble Messenger of Allah over a period of twenty three years. Ramadhan is also linked with building and developing our taqwa as well as the two important battles- the Battle of Badr which occurred in the second year of the hijra and the liberation of Makkah that occurred in the eighth year of the hijra. To navigate us through this Ramadhan journey we are joined by Imam Muhammad Al Asi who is a fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought as well as author of a number of books the most important and well known of which is his tasfeer The Ascendant Qur’an- Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture; a tafseer that is being serialized in the English language, the first ever tafseer to be done in English. Imam Muhammad Al Asi welcome to the program.
Imam Al-Asi: Thank you very much it's a pleasure and an honor to be here with you today.
Zafar Bangash: Let's start off with a very simple question- why do Muslims fast?
Imam Al-Asi: Well, I can give you a simple answer to that- Muslims fast because there's a divine instruction from Allah the Almighty to fast. There is a series of verses in the Qur’an in Surah Al Baqarah that define and outline and explain the issue of fasting therefore in compliance with this divine guidance from Allah Almighty Muslims observe this fast once a year during the ninth lunar month in the Muslim calendar.
Zafar Bangash: You mentioned the lunar month- let's go into that because that affects as to when Ramadhan occurs each year. Could you shed some light on that?
Imam Al-Asi: Yes. The Islamic calendar is a lunar calendar not a solar one. In the Western world there’s three hundred and sixty five days and a fraction to each year. In the solar calendar the months are thirty or thirty one days with the exception of February which is twenty eight days and then twenty nine days in the leap year every four years to cover that fraction. In the Islamic calendar the month is twenty nine or thirty days.
Zafar Bangash: And these are obviously dependant on the sighting of the new moon the crescent?
Imam Al-Asi: Yes. That's right. According to the Prophet's hadith a month commences with the actual sighting of the crescent at sunset, once that is sighted or it can be demonstrated beyond a shadow of doubt that it is sight-able somewhere in the world- that ushers in the new lunar month. As I was saying, the lunar month is twenty nine or thirty days which makes the lunar year around ten or eleven days shorter than the solar year.
Zafar Bangash: Which means that every year the Islamic calendar moves forward compared to the solar calendar by ten or eleven days so each year Ramadhan would come ten or eleven days earlier than the previous year.
Imam Al-Asi: That is right. I think the key word here to understand is earlier because if you say forward or backward you get, (you know), different perspectives. So if, (let's say), Ramadhan begins this year, (and it will begin I guess for most people around the globe), around the twentieth of July next year Ramadhan will begin around the tenth of July and the year after that around the first of July and in this sequence it begins to retreat in the course of the year by about ten or eleven days from year to year.
Zafar Bangash: So it means Ramadhan is not actually linked with any particular season then as for instance in the solar calendar you have Christmas fixed on the December the twenty fifth and certain other events fixed on dates but in the Islamic lunar calendar these dates and these events are not fixed.
Imam Al-Asi: That's right. Ramadhan will be observed through the course of the whole year. It moves from month to month (and) from season to season. And for your information, if a person is to live seventy five years, (let's say a person's life time is seventy five years- I would think that’s a good average for the different populations of the world), and let's say the person begins fasting at the age of responsibility or puberty which is around probably also different times and let's say around twelve and thirteen years of age- so in this sense in about sixty three to sixty five years a person will have fasted a whole year twice in this cyclic movement of Ramadhan. Ramadhan gains a more social meaning in this sense and it also has its physical reflections on the human body because if you are fasting in the winter time in different climes of the world you're fasting shorter days, if you are fasting in the summer times then you are fasting longer days.
Zafar Bangash: So we have that situation right now exactly because here in South Africa they are in their winter months so their days are shorter we in North America are going to be fasting seventeen to eighteen hours in summer months so it is obviously through a divine scheme it has been arranged in such a way that no matter where you live you are going to get the shorter days as well as the longer days in your life span. It's like Allah subhana wa ta'ala is an equal opportunity Lord.
Imam Al-Asi: Unless for those who are geographically smart- if you are living around the equator that's where the winter and summer are about the same thing so you’re fasting about the same hours throughout the whole year but as you go northward or southward the daytime hours begin to fluctuate so you begin to have longer days in the summer and shorter days in the winter. And for those who are in the field of medicine, (I'm probably making some remarks about this), I think Muslim physicians should have a very keen interest in how this would affect the purging of human physiology from the toxins and from the impurities that circulate in the different systems that we have (i.e.) the digestive system, the nervous system in the urinary systems in all of these systems that the human body has.
Zafar Bangash: We will touch on that because it is a very important aspect. I just want to get your understand on (the fact that) we know from the seerah and Islamic history that Ramadhan became compulsory in the second year of the Hijra. What did Muslims used to do prior to that (i.e.) before Ramadhan became compulsory?
Imam Asi: Well the information on this is shoddy. It’s not very well established first of all let me say this- to define what Ramadhan means, the word Ramadhan, obviously, refers to the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The months of this calendar have been given their names, (at least most of them), due to the atmospherics.
Zafar Bangash: I'd like to stop you there we will come back to this question because we're just taking a short break and we'll be right back, don't go away.
Zafar Bangash: Assalaamu Alaykum and welcome back to Ramadhan journey, our guest is Imam Muhammad Al Asi from Washington DC a fellow at the Institute of Contemporary Islamic Thought as well as the mufassir of the noble Qur’an titled The Ascendant Qur’an- Realigning Man to the Divine Power Culture. Imam Muhammad Al Asi is discussing the various dimensions of the month of Ramadhan. Imam Al Asi before we went to the break we were talking about the situation in terms of what was happening or what occurred before Ramadhan became compulsory and you were sharing your view so please continue with your discussion on that point,
Imam Al-Asi: Yes. So the word Ramadhan which describes this month is taken from the word ramda’ which simply means a heated object. It can be a stone or a cliff or the sands of the desert. It also could mean an amber. There's a great deal of significance in this meanings for those who reflect on the relationship between heat, (so to speak), if we wanted to further the understanding of it, (it) would be calories. So in the month of Ramadhan there is a calorie restriction. Obviously this is what is meant by it and then we have fasting. We know fasting itself burns calories, especially if that is accompanied by vigorous movement of the body. So there's a consumption of calories- the body burns more than it consumes or at least this is supposed to be the fundamental understanding of fasting. Now, the other months of the year also have their significant meanings. Dhu Al Hijjah pertains to the performance of the hajj; Rabi Al Awwal, the first month of spring; Jumad Al Ula the first month of the waters freezing over, etc. etc. So back to your question about the fasting prior to the revelation of the ayaat in Surah Al Baqarah which begin with
شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ الَّذِي أُنزِلَ فِيهِ الْقُرْآنُ
The month of Ramadhan is the month in which the Qur’an was made accessible… (Surah Al Baqarah verse 185)
The best information pertaining to the observance of a fast that I could come by was (that) there was some, not many, scattered individuals in Arabia who would observe a fast that would either conform to the Christian meaning of fasting at that time.
Zafar Bangash: And what is that?
Imam Al-Asi: Well, we don't know exactly because the Christian definition of fasting has gone through different eras and modifications until we reach our current time in which it simply means Lent (i.e.) the forty days preceding Easter and abstaining from basically, for those who are very observant of this meaning, consuming any meat with the exception of fish I guess on Sundays or however that is explained by the Church. So what it meant at that time, I haven't come across any solid information whether it was pertaining to those who were following the Christian faith in Arabia or those who were following the Jewish faith in Arabia or those who were following the Hanifiyyah which means the remnants of the religion of Ibrahim and Isma’eel (alayhima as salaam). So the notion or the concept of fasting pre-existed the revelation of these ayaat in Surah Al Baqarah.
Zafar Bangash: But it wasn't in a structured form?
Imam Al-Asi: No, it wasn't in a defined, meticulous and detailed form as it is or has been since the revelation of these ayaat.
Zafar Bangash: OK. Now let's for the benefit of our viewers- and I'm sure that there may be those that are not Muslims (and) they may not know what exactly fasting entails. Please give us the time lines when it starts, when it ends and what is it that Muslims have to abstain from so that it becomes clear for our viewers.
Imam Al-Asi: Yes. To answer your question, there’s a type of traditional answer to it and there's another more informed and in depth answer to it. The traditional answer to the question that you asked, “what does fasting exactly mean in the Islamic faith or in the Islamic practice?” It simply means- and this is just the traditional answer to it- abstaining from having any food (i.e.) ingesting any food or water or, in the case of a person (that) is married, having any conjugal relationship with the spouse from before sunrise by about an hour or so until nightfall which is in the area of sunset, a little after sunset. This is, (what you may call), the run of the mill answer to your question but a more in depth and thought out answer to what fasting means- it is abstaining from the urges and appetites that man (or) human beings have, whatever these may be. Of course the most demanding appetites in the human body and in the human physique and in the human psychology the most, (let us say), vigorous types of appetites are the appetites for food and the appetites for sex and that's why they stand out as being first and foremost what defines the technicality of fasting between al fajr which is this time about an hour before sunrise and then ila al layl as the ayah says
… until the onset of night time… (Surah Al Baqarah verse 187)
So technically speaking if a Muslim or Muslimah, of course they have to be of age. This is not obligatory on those who are still children before they reach the age of responsibility and puberty nor is it obligatory on others who are infirm (and) their body simply cannot tolerate this somewhat vigorous exercise and there are other exemptions maybe we'll get to that later.
Zafar Bangash: Yeah. We’ll come to those as we go through our discussion Insha’Allah.
Imam Al-Asi: So to put it in a few words- the fasting of the month of Ramadhan requires a human being to stop eating and drinking and having intercourse, (to be blunt about this), with their spouse in that time frame of the day.
Zafar Bangash: So in other words it is meant to inculcate self control and to turn away from the worldly desires and to turn towards Allah in a much more vigorous and rigorous way.
Imam Al-Asi: Well of course. Yes. Only a person who goes through the month long period of fasting from day to day will understand what it means to partake of their indulgences. What begins to develop in the course of this month is that the physical inclinations of the body begin to recede and then what is called the spiritual or the inner forces of the body begin to expand and in this trade off between what is physically receding and what is spiritually and mentally expanding there are the benefits of sharing the feelings of people in the world who don't have, understanding what it means to go hungry from day to day or thirsty from day to day. There’s a lot of personal and social meanings in the practice of this day to day and month long fasting. I should hasten to say that fasting is a part of a larger dietary program that Muslims exercise in their life time.
Zafar Bangash: We will touch on that. In fact there are a number of other dimensions. We are virtually out of time but I just want to mention that out of your tafseer, The Ascendant Qur’an we have extracted this book which has just come out off the press. I'll give the title to our viewers, it says What we should understand about taqwa in Ramadhan. This book, of course, is available from Crescent International. You can obtain it by contacting us at 0027 12 370 1069 as well as you can email us if you want to firstname.lastname@example.org. We’re going to be discussing many of these dimensions and issues in our next episode but for now thank you very much Imam Muhammad Al Asi. We are out of time and we thank you all for watching Ramadhan Journey and we hope you will continue to join us on Ramadhan Journey as we go through this month. Thank you and I'm Zafar Bangash. Assalaamu Alaykum wa Rahmatullahi wa Barakatuh.