The Lahore Ahmadiyya Islamic Movement
Showing Islam is Peaceful • Tolerant • Rational • Inspiring
www.ahmadiyya.orgA Research and Educational Website
1. Islam


Lessons in the Quran

Lesson 33

2. Ahmadiyya Movement
3. Publications & Resources

Contact us
Search the website

Previous Lesson | Next Lesson

Lesson - 33


"O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil. For a certain number of days. But whoever among you is sick or on a journey, (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days. And those who find it extremely hard may effect redemption by feeding a poor man. So whoever does good spontaneously, it is better for him; and that you fast is better for you if you know." Ch. 2:183,184

Unbridled passions the cause of spiritual decline of a nation

The subject matter of the preceding several lessons dealt with some of the basic principles of Islamic culture and civilization. Historically there have been many examples of human civilizations before, and since the advent of Islam. They have all had one common feature. In their earlier stages of development they all had some good and admirable characteristics, particularly when they were still influenced by the spiritual, and the moral values of their respective faiths. Eventually, however, the inner animal passions of the members of these faiths became predominant over their moral and spiritual values. This unbridled freedom of emotions, and desires led to their eventual decline. To observe this we do not have to go very far into our past. In our own times we have witnessed the historically unparalleled worldly progress, and dominance of the western nations. The West has been very proud of its culture and civilization, and remains so, to this day. The whole world has practically adopted their values. Careful observers can, however, perceive even now the ultimate fate of this civilization. During the advent of the modern civilization, when the moral values of Christianity were influential in their society, it had some admirable qualities. The Christian religion has tried to treat human internal spiritual, and moral ailments by encouraging its followers to become monks or nuns. As a result of this it has been unable to keep its followers on the right path, and today the western civilization manifests the consequences of unbridled human emotions and desires. Humanity has fallen below the level of animals because even animals do not indulge in acts contrary to their natural instincts. In the western society today, unnatural acts are not only committed without any inhibitions, but also have the sanction of the law.

Islamic teachings suited to human nature

Islam does not give the impracticable advise of giving up one's biological emotions and desires. Instead it teaches their proper control and usage, so that it can lead towards achieving the goal of human spiritual development. Man's body resembles that of other animals. That is why medical experiments with drugs are first carried out in animals before being tested on humans. The basic emotions and desires that are generated in human beings are, therefore similar to those of other animals. These emotions and desires are also the basic motive forces of man's struggle in life, without which he cannot advance. Let us take the example of a car engine in which motion is generated through the production of heat. This, when properly controlled, and utilized by the driver has numerous benefits, and can transport man with all his necessities from one place to another. Improperly controlled, this energy can lead to destruction, and irreparable damage. All motive forces act in a similar manner, irrespective of the fact that they are human emotions, or desires, or the physical forces that move a railway engine, an airplane, or a rocket which has propelled man into space.

Fasting the means to regulate human passions

Islam has clearly identified the high moral, and spiritual values it seeks to inculcate in society. In addition, it has prescribed fasting to regulate human emotions, and desires which provide the motive force to achieve these lofty goals. If we observe animal behavior we find that there are three basic desires in every animal including man i.e., eating, drinking, and the sexual urge. A person who follows only these basic instinctive drives, as is quite common in the modern western society, wastes his lifetime. The desires in themselves are not bad, and in fact all human activities of daily living are dependent upon them. The desire to eat motivates many of man's worldly activities, and human progress, and endeavor have evolved from his struggle to gather food for himself, and his family. Similarly, the desire for sex leads to procreation of the human race, and various aspects of his social existence.

Divine Wisdom behind Fasting

Just as an animal does not appreciate being restrained, the inner animal within man also does not like interference, or constraint. It disobeys, and rebels against such measures. Any animal trainer will confirm that in order to discipline a circus animal, it has to be subjected to deprivation of food and sex. Likewise by fasting, and abstaining from food, and sex from dusk till dawn for thirty days, a person can discipline and control the animal within him. Only then can he successfully mount it and journey on to higher stages of his moral, and spiritual development. The Holy Quran has referred to riding, and controlling this very animal in Chapter 16, verses 8 and 9, where the physical and externally manifest theme of the creation of animals for riding, in verse 8 is immediately changed in verse 9 to the spiritual one of guidance.

Fasting enjoined on all Nations

The plain and simple words of the Holy Quran possess great wisdom. The verse pertaining to fasting begins with the words:

"O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you."
Let us look into the wisdom behind this statement. The institution of fasting exists in all religions, but it does not extend over a period of thirty days as in Islam. The Christians fast for three days during Easter, while the followers of Hinduism do not have a prescribed schedule and fast as they wish, and have made it easier for themselves by just abstaining from a particular type of food. Islam is unique in that it obligates fasting continuously for thirty days, during which eating and drinking is prohibited from dawn till dusk. Does this mean Islam is more rigid than other faiths? The Holy Quran states that this is not the case, for all these nations had been commanded to fast in a similar manner, and with similar restrictions. They, however changed this Divine injunction, and retained fasting only as a token; Muslims are enjoined not to do so. Praise be to Allah! Since the Holy Quran is safeguarded, the institution of fasting has also remained intact.

Fasting for the sake of spiritual development

To an observer, from a superficial point of view, restriction to eat and drink from dawn till dusk, in the heat of the summer, or the cold of the winter, appears to be excessive. Doctors have now determined the health benefits of fasting, but not many western oriented people, despite knowing about he medical benefits, will be willing to commit to this effort for thirty days? The Holy Quran states that the believers, should accept this challenge more so for its spiritual, rather than physical benefits. When a doctor prescribes a medication which is very strong, and could have harmful side effects, or recommends an operation which could be life threatening, we accept his advise. This is because we believe in what he says, and accept his advise even though we do not know the outcome of his recommendations. In case of fasting, besides the command of Allah, we have the testimony of hundreds, and thousands of prophets, the truthful (siddiq), and saints (auliya), and other righteous servants, to the fact that based on their own experience, fasting is the best remedy for the purification of the soul. We, however, do not listen to their advise.

It is a great benevolence of the Holy Quran that it does not enjoin anything without explaining its benefits. It tells us that the efforts of fasting is for our own good, for it will develop within us the ability to guard against evil (taqwa). Taqwa also means guarding one's soul against harmful and noxious elements. Nobody wants to be exposed to such detriment, but even so why is it that the whole world is so deeply involved in evil, and misdeeds despite the fact that there is nothing more painful, harmful and grievous to the human soul? This is a consequence of unbridled freedom of the low desires, and emotions that I have already mentioned. The inner animal of man representing his biological desires can be as uncontrollable as a wild animal. The human spirit which is sensitive and fragile in comparison, is assisted by man's intellect and instinct, but it can be overwhelmed by the animal drive. Unless the animal instincts of man are controlled by means of fasting; other means such as, intellect, worldly education, cultural factors, or an internal guidance system, can be of no avail. We can clearly observe this in the modern western society today.

After striving for a whole month in the way of Allah, by abstaining from lawful sustenance, and sexual relationship in accordance with His command, it becomes difficult for man to commit unlawful acts. A believer abstains from food and water only for the sake of Allah, despite the fact that no one is observing him, and he may have the most delicious food, and the coolest drink available in his house. This strengthens his belief in Allah, and whosoever develops such strength, all his actions evolve towards righteousness.

Those exempted from Fasting

The verses under discussion ends with the statement:

"For a certain number of days,"
which means that the days of obligatory fasting are numbered. A sick person, or a traveler is allowed exemption of fasting during Ramadan, but must complete the fasts on other days. Jurists have gone into lengthy discussions as to what length of journey, or what type of illness falls into this category. How can it be appropriate for us to dig into such details when Allah and His Messenger have not specified any such matter? In any case the distances which the jurists have fixed were applicable only to journeys on foot, or on camel and horseback, and are not applicable to modern means of fast travel by car, trains or airplanes. Every individual has a different limits of toleration and, therefore it is inappropriate to put limitations. In any case, it is improper for anybody else to prescribe limits when Allah and His messenger did not do so. To discourage people from misusing this privilege, attention is drawn to the fact that righteousness does demand some sacrifice, therefore if one chooses to fast with some tolerable exigency it is better for the person.

In the end it is stated, those who find it extremely hard to fast should feed a poor man. This also includes the elderly who find fasting an unbearable burden due to feebleness of age, and those in ill health who are unable to fast even at any other time because of medical advise. Pregnant women, and those breast feeding also fall in this category. Fasting is also not allowed for menstruating women, and they should make up for the missed fasts.
 Previous Lesson | Next Lesson