The holy month of Ramadan – How to fast?

When it is time to fast during Ramadan I hear my friends discuss how to best fast. The discussion centers on when to start and stop the fast.  When Ramadan comes in the summer, and since we live northerly with almost 16 or more hours of daylight, the question arises whether one can use some other daylight standard (like the sunrise to sunset interval in Mecca) for the fast. My friends follow different rulings by various scholars on this and similar questions on what is permissible and what is not.

Important as these discussions are, we often forget the equally important question of how to live so our fasting pleases Allah. The prophets wrote about this and their message about proper living for a pleasing fast is as important today as in their time.

The Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) lived in a time when the believers practiced their religious obligations (like prayers and fasting) strictly.  They were religious.

Historical Timeline of Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) with some other prophets in Zabur
Historical Timeline of Prophet Isaiah (PBUH) with some other prophets in Zabur

But it was also a time of great corruption (see introducing Zabur). The people were constantly fighting, disputing and arguing. So the prophet brought them this message.

True Fasting

58 “Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’

“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.

“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
10 and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
11 The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
12 Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings. (Isaiah 58: 1-12)

Are not these promises for abundant life from true fasting wonderful?  But the people back then did not listen to the prophet and did not repent (the prophet Yahya’s PBUH teaching about repentance). So they were judged as Prophet Musa (PBUH) had prophesied.  This message remains a warning for us since Isaiah’s description of how they behaved while fasting sounds like today.

It will be of no use to fast, with whatever rules our imams permit, and still fail to please Allah by living in a way that offends Him.  So understand how to receive His mercy through the Prophet Isa al Masih PBUH.