For Muslims living in a non-Muslim country like the Netherlands, Ramadan also means being asked the same silly questions about fasting by well-intentioned but clueless friends and colleagues. And the most common question I faced was – Why do we fast? This is a common but interesting question which a child may also ask his/her parents. And today’s khutbah is intended to answer this question.
This verse shows that fasting was observed by the people (i.e "ahl-ul kitaab") who came to the scene before the Muslims and so it is a "sunnat Allah" (i.e a tradition approved by Allah) for those who lived aforetime as well as for the Muslims who are now the best generation ever raised for mankind. Fasting is not new to Islam; it is, indeed, as old as Adam(a.s) who was the first creature and the first Muslim to submit to one Allah. No one knows precisely when fasting began among Adam's progenies but it is the practice of all the Prophets of Allah and their followers. Qur'an mentions that Musa(a.s) fasted for 40 days (see 2:51) (this is what the Jews termed "Jewish Passover") and the Prophet(s.a.w) told us that Dawud(a.s) used to fast for half of the year (this involves fasting on every alternate day). 'Issa (a.s) (or Jesus) was also reported to have fasted for 40 days (this is what the christians termed "the Lent", usually observed before Easter festival). Since these Prophets were Muslims, it can be seen that by asking Muslims to fast, Allah intends to draw their attention to the practice and tradition of those pious predecessors who attained piety (in His sight) through fasting.
So we worship Allaah by doing this act of worship which is beloved to Allaah and which He has enjoined upon us. The believers hasten to obey the commands of Allaah and His Messenger (SAW), in obedience to His words. Allah says in Surah An-Noor verse no 51:
Secondly: It is by His wisdom that Allaah has prescribed a variety of acts of worship, so as to test people with regard to how they will obey all these commands. Will they only choose to do that which suits them, or will they do that which pleases Allaah? If we think about the five acts of worship: testimony of faith, prayer, zakaah, fasting and pilgrimage, we will see that some of them are purely physical, some are purely financial, some are both, so that the miser will become distinct from the generous. For some people it may be easy for them to pray one thousand rak’ahs but not to give a single euro; for others it may be easy to give a thousand euros but not to pray a single rak’ahs. So Islam came to prescribe a variety of acts of worship so as to determine who will follow in obedience to the command of Allaah and who will follow only that which suits him.
Prayer, for example, is a purely physical action, but its prerequisites require some expenditure, such as the water for wudoo’, and clothes to cover the ‘awrah. These are not part of the prayer but they are its prerequisites.
Zakaah is purely financial, but physical actions are required to fulfil this duty such as calculating one's wealth and transferring the zakaah to the poor and needy. These are not part of zakaah but they are its prerequisites.
Hajj involves spending wealth and physical action, except for the people of Makkah who may not need money, but they are very few compared with those who live in Makkah.
Jihad for the sake of Allaah may require both money and physical effort. A person may spend money for the sake of Allaah and not fight, or he may go and fight but not spend money.
Therefore, commands are of two types: commands to refrain from things that man is inclined towards, and commands to spend that are precious. Refraining from things that are loved includes fasting, and expenditure of things that are loved includes zakaah. Wealth is something that is loved and no one spends the wealth that he loves except for something that is loved even more. The same applies to refraining from things that are loved, for a person may like to spend a thousand euros, but not fast a single day, or vice versa.
Thirdly: Shaykh Ibn ‘Uthaymeen was asked about the reason why fasting was enjoined? He replied: If we read the words of Allaah: “ O you who believe! Observing As-Sawm (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqoon (pious)” [al-Baqarah 2:183]
we will know the reason why fasting was prescribed, which is taqwa (piety) and submission to Allaah. Taqwa means giving up haraam things, and in general terms includes both doing what is commanded and abstaining from what is forbidden. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever does not give up false speech and acting upon it and offensive speech and behaviour, Allaah has no need of his giving up his food and drink.” Narrated by al-Bukhaari, 6057.
Based on this, it is important for the one who is fasting to carry out religious duties and avoid haraam things in word and deed. So he should not backbite about people, tell lies, or spread malicious gossip among them, or engage in haraam transactions, and he should avoid all haraam things. If a person does that for a whole month, the rest of the year will go well, but unfortunately in the case of many of those who fast, there is no difference between a day when they fast and a day when they do not; they behave as they usually do, neglecting obligatory duties and doing forbidden things. You do not see the dignity that is to be expected of the fasting person. These actions do not invalidate their fast but they do detract from its reward and may cancel out the reward altogether.
Taqwa is also defined as God consciousness i.e being aware that Allah is watching you. Taqwa has been emphasised over and over in the Quran (its been mentioned 251 times) . Why? Because, praying 5 times a day is easy. Giving charity is easy. But being conscious of Allah all the time is hard. Let's assume that you have a bad habit. You smoke daily in secret. Would you smoke if you are aware that your parents are watching you through the window? If you have any respect for them, you won't. Once you are conscious that Allah is watching you.. everything will fall right into its place. You will no longer lie, cheat, backbite, slander, or watch things you are not supposed to , all because you are aware that Allah is watching you.
Allah says in that fasting has been decreed upon you so that you may attain Taqwa. But how are you gonna attain Taqwa by fasting? On a physical level during Ramadan, you are supposed to keep yourself from eating/drinking for prolonged period everyday for 29-30 days consecutively. You stomach is shouting "give me food", your throat is yelling "give me water" and nobody is stopping you except your heart! It is your heart that says "shut up. Not until sunset." to your stomach and throat , it is your heart that is in control for 30 days. These 30 days is a training period. You train yourself to resist your temptations. When a guy is walking on the street and sees a pretty girl, his eyes have an urge to stare at her, but his heart (which is full of taqwa) says "Stop! It's not nice."
You might have noticed that Muslims who do not even offer daily prayers regularly , observe fasts and pray 5 times a day throughout the Ramadan. It is because Allah has made it easy for us in the month of Ramadan. Salman Al-Farisi (RA) reported: The Messenger of Allah (SA) delivered a sermon on the last day of Sha’ban, saying: “O people! The shadows of a great blessed month have come over you. In it there is a night that is better than one thousand months. Allah has made fasting obligatory during it, and night prayer (Tarawih) optional. Whoever performs any good deed in it will obtain the reward of an obligatory act; and whoever performs an obligatory act of devotion will be rewarded seventy times more than in any other month. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Paradise. It is the month of rewards in which provision increases. Whoever provides food for a person to break his fast, his sins will be forgiven, and he will be saved from the Hellfire. He will receive a reward similar to the one for whom he provided food, without diminishing anything from the reward of the former (one he fed).” The people said: Messenger of Allah! Not all of us are capable of providing food for fasting persons. The Messenger (SA) said: “Allah will reward whoever provides food for a fasting person, even if it be some milk mixed with water, a date or a sip of water. Whoever provides a drink to a fasting person, Allah will provide him a drink from my Haud (Font), and whoever drinks from my Haud, will never feel thirst thereafter until he enters Paradise”. Ramadan is the month when anyone who observes ‘Umrah, his ‘Umrah is equal to the reward of Hajj. In this month, the gates of paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are shut. Devils are chained, so they are no longer be able to affect faithful people as they do in other times. So if you still sin in this month, know that it’s nothing but your nafs. It’s you whose mind is polluted so much that it cannot escape from sinning.
In addition to these, there are other reasons and benefits of fasting. For example, you appreciate things when you don't have it. We take blessings like food and water etc for granted. When you are fasting you realize what poor people feel like everyday. You learn to appreciate things that Allah has given you. You become grateful because you are having table full of food in iftar unlike our brothers in Syia and Palestine and Myanmar. There are also medical benefits for fasting. In 2016, Yoshinori Ohsumi of Japan won nobel prize in medicine proving autophagy which is initiated when a person fasts. In simple words, autophagy clears the junk out of a person’s cells as a survival mechanism. However, we Muslims do not follow religious acts because they offer medical or health benefits. The lives of the companions of the Holy Prophet are an excellent demonstration of the Quranic statement:sami'na wa atho'na "We hear and obey." Before the prohibition of alcohol, Muslims consumed alcohol like the rest of the Arabs. Those who have observed people addicted to alcohol know that it is a very strong addiction, and very hard to get rid of, particularly for those with a lifelong habit. In Medina, however, all the Muslims gave up drinking without any hesitation as soon as the commandment for prohibition was revealed, despite the fact that they were frequent users of alcohol like the other Arabs of the time. They demolished their wine kegs, and it is said that wine flowed like rain water through the streets of Medina. And that was not because of health benefits. There are other similar incidents which exemplify how the early Muslims complied with the Quranic injunction, "We hear and obey." I will describe only one more such incident. The Holy Prophet was giving a sermon in the mosque, and noticed that some people were standing in the back row. He, therefore, asked them to sit down. It so happened that a companion of the Holy Prophet was walking in the street outside the mosque at that very moment. No sooner that he heard the command of the Holy Prophet to sit down, he sat down immediately right where he was. Somebody pointed out to him that he was not the one being addressed by the Holy Prophet. To which he replied that he was well aware of that, but he did not want to delay in submitting to the command of the Holy Prophet, for who knows, he might die before entering the mosque, and be a sinner for not obeying the Prophet.
Instantaneous submission on hearing the command of Allah and His Prophet is sufficient testimony to the righteous state of a person's belief. Any procrastination in the matter of obeying Allah and His Prophet after accepting them as one's benefactors, totally negates belief. The individual who, "Hears and obeys," is also the one who achieves the purpose of his creation. The essence of fasting in Ramadan and its goal is summed in the Qur'an in one word: taqwa. The attitude of taqwa cannot and does not stay in the confines of the human spirit, but is ultimately revealed in expression and action.