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Ramadan - Period of Piety and Righteousness

Wed, 19 Aug 2009 Source: GNA

A GNA Feature by Alhaji Abdulai Mamudu Gariba, Senior Editor

Accra, Aug. 18, GNA - As the day to the commencement of Ramadan (Sha'ban) approaches, when fasting is seen as a means of achieving piety and righteousness, it is necessary that the Muslim brethren adhere to the Prophet's admonition that "He who does not give up false speech and evil actions, Allah does not need his refraining from food and drink". In other words Allah is not going to accept such persons' fasting.

Celebrated during the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, the fast is observed each day from sunrise to sunset. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, which requires that Muslims perform five central duties in order to strengthen their faith. While Islam has two major sects, the Sunnis and the Shiites, all Muslims aim to realize these five pillars in their lifetime.

Ramadan, which is observed by more than one billion Muslims around the world, is a time for spiritual purification achieved through fasting, self-sacrifice and prayers. Ramadan ends with a three-day festival known as "Eid" or "Eid ul-Fitr," which literally means "the feast of the breaking/to break the fast." The holiday marks the end of Ramadan, the holy month of fasting and is a culmination of the month-long struggle towards a higher spiritual state.

According to Sheikh Yusuf Estes the Month of Ramadan has long ago been established as the month of fasting for Muslims. But from where does the authority and instructions for its observance come? How can we know with certainty the correct performance and acceptability with Allah the Sublime?

It is gratifying that most sectors of the Muslim community especially in Ghana are gradually uniting in a compromising mood to accept the actual dates to observe Muslim festivals such as the Eid-ul Fitr and Eid-ul Adha festivals when in the past after the dates were declared as national holidays, there were lots of agitations and disagreements with some civil and public servants deciding on which days to observe the holiday.

The understanding and unity among the Muslim brethren can be seen as a major feat achieved through the instrumentality of the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharabutu and other opinion leaders through whose tireless efforts there has been a degree of sanity among Muslims throughout the country.

A 27-member Committee set up by Ghana's National Chief Imam arrived at the date of 20th August 2009 after two weeks of deliberations. The Chairman of the Committee, Sheikh Musah Abdul Kadri told the delegates attending the National Hilal Conference in Kumasi that the search for the moon should continue if it was not sighted on the 20th of August 2009. He said the Muslims brethren were, however, required to start fasting by the 22nd of August 2009, two days after the expected date, even if the crescent of the moon did not appear.

In line with the awareness creation of the significance of Ramadan to the Muslim communities, the Madina West Council of Ulama (Islamic religious leaders) in collaboration with the Ga East Municipal Assembly undertook a massive clean-up exercise in the community as a prelude to the Ramadan Muslim fasting period expected to commence on August 22 2009.

Those who took part in the exercise, led by the Chief Imam of Madina-Zongo, Sheikh Yunus Ibrahim and opinion leaders of Zongo Junction, Libya Quarters, Washington, UN and SDA communities, de-silted choked gutters and cleared weeds and filth.

The exercise was on the theme: "Cleanliness is next to Godliness." Sheikh Yunus told Ghana News Agency that the exercise was in line with the teachings of the founder of Islam; Prophet Mohammed, who enjoined his followers to keep their surroundings clean and to maintain good personal hygiene.

Sheikh Yunus said the exercise was meant to sensitize the people, especially the youth to ensure that they maintained good sanitation at all times and especially during the fasting period.

He urged the youth to take the mantle of assisting in the socio economic development of their localities by helping to raise public awareness on good sanitation and environmental cleanliness and to lead the people in undertaking communal services. The Chief Imam said the Council of Ulama would enforce discipline in the area and, therefore, urged the people to cooperate to make the Madina-Zongo Community a suitable place to live in. Sheikh Hussain Idris Molah at a dawn (Fajir) prayers at Libya Quarters, Madina Zongo also urged the congregation to ensure that they combined their fast with dedicated prayers, reading of the Koran, cleanup exercises and the keeping of good sanitation and environment which he noted were all in fulfilment of the teachings of the Prophet of Islam, Mohammed (PBUH).

Wisdom of Fasting

Fasting is a great act of worship for the Muslim, which is performed by neglecting personal desires to please the Lord and to hope for His Reward. It is logical to state that one would not give up things one desired unless one would be rewarded with something more desirable. In this case the pleasure of Allah is the most sought after desire. The heart, through fasting is apt to maintain its tenderness since the desires are not sought but shunned, and tends to be more receptive to the words of Allah. The rich will, through fasting be more appreciative of Allah's graces and bounties. He would also suffer deprivation as do the poor and the needy under their everyday circumstances, so that he would be more motivated to help them from what Allah has provided him. It helps to depress the pride of the ego and maintains humbleness. Moreover, fasting has its health advantages by virtue of decreasing the intake of food and relaxing the digestive system. Great is the Wisdom of Allah, and great are His Graces.

Obligation of Fasting

The Month of Ramadan has long ago been established as the month of fasting for Muslims. But from where does the authority and instructions for its observance come? How can we know with certainty the correct performance and its acceptability by Allah the Sublime? We can begin by looking into the Book of Allah, the Holy Quran for foundation and authority of this Blessed Event in Muslims traditions: Allah has said in Surah Baqarah: "O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you just as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may do your duty, on days which have been planned ahead. "The month of Ramadan is when the Quran was sent down as guidance and as a standard. Let any of you who is at home during the month, fast in it; while anyone who is ill or on a journey should [set an equal] number of other days. Allah wants things to be easy for you and does not want any hardship for you, so complete the number and magnify Allah because He has guided you, so that you may act grateful.

"Whenever My servants ask you about Me, [it means] I am Near. I answer the appeal of the prayerful one whenever he appeals to Me. Let them respond to Me, and believe in Me so they may be directed! "It is lawful for you to have intercourse with your wives on the night of the Fast: They are garments for you while you are garments for them. Allah knows how you have been deceiving yourselves, so He has relented towards you and pardoned you. Now [feel free to] frequent them and seek what Allah has prescribed for you. Eat and drink until the white streak [of dawn] can be distinguished by you from the black thread [of night] at daybreak. Then complete the Fast until nightfall and have no dealings with women while you are secluded at your devotions in the Masjids (mosques). Such are the limits set by Allah, so do not attempt to cross them! Allah explains His signs to mankind so they may do their duty."

Performing the other acts of worship and duties is most important, and Salah (ritualistic prayers) in particular, without which no other act of worship, is accepted by Allah. Praying in congregation is a great aspect in our religion. Everyone should attend: Its reward is twenty seven times greater than that which is performed individually. The Prophet (peace be upon him) was just about to burn the houses of those who did not attend the congregational prayers.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: "There will exist in my ummah (followers) those who will make unlawful things into the lawful such as; fornication, silk for the men, intoxicating beverages and the playing of musical instruments."

Virtues of Ramadan

Abu Hurairah narrated: "Allah's Messenger (peace be upon him) said; 'When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of Jannah (Paradise) are opened and the gates of Jahannam (Hell) are closed, and the shaytan (devils) are chained up."

The gates of Jannah (Paradise) are opened in this month because a great deal of righteous deeds are performed, and as an encouragement for those who seek Allah's reward. While the gates of Jahannam (Hell) are closed because only a few sins are committed by the believers. The shaytan (devils) will be chained that they may not have the influence on the believers by whispering to them and misguiding them that they might ordinarily have during the other months of the year.

Allah has prescribed fasting and made it obligatory on all nations. He has said; "O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous" [Quran 2:183]

If fasting were not a great act of worship, and the reward thereof were not so great Allah would not have prescribed it for all nations. One of the virtues of fasting is that it is a means for atonement of sins as it is narrated on the authority of Abu Hurairah that The Prophet (peace be upon him) said Allah has said: "All the deeds of Adam's children (all mankind) they do for themselves, except fasting which belongs to Me and I will reward for it. Fasting is a shield (against Hell and against the committing of sins). If one of you happens to be fasting he should avoid sexual relations with his wife and should avoid quarrelling. Should someone fight or quarrel with him, let him say, 'I am fasting'. By Him in Whose Hand is my soul (Allah), the smell of the mouth of the one who is fasting is better in the sight of Allah than musk (perfume)." It is a shield because it safeguards the believer from vain talk and wrong doing and thereby protects him from the Jahannam (Hell). Of all the good deeds, Allah has favoured fasting to be greatly rewarded by Him and distinguished it with prestige, if it is observed with the pure intention of pleasing Him alone.

From other sayings of the Prophet (peace be upon him) we know that: Fasting is so highly regarded for a believer that he would have two occasions of joy, one at the time of breaking his fast, [to enjoy the bounties of Allah, because he has been favoured with Allah's mercy to observe fasting while many others have been deprived of this great blessing], and the second would be when he meets his Lord [and enjoys the abundant reward for having observed fasting].

Who Should Fast?

Fasting is obligatory on the mature sane and healthy Muslim. Those who are immature (i.e. little children) are encouraged to fast. Exempted are those who suffer terminal illness, or are too old to fast. Allah does not overburden His slaves.

On the other hand, permission to abstain from fasting is granted to the travellers who do not travel for the purpose of breaking their fast. Even though it is permissible to break fast during travel, yet it is praiseworthy to fast while travelling if no hardship is imposed. In any case, travellers should make up the days they missed out in Ramadan once Ramadan is over and they are back at home.

As for those whose sickness does not allow them to fast, they fall into three categories:

If it is neither hard nor harmful for them, they must observe fasting.

If it is hard but not harmful for them, they are permitted to break their fast.

If it is harmful for them, then they must abstain from fasting. It is stated in the Quran: "Do not kill yourselves" and "Do not throw yourselves into destruction."

The Prophet (peace be upon him) is reported to have said: "Cause no harm to yourselves nor cause it to others." The days that happen to be missed in Ramadan must be made up once Ramadan is over.

During the monthly menstruation of women or postnatal time after giving birth, women should not fast, but they must make up these days that are missed as soon as possible in the following month(s). Pregnant or breastfeeding women whose health or the baby's health would be negatively affected by the fasting should break their fast and then make them up in the future as soon as it is not a problem for their health. It is also recommended for those engaged in combat in the Way of Allah to break their fast. The Prophet (peace be upon him) told his companions in one of the battles: "You are going to meet your enemy in the morning, abstaining from fasting is better for your strength, so break your fast."

When Does Fasting Begin and End?

Fasting begins upon the sighting of the new moon after the ending of the month of Sha'ban (on the lunar calendar). Allah says: "So everyone of you who is present (at his home) during that month should spend it in fasting."

However, it is not incumbent on each person to sight the new moon. If a trustworthy Muslim testifies that he has sighted it then everyone must observe fasting. Abu Hurairah says: "A Bedouin [dweller of the desert] came to the Prophet (peace be upon him) and reported; 'O Prophet I have seen the new moon of Ramadan.' So the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked the man; 'Do you bear witness that {laa ilaha illa Allah} There is no deity worthy of worship throughout the Creation - Only Allah, the Creator is worthy of worship?' The man said; 'I do'. Then the Prophet (peace be upon him) said; 'Do you testify that Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah?' Then man said; "Yes." So the Prophet (peace be upon him) asked Bilal to announce to the people to begin their fast the next day." Ibn 'Umar also confirmed the practice of sighting the new moon in his report: "The people were seeking the new moon. Having sighted it myself, I reported it to the Prophet (peace be upon him). He began his fast and ordered the people to begin theirs too."

He who sights the new moon of Ramadan must inform those in authority in Government/Muslim community. Once the Government/Muslim leaders announce the beginning of Ramadan, upon sighting the new moon, it becomes binding on the rest of the Muslims to begin their fasting. It should be kept in mind, however, that astronomical calculations must be ruled out from Shari'ah and must not be relied on in place of the sighting of the moon, as the Prophet (peace be upon him) has ruled that Muslims must begin their fast upon seeing the new moon, not upon calculating the month astronomically. It is only when it becomes hard to see the new moon, due to weather conditions, then Muslims may compute the month of Sha'ban that precedes the month of Ramadan as 30 days. (The lunar month is either 29 or 30 days according to the sighting of the new moon. It is never more or less in number.)

Praiseworthy Etiquettes of Fasting

Taking the meal of Suhur: The Prophet (peace be upon him) said; "Take the meal of suhur because there is blessing in it." He also said; "The difference between our fasting and that of the People of the Book (Jews and Christians) is taking the meal of suhur." Even taking a cup of water in lieu of suhur meal has blessings in it also.

Breaking the fast as soon as the sun sets. Making Du'a upon breaking the fast.

Reciting as much Quran as possible during the month of Ramadan.

Fast Breakers

Sexual intercourse during the time of day for fasting. Wilful violation of fast by such practice requires the fast of sixty consecutive days in order to make up for the day in which the intercourse took place.

Intentionally ejaculating. Unintentional ejaculations do not break the fast.

Eating, drinking, smoking or taking any food substitutes such as receiving blood, glucose, or I.V. substances by intention while knowing you should be fasting. If done without remembering you are fasting, then it would not count as breaking the fast. If such an act was prescribed for an essential reason, the fast would be considered broken but would only require one day for each day missed.

Vomiting on purpose without necessity and menstrual bleeding.

On the other hand, the application of khol, eye, ear, or nose drops or brushing the teeth or gargling with water do not break the fast. As long as there is no intention of taking any nourishment internally. Wearing perfumes, using siwak or toothbrush without toothpaste do not break fast since it has been reported that the Prophet (peace be upon him) practised that. One can also take the shower or a bath while fasting. However, it is incumbent to make intention of fasting before dawn. Such intention is to be made in the mind only. Pronouncing certain words for that intention is a bid'ah (innovation) neither the Prophet (peace be upon him) nor were his companions ever reported to have composed certain words for the intention. The days that happen to be missed in Ramadan must be made up once Ramadan is over.

Columnist: GNA