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Newsletter for March 2013
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FAST OF THE MONTH OF RAMADAN
by Yasin T. al-Jibouri
Excerpted from his book: FAST OF THE MONTH OF RAMADAN: PHILOSOPHY AND AHKAM
Fast in History
Since the dawn of history, man did not find any means better than fast to ascend above yielding to his desires and worldly wishes, attain spiritual upliftment, return to spirituality, and renounce contemptible habits to which he became addicted and which led him to perdition. Divinely revealed creeds, non-Muslim societies and former nations have been familiar with the fast. Ancient Egyptians, Greeks, Romans, Chinese and other nations knew and practiced fast for various reasons. Many still do even today. The Greeks came to know about fast and its merits from ancient Egyptians. They used to fast immediately before engaging in a war. The Romans emulated the Greeks not only in mythology, but also in observing the fast, especially when they were attacked, in order to gain victory.
They believed that fast strengthened them and taught them patience and perseverance, two prerequisites required to win the battle against internal temptations and external dangers. Ancient Chinese, too, incorporated fast into their doctrines and prescribed it for those who were passing through periods of trials and tribulations. For centuries Hindus and Buddhists have been observing a somehow more rigid form of fast. Jews and Christians observe certain types of fast. Moses, peace be upon him, observed the fast for forty days at Mount Sinai; see Exodus 24:18. During that period, he was granted the heavy responsibilities embedded in the Ten Commandments. He was commanded in the Torah to fast the tenth day of the seventh month and the ninth of the eighth.
Jews used to (and some still do) fast during times of grief and mourning and when exposed to danger. They were also accustomed to fast one day as an act of atonement and whenever they believed that God was angry with them. Nowadays, they fast one week to commemorate the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar II (605-562 B.C.) son of Nabopolassar, founder of the Chaldean or Neo-Babylonian empire, on March 16, 597 B.C. They observe fast on other days too. Jesus of Nazareth (6 B.C.-30 A.D.), peace be upon him and his virgin mother Mary daughter of Imran (Amram), was reported to have observed the fast on the day of atonement. He and his disciples fasted the forty days observed by Moses before him; see Matthew 4:2. This set the precedence for the pre-Easter fast among some Christians. Other Christian theologians started other types of fast during which they do not eat meat, fish or eggs.
Name and Derivation
Allah Almighty has said, ‘Surely the number of months with Allah is twelve in Allah’s ordinance since the day He created the heavens and the earth, of these four are sacred; that is the right reckoning; therefore, do not be unjust to your own selves regarding them (Holy Qur’an, 9:36)." These are the lunar months upon the reckoning of which does a Muslim in the east of the earth or the west rely; chronologically arranged, they are as follows: 1) Muharram, 2) Safar, 3) Rabi’ I, 4) Rabi’ II, 5) Jumada I, 6) Jumada II, 7) Rajab, 8) Sha’ban, 9) the month of Ramadhan, 10) Shawwal, 11) Thul-Qi’da, and 12) Thul-Hijja. According to astronomy, the lunar calendar cannot be less than 29 days, nor can it be more than 30. It may once be 29 days and another 30, and its average is 29 days and 12 hours and five minutes. The beginning of each lunar month is recognised by the sighting of the new moon, the crescent.
The Almighty says, ‘They ask you concerning the new moons. Say: They are times appointed for the benefit of men, and for the pilgrimage" (Holy Qur’an, 2:189).
In this verse, the Almighty has explained to us how to calculate and determine time by mentioning the word ahilla, which is the plural of the Arabic singular hilal, crescent, when it becomes visible to the naked eye. These crescents set the time for people and help them determine when the pilgrimage is to be performed.
Fast in Islam
The lunar calendar of Islam brings the fast of the month of Ramadhan eleven days earlier every year. Thus, in a cycle of about thirty-three years, it passes through all the seasons successively. Fast was first prescribed on the second of Sha’ban in the second year of Hijrah (the migration of Prophet Muhammad, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him and his progeny, from Mecca to Medina, corresponding to 622 A.D.).
On p. 59, of al-Saduq’s Amali (or Majalis), the faqih mentor and author quotes Ja’fer ibn Ali ibn al-Hassan ibn All ibn Abdullah ibn al-Mughirah al-Kufi as saying that his grandfather al-Hassan ibn Ali quotes his grandfather Abdullah ibn al-Mughirab quoting Isma’eel ibn Abu Ziyad quoting Abu Abdullah Imam Ja’fer ibn Muhammad al-Sadiq (as) (Acronyms for Alahis Salam, peace be upon him) citing his forefathers, peace be upon all of them, saying that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) (These are acronyms that stand for "peace be upon him". Once asked his companions, "Shall I tell you about something which, if you do it, will distance you from Satan as much as the distance between the east and the west?" They said, "O yes! Please do so," whereupon he (pbuh) said, "It is fast. It darkens his [Satan’s] face, while charity breaks his back and the love for Allah’s sake and assisting others in doing good deeds cut off his tail and seeking Allah’s forgiveness splits his spine. For everything there is a zakat (purification), and the zakat of the bodies is fast."
Because the reader will come across the name of Imam Ja’fer al-Sadiq (as) quite often in this book, we ought to stop here for a moment to introduce this great personality to those who may not be familiar with him. Needless to say, the Imam (as) is very well known to Muslims following the Shi’a Ja’feri Ithna-’Asheri School of Muslim Law; after all, they derive their fiqh from him and regard him as highly as, say, Hanafis regard Imam Abu Haneefah al-Nu’man, or as the Hanbalis regard Imam Ahmed ibn Hanbal. But those who are not Shi’as are justified in wondering how Imam al-Sadiq (as) knew the forthcoming information; so, let us introduce them to one of the most knowledgeable men who ever lived on earth:
His full name is Abu Abdullah Ja’fer ibn Imam Muhammad al-Baqir ibn Imam Ali al-Azgher Zaynul-’Abidin ibn Imam Hussein ibn Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib, of the clan of Banu Hashim, of the tribe of Quraysh, peace and blessings of Allah be upon all of them and many, many salutations. He was born in the sacred precincts of Medina on the 17th of Rabee’ al-Awwal of 83 A.H., and he died at the age of 65 after being poisoned by the Abbaside caliph Abu Ja’fer al-Mansur and was buried at Baqee’, Medina. His mother was a relative of the first caliph Abu Bakr: she was Umm Farwa Fatima daughter of Abdel-Rahman son of Abu Bakr.
His father was Abu Ja’fer Imam Muhammad ibn All al-Baqir (as) (57 - 114 A.H.), grandson of Imam Husain (as). If you wish to realise the greatness of Imam al-Sadiq (as), you will see his praise not only by Sunnis but also by non-Muslims as well, especially since his contributions to his contemporary intellectual revolution were invaluable and quite diverse. Not only was he a theologian, he was also a mathematician, a botanist, and alchemist, a scientist, and a man of letters. To quote what Shi’as say about him may be out of place here. Probably the best compliment the Imam (as) received was from one of his world famous students: Imam Abu Haneefah al-Nu’man, founder of the major Sunni sect, the Hanafis, who was one of tens of thousands of scholars who prided himself in being Abu Abdullah’s students.
Abu Haneefah said verbatim: "Lawlal sanatan, Ia halaka al-Nu’man," which means, ‘Had it not been for those couple of years, al-Nu’man would have perished," a reference to two years which he spent in Baghdad as a student of Imam al-Sadiq (as) during al-Mansur’s caliphate. In his Musnad Abu Haneefah, Abul-Qasim al-Baghghar quotes al-Hasan ibn Ziyad as saying, "Abu Haneefah was asked once in my presence, ‘Who is the most outstanding faqih you have ever seen?’ and he answered by saying, ‘Ja’fer ibn Muhammad. When-al Mansur brought him [from Medina to Baghdad], he sent for me and said, ‘O Abu Haneefah! People are enchanted by Ja’fer ibn Muhammad, so you should prepare some of your most difficult questions for him.’ I prepared forty questions for him, then his [alSadiq’s] father was brought from Heera. I visited him, greeted him, and sat at his place of meeting. Then he turned to him and said, ‘O Abu Abdullah! This is Abu Haneefah.’ ‘Yes, I know him,’ he responded.
Then he turned to me and said, ‘Ask Abu Abdullah some of your questions,’ so I kept asking him, and he answered all my questions, telling me our answers to them as well as those of the people of Medina, till I finished asking him all the forty questions which I had prepared. He fully answered all of them."’ Then Abu Haneefah said, "Is not one who best knows people’s different views the most knowledgeable among them?"
Where did Imam al-Sadiq (as) get his knowledge from? Let us answer this question not from the Shi’a but from the Sunni viewpoint in order to satisfy the curiosity of, and perhaps convince, some skeptical readers of this book. On p. 221, Vol. 2, of the original Arabic text of al-Bukhari’s Sahih, the author makes a reference to one particular saheefa, a parchment type scroll, which was being written by Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) during the revelation of the Holy Qur’an, i.e., during more than two decades, reaching in the end a total length of seventy yards. As he was writing it, Imam Au (as) used to tie its pieces, one at a time, to his sword’s scabbard as a protective measure.
This signifies how much he esteemed it. It consisted of ahadith of the Holy Prophet (pbuh), be they his own or those which he narrated about the Almighty and which he learned from archangel Gabriel (as), i.e. Qudsi ahadith. Al-Bukhari on the said page quotes al-A’mash quoting Ibrahim al-Tameemi quoting his father quoting Imam All (as) as saying that all they (AM and his family) had were "The Book of Allah and this saheefa from the Prophet (pbuh)." On p. 36, Vol. 1, of al-Bukhari’s Solili, the author quotes al-Sahib quoting Abu Juhayfa asking Ali (as), "Do you have any book?" All (as) said, "The Book of Allah, (what we have learned from) some knowledge bestowed upon a Muslim, and this saheefa." "What is written in this saheefa?" asked Abu Juhayfa. Ali (as) said, "It contains reason, [injunctions such as] the freeing of captives, and that no Muslim should kill another Muslim." On p. 143 of Basair ad-Darajat, Imam Ja’fer al-Sadiq (as) is quoted as saying, "We have the saheefa; it is dictated by the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) and hand-written by Ali (as); nothing permissible or prohibitive except that it is recorded in it, and nothing people need, nor any issue, except that it contains it, even the penalty for slightly scratching one’s cheek."
Other references to this saheefa exist on pages 67 and 69, Vol. 4, and on p. 144, Vol. 8, of al-Bukhari’s Sahih, as well as on p. 115, Vol. 4, of Muslim’s Sahih. Another name for this saheefa is al-jami’a, the book which includes or contains all knowledge. In Arabic, a university is call jamia, a place where knowledge and those who learn it gather, a gathering place of knowledge and scholarship. If you are fortunate enough to be in possession of a copy of Usul al-Kafi by Muhammad ibm Ya’qub al-Kulayni published in 1990 by Dar al-Ta’aruf of Beirut, Lebanon, read pp. 294-298 of its first volume to learn numerous details about not only this saheefa but also about Fatima’s Mushaf, the copy of the Holy Qur’an kept by Fatima (as) daughter of the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) many years before Othman ibn ‘Affan asked Imam Ali ibn Abu Talib (as) to help compile the text of the Holy Qur’an. There are other references to this "university of knowledge," but we think this much suffices to let the reader know that the section of this book dealing with the rewards one receives from reciting a particular chapter of the Holy Qur’an is derived from me of the most ancient, if not the very most ancient, books written n the history of Islam.
Fast of the month of Ramadhan is the fourth pillar of Islam. The Arabic word shahr is used for a month due to its being mushtahir, well-known or famous, that is, the knowledge thereof reaches all people, as we are told by Imam Ibn Manzoor, author of Lisan al-Arab on p. 432, Vol. 4. Such knowledge can be attained by sighting its crescent. As to the reason why it has been called the month of Ramadhan, it is due to the fact that the Arabs gave the names of the months according to the times during which they occurred, and to the fact that it so happened that the month of Ramadhan coincided with the parching days of the summer.
Its root word ramd as the same author tells us on pp. 160-161, Vol. 7, of the same lexicon, means to burn due to excessive sun-heat reflected on the desert sands. The ramda is the buffing rock. This is why it was called the month of Ramadhan. One may say in Arabic that a man’s feet were burnt due to the heat, so he became namid. It is also said that it was called the month of Ramadhan because people become tired due to their suffering from the combination of hunger and thirst during a very hot month. Arab linguists say that to make something armad is to squeeze it between two soft rocks then to pound it. A person fasting, by analogy, pounds his own nature between two rocks: hunger and thirst.
According to one of his numero.us traditions, Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) is quoted saying, ‘The month of Ramadhan was named so because it tends to ramad the sins, that is, burn them." The righteous at the dawn of Islam used to call it al-midmar, meaning that it emaciates the souls and bodies and helps them get rid of the excesses of evils and sins whereby the souls and bodies were laden. During the life-time of the Prophet (pbuh), the blessed month of Ramadhan used to be called al-marzooq, the one full of sustenance, due to the abundance of the blessings of Allah whereby His servants are sustained during it.
In a letter he sent to Jarrah al-Madayini, Muhammad ibn Ya’qub cites Imam Abu Abdullah al-Sadiq (as) saying, "Fast is not only to abstain from eating and drinking." Then the Imam (as) quoted Mary (as) mother of Christ (as), as the Holy Qur’an tells us, saying that she had vowed a fast for the Most Merciful One. The Imam (as) continued to say, "When you fast, you should safeguard your tongues, lower your gaze, and you should neither dispute with nor envy one another." This is recorded on p. 351, Vol. 94, of Bihar al-Anwar.
The Imam (as) is also quoted in the same and following page of the said reference saying, "When you fast, let your hearing and vision abstain with you from anything unlawful, against everything ugly, and leave hypocrisy aside, and do not harm those who serve you. Rather, adorn yourself with the dignity of the fast, and do not make your fasting day any different from the day when you do not fast."
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