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"Removing the Middleman" Chapter 2: Surah Al-Baqarah (The Cow): Verses 183-185


For People of Faith (Mo’men), fasting has been mandated as it was mandated for previous generations   85 for a certain number of days so that one may become responsible (through sustained God consciousness). But whoever is sick or is on a journey should make up that number of days later. Also, those who find it extremely difficult (to fast) can compensate by feeding a person in need (instead). Whoever does good work with deliberation, it is better, and you should know that fasting is good for you.

 Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed as guidance for mankind and as proof of the guidance (itself) as well as a means of differentiation (between good and evil and right and wrong). Therefore, whoever is present in (or witnesses) this month shall fast (during the month). 86 (Again), if one is sick or is on a journey, one should fast an equal number of days (later). God wishes ease for you and not hardship. You should complete the number (of days of fasting) and glorify His Greatness for guiding you and as a means to thank Him.


85 Fasting, a major foundation (pillar) of Islamic practices, has a universal appeal and has been in existence in other religions as well (Christianity, Judaism, Hinduism, Jainism, and others). It has been proven to have significant health benefits in addition to spiritual benefits. It is another wonderful example of Islam’s ability to combine physical and spiritual rejuvenation in all matters of religious obligations. Also, in the exercise of any obligation, God has always been cognizant of human failure and difficulties and time and again has provided ways to discharge those obligations within available means and in ways that benefit the larger society.

86 Here, God indicates that the month of Ramadan is the primary month for obligatory fasting. This verse has been misquoted too often to create the pervasive view that one has to see the moon to start fasting, begin celebrating Islamic events such as the two Eids, or mark the beginning of Hajj. This is a persistent problem among Muslim communities and is taken advantage of by some Muslim countries to claim religious and political leadership. The controversy over moon sightings and their calculations is indicative of bigger problems among Muslims, where we are unable to come to grips with a consistent approach and a workable framework for resolving outstanding issues, whether religious or social, coming to a majority understanding, and having the resolve and maturity to follow the recommendation.


Fasting is one of the major requirements of demonstrating one’s commitment to God and to being a Muslim. Like all other pillars of Islam, this one requires spiritual and physical cleansing and a sustained consciousness of God’s bounty and of our commitment to societal nurturing (e.g., lessening the distress of those who are less fortunate).


Each able-bodied adult Muslim (man and woman alike) should resolve to fast. Too many Muslims are making unsatisfactory excuses to avoid fasting. If we are unable to honor our obligation at the personal level for the basic elements of Islam, than we will fail in the larger sphere of life where Islam and Muslims need to demonstrate that we are committed to improving the quality of life for all of humanity. There are Muslims who feel that these rituals (the five pillars) are not important obligations to being a good Muslim, and then there are other Muslims who feel that these pillars are the only issues that matter and that completing these alone is sufficient enough to gain success (primarily in the Hereafter). I believe that neither side is correct.

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