The Quran about fasting
In the name of God, the Gracious, the Merciful
In the religious life of different denominations, fasting is considered as one of the main pillars of faith. Islam does not pretend to be an exception in this matter, and fasting is described in the Quran in the following way:
O you who have believed! Decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become circumspect – [fasting for] a counted number of days… (2:183-184)
The tradition of historical Islam considers fasting during the full moon month of Ramadan. However, if we carefully analyze this passage, we note that it clearly points to a certain count of days with reference to the past experience.
In Judaism, the most famous fasting is done on Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). This fast is prescribed by God (Vayikra 16:29) and continues from the sunset up to the time of appearance of stars on the evening of the next day, so the duration of the fast is just over a day.
In Christianity, the most famous is the “Great Lent”, lasting forty days, in memory of the 40-day fast of Jesus in the desert. Christian “Lent” is not a direct prescription of God, it is a tribute to the event, therefore this Christian fast cannot be that reference, which Quran refers to. Ritualism in Christianity is inseparable from the prescriptions of the Torah, so we will turn again to the fast on Yom Kippur.
So what is the counted number of days according to the Quran? In the Quran, the Arabic word “ma,dudati” is used, which means “counted, small, rare”. Let’s consider examples of the counting of days on the examples of the past:
They say, “Never will the fire touch us, except for counted days.”
Reply, “Have you taken an obligation from God, and He will never break His obligation? Or do you say about God that which you do not know?” (2:80)
That is because they say, “Never will the fire touch us except for numbered days!” and they were deluded in their duty by what they were inventing. (3:24)
Here is an example of what the Jews hope for. For them, the counted days are a short period, a few days, which is by no means equivalent to a month.
For completeness of understanding, we need to look at the Quranic reasons of fasting.
- Redemption for violating an oath:
God will not impose blame upon you for repeal of your oaths, but He will impose blame upon you for complication of oaths. So its expiation is the feeding of ten needy people from the average of that which you feed your families or clothing them or the freeing of a deprived. But whoever cannot afford it- then let him fast three days. That is the expiation for oaths! Guard your oaths! Thus does God make clear to you His signs that you may be grateful! (5:89)
This situation supposes a specific number of days of fasting – 3 days.
- Redemption for violation of the ban on hunting during pilgrimage:
O you who have believed! Do not kill the hunting prey while you are banned. And whoever of you kills it intentionally – the penalty is an equivalent from sacrificial animals to what he killed, as judged by two just men among you as an offering delivered to the cubic structure (Ka’bah), or an expiation: the feeding of needy people or the equivalent of that in fasting, that he may taste the consequence of his deed. God has pardoned what is past; but whoever returns, then God will take retribution from him. And God is Exalted in Might and Owner of Retribution! (5:95)
Violation of the ban on hunting is considered by two just men, who determine the number of fasting days for redemption.
Before us are examples of the days counted by God and by people.
Now let’s consider the long periods of the fast:
- Redemption for an illegitimate determination of the status of woman:
Those who pronounce their women as their mothers, but their mothers are none but those who gave birth to them. And indeed, they are saying an objectionable statement and a falsehood. But indeed, God is Pardoning and Forgiving! And those who pronounce their women as their mothers and then go back on what they said – then [there must be] the freeing of an overseen man before they touch one another. That is what you are admonished thereby! And God is Acquainted with what you do. And he who does not find an overseen man – then a fast for two months consecutively before they touch one another; and he who is unable – then the feeding of sixty poor persons. That is for you to believe God and His messenger; and those are the limits [set by] God. And for the closed people is a painful punishment! (58:2-4)
- Redemption for an unintentional murder:
And never is it for a believer to kill a believer except by mistake. And whoever kills a believer by mistake – then the freeing of a deprived believer and a ransom to his owner, unless he counts it as charity. But if the deceased was from a people at war with you and he was a believer – then the freeing of a deprived believer. If he was from a people with whom you have a covenant – then the freeing of a deprived believer and a ransom to his owner. And whoever does not find a ransom – must fast for two months consecutively, as repentance before God. And God is ever Knowing and Wise! (4:92)
Obviously, the last two conditions are tied to the monthly period and are specifically indicated for this period. The number of days in a month is counted by people:
[He is] the cleaver of daybreak and has made the night for rest and the sun and moon for calculation. That is the determination of the Exalted in Might, the Knowing! (6:96)
Conditionally the reasons for the fast can be divided into two:
- Redemption for an unauthorized act;
- The prescription of God.
The confirmation of the fact that the prescribed fasting is observed counted number of days is the following:
…So whoever among you is ill or on a journey – then an equal counted number of days. And upon those who are able to fast – a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person. And whoever volunteers excess – it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew! (2:184)
This provision clearly indicates that an illness or travel during fasting gives the right to fast on the other counted number of days. Historical Islam treats this provision as a replenishment of missed days in the month of Ramadan because of illness or travel. However, this provision does not say anything about this, it does not say about replenishment, especially since illness or travel can last more than a month. In this case, we see a clear indication of moving of the fast to other counted number of days.
The final proof of the fact that in the month of Ramadan there are number of days counted for fasting is the following excerpt from the Quran:
The blazing (Ramadan) month in which was revealed the Literature (Quran), a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever witness the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey – then an equal number of the counted days… (2:185)
We see an indication to fast in the month of Ramadan and the order to relocate the fast in the case of illness or travel to the OTHER NUMBER OF COUNTED DAYS.
To correspond with the Quranic prescription of the main fasting, the days must be counted by God, and not by men.
During the forbidden months, God instructs to make a pilgrimage to the forbidden place for worship:
And complete the pilgrimage and visit to God! But if you are prevented, then [offer] what can be obtained with ease of sacrificial animals. And do not shave your heads until the sacrificial animal has reached its place of slaughter. And whoever among you is ill or has an ailment of the head a ransom of fasting or charity or sacrifice. And when you are secure, then whoever performs visit for pilgrimage [offers] what can be obtained with ease of sacrificial animals. And whoever cannot find – then a fast of three days during pilgrimage and of seven when you have returned home. Those are ten complete days. This is for those whose family is not in the area of the forbidden for battle place for earthly worship. And beware of God and know that God is severe in penalty! (2:196)
If you do not rely on tradition, then the number of fasting days counted by God Himself in the forbidden month will be ten. Moreover, these ten days are not necessary to keep in a row, because in the passage they are divided into three days during the pilgrimage and seven days after returning home. The point is, in principle, fasting for ten days during the month. Of all the examples of fasting, only these ten days refer to the prescribed fast in the months forbidden for battles, which includes the month of Ramadan.
Foreseeing accusations of an intentionally seeking for relief, I quote God’s argument for fasting:
God intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship, that you complete the counted period and glorify God for that He has guided you! And perhaps you will be grateful! (2:185)
According to the tradition, the meal should be finished before the so-called “false dawn”. That is, about one and a half to two hours before sunrise. However, if we carefully analyze the following excerpt, we will understand that this traditional definition is erroneous:
…And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn becomes distinct to you from the black thread [of night]. Then complete the fast until the night… (2:187)
In the Arabic original text of the Quran it is said about the white (ab’yad) and black (asuad) threads (haytu). According to the legend, the believing Arabs of that time looked at the white and black threads until their distinction. Let us leave the meaning of this provision to the adepts of the tradition and turn to reason. If we carefully consider this passage, we note that the sentence ends with a definition – at dawn (fil fadjr). The very word “fadjr” means “to split, unearth, exhale”. Thus, the Arabs defined the appearance of light after the darkness of the night. Conditionally, the light symbolically splits the darkness, the boundaries between darkness and impending light become clearly visible. Therefore, proceeding from the realities, we must understand the essence of distinguishing the white thread of the dawn from the black thread of darkness. Until then, you can eat. For convenience, you can stop eating food and water half an hour before sunrise. As we see, the difference with the traditional understanding of the time of food consumption stop is quite significant. Once again, we can see that the prescriptions of God are not so categorical and strict as religious “priests” impose on us.