Fasting & Ramadan

The word Ramadaan comes from the noun Ramad, which refers to “the heat of the stones arising from the intense heat of the sun.” The ninth month was named Ramadaan because when the Arabs changed the names of the months from the ancient language, they named them according to the seasons in which they happen to fall.

This month, which used to be called Natiq, fell during the summer, the time of extreme heat. [1]

The merits of Ramadan

The Prophet (Peace be upon him) was reported to have said that “When Ramadaan comes, the gates of Paradise are opened.” [2]The month of Ramadaan is a great opportunity for one to do the deeds that could bring him/her closer to Paradise.

Fasting in Ramadaan is also an opportunity to atone for one’s sins. Aboo Hurayrah quoted the Prophet (Peace be upon him) as saying, “Who ever fasts during the month of Ramadaan out of sincere faith and hoping for a reward from Allah will have all of his previous sins forgiven.” [3]

Fasting also provides protection from evil for those who sincerely fast. Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) was reported to have said, “Fasting is a shield.” [4]

Allah has a special reward which He personally gives one who fasts faithfully. Aboo Hurayrah related that the (Peace be upon him) quoted Allah as saying, “Every act of Aadam’s descendants is for themselves, except fasting. It is meant for Me alone, and I alone will give the reward for it.” [5]

Perhaps the greatest and most unique merit of Ramadaan lies in the fact that the Quran, which is the last and only unchanged book of Divine Guidance remaining in the world, was revealed during this month. Allah states:

The month of Ramadaan is the one in which the Quran was sent down as a (pure source of) guidance for mankind. In it are clear teachings showing the Right Way and the Criterion (for judging truth and falsehood).” [Holy Quran 2:185]

This act of revelation represents the greatest blessing from Almighty Allah to mankind, who had become steeped in darkness and ignorance since the time of the prior revelation. Without this supreme act of mercy, the weakening glimmer of guidance would have gone out completely and oppression would have reigned in all corners of the globe.

Sighting of the Moon

It is fard kifaayah (a collective duty) on the Muslims to make an effort to sight the moon of Ramadaan on the 29th of Sha’baan. It is wrong to depend solely on the calendar and other astronomical calculations to begin the fast, as the Prophet (Peace be upon him) himself instructed, “Begin the fast on the sighting of the moon and break the fast likewise, but if the sky is cloudy (on the 29th of Sha’baan), then estimate it (by completing) 30 days of Sha’baan".[6]

Definition of Sawm or Siyaam (Fasting)

The literal meaning of sawm is to restrain oneself from something. For example, Allah tells us in al-Qur’aan that Maryam said, “Surely I have vowed to ar-Rahmaan (The Most Merciful, Allah) to fast (sawm)". [Holy Quran 19:26]

The fast here means to be silent, that is, to abstain from speaking. Islaamically, Sawm means to abstain from food, drink and sexual relation between dawn and sunset.

Classification of Sawm

Sawm is waajib (compulsory) on Muslims, according to the Quran and Sunnah [tradition of the Prophet (Peace be upon him)], during the ninth month of the Hijree calendar, called Ramadaan, every year. Allah said in the Quran,

The month of Ramadaan: in it was sent down the Quran, guidance to mankind and a self-evident proof of that guidance and the standard for distinguishing between right and wrong. Whosoever of you witnesses the month should fast it…” [Holy Quran 2:185]

Ibn ‘Umar reported that the Prophet (Peace be upon him) stated, “Islaam is built on five (pillars): ….fasting in Ramadaan.” [1]

Talhah ibn ‘Ubaydillah reported that a man with his hair in disarray came to the Prophet (Peace be upon him) and said, “O Allah’s Messenger, inform me of what Allah has made fard (obligatory) on me concerning fasting.” He (Peace be upon him) said, “The month of Ramadaan.” So he asked, “Is there anything other than that on me?” He (Peace be upon him) said, “No, except what you do voluntarily.” He then said, “Tell me what Allah has made fard on me concerning Zakaah, “So he (Peace be upon him) informed him of the rites of Islaam. He then said, “By He Who ennobled you, I won’t voluntarily do anything (extra) nor will I decrease in any way what Allah has made obligatory on me.” The Prophet (Peace be upon him) then said, “He will succeed if he spoke the truth (or, he will enter Paradise if he was truthful). [2]

The purpose of Fasting

The ultimate goal of the fast is to develop taqwa (consciousness of God) in people, as Allah said:

“….so that it may produce Taqwaa in you.” [Holy Quran 2:183]

Taqwaa is among the highest moral qualities that a Muslim can attain. It is produced by placing a shield between one’s self and Allah’s wrath, as the root meaning of the word implies (i.e. taqwaa comes from the verb waqaa, which means “to safeguard”). This is achieved by being conscious of Allah and all His commandments at all times, which means avoiding the Haraam (prohibited) as well as the makrooh (undesirable) and even some of the halaal (permissible) wherever doubt arises.

Conditions for being required to Fasting

To be Muslim.

To have reached puberty.

However, with young children it was the practice of the Prophet’s companions to encourage them to fast in order for them to get used to it at an early age. [3]

To be sane.

‘Alee ibn Abee Taalib and ‘Aa’ishah both reported that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said, “The pen is raised from (the book) of three (individuals): the sleeper until he awakes, the child until he reaches puberty, and the insane until he regains his sanity.” [4]

To be physically able.

To be a resident, not a traveler.

A menstruating woman does not pray or fast. Prayers need not be made up, but fasting must be made up later when her menses are finished. Allah has permitted Muslims who are sick or physically unable to fast or are traveling during Ramadaan to break their fasts and make up the missed days of Ramadaan. Allah says in the Quran:

“...and whoever is ill or journeying, for him is the like number of other days. Allah desires for you ease and does not desire for you hardship; so you should complete the umber and magnify Allah for His having guided you, that perhaps you may give thanks.” [Holy Quran 2:185]

The benefits of Fasting

Fasting gives the individual a real taste of hunger and thirst which helps him to realize the experience of the poor. This experience should instill a desire to want to help those who are less fortunate by sharing food and wealth with them.

It is required that the individual give up not only food, drink and sexual relations, but also that he restrain from all forms of lying (e.g. backbiting, slander, etc.). This is confirmed by the Prophet’s (Peace be upon him) statement, “Allah has no need for the hunger and the thirst of the person who does not restrain from telling lies and acting on them even while observing the fast.” [5]

He also said, “When one of you is fasting, he should abstain from indecent acts and unnecessary talk, and if someone begins an obscene conversation or tries to pick an argument, he should simply tell him, ‘I am fasting’.” [6]So, if one observes the fast according to the above principles, it should improve his moral character, making him more truthful and more careful about what he says and does.

It has also been noted by medical experts that fasting improves the physical health in numerous ways. For example, during the fast the body uses up stored cholesterol (fats) which are often deposited in the blood system, as well as in other fatty areas of the body. Thus, it helps to keep the body firm and minimizes the danger of heart attacks.

Fasting trains the individual for Jihaad (fighting in the way of Allah) by giving him a good course in self-control. During war the desires of the stomach and the private parts often lead soldiers of war to either commit excesses or to unnecessarily expose themselves to danger.

Exemtion from fasting Ramadan

Journey (Safar):

It is allowable for the traveler to break his fast while traveling, whether he is subjected to rigors and hardships during his travels or not. [1]

Sickness (Marad):

If one has an illness that would be worsened by fasting, or fasting would delay the cure, the fast may be abandoned. For example, a person with diabetes may have to eat every few hours to maintain his blood sugar level, or an epileptic may have to take his medicine at regular intervals to prevent a seizure. [2]

Pregnancy (Haml):

If a woman feels that if she fasts, the fetus will be harmed or she herself will be weakened dangerously, she is permitted to leave the fast. [3]

Breast-feeding (Ridaa’ah):

If a breast-feeding mother or wet-nurse feels that fasting would he harmful to the baby or herself she is allowed to abandon the fast.

Weakness (Da’f) or Old Age (Kibar as-Sinn):

(a) If a person is convalescing (regaining his strength) After an illness and fears that the fast would make him sick again, he is allowed to defer fasting.

(b) If a person has become extremely weak due to old age, he is allowed to abandon fasting. [4]

Jihaad (War):

(a) If a person is about to participate in jihaad and fears that the fasting would weaken him, he may defer the fast.

(b) If jihaad is in progress, participants are allowed to postpone the fast.

Kaffaarah (Atonement)

Kaffaarah is the punishment as a compensation for a sin one has committed or for an obligatory deed that one was unable to do or the intentional breaking of the fast in Ramadaan. The Kaffaarah for breaking the fast of Ramadaan is as follows:

If the fast of Ramadaan is invalidated intentionally by intercourse, its expiation (Compensation) is fasting for two months consecutively. If one is unable to fast sixty days, he must feed sixty poor persons or one person for sixty days. [5]It should be noted, however, that even these acts do not make up for the lost day(s) of fasting. [6]

A person who has become extremely weak due to old age or disease and has no hope of an early recovery and is unable to fast, is required by Sharee’ah to feed an indigent person for every missed day. One can give it in the form of food or one can make someone else an agent, giving him the money to buy the food and give it to the poor. This feeding of the poor in lieu of fasting is called fidyah (redemption).

A woman who breaks her fast due to menses (hayd), bleeding after child birth (nifaas), pregnancy, suckling (ridaa’ah) or the like is only required to make up the days which she missed before the next Ramadaan. [7]

Permissible acts while Fasting

Cleaning the teeth with the siwaak (tooth-stick) or its modern substitute, the toothbrush, is allowed, as the Prophet (Peace be upon him) used to use the siwaak often while fasting. [1]It is better to avoid the use of toothpaste during fasting hours.

Donating blood or unintentional vomiting does not break the fast. [2]

Kissing one’s wife while fasting does not break the fast, as long as moderation is observed. [3]

Taking medicine by way of injection, nasal sprays or eye drops does not break the fast, as they are not a form of eating. [4]

Eating or drinking accidentally or out of forgetfulness does not break the fast. [5]

Bathing, swimming, or sitting in water to cool off while fasting is permissible. [6]

For someone to rinse out the mouth or to taste food or drink which is being prepared, spitting it all back out without swallowing any of the food or drink, is also permissible. [7]

Swallowing one’s saliva does not break the fast. [8]

Fundamentals of Fasting

Niyyah (Intention)

For the compulsory fast of Ramadaan to be accepted, the intention to fast must be made before Fajr each day. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) was reported by Hafsah to have said, “Whoever does not intend to fast before Fajr will have no fast.” [9]

As with Salaah, there is no verbal formula one says to mark one’s intention. To wake up for the pre-dawn meal is an expression of the intention to fast. Even of one didn’t wake up for suhoor, to simply make up one’s mind before sleeping that one will be fasting the next day is sufficient.

Suhoor (Pre-Dawn Meal)

The fast begins with a light meal known as suhoor, which is taken just before the break of dawn.The Prophet (Peace be upon him) encouraged his followers to take this meal, even if it is only a drink of water.

Anas ibn Maalik said that Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) said, “Take suhoor for surely there is barakah (blessing) in it.” [10]When the athaan of Fajr is sounded, this signals the beginning of the fast and one should not begin to eat anything at this point. If one has in his hand food or drink when the athaan is called, he should finish eating what he wants from it before putting it down.

Aboo Hurayrah reported that Allah’s Messenger (Peace be upon him) said, “If one of you hears the athaan and a vessel remains in his hand, he should not put it down until he has had what he desires from it.” [11]

Iftaar (Breaking Fast)

It is highly recommended that the fast be broken as soon as Maghrib (setting of the sun) occurs. The Prophet (Peace be upon him) said, “People will remain happy and prosperous as long as they hasten to break the fast.” [12]It is also recommended that the fast be broken with dates and water if available.

Anas ibn Maalik said, “The Prophet (Peace be upon him) used to break his fast with a few dates just before the beginning of Salaatul-Maghrib. If fresh dates were not available he would break his fast by drinking a little water.” [13]

Du’aa for Breaking the Fast

(Thahabath-tham’u wab-tallatil-‘urooqu wa thabatal-ajru inshaa’ Allah.)

“The thirst has gone, the arteries are moist, and the reward set, Allah willing.” [14]


[1] E.W. Lane, Lane’s Lexicon, vol. 1, pp. 1156-7.
[2] Collected by al-Bukhaaree (Sahih Al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol.3, pp. 64-5, no. 115).
[3] Collected by al-Bukhaaree (Sahih Al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol.3, pp. 69-70, no. 125)
[4] Collected by Muslim (Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol.2, p.554, no. 2565)
[5] Collected by Muslim (Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol.2, p.559, no. 2566
[6] Collected by al-Bukhaaree (Sahih Al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol.3, p.69, no.124) and Muslim (Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol.2, p.524-5, no.2363) [7] Collected by al-Bukharee (Sahih Al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol. 1, p. 17, no. 7) and Muslim (Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol. 1, pp.9-10, no. 18)
[8] Collected by al-Bukharee (Sahih Al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol. 3, pp. 64-65, no. 115)
[9] See Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol. 2, pp. 552-3, nos. 2531-2.
[10] Collected by Aboo Daawood (Sunan Abu Dawud (English Trans.), vol.3, pp. 1226-7, nos. 4384 and 4389), Ibn Maajah, and at-Tirmithee, and authenticated by al-Albaanee in Saheeh Sunan at-Tirmithee, vol.2, p.64, no.1150.
[11] Reported by Aboo Hurayrah and collected by al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol.3, pp.70-1, no.127) and Aboo Dawood (Sunan Abu Dawud (English Trans.), vol.2, p.648, no. 2355).
[12] Reported by Aboo Hurayrah and collected by al-Bukhaaree (Sahih Al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol.3, p.71, 125), Muslim (English Trans.), vol.2, p.558, no. 2563) and Aboo Daawood (Sunan Abu Dawud (English Trans.) vol.2, p. 648, no. 2356)
[13] See Soorah al-Baqarah (2): 185; Sahih Al-Bukhari (Arabic-English), vol.3, p.93, no.164; See also pp. 94, nos. 167, and Sahih Muslim (English Trans.), vol. 2, p.546, no.2487.
[14] See Soorah al-Baqarah (2): 185.

by Dr. Bilal Philips

Shabaan: Misconceptions and Realities

Misconception # 1:

The night of the 15th of Shabaan should be singled out for worship, prayer, etc.


Our best example and role model is the Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam) and he never, ever singled out this night for worship or qiyaam nor did his Sahaba.

Shaykh Ibn Baaz said:"There is no saheeh hadeeth concerning the night of the fifteenth of Shabaan. All the ahaadeeth that have been narrated concerning that are mawdoo (fabricated) and daeef (weak), and have no basis. There is nothing special about this night, and no recitation of Quraan or prayer, whether alone or in congregation, is specified for this night. What some of the scholars have said about it being special is a weak opinion. It is not permissible to single it out for any special actions. This is the correct view."

(Fataawa Islamiyyah, 4/511)

Misconception # 2:

There are special prayers to be offered on this night.


The truth of the matter is that there are NO special prayers to be offered on this night specifically. And all those ahaadeeth giving you long lists of special formulas that are "supposed to guarantee you Allaahs forgiveness and Jannah" are all fabricated, false and innovations in our Deen. If there were such prayers, the Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam) would have told us about them and we would have had evidence of him and the Sahaba doing it.

Misconception # 3:

Allaah descends to the first heavens on this night to forgive us.


Allaah’s descending to the first heaven does not only happen on the night of the fifteenth of Shabaan. Rather it happens every single night of the year.

The Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam) said: "Every night when it is the last third of the night, our Lord, the Superior, the Blessed, descends to the nearest heaven and says: Is there anyone to invoke Me that I may respond to his invocation? Is there anyone to ask Me so that I may grant him his request? Is there anyone asking My forgiveness so that I may forgive him?. " (Bukhaari)

Thus, when Abd-Allaah ibn al-Mubaarak was asked about the descent of Allaah on the night of the fifteenth of Shabaan, he said to the one who asked him: “O weak one! The night of the fifteenth?! He descends every night!”

Misconception # 4:

This is the night when our fate, lifespan, and provisions are decreed.


Some people think that the "blessed night" (laylatim-mubarakah) mentioned in Surah ad-Dukhaan (44): 3, refers to the night of 15th Shabaan, when Allah decrees our lifespan, provisions and fate. In fact, they even pray 6 rakahs, 2 for each of these things. However, all that is fabricated and far, far away from the Sunnah. And, in reality, the "blessed night" mentioned in Surah ad-Dukhaan, actually is referring to Laylatul Qadr that comes in Ramadhaan. (Tafseer Ibn Kathir of Surah al-Qadr)

Misconception # 5:

One should fast on the day of the fifteenth.


Here again, there is no saheeh reports that tell us that the Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam) or his Sahaabah ever picked this day specifically to fast. The Sunnah of the Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam) was to fast most of this month and not just the 15th. However, if the fifteenth of Shabaan coincides with a Monday or Thursday, or with the three white days or if a person is generally fasting, without associating seeking extra rewards to fasting this specific day, then it is allowed. (Sheikh Muhammed Salih Al-Munajjid)

Misconception # 6:

This is the night when the souls of departed ones return to their families.


Here again, some people misunderstand the ayaat in Surah al-Qadr and think that the "sending down of the Ruh" as mentioned in this Surah refers to the souls of dead people returning to see their families, even though it refers to Jibreel (Tafseer Ibn Kathir). And that is why we see women preparing the sweets, the Halwas and other "goodies" for the souls of their loved ones.

Not only is that in itself an erroneous, deviant belief and bidah, but to believe that the souls of the dead can return back to the world and meet/see their relatives is also totally incorrect and false. The teachings of the Quraan and the Sunnah clearly state that the souls of the dead do not return back to the world. Besides, they dont even eat the Halwas. It is actually you who eats it!

Misconception # 7:
Visiting graveyards especially this night is something good.


Although the Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam) encouraged visiting graves, he forbade singling out any day or night for any kinds of good deeds if it is not prescribed in the Shareeah. And he did not specifically visit the graveyard on the night of the 15th of Shabaan. The hadeeth of Aisha that mentions that the Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam) visited the graveyard this night is not authentic and thus does not have any proof for visiting graves specifically on this night of Shabaan.

Misconception # 8:

Even if the ahaadeeth about worship on this night are weak, one can still do it.


The correct scholarly view is that weak ahaadeeth should not be followed at all, even if they speak of righteous deeds or of targheeb and tarheeb (promises and warnings). The saheeh reports are sufficient and the Muslim has no need to follow the daeef reports.

Shaykh Ahmad Shaakir said: "There is no difference between rulings or righteous deeds; we do not take any of them from daeef reports, rather no one has the right to use any report as evidence unless it is proven to be soundly narrated from the Messenger of Allaah (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam) in a saheeh or hasan hadeeth."

Misconception # 9:

Look at all those people doing it. How can they all be wrong?


The Muslim is supposed to refer to Allaah and His Messenger (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam) Sunnah, if there is any confusion or dispute about matters and NOT what the rest of the world is doing.

O you who believe! Obey Allaah and obey the Messenger and those of you who are in authority. (And) if you differ in anything amongst yourselves, refer it to Allaah and His Messenger, if you believe in Allaah and in the Last Day. That is better and more suitable for final determination" [al-Nisaa 4:59]

Shaykh Ibn Jibreen said: "These reports (about worship and fasting an the 15th of Shabaan) became very well known in some countries which were overwhelmed by ignorance; One should not be deceived by the large numbers of ignorant people who do these things."

The REAL Sunnah regarding Shabaan :

If you truly and sincerely want to please Allaah and do deeds that will be acceptable to Him, then follow the REAL Sunnah of the Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam). Here is what is proven in the authentic sunnah:

1. Fast most of this month as much as you can.

Aaishah RA said: “I never saw the Messenger of Allaah fasting for an entire month except in Ramadaan, and I never saw him fast more than he did in Shabaan.” (Bukhaari, Muslim).

2. However, if you are weak or do not fast habitually and feel that this nafil fasting may be a hindrance to your obligatory fasting in the month of Ramadhaan, then the person may stop the nafil fasting in the last few days of this month. And for that person, the Prophet (Sal Allaahu Alayhi wa Sallam) said:

When Shabaan is half over, do not fast.” (Saheeh al-Tirmidhi).

3. If you have fasts left over from last Ramadhaan to make up, then hurry up and do so in this month of Shabaan before the next Ramadhaan comes. It is not permissible to delay missed fasts until after the following Ramadhaan, except in cases of necessity (such as a valid excuse that continues between the two Ramadaans).

Aaishah RA said: 'It used to be that I had days to make up for Ramadhaan and I would not be able to do so except in Shabaan.” [Bukhaari]