An Early Meal
“Eat a predawn meal, for indeed in it there is blessing.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Although not obligatory, Muslims families throughout Ramadan rise early in the morning before the first traces of light and partake in a light meal in implementation of this Prophet teaching. Usually, the day of a Muslim starts with the dawn prayer performed when the first traces of light appear in the sky, but since it is the time when one starts the fast by withholding from food or drink, the Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, encouraged Muslims to arise before that time and partake in a meal.
From this it is clear that the point of fasting is not that one feels hunger throughout the day, but rather that one changes their lifestyle in order for it to be more conducive to the worship of Allah, a fact which will become quite clear. One who often misses the dawn prayer, the hardest of the five prayers to perform due to its stated time, in this blessed month arises early in order to partake in a meal.
Thus this person becomes accustomed to awakening at an early hour, ultimately helping him to perform the dawn prayer for the rest of the year.
The most beloved of the voluntary prayers is one called “Qiyaam –ul-Layl”, or the Night Prayer. This prayer is performed before the dawn prayer in solitude. It is so beloved that it is usually nicknamed “the Prayer of the Pious”, a prayer performed by the devout when the majority of people are still sleeping in their beds. God described this prayer in the Quran, saying:
“Their sides forsake from (their) beds, calling upon their Lord in fear and in hope….” (Quran 32:16)
Waking in the early hours before dawn to eat a meal also encourage the believers to perform this blessed prayer, one which otherwise seem like an arduous task for some.
This predawn meal is to be eaten close to the time of dawn, and thus people continue to eat until they hear the mu’ezzin, or caller of prayer, call out the azaan from the local mosque, signaling that the first traces of light have appeared. Thus, Muslims end their meal and prepare themselves to attend the congregational prayer at their local mosque, held five times a day throughout the year.
The Month of the Quran
After attending the dawn prayer, many Muslims choose to sit in the mosque for a while and recite a selected portion of the Quran at this time. Recitation of the Quran is recommended at all times, and due to it one’s faith increases in Islam:
“The believers are only those who, when Allah is mentioned, their hearts tremble with fear, and when His Verses are recited unto them, they (i.e. the Verses) increase their Faith; and they put their trust in their Lord (Alone).” (Quran 8:2)
Being the month in which the Quran was revealed, Muslims are even more zealous to recite its entirety, as this was also done by the Prophet.
“[The Prophet] would meet him (Gabriel) every night in Ramadan and they would recite the Quran to each other.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Quite often in Ramadan in the Muslim world, you will hardly find a mosque empty during any part of the day. Muslims try to set aside time this month in order to complete the Quran and ponder its meanings.
There are other special features in Ramadan.
The Last Ten Nights
1. “Indeed we have revealed it (the Quran) in the Honored Night.
2. And what will explain to you what the Honored Night is?
3. The Honored Night is better than a thousand months.
4. In it, the angels descend as well as the Spirit (Gabriel) by the permission of their Lord, with all types of decrees.
5. ‘Peace’ it is until the rising of dawn.” (Quran:97:1-5)
It was Ramadan in which the Quran was revealed from the heavens to the Earth. More specifically, it was one of the last ten nights of this blessed month. The Prophet said:
“Seek the Honored Night in the last ten.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
On that night, worship and good deeds are better than performing them for a thousand months, as mentioned in the verses above. Thus the Prophet would increase his worship by staying awake the whole night in worship.
“When he entered the [last] ten [nights] of Ramadan, the Prophet would ‘rollup his sleeves’ and give life to the whole night, and waken his family.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Muslims in Ramadan seek this Honored Night in order that they may be given an increase in reward. Muslims spend the whole night in worship, from praying the taraweeh prayer to reading the Quran, supplicating to God, and praying extra voluntary prayers. During these nights, there is even an extra
congregational prayer held in the mosques which lasts for about an hour and a half to two hours up until the time of the predawn meal. Nights are alive with worship, and people for these ten nights expend all efforts in doing so, seeking that they may have spent the Honored Night in the worship of God. The Prophet said:
“Whoever stood in prayer in the Honored Night, believing in God and hoping for His reward, all his previous sins will be forgiven.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
Ramadan is a month of forgiveness, and people hope that they will people from those who are saved from the Fire:
“God chooses who will be saved from the Fire (in Ramadan), and that is every night.” (Al-Tirmidhi)
For this reason in Ramadan, people fast, pray, and seek the Honored Night in order that they may be forgiven for their shortcomings and enter Paradise.
Fasting is not unique to the Muslims. It has been practiced for centuries in connection with religious ceremonies by Christians, Jews, Confucianists, Hindus, Taoists, and Jains. God mentions this fact in the Quran:
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop God-consciousness.” (Quran 2:183)
Some Native American societies fasted to avert catastrophe or to serve as penance for sin. Native North Americans held tribal fasts to avert threatening disasters. The Native Americans of Mexico and the Incas of Peru observed penitential fasts to appease their gods. Past nations of the Old World, such as the Assyrians and the Babylonians, observed fasting as a form of penance. Jews observe fasting as a form of penitence and purification annually on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. On this day neither food nor drink is permitted.
Early Christians associated fasting with penitence and purification. During the first two centuries of its existence, the Christian church established fasting as a voluntary preparation for receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism and for the ordination of priests. Later, these fasts were made obligatory, as others days were subsequently added. In the 6th century, the Lenten fast was expanded to 40 days, on each of which only one meal was permitted. After the Reformation, fasting was retained by most Protestant churches and was made optional in some cases. Stricter Protestants, however, condemned not only the festivals of the church, but its traditional fasts as well.
In the Roman Catholic Church, fasting may involve partial abstinence from food and drink or total abstinence. The Roman Catholic days of fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the United States, fasting is observed mostly by Episcopalians and Lutherans among Protestants, by Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and by Roman Catholics.
Fasting took another form in the West: the hunger strike, a form of fasting, which in modern times has become a political weapon after being popularized by Mohandas Gandhi, leader of the struggle for India’s freedom, who undertook fasts to compel his followers to obey his precept of nonviolence.
Islam is the only religion that has retained the outward and spiritual dimensions of fasting throughout the centuries. Selfish motives and desires of the base self alienate a man from his Creator. The most unruly human emotions are pride, avarice, gluttony, lust, envy, and anger. These emotions by their nature are not easy to control, thus a person must strive hard to discipline them. Muslims fast to purify their soul, it puts a bridle on the most uncontrolled, savage human emotions. People have gone to two extremes with regard to them. Some let these emotions steer their life which lead to barbarism among the ancients, and crass materialism of consumer cultures in modern times. Others tried to deprive themselves completely of these human traits, which in turn led to monasticism.
The fourth Pillar of Islam, the Fast of Ramadan, occurs once each year during the 9th lunar month, the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which:
“…the Quran was sent down as a guidance for the people.” (Quran 2:185)
God in His infinite mercy has exempt the ill, travelers, and others who are unable from fasting Ramadan.
Fasting helps Muslims develop self-control, gain a better understanding of God’s gifts and greater compassion towards the deprived. Fasting in Islam involves abstaining from all bodily pleasures between dawn and sunset. Not only is food forbidden, but also any sexual activity. All things which are regarded as prohibited is even more so in this month, due to its sacredness. Each and every moment during the fast, a person suppresses their passions and desires in loving obedience to God. This consciousness of duty and the spirit of patience
helps in strengthening our faith. Fasting helps a person gain self-control. A person who abstains from permissible things like food and drink is likely to feel conscious of his sins. A heightened sense of spirituality helps break the habits of lying, staring with lust at the opposite sex, gossiping, and wasting time. Staying hungry and thirsty for just a day’s portion makes one feel the misery of the 800 million who go hungry or the one in ten households in the US, for example, that are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger. After all, why would anyone care about starvation if one has never felt its pangs oneself? One can see why Ramadan is also a month of charity and giving.
Abdulah b. Abbas, said:
“The Prophet was the most generous of people, and he was even more generous in Ramadan.” (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)
In order to increase in their good deeds, some Muslims choose to offer their Zakaah, or obligatory annual charity, in this month as well.
There is a special type of worship in Islam in which one devotes himself to the mosque for a period of time, whether it be for a day or a week, and spends his time in reciting the Quran and mentioning praises of God, again a training for having a person becoming accustomed to living a life revolved around the worship of God. In secluding oneself from one’s daily routine and indulging in the worship of God, he learns to prioritize his life and give less worth to the life of this world. The Prophet, may the mercy and blessings of God be upon him, himself would practice this act of devotion, called I’tikaaf, during the last ten days of Ramadan. He would pitch a tent in the mosque and seclude himself in it, busying himself in various types of individual worship.
Muslims around the world take leave from their work or school and try to fulfill this act of worship, but because of its difficulty, as it entails a type of cutting off from daily life, few people do so. None the less, the majority of the congregational mosques do have a few people who take to this worship.
As one can see, Ramadan is indeed a very special time for Muslims around the world. It is a month of worship in which sinners repent and return to God, and the believer rejuvenate their faith. It is a training period in which one becomes accustomed to leading a life in accordance to the commands of God and seeking His Pleasure. It is a time when one strengthens their relationship with their Creator.
It is a time when one trains himself to do extra acts of worship in addition to the obligatory. The month of Ramadan is one which has no match, and the feelings Muslims have in this month are unexplainable. For this reason, the companions of the Prophet would ask God to give them the blessing to experience Ramadan six months before its arrival, and for six months after its departure, they would seek forgiveness from God for their shortcomings in it. We ask God to accept the Muslims fasting and praying in this blessed month, and to give others the guidance to be able to fast it as Muslims.
There is this story about an Egyptian whose Doctor prescribed to him some medication in order to prepare him before he gets operated on, to rid him off certain tumor in his stomach. When he realized that the medication would prevent him from fasting, which it was about to begin, he became so sad and then gave his trust to Allah by fasting, with the hope that Allah will cure him.
Lo and behold, a miracle happened! This man went back to his doctor after Ramadan and the doctor examined him and he realized that, the tumor that he supposed to operate him and removed was nowhere to be found, and he told him about it, and the man then revealed to the Doctor that, perhaps he was cured because he fasted, and the doctor admitted to him the medical advantages of fasting, confirming what the Qur'an says.
Consider the Eleven Basic Medical Benefits of Fasting
A medical expert, Dr. Cinque summarizes it all very well below:
1. Fasting promotes detoxification. As the body breaks down its fat reserves, it mobilizes and eliminates stored toxins.
2. Fasting gives the digestive system a much-needed rest. After fasting, both digestion and elimination are invigorated.
3. Fasting promotes the resolution of inflammatory processes, such as in rheumatoid arthritis.
4. Fasting quiets allergic reactions, including asthma and hay fever.
5. Fasting promotes the drying up of abnormal fluid accumulations, such as edema in the ankles and legs and swelling in the abdomen.
6. Fasting corrects high blood pressure without drugs. Fasting will normalize blood pressure in the vast majority of cases, the blood pressure will remain low after the fast, if the person follows a health-supporting diet and lifestyle.
7. Fasting makes it easy to overcome bad habits and addictions. Many people have overcome tobacco and alcohol addictions by fasting, and even drug addictions. Fasting rapidly dissipates the craving for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.
8. Fasting clears the skin and whitens the eyes. It is common to see skin eruptions clear while fasting, and the whites of the eyes never look so clear and bright as they do after fasting.
9. Fasting restores taste appreciation for wholesome natural foods. People say that their taste buds come alive after fasting and that food never tasted so good.
10. Fasting is the perfect gateway to a healthful diet and lifestyle. Going on a fast gives you the motivation and enthusiasm to make a fresh start.
11. Fasting initiates rapid weight loss with little or no hunger. Most people are surprised at how little desire for food they have while fasting.