Fifth Call: The Obligation of Fasting
fifth call: the obligation of fasting
almighty allah says (what can be translated as):“o you who have believed, prescribed for you is the fast, as it was prescribed for (the ones) who were before you, that possibly you would be pious. (the fast is) (for) a prescribed number of days, so, whoever of you is sick or is on a journey, then a (fixed) number of other days; and against the ones who can afford it, there should be a ransom of food for an indigent man; (yet) whoever volunteers charitably, then it is most charitable on his part; and to fast is more charitable for you, in case you know.  the month of ramadan (is the month) in which the qur’an (all-supreme reading) was sent down: a guidance to mankind, and supreme evidences of the guidance and the all-distinctive criterion; so, whoever of you is present (literally: witnesses the month) at the month, then he should fast it; and whoever is sick or on a journey, then a (fixed) number of other days. allah wills for you ease, and he does not will difficulty for you (he wills) and that you should complete the (fixed) number. and magnify allah for having guided you, and that possibly you would thank (him).  and when my bondmen ask you concerning me, then, surely i am near; i answer the invocation of the invoker when he invokes me; so let them respond (to) me, and let them believe in me, so that possibly they would respond right-mindedly. it is made lawful to you, upon the night of the fast, to lie (literally: lying) with your wives; they are a garment (i.e. vestment, mutual protection) for you, and you are a garment for them. allah knows that you have been betraying yourselves, so he has relented toward you and has been clement to you. so now go in to them, and seek whatever allah has prescribed for you. and eat and drink until the white thread becomes evident to you from the black thread at dawn; thereafter complete (literally: perfect) the fast to the night, and do not go in to them while you are consecrating yourselves in the mosques. such are the bounds of allah, so do not draw near them. thus allah makes his signs evident to mankind, that possibly they would be pious. ” (surat al-baqarah)
almighty allah (awj)1orders believers to fast to discipline their spirits. he obligated the people of the book2in former nations to fast, and he (swt)3obligates muslims to fast too. he orders muslims to fast to prepare them for piety by abandoning permitted desires for a certain time in ramadan to adhere to his commandment in anticipation of allah’s reward. this instills determination and the ability to control the self in every muslim.
almighty allah has prescribed for you to fast for a calculated number of days. he has not obligated you with what you cannot handle, but rather with what you can tolerate. if any of you is ill that he would be harmed if he fasts, or if any of you is traveling, then they are not obliged to fast but after they are cured or when they arrive home after traveling, they can compensate the days that they did not fast in ramadan with fasting the same number of days some other time. as for the resident (the one who is not traveling) who can hardly fast due to old age or a hopeless disease or condition, then he can break his fast, and if he can afford it, then he has to feed an indigent person for each day he did not fast for the previously mentioned reasons. whoever volunteers to fast other days in addition to the prescribed days (the month of ramadan), it will be of benefit for him. to fast is better and more rewarding for you, if you think it through and consider carefully.
the prescribed days that almighty allah has ordered muslims to fast are the month of ramadan. allah (swt) praises this month in which the holy qur’an was revealed to the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him). the qur’an is guidance to those who have believed because of the clear proofs and reasoning for the ones who contemplate and think deeply. these proofs show the righteousness and guidance of this qur’an against any other kind of delusion or misleading. whoever witnesses the month has to fast if he is a resident and healthy. then, almighty allah repeats the license he has given to the sick and travelers by pardoning them from fasting the days they are sick or on a journey, but those days they did not fast in ramadan must be made up from other days. when the believer achieves the worship of fasting and praying, he should mention allah by uttering takbir4and thanking almighty allah for the guidance and blessings he has bestowed upon him. hopefully, when the muslim does so, he will be grateful and thankful to allah for helping him to complete this great act of worship, perfect the fasting and avoid the sins.
one bedouin asked the prophet (peace be upon him): "oh messenger of allah! is our lord near to us, so we can secretly talk to him [munaja], or he is far, so we should call upon him [loudly]?" the prophet (pbuh) kept silent. thereupon allah almighty revealed this verse: “and when my bondmen ask you concerning me, then, surely i am near; i answer the invocation of the invoker when he invokes me; so let them respond (to) me, and let them believe in me, so that possibly they would respond right-mindedly.”
abdullah ibn omar reported that the prophet (pbuh) said, "hearts are like vessels, some more attentive and capacious than others. when you supplicate allah you should be certain of being answered, and know that allah does not answer a supplication that comes from a careless and inattentive heart." then, allah orders his servants to obey him and respond to him by following and applying his commandments and acts of worship such as fasting, establishing prayers and, through this, hopefully and most probably they will be among the rational, perceptive and rightly-guided.
at the beginning of islam when the fast was first prescribed, muslims were allowed to eat, drink and have sexual intercourse with their spouses only until the isha (night) prayer, unless one sleeps before the isha prayer. those who slept before isha or prayed isha, were not allowed to drink, eat or have sexual intercourse until the next night. the muslims found that to be difficult for them. so, allah revealed this verse: “it is made lawful to you, upon the night of the fast, to lie (literally: lying) with your wives; they are a garment (i.e. vestment, mutual protection) for you, and you are a garment for them.” so, the verse contains a relief from allah for the muslims by ending the practice that was observed in the early years of islam.
allah (swt) says it is made permissible to you to have sex with your wives during the night of the fast. they are repose and protection to you, and you are the same for them. allah makes it clear that he knows that some believers did not commit to fasting after isha prayer or after awaking from their sleep, if they slept before isha prayer, by eating drinking and lying with their wives. allah has pardoned and relented towards them, as he is the all-merciful, the ever-merciful. allah has informed them and all muslims after them that he lets them to eat, drink and lie with their wives till dawn (until the white thread becomes evident to you from the black thread at dawn, i.e. until the light of the morning becomes evident from the blackness of the night). when it is dawn, then you should fast and abandon what was lawful to you during the night and maintain your fast until sunset.
muslims were practicing itikaf5(retreating in mosques), by staying a few days during ramadan for devotions and going out only for necessary things. so, almighty allah prohibits lying with their wives as long as they are in a state of itikaf, even if they go home or anywhere to take care of an important matter, and then they go back to practice itikaf in mosques or the place they are retreating in for worship. almighty allah says that what he has clarified, obligated and defined about the fast, and what he has made lawful or prohibited are the bounds that allah has prescribed upon his servants. this is how allah clarifies through the divine messages, messengers and prophets (peace be upon them) the signs to people to know how to seek guidance and how to worship him, that they may become pious.
allah, glorified and sublime be he, knows that human spirits need help and encouragement to fulfill religious obligations, no matter how much wisdom and value in the obligations, humans need to be promoted to accomplish acts of worship and get used to them. this is why almighty allah starts his call to believers with this affectionate description of them “o you who have believed”. he is reminding them of their true nature, namely followers of belief, then he prescribes for them, after the call, fasting which is an old duty upon all believers in all former monotheistic faiths and religions, i.e. christianity and judaism. the first aim of the fast is to prepare and habituate their hearts to embrace piety, transparency, sensibility and fear of allah (awj).
“o you who have believed, prescribed for you is the fast, as it was prescribed for (the ones) who were before you, that possibly you would be pious.” in the verse, the ultimate aim of fast is clarified, indeed it is piety. piety awakes and revives in the hearts of muslims when they perform this obligation because of the obedience and preference to please allah by submitting to his will which is to fast the holy month of ramadan. piety also guards believing hearts against committing any sins while in a state of fasting. the ones addressed with this qur’an know for sure the status of piety for allah (awj), and how great it weighs on the scale of deeds on the day of judgment. piety is the aim of believers that their hearts look up to. the fast is a tool to achieve piety and the road to reach it; this is why the context of the verses puts piety as a clear illuminated goal that they seek through fasting: “that possibly you would be pious”.
allah defines the fast as “prescribed number of days”, so it is not a lifetime obligation or a tiring duty; it is only for a month. yet, the sick are released of this obligation till they are cured, and the same goes for travelers till they reside. this is to clarify and define the fast, and also to make it easy for muslims: “(the fast is) (for) a prescribed number of days. so, whoever of you is sick or is on a journey, then a (fixed) number of other days.” the text does not determine a certain kind of sickness or journey, any kind of sickness or traveling gives the person the license to be exempted of fasting, provided that the sick has to fast the same number of day that he did not fast in ramadan when he is cured, and the traveler has to do so too when he resides in a place. this is direct and main interpretation of understanding the qur’anic text, and the nearest to the islamic understanding that prefers to eliminate any harm and tends to facilitate religious duties. the release from the obligation of fasting is not based on the severity of the sickness or the hardship of traveling, the verses state the reason of the license as sickness and traveling ultimately, to make it easy and possible to people, because almighty allah wants ease for the people not difficulty in performing acts of worship. we also do not know the whole wisdom of mentioning sickness and traveling in general, there might be other considerations that only almighty allah knows, while humans do not know about concerning traveling and sickness. there might be other hardships in those two situations that people do not realize at the moment, or are not familiar to humans. as long as allah does not explain the reason for a certain command or permit, then we should accept them as they are and obey the text, even if we do not realize the wisdom and reason for such obligation or permit. there must be wisdom, yet we might not understand it now, maybe we understand in the future, and maybe not. all matters are bound to the will of allah (swt).
it is said that the interpretation of the verse that considers all kinds of sickness or traveling as a permit for muslims to break their fast might be misused as people may neglect performing acts of worship for any slight reason. this is why some scholars based such license to break the fast on certain conditions and situations, meaning that they are limited to specifications. but, the writer thinks that we should not limit the text to certain conditions and make it harder for people. religion should lead people to piety with kindness not restrains and conditions. the utmost aim of this worship is piety. the one who escapes fulfilling this duty by misusing the license or evades the fast in a sneaky way and not for a legitimate excuse is not good in the first place. the main aim of fulfilling the obligation of fasting will not be even achieved if people are forced to fast. this religion (islam) is set by almighty allah, not by people, so he knows best of the completeness of this religion and where it should be easy and where it should be strict. may be the release from an obligation in a certain matter achieves a benefit that cannot be attained otherwise and this is the reason why allah gives people licenses and relief in religion to achieve goals and teach lessons. it is even reflected in the guidance of the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) who encouraged muslims to benefit from the licenses that allah has prescribed to muslims. if corruption prevails in a generation, reformation will not be possible through strictness in commandments; it is rather achievable through kindness and reviving piety in their hearts. if there is any corruption in society, firmness in applying the rulings of dealings and transactions is important as a cure to reform life. so, strictness in applying laws and commandments of religion is important to provide a sound healthy environment for people to live and work. yet, firmness in acts of worship is different because they are between the servant and his lord, the act of worship such as fast is between allah and the servant, it is not linked to the interests of people such as transactions or dealings where tangible firmness and honesty are needed. on the other hand, acts of worship are based on intangible piety in the hearts of muslims. if piety exists in hearts, then the believer will not use the license unless he really needs it. there will be no negligence or misuse of religious permits unless they are really applicable and justified when used. such believing heart will only use the permit if he is in a situation that requires it. on the other hand, strictness in performing the acts of worship and the tendency to limiting the chances of using permits set by religious texts only leads to hardship to people who are eligible and in a need to make use of these permits. at the same time, such strictness will not be useful in reforming the uncommitted person to the acts of worship. the priority and most foundational fact are to follow commandments as they are revealed in the qur’an and as ordained by almighty allah.
at the beginning of prescribing fasting the month of ramadan, it was a difficult duty for muslims. it was obligated in the second year of hijri calendar (2 ah) before obligating jihad. allah gave those who can hardly fast (suffering hardship in their fast), a permit to break their fast in addition to feeding an indigent man/woman. then, allah encourages them to do charity by feeding indigents in general whether for using the permit to break the fast or feeding them as an act of charity. he (swt) also encourages them to feed more than one such as two, three or more for each day they don’t fast in ramadan. yet allah clarifies to them that fasting, even with hardship, is better for them as long as they are not on a journey or ill, “whoever volunteers charitably, then it is most charitable on his part; and to fast is more charitable for you, in case you know.” fasting in this case is better because it instills the will and endurance in them; it habituates the souls to prefer worship and devotion over leisure and pleasures. all these elements of strength are strongly needed in islamic education.
one of the proved facts is the health benefit the humans get when they fast, provided that they are not ill, even if they feel difficulty in fasting at first.
this direction was a preparation to take this permit from the healthy resident to prescribe the obligation of fasting to him as it has been ascertained later. the permit to feed indigents instead of fasting is now for the elders who are not able to make up the fast. imam malik authenticated that it was narrated to him that anas ibn malik (ra)6became so old that he was not able to fast, so he was giving a ransom of food for the indigents to make up the days he did not fast. ibn abbas (ra) saidthe permit is not abrogated7as old men and women, who are unable to fast, may feed indigents to make up the fast. it is narrated from ibn abi layl that he saw atta in ramadan while he was eating, so he said to him: “ibn abbas said that when the verse was revealed, it abrogated the first except for the old people, if he wants he can feed an indigent each day and he does not have to fast.” so, the permit of not fasting is proved to be abrogated for the healthy resident by “so, whoever of you is present (literally: witnesses the month) at the month, then he should fast it” but it is still applicable to the elderly.
the verses stimulate and encourage healthy residing muslims to fast ramadan; the month in which the holy qur’an was first revealed to the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him). this month witnessed the revelation of the beginning of the qur’an or most it. the qur’an is the everlasting book for this nation, the book that took people from the darkness to light. the qur’an established this nation, changed the state of fear into security, enabled her to spread and gave her the capabilities through which it became a great nation that was nothing before the revelation of qur’an and before assigning prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) to inform and call people to submit to allah (awj). without these capabilities, it is not a nation and does not have a place on earth or a mention in heavens. thanking allah for this blessing should not be less than responding and obeying him to fast this honored month in which the qur’an was revealed to mankind: “the month of ramadan (is the month) in which the qur’an (all-supreme reading) was sent down: a guidance to mankind, and supreme evidences of the guidance and the all distinctive criterion; so, whoever of you is present (literally: witnesses the month) at the month, then he should fast it; and whoever is sick or on a journey, then a (fixed) number of other days.”
this is the verse that abrogated the permit to break the fast and the ransom for the healthy resident only, but it applies to the weak elderly as it was previously explained: “so, whoever of you is present (literally: witnesses the month) at the month, then he should fast it.” it means whoever witnesses the month while residing in a place, not traveling on journey, and sees the crescent of ramadan or is certain that the crescent was born, then he should fast the days of ramadan.
afterwards, allah gives an exception after setting the general rule by stating that whoever was ill or on a journey, then he does not have to fast but he has to make up the fast some other days when he is healthy and not on a journey: “so, whoever of you is sick or is on a journey, then a (fixed) number of other days.”
a third encouragement to fast is that “allah wills for you ease, and he does not will difficulty for you.” this is a declaration of allah’s mercy in both the commandment of fast and the permit to break the fast for the weak elders, the traveler till he resides and the sick till he heals.
this is the general rule for all commandments; they are easy and not difficult to be fulfilled. the heart that tastes these duties, endures and enjoys performing them, will be able to adapt to difficulties and hardships he meets or might meet later in life. this would instill forbearance in the spirit of the muslim. through this forbearance, the muslim would perform all religious obligations and duties actively and with ease as if it is running water or a growing tree that flourishes in peace, certainty and contentment. this is accomplished while having a feeling of allah’s mercy and will to make religious duties easy for the faithful people.
almighty allah permits the traveler and sick person to make up the fast in some other days, so that they can complete the number of days of ramadan to get the complete reward as allah states: “that you should complete the (fixed) number.”
the fast is a blessing that is we should thank allah (awj) for and be grateful to him: “and magnify allah for having guided you, and that possibly you would thank (him).” it is another purpose that can be attained by fasting, namely that believers feel the value of guidance that allah has made easy for them. they would feel such gratefulness during the fast more than any other time. they would not think of committing a sin and they would not be so indulged in satisfying pleasures because abstaining from eating, drinking and sexual desire help the mind be clear and sharp. it is not just the bodily pleasures that they abstain from satisfying; they also should not commit sins such as backbiting, slandering, gossip and any kind of obscenity. this is to adapt their souls to abstain from such negative habits forever, not just during ramadan as it is like training for the whole year. believers feel such guidance in ramadan so they will magnify allah and thank him for such blessing. their hearts will yield to the creator through obedience as it is clarified by almighty allah “that possibly you would be pious.”
the blessing of allah is clear through the obligation of fasting that may look hard on bodies and souls, but the great educational aim of it is very evident and tangible. it is a preparation for this nation to take the great role that almighty allah assigned her to fulfill, guarded by piety, self-monitoring and watchful consciousness.
before the context of the verses goes on to explain the details such as the duration of fasting and limits of enjoyment and abstinence, we find an amazing shift that touches the inner self and the core of the heart. the verses show the great compensation for the hardship of fasting and the reward for obeying allah (awj) depicted in refined terms that almost shine and give great tidings to believers: “and when my bondmen ask you concerning me, then, surely i am near; i answer the invocation of the invoker when he invokes me; so let them respond (to) me, and let them believe in me, so that possibly they would respond right-mindedly.”
it is such great mercy, gentleness, softness and kindness. how merciful is the lord! how can we consider fasting to be hard in return for this transparency, amiableness and pleasantness?!
each word in the verse reflects such gentleness and refinement, also attributing the word “bondmen” to him (awj) through the possessive pronoun “my” and the direct reply from allah to them both show nearness. he does not say “say to them i am near”, he (awj) answers his servants directly as soon as they ask about him by saying “surely, i am near”. he does not say “i hear the invocation”, he (awj) hastens to answer the invocation “i answer the invocation of the invoker when he invokes me.”
it is a marvelous verse that fills the heart of a believer with coolness, peace, familiarity, contentment, certainty and confidence. it represents to the believer satisfaction, assurance and secure resort.
for this kindness and mercy, almighty allah directs his servants to be obedient to him and believe in him, as this devotion would hopefully lead them to guidance, rationality and reform: “so let them respond (to) me, and let them believe in me, so that possibly they would respond right-mindedly.” the final fruit that comes as a result of obedience and faith is for the believers, namely guidance and reform. surely allah is ever-affluent and ever-rich dispensing with the worlds.
faith and responding to almighty allah lead to right-mindedness. the divine method that allah has chosen for humans is the only right way for them, any other way is just ignorance and inappropriateness that would make the person go astray and would never guide him to right-mindedness. the mercy and protection of allah to his servants are certain when they respond to him with obedience. they have to call on him without despair or hastiness in expecting the reward, he answers when it is the right time because he is the ever-wise and the all-knowing.
salman al-farsi (ra) narrated that the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) said: 'indeed, allah is shy and beneficent. he is shy when his servant raises his hands to him (in supplication) to return them empty, disappointed!' [musnad ahmad, abu dawud #1488, at-tirmidhi #3556, ibn majah #3865 and others]
abdullah the son of imam ahmad recorded ubadah ibn as-samit saying that the prophet (pbuh) said: “there is no muslim man on the face of the earth who supplicates to allah but allah would either grant it to him, or avert a harm from him of equal proportions, as long as his supplication does not involve sin or breaking the ties of kinship.” [recorded by at-tirmidhi].
also, it is recorded in the two authenticated collections of hadiths by imam muslim and imam al-bukhari that the prophet (peace be upon him) said: “your supplication will be answered if you are not impatient, and if you do not say, 'i supplicated but my supplication was not heard'.”
abu hurairah (ra) reported that the prophet (peace be upon him) said: “the du'a of any worshipper will continue to be responded to, as long as he does not ask for a sin or breaking the ties of kinship, and as long as he is not hasty” .it was asked, “o messenger of allah, and what does it mean to be hasty?” he responded, “a worshipper says, ‘i have prayed and prayed, and i don't see that it will be accepted,’ so he gives up hope of being answered and abandons du'a” [sahih al-jami #7705]
the fasting person is one of the ones whose supplication will not be rejected. abdullah ibn omar narrated that the prophet (pbuh) said, “three men whose du'a is never rejected (by allah) are: the fasting person until he breaks his fast (in another narration, when he breaks fast), the just ruler and the one who is oppressed.” [musnad ahmad, at-tirmidhi – classified as hadith hasan] this is why when abdullah ibn omar was breaking his fast, he would call his wife and children and supplicate to allah.
ibn majah related from abdullah ibn amr ibn al-'aas that the prophet (peace be upon him) said: "a fasting person, upon breaking his fast, has a supplication that will not be rejected. when abdullah broke his fast he would say: "o allah, i ask of you, by your mercy that encompasses everything, to forgive me."
abu hurirah (ra) narrated that the prophet muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "there are three whose supplication is not rejected: the fasting person until he breaks his fast, a just imam, and one who has been wronged whose supplication is raised by allah above the clouds on the day of resurrection and for which the gates of heaven are opened. the lord says, 'by my grace! i will certainly grant victory to you, even if after a while.'" (at-tirmidhi hadith no. 2248)
this is why the invocation or supplication (du'a) is mentioned and stressed in the verses that mainly focus on fasting, because they are both linked. following this, the verses shift to the clarification of some of the rulings of fasting to believers. allah (swt) has made it lawful to them to lie with their wives during the night of fasting, from the time of breaking the fast till dawn. he permits them to eat and drink too at that time. he also clarifies to them the duration of fasting that starts from sunrise till sunset, and the ruling of lying with their wives during the time they are consecrating themselves the mosques for worship and devotion: “it is made lawful to you, upon the night of the fast, to lie (literally: lying) with your wives; they are a garment (i.e. vestment, mutual protection) for you, and you are a garment for them. allah knows that you have been betraying yourselves, so he has relented toward you and has been clement to you. so now go in to them, and seek whatever allah has prescribed for you. and eat and drink until the white thread becomes evident to you from the black thread at dawn; thereafter complete (literally: perfect) the fast to the night, and do not go in to them while you are consecrating yourselves in the mosques. such are the bounds of allah, so do not draw near them. thus allah makes his signs evident to mankind, that possibly they would be pious.”
when fasting was first obligated on muslims, eating, drinking and having sex with their wives was not permitted to them if they sleep after they break their fast at sunset. if they wake up at night, before dawn, it was not lawful to eat, drink or sleep with their wives. it happened that one of them did not find food at home at the time of breaking the fast after sunset, then he slept, then he woke up and there was still no food, so he kept fasting to the following day. he felt exhausted the second day of fasting, and collapsed so it was reported to the prophet (peace be upon him). it also happened that another one slept after he broke the fast, and his wife was sleeping too but woke up during the night and could not resist his sexual urge. he had intercourse with his wife, and the case was also reported to the prophet (pbuh). it was clear to everyone that this duty was too hard for muslims to fulfill. allah is the all-merciful; he relaxed their restrictions when this experience was still vivid in their minds so that they may appreciate his mercy and response to their needs. so, the verse was revealed allowing muslims to have sex at any time between sunset and dawn on the night of the fast.
the arabic word “rafath” is used in the qur’anic text to indicate the preliminaries of sex or sexual intercourse itself which are both lawful during the night of the fast till dawn. yet, the qur’an does not mention that without a soft touch to denote the importance of spouses and the great rank of marital relationship. it denies any coarseness or harshness about this relationship, rather it gives it a sense of protection and covering as allah says about spouses (what can be translated as): “they are a garment (i.e. vestment, mutual protection) for you, and you are a garment for them.”
the garment is a cover and protection which is the nature of the relationship between the husband and his wife; it protects each of them from committing sins and gives them both cover against unlawful acts such as adultery. islam considers the human as a whole unit, it knows his form and nature as they are. islam takes the hand of the human to higher status, satisfying his psychological, physical and spiritual needs. it does not neglect any of them, or prefers a need over another. the commandments and rights that islam gives to humans tackles the body and soul, it gives him all his rights to satisfy the needs of the flesh such as eating, drinking and sexual desire and the needs of the spirit such as faith, assurance and serenity. allah (awj) knows best of the abilities, needs and expectations of his servants. he uncovers their inner feelings with kindness and understanding and meets their weaknesses with mercy because he is the creator and he knows the nature of his creation: “allah knows that you have been betraying yourselves, so he has relented toward you and has been clement to you.”
the mentioned betrayal is their inner thoughts and their repressed desires; some of them gave up to them and satisfied their sexual desire with their wives during the night of fasting. so, they came to the prophet (pbuh) and told him about the difficulty they are having in fulfilling this obligation to be fasting for a long time, especially on the night of the fast. at both cases, whether they are mere thoughts and desires, or that they actually gave up to them, allah the ever-merciful forgave them and relented toward them because he knows their capacity, indeed he is the all-knowing.
he makes lawful to them what they were wishing for and sometimes betraying themselves about. he makes it permissible to them to eat, drink and lie with their wives: “so now go in to them, and seek whatever allah has prescribed for you.” so, this permission is also linked to obedience to allah (awj), because even during satisfying their desires they are seeking what allah has prescribed for them such as pleasure with their wives and eventually having the offspring. both are blessings from allah because they are pleasures that he graced humans with, these pleasures are not without aims because they strengthen the bond between spouses, reinforce the structure of the family by building the affection between married couples and having offspring. they are not mere desires to be satisfied, it is connected to the reality and nature of humans on earth.
thus, the bond between spouses is not just about the sexual relationship between a married couple, it is higher and more sublime than an earthly desire. it is a noble bond as described by the qur’an; it is for protection and covering as they are garments to each other. through this, we realize the wise effort of the islam to improve and advance humanity, yet according to their nature and capacity. this is the islamic methodology to educate, improve and grow. the method put by the creator as he knows his creations, indeed he is the gentle the all-aware.
eating and drinking are also permissible during the same period: “and eat and drink until the white thread becomes evident to you from the black thread at dawn.” so, they can eat and drink till the light of the morning appears in the horizon and on mountain peaks. but it has to be evident and clear dawn not what is called as al-fajr al-kazib (false dawn) that resembles a white thread in the sky; it is evident that it is dawn upon the spreading of the light on the horizon after it had been ascending towards the sky. according to narrations on abstain time (imsak), dawn is shortly before sunrise. we start to fast at the times defined in our country or location before a short while of the exact abstain time, to be more precautious.
samorah ibn jundob reported that the prophet (peace be upon him) said: “do not pay much heed to the call of bilal or to this whiteness, until dawn has actually broken or has appeared.” another version of this pronouncement runs as follows “do not be prevented from your morning meal (suhoor) by bilal’s call (athan) or by the prolonged dawn. you should watch for the dawn spreading over the horizon.” this later dawn which spreads over the horizon occurs shortly before sunrise. bilal ibn rabah8(ra) used to make an early call for prayers in order to awaken those who were asleep. another call was made later by abdullah ibn umm maktum9(ra) which signaled the beginning of the fast.
we have then a ruling concerning intercourse in the period when one is retreating in the mosque (itikaf). it means to devote yourself to worship at mosques and not to go home unless for a necessity such as eating and drinking as it is a period of complete devotion to allah (awj). itikaf is recommended in the last few days of ramadan. the prophet muhammad (pbuh) used to do it in the last ten days of ramadan, which means that it is a sunnah10. to make this devotion truly complete and get rid of all other preoccupations and distractions, sex is not allowed in this period to dedicate the soul totally to allah and to have a heart empty of any distraction other than faith, hence comes the command: “and do not go in to them while you are consecrating yourselves in the mosques.” this sexual abstinence has to be at the time of fasting or during night when one is not fasting, only in case of itikaf.
at the end, allah makes it clear that everything is linked to him; each activity, abstention, command, inhibition, permission, movement and tranquility are all devoted to him. so, the qur’an relates this injunction to allah: “such are the bounds of allah, so do not draw near them.”
banning them from coming too close to the bounds of allah is to stay in the safe zone. if one goes too close to a certain boundary, it is very easy to transgress and step over it. man cannot always be in full control, so it is better for him not to test his willpower by going too close to the forbidden, relying only on his ability to retreat at the right time. since the bounds mentioned in the verses are those of desires, the command is given in these specific words: “so do not draw near them.” the forbidden thing here is the intercourse itself, not the physical nearness to the wife. the warning is expressed in such a way to encourage us to be on full guard and to be pious in fulfilling the commands of allah: “thus allah makes his signs evident to mankind, that possibly they would be pious.” accordingly, piety is depicted as an aim that we all should strive to achieve. it is a noble aim, the value of which is only appreciated and realized by those who have believed that are addressed by the qur’an at every time.
(1) awj: aza-wa-jal [glorified and sublime be he].
(2) people of the book ('ahl al-kitab) is a term used to designate non-muslim adherents to faiths which have a revealed scripture called, in arabic, al-kitab ("the book" or "the scripture").
(3) swt: subhanahu wa ta'ala [glorified and exalted be he].
(4) takbir: is the arabic name for the phrase allāhu akbar. usually translated "god is [the] greatest," or "god is great", it is a common islamic arabic expression, used as both an informal expression of faith and as a formal declaration.
(5) itikaf: is a pious islamic practice consisting of a period of retreat in a mosque, for a certain number of days in accordance with the believer's own wish. it is most common during the month of ramadan, especially the last ten days.
(6) ra: radya allah anhu/anha [may allah be pleased with him/her].
(7) abrogated (mansuukh): a decree or commandment that has been abrogated by another more recent one or modified by it.
(8) bilal ibn rabah was an african slave, later emancipated, that the prophet muhammad (pbuh) chose as his muezzin, effectively making him the first muezzin of the islamic faith. he was among the slaves freed by abu bakr and was known for his beautiful voice with which he called people to their prayers.
(9) abdullah ibn umm maktum: a companion of prophet muhammad (pbuh). the first verses of surat abasa, the 80th chapter in the qur'an, are considered to be revealed in an incident connected to him
(10) sunnah: literally means a clear, well trodden, busy and plain surfaced road. in the discussion of the sources of religion, sunnah denotes the practice of prophet muhammad (pbuh) that he taught and practically instituted as a teacher of the shariah and the best exemplar. the sunnah of prophet muhammad includes his specific words, habits, practices, and silent approvals.