Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?

SO why do Muslims fast during Ramadan? I have asked Muslims this question many times. They often just answer with a good0natured shrug and "haek biddu Allah," which is a very colloquial way of saying, "That's what Allah wants."

I think about this question of fasting and dietary regulation every Friday when we abstain from anything with warm blood in it: pork, chicken, beef, lamb. Why do we do this? Because Friday is a special day. It is the day when Jesus was crucified, which means that we can honor life in a special way by what we refrain from eating. Now this is not a particularly example of dietary devotion, but I offer it as one reason for such a an exercise of piety.

Islam Q & A in its customary way offered a long rambling answer to this question, in a way that only an imam or Anglican bishop could. Rather than post his prolix answer I will summarize and abridge the four points he has outlined:

a) We Muslims fast the month of Ramadaan because Allaah has commanded us to do so. Allaah says (interpretation of the meaning):

“ O you who believe! Observing As-Sawm (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqoon (pious)”

b) It is by His wisdom that Allaah has prescribed a variety of acts of worship, so as to test people with regard to how they will obey all these commands. Will they only choose to do that which suits them, or will they do that which pleases Allaah?

c) The reason why fasting was prescribed, which is taqwa (piety) and submission to Allaah. Taqwa means giving up haraam things, and in general terms includes both doing what is commanded and abstaining from what is forbidden. The Prophet (peace and blessings of Allaah be upon him) said: “Whoever does not give up false speech and acting upon it and offensive speech and behaviour, Allaah has no need of his giving up his food and drink.”

So there you have three reasons for the Muslim to fast: that it is a characteristic of the believer to obey what Allah commands; that Allah tests us in our fasting; and that it builds up our piety.

Another interesting question is why fasting is prescribed during Ramadan specifically. I also asked that question many times and one friend was able to tie it to some event in Muhammad's life, but I don't know the story well enough to relay it, nor do I know of the validity of that story. It is very different to the Lenten fast which is for Catholics and Protestants fairly easy, but whose reason is know to many: it is a preparation for Easter and a time to devote to repentance and confession of our sins. (I should point out here that the Orthodox Lenten fast is very difficult, possibly more so than the Islamic sawm of Ramadan.)

However unsatisfactory the answer of our Muslims friends may be to the Christian's question, he has a much more poignant question to ask of evangelicals in general: Why do you not fast at all?

Let me also point out that it is worthwhile to remember Jesus' own teaching on fasting, and compare this to what Muslims are taught:

“When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you."

--Matthew 6:16-18

Click for English or for Arabic.


Azooz said…
Muslims fast Ramadan becuase it is one of the five pillars of Islam - it is also a form of worship that pleases God - more than enough reason for me to fast Ramadan :)
Anonymous said…
azooz had said that she fasts because it is the five pillers i also agree with that and with the fact that allah swt has commended us but i wanted to know why allah wants us to fast what is the reason? for example the reason to perform namaaz is that do allah swt ebadat so waht is the reason for fasting please elabrate on your answer thank you
Anonymous said…
The main reason we fast is because God has commanded it. Anything God has commanded us to do is for our own benefits. There are many benefits for fasting. Your fast may be broken not only by consumption but by an action that is evil. That is how piety is achieved by remembering to abstain from doing evil. It becomes easier to avoid evil for the simple reason of not wanting to break your fast just for a simple desire of a sin. iceo540@yahoo.com
Anonymous said…
The reason we fast during the month of ramadan, is that because quran had first been revealed to the porhet in tht month....
Anonymous said…
This is the real reason:

Narrated Ibn 'Abbas(r.a): When Allah's Apostle(s.a.w) arrived at Medina, he found the Jews fasting on the day of 'Ashura. The Prophet(s.a.w) asked (about it) and they replied: "This is the day when Moses(a.s) became victorious over Fir'aon". The Prophet(s.a.w) said (to the muslims), "We are nearer to Moses than they, so fast on this day" (Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol.6, p.233)

The Prophet(s.a.w) also sent a companion to go round Medina to announce to all the muslims that whoever has eaten should fast for the remaining hours of the day and whoever has not eaten should fast for the day (see Sahih Al-Bukhari, vol. 3, hadeeth 181, p. 103). It is evident that 'Ashura fast was the first communal fast made obligatory for the muslims by the Prophet(s.a.w) whereas his own habit of 3-day-fast-per-month remained optional.

The All-knowing Allah formally revealed two verses regarding fasting in the second year of Hijra: the verses spelt out the reasons for fasting; when to do so; who should be exempted? etc. Let's see the verses:

"O ye who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for people before you so that you will (learn how to attain) piety" (Q2:183)

"(fasting is) for a fixed number of days: but if any one of you is sick, or on a journey, the prescribed number (should be made up) from (other) days later. For those who can do it (with hardship) is a ransom, the feeding of one that is indigent. But whoever can give more (than this) of his own free will--(then) it is better for him, and it is better for you that ye fast, if ye but knew." Q(2:184) When these two verses were revealed, 'Aisha(r.a) reported that the Prophet(s.a.w) then said to the muslims: "Ramadan fast is a divine obligation but whoever likes to fast 'Ashura day (as well) may do so voluntarily or leave it". Undoubtedly, Ramadan fast is a blessing to the muslims in the sense that from one-day 'Ashura fast, Allah gave them a whole month of Ramadan instead. Ramadan may be 29 or 30 days depending on when the moon was sighted.
Anonymous said…
History of Ramadan Fast

What turns out now to be a compulsory annual event (i.e fasting during the month of Ramadan by all able-bodied muslims) started in the early years of Prophet Muhammad (s.a.w) in Medina, precisely in the second year of Hijra. Prior to his flight to Medina (known as Hijra), the Prophet(s.a.w) was in the habit of fasting three times per month (this gives 36 days in a year) when he was in Mecca and to a great extent when he settled in Medina. Not long, the Prophet(s.a.w) soon discovered that the Jews in Medina used to set aside one special day for fasting. By Islamic lunar calendar, the day used to be 10th of Muharram, often called yawmu :ashura. The Prophet(s.a.w) then asked the Jews about the significance of the day. He was told that it is the day Allah helped Prophet Musa(a.s) to humiliate, defeat and drown the tyrant, Fir'aon. By all standard, since Musa(a.s) was a prophet of Allah and of course a muslim, the Prophet(s.a.w) felt that Musa(a.s) was nearer to him as a Prophet (as well as to the muslims) than to the Jews. To this end, he ordered his companions to fast along with him that day.
Anonymous said…
Moses was a Muslim?
Islam did not even exist in Moses' time.
He was a Hebrew.
Anonymous said…
Adam, Noah, Moses, Jesus and a lot of other prophets present in Christianity and Judaism, their stories are mentioned in the Muslim's Holy Quran. We basically share the same prophets and tales of the prophet except for slight differences. For example in the story of Jesus, as mentioned in the Quran, Jesus did not die at the cross.

Another rationale as to why Muslims have to fast during the Ramadhan is to teach us about humility and poverty, to let us know how it feels to go without food like those who could not afford to eat.

That why, we are encouraged to live in moderation, to avoid extravangances.
Anonymous said…
We fast because they believe that it is a way to show that god is more important than ones's own body. It also reminds us of people in the world who are struggling to get enough food at night to eat.
Abu Daoud said…
Ultimately Muslims fast because Allah says they must. I note that one person accepts this, but still wants to understand why and how it is for our good.

I think here that both Muslims and Christians agree that sometimes we do not understand God's will for humans, yet we should obey it.

On the other hand, there are no major pillars of the religion of Jesus where we are told to obey without understand AT ALL.

My Muslim friends, consider Jesus and his own teaching on fasting, and ask if this is not a teaching from Allah:


16 “When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show others they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. 17 But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, 18 so that it will not be obvious to others that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. (Matthew 6--Google it)

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