Ramadan: The Month of the Qur’an
Definition of Fasting:
In Arabic the word 'as-Sawm' (Sawm) meant 'al-Imsak', that is, to abstain totally from any act including eating, drinking, walking, speaking, etc. Thus, the Arabs used to refer to a horse refusing to run or to be fed, as 'Saum', that is, fasting. As is clear, the word 'Sawm' is ancient and was used in a different context by the Arabs before Islam. Then, however it did not have the specific meaning given to it by Islam as a term denoting a certain religious obligation. As an Islamic term, it means to refrain intentionally from what breaks fasting.
To a Muslim, Ramadan fasting is not just refraining from eating and drinking but carries the added significance of worship, psychological comfort, morality and legislation. It is neither the irrational motionless 'Imsak' of pre-Islamic Arabs nor the mere abstaining from eating and drinking, but is, in fact, the building of one's character, control over desires, and an inspiration towards social and scientific creativity.
The Benefits of Fasting
Fasting is an obligation in Islam not an option. It is one of the five pillars on which Islam is built. The benefits of fasting are manifold. Fasting has personal, social, hygienic and best of all spiritual benefits.
Hisham Ibn Hakam asked Imam As-Sadiq (a.s) about the reason(s) because of which fasting has been made obligatory. The Imam replied: “Verily, Allah made fasting obligatory in 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 willed to equalize between His servants and to give a taste of the pain of hunger to the rich so that he becomes more lenient to the weak people and be more merciful towards the hungry ones.”
Although fasting has some social benefits, this is not the main purpose of fasting. Thus, fasting is obligatory both on the poor and the rich. The main purpose of fasting is to gain ‘self-restraint’ as stated in the holy Qur’an:
“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]
Taraweeh Prayers in Ramadan:
The word taraweeh comes from Arabic word which means to rest and relax. The prayer can be very long (well over an hour), during which one stands upright to read from the Qur'an and performs many cycles of movement (standing, bowing, prostrating, sitting).
After each four cycles, one sits for a brief period of rest before continuing - this is where the name taraweeh ("rest prayer") comes from.
It is recommended that Muslims attend the taraweeh prayers in the mosque (after 'isha, the last evening prayer), to pray in congregation. This is true for both men and women. However, one may also perform the prayers individually at home. These prayers are voluntary but are strongly recommended and widely practiced.
There has been some dispute about how long the taraweeh prayer is supposed to be: 8 or 20 raka'at (cycles of prayer).
The virtue of the Last Ten Days of Ramadan and Laylat Al-Qadr:
The last ten days of Ramadan are blessed by Allah with unique virtues. Among such virtues is that Laylat Al-Qadr (the Night of Decree) is among them. About this Night, Allah, The Most Exalted, Says (what means): “Ha, Meem. By the clear Book. Indeed, We sent it down during a blessed night. Indeed, We were to warn [mankind]. On that night is made distinct every precise matter - [Every] matter [proceeding] from Us. Indeed, We were to send [a messenger]. As mercy from your Lord. Indeed, He is the Hearing, the Knowing.”[Quran 44:1-6]
The meaning of “Qadr” is veneration or honor, i.e. it is a night that is venerated because of its special characteristics, and because the one who stays up during this night becomes a person of honor. And it was said that Qadr means constriction, in the sense that the knowledge of
precisely when this night is, is hidden. Al-Khaleel ibn Ahmad said: “It was called Laylat Al-Qadr because the earth is constricted by the great numbers of angels on that night, and Qadr means constriction.”
It was also said that Qadr means Qadar (decree), i.e., that on this night the decrees for the coming year are ordained, as Allah Says (what means): “On that night is made distinct every precise matter.” [Quran 44:4] and because the decrees of Allah are decided and written down on this night.
Zakat al Fitr
Before the Eid prayer after the fast of Ramadan, every adult Muslim who possesses food in excess of his needs and those of his family must pay Zakat al Fitr. If the person is a breadwinner, he should also pay Zakat al Fitr for his dependents, such as his wife, children, relatives or servants.
Zakat al Fitr can be paid a few days before the end of Ramadan. It is preferable to pay it just before Eid prayer (first thing in the morning) so that the poor can enjoy the Eid.
The minimum amount due is the equivalent of about 2 kg of flour, wheat, barley or rice from each person in the household, including the head of the household and each dependent, even if the dependent does not live in the same house.
Abdullah Ibn ‘Umar said that the Holy Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) ordered the people to pay Zakat al Fitr before going to the Eid prayer. (al-Bukhari)
Fasting the sixth days of Shawwal:
Fasting six days of Shawwal after the obligatory fast of Ramadhan is Sunnah Mustahabbah, not wajib. It is recommended for the Muslim to fast six days of Shawwal, and in this there is great virtue and an immense reward. Whoever fasts these six days will have recorded for him a reward as if he had fasted a whole year, as was reported in a sahih hadith from the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him). Abu Ayyub (may Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
"Whoever fasts Ramadhan and follows it with six days of Shawwal, it will be as if he fasted for a lifetime. "Narrated by Muslim, Abu Dawud, At-Tirmidhi, An-Nisa'i and Ibn Maja.