Fasting & Eid al-Fitr

Fasting.and.Eid al FitrFasting is not unique to Muslims. It has been practiced for centuries in connection with religious ceremonies by Christians, Jews, Confucians, Hindus, Taoists, Jains, and others as Allah says:
"O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become righteous." (Quran 2:183)
But like other rituals fasting was also altered and corrupted.

Fasting In Primitive Societies:
Fasting was made part of the fertility rites in primitive ceremonies which were held at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes and survived for centuries. Some primitive 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.

Fasting In Judaism and Christianity:

Jews observe fasting as a form of penitence and purification annually on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur, which corresponds to the tenth of Muharram ('Ashura) of the Islamic calendar. 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 other 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 like the Puritans, 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 West, fasting is observed mostly by Episcopalians and Lutherans among Protestants, by Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and by Roman Catholics.

Secular Fasting: The Hunger Strike:

From being an empty ritual, fasting went to another extreme 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 Indian struggle for freedom, who undertook fasts to compel his followers to obey his precept of nonviolence.

Fasting In Islam:

Islam has prescribed and retained the ritual of fasting throughout centuries as a means for purifying the soul of a man in order to draw near to his Creator by selfish motives and base desires of self. It has a special status among all the devotional worships because it is difficult to perform. It puts a bridle on the most uncontrolled, savage human emotions. 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. Fasting helps do that.

The Islamic calendar consists of twelve lunar months. Muslims measure their year by the cycles of the moon rather than the sun, so the Muslim lunar year is eleven days shorter than the Christian solar year. Muslims are forbidden to adjust their year by adding an extra month, as the Jews do to keep their lunar calendar in synch with the seasons. Hence, the months of the Muslim year do not relate to the seasons. Each month lasts 29 or 30 days and occurs during different seasons of the year. A new month begins when the evening new moon is sighted. The ninth month is called Ramadan and is dedicated to fasting. It is pronounced Ramazan by Indo-Pakistanis.

Virtues of the Month of Ramadan:

To motivate us and to prepare ourselves for the month of Ramadan, let us learn the great virtues of Ramadan as described in the Quran and by Prophet Muhammad.

(1) Fasting in Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam like salah. It is the only Islamic month mentioned by name in the Quran.

(2) The Glorious Quran was revealed in Ramadan.

(3) A single night falls in the last ten days of Ramadan so virtuous that worship done on it is superior to a thousand months. An entire chapter of the Qur'an is named after the special night called Layla tul-Qadr.

(4) Fasting in Ramadan is considered equivalent to fasting ten months.[Saheeh Muslim]

(5) All previous sins are forgiven to whoever fasts Ramadan out of faith and with the hope of reward.[Saheeh Al-Bukhari]

(6) When Ramadan begins, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, an indication of intensified divine grace. The devil chiefs are chained, so evil is reduced in the month.[Saheeh Al-Bukhari]

Virtues of Fasting:

(1) Allah has chosen fasting for Himself and He will reward it in multiples beyond measure.[Saheeh Al-Bukhari]

(2) Fasting has no equivalent.[Nisai]

(3) The supplications of the fasting person will not be refused.[Bayhaqi]

(4) The fasting person has two moments of joy: one when he breaks his fast and the other when he meets his Lord and rejoices over his fasting.[Saheeh Muslim]

(5) The smell that might come from the mouth of a fasting person due to an empty stomach is more pleasing to Allah than the scent of musk.[Saheeh Muslim]

(6) Fasting is a protection and a strong fortress that keeps a person safe from the Fire.[Ahmad]

(7) Allah will distance a person who fasts a single day for the sake of Allah seventy years distance from the Fire.[Saheeh Muslim]

(8) Whoever fasts one day seeking divine pleasure will enter Paradise if it is the last day of his life.[Ahmad]

(9) One of the Gates of Paradise, al-Rayyan, is dedicated for the fasting people, and no one else will enter through it; it will be locked after them.[Saheeh Al-Bukhari]

Types of Fasting:

First thing to know is that fasting is of two types: obligatory and voluntary. Obligatory fasts are required worship - as a Muslims we do not have the option to leave them without incurring sin. Voluntary fasts are optional - we may keep them or not. If we don't, we won't incur any sin, but we will get extra reward for keeping them.

Fasting In Ramadan:

Fasting in Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam as the Prophet said:

"Islam is built on five pillars: testifying that there is no true god except Allah and that Muhammad is His Messenger, the establishment of the prayer, the giving of zakah, the fast of Ramadan, and the pilgrimage to Mecca." (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

Fasting in Ramadan is an obligation on every Muslim who has reached the age of puberty. Allah said in the Quran:

"So whoever witnesses the month should fast it." (Quran 2:185)

Whoever does not fast during Ramadan without a legitimate excuse commits what is considered a major sin.

Who is Exempt from Fasting?

(1) A Muslim child who has not yet reached puberty is exempt from fasting till one of the following signs of puberty appear:

(a) discharge of semen, whether by experiencing a wet dream or otherwise

(b) growth of pubic hair

(c) menstruation

(d) a person has turned 15

(2) If you are traveling in Ramadan, you have the option not to fast. If you choose not to, you must make up for the days missed at a later time before the following Ramadan.

(3) A woman is not allowed to fast during menstruation or post-natal bleeding, and she must perform the number of fasts she missed on other days before the following Ramadan.

(4) A pregnant or breast-feeding woman may be exempted from fasting if it proves harmful to her or the infant. This case is discussed in more detail below.

(5) The mentally insane are also exempt from fasting.

(6) The Merciful Lord does not burden a soul beyond its ability. If you are sick, you are also exempt from fasting.

There are two issues to know here:

First, how sick is sick? Cough or minor headache is not serious enough not to fast, but if there is medical reason, and you know from experience, or are certain that fasting will make your illness worse or delay recovery, you do not need to fast.

Second, you should make up the days when you get better.

The chronically ill who do not foresee any chance of recovery must feed a poor person for every day of Ramadan they miss. They do not need to fast for them on other days.

(8) Those too old to fast are also exempt from fasting, and they too must feed a poor person for every day of Ramadan they miss.

How Do I Fast in Ramadan?

First, check with your local mosque for the beginning of Ramadan by calling or visiting them. Usually, mosques print a special schedule for Ramadan that will tell you the times for starting and ending the fast (the time of Fajr and Maghrib, respectively) and maybe even the time for the Taraweeh prayer.

Second, intend in your heart the night before that you will fast the next day based on what the Prophet, may Allah praise him, said:

"There is no fast for the person who did not intend to fast from the night before." (An-Nasa'i)

The idea is to remind yourself that one is fasting for the pleasure of our Creator.

Second, wake up well before time for Fajr begins and have your pre-dawn meal called suhoor. You may hear Indians and Pakistanis refer to suhoor as seh-ri.Some calendars may mention a time when you should stop eating before Fajr. There is really no basis for this and should be ignored, as clear texts show that it is allowed to eat and drink up and until the time of Fajr. One may, on the safe side, stop eating and drinking a few minutes before the time for Fajr starts, as most people use a time schedule and there is no guarantee that their watches are 100% correct. Allow yourself enough time beforehand to eat and drink, because if you wake up late after time for Fajr has started, you can not have your pre-dawn meal and have to fast rest of the day on an empty stomach! If you happen to sleep through the Fajr prayer time frame and wake up after sunrise, you must fast for the remainder of the day, and the fast is still valid.

Third, you must abstain completely from things that break and invalidate the fast that are discussed below. It is basically no eating, drinking, or having marital relations.

Fourth, the time for Maghrib or evening salah begins when the sun sets. That's also when you 'break' your fast and can resume eating and drinking. This meal is called 'iftar', or breakfast. The Prophet, may Allah praise him, would first break his fast, even if only with a sip of water, and then pray the dusk or Maghrib salah. You are totally free to have your dinner at this time or later, however, you should not miss the Maghrib prayer because you are busy eating!

What Can I Not Do While Fasting?

You essentially fast from dawn (time for Fajr) till sunset (time for Maghrib). From dawn to dusk you must stay away from:

· Eating or drinking, including taking pills or oral medicines. If you ate or drank by mistake, that is, you forgot you were fasting, then do not worry. Continue to refrain for the rest of the day. It is forgiven, the fasting is valid, and the day will count. The Prophet of Mercy, may Allah praise him, said:

"If he forgets, and eats and drinks, then let him complete his fast, for Allah has fed him and given him to drink." (Saheeh Al-Bukhari)

· Sexual intercourse, whether one ejaculates or not, invalidates the fast. Beware of this most serious violation of the fast that incurs sin and a heavy penalty to make up. For this reason, even kissing is forbidden if there is a risk that it will lead to intercourse. Again, this is just during the day when you are fasting. There are no restrictions at night. By extension, masturbation also invalidates fasting.

· Self-induced vomiting ruins the fast as the Prophet, may Allah praise him, said:

"Whoever vomits unintentionally does not have to make up the fast later, but whoever vomits on purpose does have to make up the fast." (Al-Tirmidhi)

· Smoking, prohibited at all times, also invalidates the fast.

Special Regulations for Women:

(1) Menstruation & Post-Natal bleeding

If the period begins before sunset, the woman's fast is invalidated and she has to make up that day. During the rest of her period she cannot fast. If she becomes pure before Fajr then she should fast, even if she does not bathe until after the time of Fajr starts. All the missed days have to be made up after Ramadan.

(2) Pregnancy and Nursing

Both nursing and pregnant women are required to fast in Ramadan. You should not fast if you fear harm for yourself or your child, or if it is too physically difficult. . On the other hand, if fasting does not result in hardship or harm, then a pregnant or nursing mother must fast.
Your local mosque will announce the end of Ramadan and the celebration of Eid. The first day of the month following Ramadan is Eid al-Fitr, the celebration of fast-breaking. Very likely, in the last few days of Ramadan, your mosque will also start collecting obligatory post-Ramadan food (or money) due for the poor Muslims called Zakat al-Fitr (Fast-breaking obligatory charity).

Zakat ul-Fitr:

One of the companions of the Prophet said,
"Messenger of Allah made Zakat al-Fitr obligatory to purify the fasting person from indecent words or actions, and to provide food for the needy. It is accepted as Zakat for the person who gives it before the Eid prayer, but it is mere charity (like any other) for the one who gives it after the prayer."[Abu Dawoud]

We learn three matters regarding Zakat ul-Fitr:

(a) It purifies the person who fasted Ramadan and cleanses him of indecent talk and minor sins performed during Ramadan.

(b) This Eid is a day of eating and drinking, as the month prior to it was one of fasting. Zakat ul-Fitr ensures that even the poorest of Muslims will partake in this outward show of festivity..

(c) Paying Zakat ul-Fitr is required of every Muslim capable of giving for himself and on behalf of every family member under his care.

The Quantity of Food:

The quantity of food to be given out per person is roughly equal to four handfuls of the two hands held together. Its weight will be different for different foodstuffs. It is allowed to give money to a charity organization or mosque so that they buy the foodstuff and distribute it to the poor on your behalf, and that is why many mosques will offer to collect its monetary equivalent from you instead. You also have the option of giving the food stuff to the mosque or charity organization, paying them to take care of distributing Zakat al-Fitr on your behalf, or you can give it out on your own.

The Type of Food:
The staple food of the people in your area may be given. Dates, barley, wheat, olives, raisins, wheat, and dried yogurt used to be commonly eaten food in the time of the Prophet. Today, pasta, rice, beans, potatoes, cheese, and similar foods are more common.

The Best Time to Give It:
The best time for it to be given out starts from the eve of Eid until right before going to the prayer.

Permissible Time to Give It:
You may offer it one or two days before Eid.

Delaying it after Eid Prayer:
It is a sin to delay it after Eid prayer.

Who to Give It To?
It is given to a fellow Muslim with limited financial means, but not necessarily in complete poverty.

Eid ul-Fitr:
"Eid" means a day of social gathering. In Islam there are only three festivals:

(a) The yearly Eid ul-Fitr

(b) The yearly Eid ul-Adha

(c) The weekly Friday.

Eid ul-Fitr is a major festivity for the Muslims, a time for gratitude to Allah, family bonding, fun, and merriment. On this day people greet one another and visit relatives and friends. Elaborate dishes are prepared, new clothes are worn, presents are exchanged, and children have fun.

The following are some recommended acts to be performed on Eid:

a) Ghusl or bathing early in the day before the Eid prayer.

b) Beautifying oneself: The Prophet used to wear his best clothes to go to the Eid prayer. He had a cloak that he wore specifically on the two Eids and Friday.

c) Eating something in the morning: Allah's Messenger would not leave his house on the day of Fitr until he had eaten some dates.[Saheeh Al-Bukhari]

d) Saying Takbeer is a distinctive feature of Eid and is mentioned in the Quran:

"...And that you should exclaim Allah's greatness for having guided you, so that you may be grateful." (Quran 2:185)

The time for Eid takbeer's starts from the time a person leaves his house heading towards the prayer-hall. The Prophet, may Allah praise him, would leave his house on the day of Eid saying takbeer until he had performed the prayer. He would stop saying the takbeer after the prayer.

What to Say?

There are various authentic narrations about what should be said in the takbeer. For brevity, we will mention the one which is most common.

Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akar, La ilaha ill-Allah, w'Allahu Akbar, Allahu Akbar, wa lillahil-Hamd.[Allah is the Greatest. Allah is the Greatest. None deserves to be worshipped but Allah. Allah is the Greatest. Allah is the Greatest and all thanks and praise is for Him!]

The Eid Prayer:

Islam teaches us how to celebrate these occasions of joy. Their spirit is to remember God's gifts in our everyday life; that is why the major part of the celebration is a public prayer. The Eid prayer is composed of two rak'at, with some additions. The prayer leader will describe the method of Eid prayer. After the prayer he will deliver the Eid sermon, typically lasting for half an hour.

Afterwards, people will greet each other saying 'Taqabbal-Allahu Mini wa Minkum,'[May Allah accept our worship] 'Kulla aam wa antum bi-khayr,'[May each year see you prosperous] 'Eid mubarak,'[Have a blessed Eid] or simply 'Happy Eid.'

I will encourage you to take some time off from school or work to celebrate Eid with fellow Muslims. As you grow spiritually in years to come, developing friendships, and hopefully, raising a happy Muslim family, Eid will surely become a meaningful family festival, in which all come together and praise God for the gift of Guidance.