Abu Huraira relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: start the month after sighting the new moon and end it at the next sighting. If you are unable to observe it by reason of the sky being overcast, postpone the fast by a day. (Bukhari and Muslim). Muslim adds: If you are unable to observe the new moon at the end of Ramadhan, observe the fast for the thirtieth day.
Ibn Abbas relates that a man from the outskirts of the town came to the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, and reported that he had sighted the moon. The Holy Prophet asked him whether he would state this on oath that there was no God but Allah and that Muhammad was His Messenger. The man took the oath, whereupon the Holy Prophet instructed Bilal to announce that people should start fasting the next morning.
Talha ibn Ubaidullah relates that on seeing the New Moon, the Holy Prophet would supplicate: Allah, do Thou cause the appearance of this moon to be a harbinger of peace, faith, security and Islam for us. Thy Lord, O Moon, and mine is Allah. May this be a moon presaging guidance and good. (Tirmidhi).
As is well known, the phases of the moon result from the relative positions of the earth, moon and sun and at the opposition and conjunction of the moon’s orbit around the earth (on average 29 days, 12 hours and 44.5 minutes) appear the Full Monn and the New Moon. Every solar year contains 12.37 lunar months, and as the years roll by, with the month of fasting moving from summer, through spring, winter and autumn, the cycle is completed in thirty-three years, each lunar year commencing about 11⅓ solar days earlier than the previous. A man who fasts the first full month of Ramadhan at the age of 18 years during the shorter winter days would fast again at the age of 50 in the same winter days according to the solar calendar. Apart from inhabitants of equatorial countries where the length of days throughout the year remains approximately equal, no undue perpetual hardship accrues for longer than a decade to those who live along the further latitudes.
Improved means of communication have meant that people living in a country can be told of the sighting of the new moon by a Qadi should the new moon not have been sighted in another locality. If confusion still exists the foregoing traditions should form the basis of guidance. People often question the significance of ‘New Moon’ as quoted in Almanacs and appearing in the weather section of most newspapers. It is emphasised that at ‘New Moon’, the moon cannot be seen at the time indicated and allowance has to be made for the appearance of the first crescent. This is because the ‘New Moon’ phase is at conjunction to the position of the earth.
The fast begins approximately an hour before sun-rise. Some people have been too pedantic about the words ‘the break of dawn begins to manifest itself.’ In the past, some Muslims used to sleep with two threads under their pillow, one black, the other white, and dawn was determined when they could clearly distinguish one from the other. The guiding principle is that before sun-rise when the rays of sun-shine become visible, there should be time enough to complete the recitation of fifty verses of the Holy Quran which takes about one hour if justice is to be done to this recitation. Present day almanacs give the precise time of sun-set and sun-rise. Muslim communities publish time-tables for the commencement of the fast (about one hour before sun-rise, Sehr) and the breaking of the fast (at sun-set, when the night approaches from the east and the sun is submerged beyond the horizon, Iftar) and such time-tables are normally reliable. In most Muslim countries, the people determine their fast according to the Call for Prayers, the Azan: you must stop eating when the morning Azan ends and you should break the fast immediately when the evening Azan starts.
Some people ridicule Islam by stating that it may be correct for people to fast but what about the people who live near the poles and have the mid-night sun. Islam is a universal religion meant for all pople in all parts of the earth. The Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, made a prophecy about such circumstances too. A time would come when Islam would spread to a place where the sun never sets. Asked 1400 years ago what Muslims should do to fulfill their obligation for prayers and fasting, the Prophet said that they should reckon a day by twelve hours duration (so that a Muslim may fast from
6.00 a.m. to 6.00 p.m. in such areas) (Muslim: Ch. Ashrat al-Saah).
Abu Huraira relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: Do not observe the fast on two days preceding Ramadhan, but this does not apply to one who has made a practice of it. (Bukhari and Muslim). Abu Huraira relates that the Holy Prophet said: When the middle of Shaban (before Ramadhan) arrives, do not observe a fast during the rest of it. (Tirmidhi).
A person who wishes to observe the fast must express his or her intention to fast in words such as: I hereby express my intention to keep the fast of tomorrow during the month of Ramadhan.
Wabesawme ghadinnawayto min shahre Ramadhana
The above intention ‘Niyah‘ must be repeated for each fast on the night before the fast. A person may do Niyah and yet not be able to fast the next day but not vice-a-versa.
Anas, on whom be peace, says: the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: serve yourselves with breakfast, for they are blessed. (Bukhari and Muslim). In Musnad-i-Ahmad it is written that pre-dawn meals are blessed, therefore they should not be left out even though it may consist of a mouthful of water, for God and His angels shower blessings upon those who partake of pre-dawn meals.
Amr ibn Aas says: the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: the distinctive feature between our fasts and those of the people of the Book is the eating of breakfast. (Muslim).
It is patently obvious that one should get up for the early morning Tahajjud prayers and have a light breakfast, although a fast is nonetheless valid if one should have expressed the intention to fast the night before, overslept and be unable to have had any breakfast, (Sehr).
Anas says that Zaid bin Sabit told him that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, took pre-dawn meals with them and then led the prayers. I asked , how long was the interval between the meals and the call for prayers and he answered that it was the time required for the recital of fifty verses. (Bukhari and Muslim).
Hazrat Abu Huraira, on whom be peace, relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: Should any of you eat or drink in forgetfulness of the fast, he should continue his fast till the end, for Allah has fed him and given him to drink. (Bukhari and Muslim).
However, anyone who eats or drinks in forgetfulness, and, having realised his mistake, still continues to eat or drink. has effectively broken his fast.
Sahl ibn Sa’ad, on whom be peace, relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: My people will adhere to good as long as thy do not delay the breaking of the fast. (Bukhari and Muslim). In another Hadith, Abu Huraira relates that the Holy Prophet said that Allah, the Lord of honour and glory proclaimed: Of My servants I love most those who are foremost in breaking their fasts. (Tirmidhi).
In view of these sayings of the Holy Prophet and of God Almighty, it is essential that a fast should be ended immediately after the sunset as there is no merit in prolonging it beyond this point.
Allahhumma laka sumto wa’laa rizqeka ‘aftarto
Hazrat Maaz ibn Zahra, on whom be peace, says that he heard that whenever the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, used to end his fast, he used to pray: O our Lord, for Your sake I kept the fast and with Your food have I ended it. Ibn Umar said that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of God be upon him, used to say at ending a fast: Thirst has disappeared and veins have received nourishment , and, God willing, reward has been secured.
Salman ibn Aamir Dhabi, on whom be peace, relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: if any among you keep a fast, he should end it with a date or else with water for it is pure (Abu Daud and Tirmidhi). Dates need no artificial preservative and have a high glucose content value which helps to revitalise the body rather quickly. They also have a fair proportion of iron in them.
Anas relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, said: indeed, God has exempted a pregnant or a suckling woman from fasting. (The fasts thus lost can be kept after the disability has disappeared. The same applies to a sick person and women during their monthly periods).
A woman may do ‘Niyah’ while in menstruation in anticipation, and, should before dawn her monthly period have ended, the fast would be valid.
Ayesha, the wife of the Holy Prophet, says that Hamza bin Amr-il-Aslami who used to keep regular fasts told the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, that he fasted even when he was travelling. The Holy Prophet replied it was up to him to keep or not to keep the fast. (This in fact relates to voluntary fasts).
Jabir relates: Once the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was on a journey and he saw a crowd around a person over whom a shade had been erected. He asked what was the matter, and the people replied that the man was fasting. The Holy Prophet replied, it was no virtue to keep a fast while travelling. (The Holy Prophet did sometime fast while travelling but this happened only when he was keeping voluntary fasts; otherwise, as far as the fasts during the month of Ramadhan are concerned, it is the Quranic injunction not to fast while travelling but to make up the lost count on other days. However, if a traveller wishes to stay at a certain place during his journeys for at least fifteen days or more, then he should keep the fasts).
Abu Huraira relates that once we were sitting with the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessing of Allah be upon him when a man came and cried: 0 Messenger of Allah, I have indeed been doomed! The Holy Prophet asked what the matter was and the man replied that he had consorted with his wife while he was fasting. The Holy Prophet asked him whether he could afford to free a slave and he replied that he could not do so. He asked him whether he could fast continuously for two months and the man replied no. He asked him whether he could feed sixty poor and the man replied no. The Holy Prophet asked him to sit down and wait. Shortly thereafter, a basket of dates was brought by someone to the Holy Prophet whereupon he called for the person in question and asked him to feed those dates to the poor. The man said: By God, O Messenger of Allah, there is no house poorer than mine in this valley. This made the Holy Prophet laugh so that even his back teeth could be seen, and said: All right, go and feed them to your family.
Should a person have consorted with his wife during the night, he should have a bath prior to the start of the fast
Abu Hurairah relates that the Holy Prophet said: The best month for fasting next after Ramadhan is Muharram, and the best prayer next after the prescribed prayers is Prayer at Night. (Muslim). The Prophet also observed the fast during the greater part of Sha’ban. (Muslim).
Ibn Umar relates that the Holy Prophet said: Night prayer is a succession of two raka’as at a time, and when you perceive the approach of dawn add a single raka’a to make an odd number. (Bukhari and Muslim).
Jabir relates that the Holy Prophet was asked: Which prayer is best? He answered: The one in which the worshipper makes a long stand. The Holy Prophet once said: Every night there is a brief space of time during which whatever of good pertaining to this life or the next a Muslim supplicates for, it is granted him. (Muslim).
Ayesha relates that the Holy Prophet, may peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, never offered more than eleven raka’as at night during Ramadhan or at any other time. He would offer four raka’as long and perfect, and then four of the same type and then three (vitr). I asked him: Messenger of Allah, do you sleep before offering vitr? He answered: Ayesha, my eyes sleep but my heart does not (Bukhari and Muslim).
The Tahajjud prayers described above is a voluntary prayer comprising of two to eight raka’as, offered, in succession of twos or fours, from midnight till dawn manifests itself. It is concluded by three raka’as of vitr. It may be offered individually or in congregation. The Ahmadiyya Movement in Islam attaches great importance to this prayer.
The Taraveeh prayers is actually an extension of the Tahajjud prayers offered by the Holy Prophet. It was introduced by Hazrat Umar as a congregational or individual prayer for the month of Ramadhan. The Taraveeh prayer is offered after two voluntary raka’as of the Isha prayers (the last of the five compulsory prayers). It comprises of eight raka’as, again offered in succession of twos or fours and concluded with the vitr prayers in congregation. The Taraveeh prayers were essentially introduced to prevent the habit, still prevalent among some Muslims, to retire to bed immediately after a hearty meal (Iftar) and the offering of the Maghrib and Isha prayers. An opportunity is frequently taken of completing the entire Quran, from beginning to end, in phased stages, during Ramadhan through Taraveeh prayers led by a Hafiz-ul-Quran (an individual who has committed the Quran to memory).
It goes without saying that the Tahajjud prayers are preferred to the Taraveeh prayers. A Muslim is required to carry out all his normal functions during the month of Ramadhan e.g. if he is a businessman, he may still carry out his business duties while fasting during the day time. However, in some Muslim countries, Ramadhan is an official month of holidays. Muslims in such countries engage themselves in heavy meals in the evening in an attempt to make up for what they have lost. They then sleep the night through and miss out the pre-dawn meal. These practices are not what Islam recommends but what some Muslims have devised for themselves. The emphasis is on prayers; not on sleep.