Basic Elements of Fasting

Basic Elements of Fasting

Basic Elements of Fasting

There are two basic elements that constitute the essence of Is-
lamic fasting. The observation of these elements makes one’s
fasting acceptable.

The first element of fasting is abstinence of fast breakers from
the break of dawn ifajr) until sunset. For the fast breakers, the
Lawgiver, in no uncertain terms and free from any ambiguity
and confusion, meant abstinence from food and drink and sex-
ual relations. Any nourishment taken by mouth or nose, or
drink of any sort, water, juices, milk, etc., should be avoided.
Also, sexual intercourse during daytime is prohibited.

In this element, the period of observance is daily. It is not Is-
lamic fasting when fasting takes place at night. Indeed, we are
encouraged to break the fast without any delay as soon as the
sun goes down. The proof for this first element is the saying of
the Most High:

“…And now associate with them and seek what
Allah has ordained for you and eat and drink
until the white thread of dawn appears to you
distinct from its black thread.”

(Al-Qur an 2:187)

This verse defines the time limits in which the worshiper is ob-
ligated to exercise abstinence. The first part of the verse is an
indication of Allah’s mercy upon the worshipers by making it
easy for them during night hours in their relations with their
spouses. For when verse (2:185) was revealed, it restricted
daily as well as nightly relations with spouses. It was obviously
difficult for the believers.

Imam Al-Qurtabi and others reported: ‘Umar bin Al-Khataab
(raa) returned home late at night after visiting the Prophet

(saas). When he came home, he felt the urge for his wife, so he
slept with his wife, breaking the rule. Early in the morning he
went to the Prophet (saas) and informed him about the incident.
He said, “I seek pardon from Allah and you. My soul
tempted me to have relations with my wife. Can you find a
permission for me in this offense?” The Prophet, (saas),
asked whether he really was serious about this. ‘Umar (raa) re-
plied, “Yes.” The Prophet (saas) did not have an answer for
him, but told him Allah has to decide on this.

By the grace of Allah, before ‘Umar arrived home, Allah
(SWT) revealed verse (2:187), permitting believers to enjoy
their wives during the night. So this is what the verse is refer-
ring to. It sets the limit of abstinence. It does so in metaphorical
language draped with flair and beauty, as it describes the start-
ing and the ending time of fast. Eat and drink until the white
thread, i.e., the first rays of light finds its way through the hori-
zon, the black thread. At that time, one must stop eating and
start the observance of fasting. ‘

The second element of fasting is niyyah (intention). In Islamic
practices, niyyah is highly rated. This remarkable element is
not unique to fasting; it permeates every ounce of the believer’s
undertakings from Salaat, to Zakaat, to Hajj. It is the differ-
ence between whether the actions are religious or irreligious.
For instance, fasting for political reasons, or as a weapon of
passive resistance, or hunger strikes, or starving for dietary rea-
sons, or weight control, or even on medical advice – all of these
are not proper Islamic fasting, because they lack one main
component: that is, the niyyah. This is why niyyah for fasting is
to worship Allah by abstaining from fast-breakers from the
break of dawn to sunset.

The act of abstinence is not meant to starve you; it is an act of
worship, like Salaat. It is the lack of intention that makes ones
acts non-Islamic. Interestingly, you can pursue your regular
activities, which have nothing to do with religion, such as

maintaining your livelihood and earn a religious reward by the
intention. The Prophet (saas) told the believers that by declar-
ing niyyah, their relations with their spouses would become
charity. The companions asked how would that be a charity
{sadaqah)! The Prophet responded, “Don’t you know that if
he does it in an unlawful way it will be a sin on him?” They
said, “Yes.” “The same,” he said, “When he does it in a legal
way, it is charity.” (Muslim)

The evidence for intention, niyyah, is mentioned in Al-Qur’an
and Sunnah. Allah (SWT) states:

“And they have been commanded no more than
to worship Allah, offering Him sincere devo-

(Al-Qur’an, 98:5)

“They” in this verse refers to the People of the Book, indicat-
ing that intention was part of their religious belief, or that they
were commanded as the believers were through Prophet Mu-
hammad (saas) to worship Allah sincerely. The structure of this
verse is instructive. It did not mention who commanded. Of
course, it is Allah. But, you see, this form is used, mentioning
Allah indirectly, to indicate that the acts of worship are diffi-
cult, and He did not want us to think of them as a burden for
the sake of it. He commanded us to fast because he knows we
cannot do without this acts of worship.

We see the same use when Allah speaks of fasting:

“…Fasting is prescribed to you…”

(Al-Qur’an, 2: 183)


“The law of equality is prescribed to you.”

(Al-Qur x an, 2: 178)

In both verses, it did not say “who” the subject is. It is not di-
rectly mentioned, whereas or when Allah speaks of His rah-
man, mercy, He mentions Himself as if He is informing us that
Your Lord has inscribed for Himself mercy. This is like a fa-
ther or guardian instructing his minor, “You ought to do this
and that” instead of telling him “To do this.” Or perhaps Allah
(SWT) did not mention His name directly to indicate that He
(SWT) is not the only One who commands you to worship
Him. Your intellect and reasoning also command you to wor-
ship your Creator, for He has endowed you with His mercy.

Liya’abudu (to worship) – generally means to humble – but has
become a name for every type of worship rendered with hum-
bleness and utmost respect to Allah (SWT). However, the key
word is mukhliseen, purely intending in their hearts for the
pleasure of Allah (SWT) the worship Allah alone. One should
declare in his heart that the act he or she is about to undertake
is intended for Allah (SWT). It is not for eye service (riya), ear
service {sum’ ah), saying to be heard, or for any other reasons.
The most important thing in Islam is not the quantity of wor-
ship ( ^ebadah) but the quality. By quality is meant that it is in-
tended for none but Allah. On the other hand, Allah is telling
the believer and humanity, you know that I have created every-
thing in creation just for you, that is all of creation. Not half
one-third, one quarter, or a fifth of it, but all of it.

“It is He who has created for you all things that
are on earth.”

(Al-Qur’an 2:29)

If that is the case, you should not intend with your acts but for
Allah alone. Do not intend in your deeds half for Allah and the
rest for someone else. You cannot fast three-fourths of a day
for Allah and one-fourth for someone else. Nor can you sacri-
fice two sheep, one for Allah and the other for the ruler. Allah
would never accept that. That is the proof of niyyah in Al-

In a hadith related by “Umar bin Al-Khattab (raa), he said:

“I heard the Messenger of Allah (saas), saying: ‘Deeds
are but by intention, and every man shall have all but
that which he intended. Thus, he whose migration was
for Allah and His Messenger, his migration was for Al-
lah and His Messenger, and he whose migration was to
achieve some worldly benefit or to take some woman in
marriage, his migration was for that for which he mi-
grated.’ ” (Bukhari/Muslim)

This hadith pronounced by the Prophet (saas) explains, in ef-
fect, the above verse and attempts to educate the believers be-
fore they embark on a course of action. At the outset, as the
persecution of the believers reached its peak, the Prophet and
the believers were ordered to emigrate to Abyssinia, then fi-
nally to Medina, where the Prophet and the believers settled.
Migration was, and still is, a sign of faith and a great honor in
the sight of Allah. He (SWT) described those men and women
who endured that experience as “Al-Muhajirun, ” declared in
Surah 2: 218.

“Those who believe and adopted exile and
fought (and strove and struggled) in the path of

So every person who has an ulterior motive claims he is emi-
grating to Medinah, to please Allah. But the Prophet (saas)
made it clear to the believers that Hijrah is not the pain and
hardship of traveling and missing the loved ones, but the intent
behind it. The hadith defines what constitutes Allah’s percep-
tion of the deeds of the believer.

Hence, the elements of fasting are two: to worship Allah
(SWT) by abstaining from fast – breakers, combined with in-

Essentials of Ramadan The Month of Fasting