3 December 1999
O you who have iman! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you so that perhaps you will gain taqwa for a specified number of days. But any of you who are ill or on a journey should fast a number of other days. For those who are able to fast, their fidya is to feed the poor. And if someone does good of his own accord, it is better for him. But that you should fast is better for you, if you only knew. The month of Ramadan is the one in which the Qur'an was sent down as guidance for mankind, with Clear Signs containing guidance and furqan. Any of you who are resident for the month should fast it. But any of you who are ill or on a journey should fast a number of other days. Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire difficulty for you. You should complete the number of days and proclaim Allah's Greatness for the guidance He has given you so that perhaps you will show thanks. (2:182-184 )
Here we are again, al-hamdulillah. Another year has sped past and we are once more at the threshold of the month of Ramadan. Allah ta'ala says that the new moons are time markers for us and it is certainly the case that many of us measure the year from one Ramadan to the next and each one seems to come quicker than the one before! I would like in this khutba to remind myself and you of some of the particular points of fiqh which govern this most blessed of all our months.
It is essential to make an intention for the obligatory fast of the twenty-nine or thirty days of Ramadan. This intention must be made before fajr on the first day and, according to us, one intention is sufficient for the whole month unless the fast is broken because of menstruation, travelling or illness in which case a new intention must be made before recommencing the fast. If Ramadan begins and you do not realise it has begun and start the day eating and this can easily happen in our situation; it did just last year with one family you start fasting the moment you find out and must make up another day after the end of the month.
As we know, the fast is from first light until the sun has set. It is sunna to delay the suhur meal until the last part of the night, while of course making sure not to eat after the time of Fajr to this end it is recommended to stop eating at least fifteen minutes before the time posted for fajr on the timetable; and it is sunna to break the fast as soon as possible after sunset. To make this easy will have our usual gathering for futur every evening here in the mosque at which everyone is welcome. There will be dates and milk and water before Salat al-Maghrib and a bowl of soup afterwards, insha'a'Llah.
Every Muslim beyond the age of puberty is required to fast. Pregnant women and nursing mothers are permitted to break the fast if they fear for the health of their babies but must make up the fast when they are able to and also, in the case of nursing mothers, feed people for the days they missed. If you break the fast because of travelling or because of illness you must make up the days you miss. If you fail to make up the days before the next Ramadan comes you must also feed people as well. If you break the fast out of forgetfulness or by accident you must make up a day and also continue to fast the rest of the day once you realise.
As we know, sexual intercourse is also forbidden during the hours of fasting and this is generally extended to include any sexual activity or stimulation which might lead to sexual fulfilment. This is something we have to particularly careful about in this day and age when sexually explicit material is so prolific and easily accessible and in some instances practically unavoidable. We must bear in mind that sexual emission during the hours of fasting incurs the penalty of kaffara in the same way as intentionally eating and drinking does. The kaffara for breaking the fast is feeding sixty poor people or setting free a slave or fasting for two consecutive months. Sexual relations between husband and wife is, of course, permitted during the hours of darkness.
One of the extra practices particular to Ramadan is the confirmed sunna of tarawih, the night prayers done behind the imam after Salat al-'Isha'. This is a practice containing much benefit for those who participate in it, not least of which is hearing the recitation of a lot of the Book of Allah. Salat al-'Isha' in this mosque will take place every night at 6.30pm and will be followed immediately by Tarawih during which one hizb will be recited. For people who wish to go through the whole Qur'an during Ramadan the other hizb will be recited after Salat adh-Dhuhr every day.
I have left till last the vexed, perennial issue of the beginning and end of Ramadan. The fast begins and ends with the physical sighting of the new moon. According to what has come down to us, this is must be confirmed in clear weather by a general sighting of many people, or if it is cloudy by at least two reliable witnesses, who then convey the news to the Muslim leader of that locality who then, in turn, announces the beginning or end of the fast to the community at large. It is important to make it absolutely clear that the beginning and end of Ramadan in any given locality is a political decision made by the local Muslim leader on the basis of the information he receives about the sighting of the moon. This goes without saying in countries where most or all the people are Muslims. I have fasted in several Muslim countries and it would never have occurred to me to exercise my own opinion about the beginning or end of the month. In the interests of the unity of the Muslims here in Norwich, I would would remind all of us that there is a Muslim leader here in this city and that we should all look to him for the announcement of the beginning and end Ramadan and abide by his decision.
Finally we should all remember the words of our Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, when he told us that many people get nothing from their fast but hunger and nothing from their night prayers but tiredness, and be aware that the business of fasting extends far beyond mere abstention from food, drink and sex. We must guard our tongues and all our limbs from anything which will detract from our fast and honour and respect the great gift of Ramadan which, out of His limitless generosity, Allah tabaraka wa ta'ala has blessed us with, so that we may become people who bear out to the full the words of our Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alahi wa sallam, when he said,
"Anyone who fasts Ramadan with belief and with awareness of the reward for doing it is forgiven all his previous wrong actions."
But as for him who feared the Station of his Lord and forbade the lower
self its appetites,
the Garden will be his refuge. (79:39-40)
Salman, radiya'Llahu 'anhu, said that the Messenger of Allah, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, spoke on the last day of Sha'ban and said, "O people! A great and blessed month has come to you a month in which there is a night which is better than a thousand months; a month in which Allah has made it obligatory to fast and in which He has made standing in prayer during the night a voluntary action. Anyone who draws near to Allah during it by means of a voluntary good action is like someone who performs one of the obligatory actions outside it and performing an obligatory action during it is equivalent to performing seventy obligatory actions at any other time. It is the month of sabr and the reward for sabr is the Garden. It is the month of generous giving and the month in which a believer's provision is increased, If someone gives someone fasting something with which to break their fast, that will bring him forgiveness for his wrong actions and remove him from the Fire, and he will have the same reward as the one he feeds without that diminishing their reward in any way."
There are two aspects to Ramadan. The first is the activity of fasting and the second is the nature of the time itself. There is no spiritual tradition which does not practise fasting in one form or another. Fasting is, in fact, a defining human practice. Any healthy hungry creature other than a human being will, if offered food it likes, automatically consume it. Only a human being is able, by an act of will, to abstain from eating in those circumstances. This makes it a very special act of worship which is very highly rewarded by Allah when it is done for His sake. There are many benefits to be gained from it, not least of which are the well-attested medical ones there is no doubt that it is excellent for our bodily health. However, perhaps the greatest benefit lies in the fact that by not eating and drinking when we want to we break one of the fundamental and basic links which imprison us in this lower world.
Our primary and primal connection with the world is made when we start feeding at our mother's breast and this is continued through the eating patterns we form throughout our childhood and into adult life. The effect of breaking this pattern is to open up to us access to direct knowledge of the substructure of our own selves and beyond that to the presence of our All-Providing Lord. Shaykh Abdalqadir as-Sufi talks of the highest possibilities opened up to us by the process of fasting when discussing it in his seminal work, The Way of Muhammad. He says: "…the whole self-pattern is opened up for the faster to see. … He is aware that any constancy of self he imagined he had was merely a surface illusion buoyed up by habit pattern and behaviour structure designed to give an illusion of solidity. He begins to know himself as a shuddering, evanescent, melting, moving reality … As the veils lift the Light becomes brighter. … Fasting is the opening onto the Reality; it is the melting away of the solid, the dispersal of the cloud-body and the appearance of the sun-spirit." Perhaps this goes some way towards explaining the meaning of the hadith of the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, when he said:
"Every good action of the son of Adam is multiplied by ten to seven hundred times. Allah says: 'Except fasting. It is mine and I repay it Myself. The faster abandons his food and drink for My sake.' The faster has two delights: delight when he breaks his fast and delight when he meets his Lord."
There is no doubt that Ramadan is a special time; every Muslim knows this. It is somehow qualitatively different from every other time. This is quite independent from the activity of fasting. It is not that fasting makes Ramadan different, it is rather that Allah has made it obligatory for us to fast during it so that we gain the maximum benefit from its specialness as a time. Allah ta'ala has made it the setting of a great secret that night which is better than a thousand months and for that reason the Prophet, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam, chose it for his retreats before his Prophethood began. Then on that night the great opening occurred; the beyond time and the in time intersected; the Revelation of Allah's Book began. As several mufassirun have pointed out, a thousand months is more or less the life-span of a human being, in other words all the experience of time that any of us can have. So what is being indicated by the description in the Qur'an of the Laylatu'l-Qadr is that it is out of time, a moment in the year when a window opens for us onto timelessness, when we somehow have access to the very presence of Allah.
It is this moment which permeates the whole month so that in it the Gates of the Garden are open and a faint resonance of the soft and fragrant breezes from them waft down to us in this world; and the shayatin which usually crowd in on us, poking at us and making it difficult for us to remember Allah and act rightly, are chained up, giving our hearts a welcome taste of ease and freedom. This is why good action is so highly rewarded during the month of Ramadan, as the hadith tells us. However, as with all good news there is an element of warning mixed in with it and that is that this time is extremely precious and we cannot afford to waste a moment of it. Now, before the month has started, the whole extent of Ramadan seems to stretch out abundantly in front of us; "Plenty of time," we say to ourselves. But how often have I heard people say as the end of the last week approaches, "Oh, if only I had taken more advantage of the time!"
So let us this year be people who take full advantage of this priceless blessing from Allah. Let us increase in our 'ibada; let us be generous in our giving; let us curb our tongues and open our hearts; let us be ready and waiting when the Laylatu'l-Qadr arrives so that we can receive the gifts it offers; let us reap every benefit from this Ramadan, allowing ourselves to be changed by it in a way that will enable us to go out from it renewed and able to take on to the full the task of re-establishing Allah's deen and implementing the sunna of His Messenger, salla'Llahu 'alayhi wa sallam.
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