Ramadan of the poor people (1938) by Azim Azimzade

Ramadan May Have Looked Like This During the Time of the Prophet (PBUH)

Ramadan – where believers are gathering together as one community for the congregation. Food and beverages of all kinds are prepared by members of the household. People are staying up into the late hours of the night to eat their only meal before sunrise. They are dedicating time to purifying their soul through lectures, recitations of the Holy Qur’an, and implementing good deeds. And most share special memories by opening the fast with friends and family — this is a glimpse into what Ramadan looks like for most of the Muslim Ummah.

The Significance of Ramadan

Ramadan is the ninth month in the Islamic lunar calendar and is widely recognized as the time when Muslims observe fasting, the abstinence of any food or beverage, particularly for religious observance. According to Al-Raghib al-Isfahani, an eleventh-century Muslim scholar, the root word of Ramadan is al-Ramd, “which means ‘burning heat of the sun.’” Allamah Mohammed Baqer Majlesi, an Iranian Shia scholar, explained that this month is also recognized to be the time when sins are “burned” away. 

There are also many events that have occurred during the month of Ramadan that grant it more merits: 

  • The death of Lady Khadijah (as), wife of Prophet Muhammed (PBUH), on 10 Ramadan, 619 AD
  • The martyrdom of Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as), the beloved cousin/son-in-law of the Holy Prophet (PBUH) and first Imam (leader) of Islam, on 21 Ramadan, 661 AD
  • The Revelation of the Holy Qur’an on the 23 of Ramadan (although some scholars debate on the revelation of the Holy Qur’an happening all at once or over approximately 23 years). In other Abrahamic faiths, this time is also unique due to the, “Scriptures of Ibrahim (Abraham), the Torah of Musa (Moses), and the Psalms of Dawood (David), were all revealed in the month of Ramadan.” Scholars say that according to many hadith, the Torah was revealed to Prophet Musa on the 6 of Ramadan; Psalms were revealed to Prophet Dawood on the 18th of Ramadan; the Holy Qur’an was then revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH.)

Imam Ali ar-Ridha (as) has stated, “verily, the month of [Ramadan] is a month in which the Holy Qur’an was revealed. It was in this month that the Prophet (PBUH) of Islam was informed of being a prophet. The Night of al-Qadr which is better than one thousand months, and therein every matter of ordainments is decreed in this month.”

Shaykh al-Saduq, an eminent Shia Islamic Scholar from Iran, narrates in his book Man La Yanduruh al-Faqi, a tradition where Hisham ibn Hakam, a companion of Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (as), asked the Imam (as) why fasting is a must for all the followers of Islam. Imam (as) replied, “verily, Allah made fasting obligatoryin order to equalize between the poor and the rich. Surely, the rich people would not otherwise feel the pain of hunger to be kind to the poor. For the rich will reach anything they wish. Thus, the Almighty Allah (SWT) willed to equalize between His servants and to give a taste of the pain of hunger to the rich so that he comes more lenient to the weak people and be more merciful towards the hungry ones.” 

Like prayer, charity, pilgrimage, and wealth taxes, fasting is a branch of Islam that is obligatory upon all the believers in Islam. In the second chapter of the Holy Qur’an, Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow), verse 45, God states, “and seek help in patience and the prayers (2:45).” According to Sheikh Mansour Leghaei, founder and director of the Imam Hussain Islamic Centre and the School of Islamic Theology in Earlwood, Australia, he says the term “patience” in this verse refers to fasting as this action “requires patience.” Within the same chapter, God also states, “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may observe self-restraint (al-Taqwa) (2:183).” 

Further, in Chapter 39 of the Holy Qur’an, verse 10, God states, “only those who are patient shall receive their reward in full without reckoning (39:10).” Leghaei points out that the term “reward” in this verse is God because there is a tradition from the Holy Prophet (PBUH) where he says, “for every good deed there are ten to seven hundred times rewards, save fasting. For fasting is for Me and I am the reward of it.” This tradition is quoted in al-Mahajjatul-Baydha, vol. 10, p. 45, hadith 12789. 

The Importance of Fasting During Ramadan

  • It is the longest form of worship compared to prayers and pilgrimage. Fasting, depending on where you live, can be anywhere between 12-16 hours, and it is something that lasts for 30 days. That’s equivalent to approximately 400 active hours of worship toward God.
  • It is a form of worship that does not disrupt the lives of believers.
  • It is considered to be one of the most sincere forms of worship as fasting is not something that can be physically seen rather, it is an intimate time where your heart and soul connect with your Creator. 
  • There is a heavy penalty for those who deliberately avoid fasting. In Wasa’il ash Shi’ah, vol. 10, p. 242, Abdullah ibn Sanan narrates from Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (as) where he says, “he must free a slave or fast two months or feed sixty poor people, but if he [is] unable to do so, he must give charity as much as he can.” The penalty can, therefore, intensify if someone has decided to invalidate their fast by engaging in haram (forbidden acts). 

The Rewards of Fasting AS Told By The Prophet (PBUH)

In Wasa’il ash-Shi’ah, vol. 10, p. 241, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) is reported to have narrated that, “no believer fasts [in] in the month of Ramadan for the sake of Allah (SWT) but the Almighty Allah (SWT) will definitely grant him seven rewards: 1) it will melt the haraam from his body, 2) it will bring him close to the mercy of Allah (SWT,) 3) it will rectify the mistake of his father, Adam, 4) Allah will ease for him the stupor of death, 5) He will secure him from the thirst and the hunger of the Day of Judgment, 6) Allah (SWT) will grant him liberation from Hellfire, and 7) Allah will feed him from the pure things of Paradise.” 

While Ramadan is a time that brings believers into an atmosphere of purity and determination to establish/strengthen their relationship with God and remain firm on the path of righteousness, this holy month is welcomed with different traditions all around the world. In Basra, Iraq, Iraqi men will wear traditional white garments, sing folk tunes together, and play traditional drums. Their clothes consist of a dishdasha (robe), qitra (headscarf), and i’gal (band). In Baghdad, Iraq, a game of hiding a ring is played to welcome the month of Ramadan. The game is called Mheibes and is a decades-old tradition. In Manama, Bahrain, police officers will fire cannons at the time of breaking the fast. In Jakarta, Indonesia, a parade of small children walk through the streets holding torches and singing traditional songs. 

In Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, open buffets are organized in street markets with as many as 30 different dishes prepared for those who are fasting. In Benghazi, Libya, food markets are filled with activity whilst locals enjoy annual soccer matches. Everywhere there’s a festive atmosphere of lights, decorations, games, and gatherings; however, a question then arises: What did Ramadan look like during the time of the Prophet’s (PBUH) leadership? Did the early Meccans also fast? What did the Prophet (PBUH) himself do to prepare for this blessed month of God?

While there aren’t many traditions that discuss what the atmosphere of Ramadan would be like during the Prophet’s (PBUH) time, Maulana Sayed Baqer Qazwini, a leading Shia scholar, says traditions suggest, “that fasting was observed by Muslims in Mecca as well.” Scholars from the school of Sunni ahadith (multiple traditions) say that it was mandated in Medina. Qazwini explains that perhaps fasting was an act of worship that was not made mandatory in the early stages. 

Why Did The Prophet (PBUH) Encourage Fasting?

The Prophet (PBUH) himself and the Muslims would observe fasting on three specific days for each lunar month. The Muslims would fast for a period called The White Nights, the dates of the 13th, 14th, and 15th because that is reported to be the time of the full moon. It was when the Prophet (PBUH) arrived in Medina that the verse from Surah Al-Baqarah was revealed to him. 

Next, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) delivered a famous sermon on the last Friday of Sha’ban as he prepared for the arrival of the month of Ramadan. In this sermon, he talks about the glory and majesty of this month where, “its days the best of days, its nights the best of nights, and its hours the best of hours.” He encourages the believers to beseech God and ask Him to grant themselves the ability to observe fasts, recite and understand the Holy Book of Islam, “for only he is unhappy who is devoid of Allah’s (SWT) forgiveness during this great month.”

The Holy Prophet (PBUH) reminds the believers to remember the hunger and thirst they will feel on Judgment Day while they are hungry and thirsty during their fasts. They should give charity, take care of the elderly, show compassion towards the children, maintain strong and healthy relations with their families, be mindful of what they say, close their eyes to sin and their ears, and show love, empathy, and kindness towards the orphans.

Finally, the last act of worship that the Holy Prophet (PBUH) would participate in occurred during the final few nights of Ramadan and this period is known as i’tikaf, or, the spiritual retreat. In Kanzul Ummal, hadith 24007, the Prophet (PBUH) states, “the person who secludes himself (in the masjid in i’tikaf) in true faith and hope (for the reward of Allah), all of his previous sins shall be forgiven.”

Within Islam, i’tikaf is a time when a believer seeks shelter within a mosque for a few days where they abstain from engaging in all sinful actions and immerse themselves in deep reflection on how to strengthen their spiritual connection with their Creator. Some scholars say that i’tikaf is not just limited to Muslims, and non-Muslims can also engage in this action; however, Divine Rewards are felt more when a believer participates. 

Although fasting looks significantly different than during the time of the Prophet (PBUH,) the blessed month of Ramadan and the pure actions of fasting have certainly allowed believers to become the best version of themselves. It is a month dedicated to allowing believers to reconnect with Allah (SWT) despite their busy schedules in a bustling world. The month teaches lessons about community-building, brother/sisterhood, and friendship. We pray that during this month, we become the best version of ourselves in a way that Allah (SWT) is pleased, and may this certainly not be the last Ramadan of our lives.