Fasting is an old universal institution, practised since ancient times. A study of the Old Testament books, Exodus and Samuel, shows that Moses and other Israelite Prophets, on whom be peace, observed the ritual of fasting on important occasions. So did Jesus, as is said of him in Matt. 4:2-3 “And when he had fasted forty days and forty nights, then be felt hungry.” Indeed, Jesus, on whom be peace, is reported to have told his disciples in Matt. 17 that evil spirits cannot be exorcised except through prayer and fasting. In Matt. 6 he appears to have gone to considerable lengths to describe the manner in which fasting should be carried out. He says:
“But you, when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face. That you appear not to men to fast, but to your Father which is in secret: and your Father, which sees in secret, shall reward you openly.” (Matthew 6:17·181)
In Encyclopaedia Brittanica, p. 104 Vol. IX, Fasting is explained as follows:·
“Commonest by far, however, of all the uses of voluntary fasting, in the past and at the present time, is its practice as an act of self-denial with definite religious intention. By the greater number of religions, in the lower middle and higher cultures a like, fasting is largely prescribed, and where it is not required it is nevertheless practised to some extent by individuals in response to the prompting of nature.”
The Quranic verse quoted on pages 4 and 5 stipulates three objectives for fasting:
The month of Ramadhan carries many special attributes which have been described by no less an authority than the Holy Prophet himself, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him. Some of these are:
(a) The opener of Paradise. Abu Huraira relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said that from the first night of the month of Ramadhan, satanic forces are chained, rebellious elements are disciplined and the shutters of Hell are drawn without exception. All the gates of Paradise are opened and a crier shouts: O the seeker of righteous deeds proceed, and O the recliner to evil intentions desist. Many sinners are granted amnesty from Hell, and this occurs every night of the month”. (Bukhari and Muslim).
(b) Abstention from evil tendencies. Abu Huraira says that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: When Ramadhan arrives the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of hell are locked up and satans are put in chains. (Bukhari and Muslim).
(c) Month of Munificent Charity. Ibn Abbas relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was the most generous of men and he was at his most bountiful during Ramadhan when Gabriel visited him every night and recited the Quran to him. During this period the bounty of the Holy Prophet waxed faster than the rain-bearing breeze (Bukhari and Muslim).
(d) Intercession from Quran and the Fast. Abdallah bin Amar says that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said that the fasting and the Quran intercede with Allah on behalf of a servant. Fast shall say: O my Lord, I kept this man from food and other physical comforts throughout the day, so please God, condescend to my intercession on his behalf. And Quran will plead: I kept him away from sleep at night, so please accept my recommcndation for him. Both these intercessions would be carried.
(e) Basic purpose of fasting. Abu Huraira relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said that if one did not eschew falsehood and false conduct, Allah has no need that he should abstain from eating and drinking. (Bukhari). In Arabic language, falsehood includes wrong deeds, illegal means, bribery, adulteration, make believe, musical concerts, etc.
(f) Excellence of Fasting over other exercises. Abu Huraira relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: A man’s good works carry multiple rewards, from ten times to seven hundred times. Allah says: A fast is an exception, for it is observed for My sake and I shall bestow the reward for it. He who observes a fast gives up his passion and his food for My sake. For such a one there are two joys: a joy when he breaks his fast and a joy when he meets his Lord. His breath is purer in the estimation of Allah than the fragrance of musk. The fast is a shield. When any of you is fasting he should eschew loose talk and noisy exchanges. Should anyone revile him or seek to pick a quarrel with him, be should respond: I am observing a fast. (Bukhari and Muslim).
(g) RAYYAN chambers of Paradise. Saad ibn Sahl relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: There is a gate of Paradise called Rayyan through which only those will enter on the Day of Judgment who are regular in observing the fast and no one else. A call will go forth: Where are those who observed the fast regularly? and they will step forth and no one beside them will enter through that gate. After they have entered the gate will be closed and no one else will enter thereby. (Bukhari and Muslim).
(h) The Holy Prophet’s sermon on Ramdhan. Salman the Farasi relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, delivered us a sermon on the last day of the month of Shaaban and said: O people, a great month has dawned upon you, a month of blessings in which there is the Lailatul Qadr (Night of Decrees) which is better than a thousand months. Fasting during the month is obligatory from God and nightly prayers are voluntary. Anyone who partakes of a good deed in it is like the one who discharges an obligatory ritual in other months. Anyone who discharges an obligatory article in this month is like the one who discharges seventy of them in other months. This was a month of patience and patience has its reward in Paradise. This was a month of reconcilliation and a month in which a believer’s wealth was enhanced. Anyone who fed a fasting person at the time of his breaking fast will have his sins remitted, will be shielded from fire and will earn a reward equivalent to that earned by the person who fasted without the latter suffering any diminution. We asked the Holy Prophet that not every one of us could afford to help feed a fasting person. The Holy Prophet replied that this kind of reward would be available even if a little quantity of milk, yogurt or water was offered at the time of breaking the fast. Anyone who fed a satisfying meal to a fasting person would be offered drinks from my springs so that he would never suffer any thirst to the day he enters Paradise. The earlier part of the month was mercy, its middle remission from sins and the last portion was manumission from fire. Anyone who lightened the work of his servants in this month will have his sins forgiven by God and will find himself saved from fire.
(i) Fasting — a peerless act. Abu Imamah relates that he asked the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, for an advice which could be beneficial to him from God, and he replied that he should keep fasts for there was nothing quite like them.
(j) Skipping fast without excuse. Abu Huraira relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said that anyone who did not fast on any of the days of Ramadhan without lawful excuse or illness would never be able to ransom the loss even if he fasted for the rest of his life.
The Holy Quran, wisely refrains from defining the terms ‘ailing’ or ‘journey’ leaving them to be defined by common usage of the people and the attending circumstances. If doctors do not recommend fasting, one must refrain from fasting.
(k) Hypocritical fasting. Abu Huraira relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: Many a fasting person had nothing except the suffering of thirst. and many a person standing in nightly prayers had nothing but suffering sleeplessness — and no reward.
There are various kinds of blessings of God Almighty which accrue to a Muslim, both as an individual and as a brotherhood of mankind, when he prays, or fasts, or does both, or gives alms, or performs the Haj or fulfills all these obligations. One apparent difference between prayers and fasting is that in the case of prayers, the ablution (wudhu) becomes void on the ejection of food and water, whereas in the case of fasting, the fast is invalidated upon the swallowing of food and water. For prayers, that which leaves the body, admittedly impure, breaks the wudhu; for fasting, that which enters the body, though wholesome and nourishing, breaks the fast. A person enjoys the true blessings of prayers as long as his ‘wudhu’ is intact and a good Muslim will always try to safeguard himself accordingly. He will even control his emotions and will not let loose in a fit of anger lest his wudhu be treated broken. He will also endeavour to refrain from listening to lies and backbiting nor permit these evils to enter him lest his fast be broken. Unlike other forms of worship, the discipline of fasting involves abstention, desisting and relinquishing and by its very nature is concealed from human sight, whereas other forms of worship like prayers, giving of alms, pilgrimage are apparent and exposed to human sight. It is an inward act of worship and a method of subduing Satan.
 Said to be the night when the Holy Quran began to be revealed. This was on 24th of the month now known as Ramadhan (Jarir)