By Humaira Sadaf Siddique
Islam proceeded step by step and by degrees in the formulation of its obligatory duties. The same was done in the case of the Fast. At first , the Holy Prophet (PBUH) advised the Muslims to observe fasts only for three days in a month but this was not obligatory. Then , in the second year of the Hijrah, the Command (Q. 2:183) about fasting in the month of Ramadan was revealed. This, however, left an option for those who were able to fast but those unable to were required to feed one poor man as compensation of one day’s fast (v. 184). Then, later, the final commandment contained in the next verse (185) modified this, and the concession for able-bodied people was withdrawn, but retained for a sick person or wayfarer and by analogy for a pregnant or a suckling woman and for those old people who were not able to fast.
Imam Bukhari, Imam Muslim, Abu Dawud and other scholars have quoted traditions from Hadrat `A’ishah, `Abdullah bin `Umar, and `Abdullah bin Mas’ud to the same effect. In support of the same, Ibn Jarir Tabari, a famous commentator of the Qur’an, has quoted traditions citing the authority in full from several Companions and their followers. In one of these Traditions, he quotes the following explanation of Hadrat Mu’az bin Jabal: “As the Arabs were not used to fasting, it was hard for them at first to observe fasts. They were, therefore, given the option to feed one poor person on the day they did not observe fast during the month of Ramadan. Afterwards, a commandment was revealed, cancelling the concession except in the case of a sick person or one on a journey”. He quotes another tradition from Ibn `Abbas to this effect. In the first Commandment (v.184), Allah had allowed expiation for fasts even for an able-bodied person who could fast but did not. In verse 185 , which was revealed next year, the concession for an able-bodied person was cancelled but was retained for a sick person or a wayfarer.
It has been left to the choice of the individual to observe or not to observe fasts during a journey. Some of the Companions of the Holy Prophet(PBUH) observed fasts and some did not when they were on a journey with him and neither raised any objection against the other. The Holy Prophet(PBUH) himself sometimes observed fasts on a journey and sometimes did not. Once he saw people gathered round a man who had fallen to the ground and asked what was the matter with him? He was told that he had become too weak to stand on account of observing fasts; he remarked that it was no virtue to observe fasts in such a condition.
During war time, the Prophet(PBUH) used to issue orders for postponing the fasts. Hadrat ‘Umar has related that they did not observe fasts twice during the month of Ramadan when they went to war under the command of the Holy Prophet(PBUH): on the occasion of the battle of Badr and at the conquest of Makkah. Ibn ‘Umar says that on the eve of the conquest of Makkah, the Holy Prophet declared, “As we are going to fight the enemy, so you should postpone your fasts that you may conserve your strength to fight.” Also there is no clear injunction from the Holy Prophet for the prescription of a minimum standard of distance for postponing the fasts. His Companions also differed in practice with regard to the standard. But it is obvious that the fast may be postponed for that distance which is commonly understood to be a journey and in which one begins to feel being on a journey.
Allah is so bountiful that He does not want to deprive His servants of the blessings of fasting. Therefore , He has not confined it to the month of Ramadan but has opened another way for its completion for those who fail to complete it during this month for genuine reasons. They should make up the deficiency by observing fast on other days in order to show their gratitude for the revelation of the Qur’an during the month of Ramadan. It is clear from this verse that fasting in Ramadan has been prescribed not only as a form of worship and a training for piety, but also to show gratitude for the great blessing of the Revelation of the Qur’an during the month of Ramadan. And the best way to show gratitude for a favour is to fulfill the object for which it was bestowed and to prepare oneself for its completion as best as one can. The object for which Allah has bestowed the Qur’an upon us is to reveal His Will so that we may fulfill it ourselves and persuade others to do the same. Fasting provides the best training for the fulfillment of this object and is both devotion and a sign of gratitude for the favour shown in the form of the Qur’an.
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