Quran Read-A-Long: The Cow 183-188 Speaks of Ramadan and Fasting

I had no idea that Ramadan was the holy month that it is because it was the month in which the Quran was revealed! Boy, you learn something knew every day, don’t you? Well, I guess that’s particularly true if you’re reading the Quran every day!

What I guess I’m not entirely sure about is why (according to verse 185) one should fast during the month of Ramadan. I guess the question comes down to what the purpose of fasting is in Islam. In Judaism, fasting is done in large part for commemoration and remembrance. A day is spent without food in order to be reminded of some terrible event in the past or so that one can constantly recall the purpose of a particular day. Is it similar in Islam? Is fasting conducted during the month of Ramadan in order that Muslims constantly be reminded that this is the month in which they were given the Quran? That’s what the end of verse 185 seems to indicate (“give glory to God for the guidance”).

The remainder of this section is the specific ways that the fasting should be followed. I think it’s interesting that sex with one’s wife is acceptable at night, and therefore not during the day. It seems that the day is a time for deprivation in all senses and that nothing should be satiated during the day except for one’s desire to assiduously devote himself to God. I like the consistency.

I find the end of verse 187 particularly interesting, because it enjoins people to stay “well within” the bounds fixed by God. That seems to mean – to me – that you shouldn’t go treading close to the edge of God’s proscriptions. When God says you can do something until the very beginning of dawn, don’t go starting the moment before dawn and trying to eat your fill right around first light. That’s cutting it close, and you shouldn’t risk violating God’s laws for that. The end of the verse, telling men that God has given them laws that they may take heed for themselves, reinforces this personal level of responsibility associated with being a Muslim.

What do you think of these verses? Have I missed anything or would you like to add anything?

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The Cow 183-188

183. O believers, fasting is enjoined on you as it was on those before you, so that you might become righteous. 184. Fast a (fixed) number of days, but if someone is ill or is traveling (we should complete) the number of days (he had missed); and those who find it hard to fast should expiate by feeding a poor person. For the good they do with a little hardship is better for men. And if you fast it is good for you, if you knew. 185. Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed as guidance to man and clear proof of the guidance, and criterion (of falsehood and truth). So when you see the new moon you should fast the whole month; but a person who is ill or traveling (and fails to do so) should fast on other days, as God wishes ease and not hardship for you, so that you complete the (fixed) number (of fasts), and give glory to God for the guidance, and be grateful. 186. When My devotees enquire of you about Me, I am near, and answer the call of every supplicant when he calls. It behooves them to hearken to Me and believe in Me that they may follow the right path. 187. You are allowed to sleep with your wives on the night of the fast: They are your dress as you are theirs. God is aware you were cheating yourselves so He turned to you and pardoned you. Eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appears clear from the dark line, then fast until the night falls; and abstain from your wives (when you have decided) to stay in the mosques for assiduous devotion. These are the bounds fixed by God, so keep well within them. So does God make His signs clear to men that they may take heed for themselves. 188. And do not consume each other’s wealth in vain, nor offer it to men in authority with intent of usurping unlawfully and knowingly a part of the wealth of others.

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4 Responses

  1. Brief, initial comments:

    I had no idea that Ramadan was the holy month that it is because it was the month in which the Quran was revealed!

    This is only part of it; to me, Ramadan is the holy month because it is when we Muslims make a strong concerted effort to obey the fast and live our lives as the best Muslims we can possibly be. (This is usually a theme for the Eid khutbah, that we should try to live our lives just as well in the other eleven months as we have during Ramadan.)

    In Judaism, fasting is done in large part for commemoration and remembrance. A day is spent without food in order to be reminded of some terrible event in the past or so that one can constantly recall the purpose of a particular day. Is it similar in Islam? Is fasting conducted during the month of Ramadan in order that Muslims constantly be reminded that this is the month in which they were given the Quran?

    No and no. We fast in order to learn humility; we fast in order to learn patience; we fast in order to learn about the hunger and thirst inherent in the lives of the impoverished; we fast in order to learn moderation.

    When God says you can do something until the very beginning of dawn, don’t go starting the moment before dawn and trying to eat your fill right around first light. That’s cutting it close, and you shouldn’t risk violating God’s laws for that.

    This is actually how the start of the daily fast in Ramadan happens here. If the break of dawn is at, say, 6:00 am, we actually start our fasts at 5:50. There’s always a ten-minute period between that last mouthful of water (or brushing our teeth or kissing our spouse) and the actual start of the fast. In that way, if there happens to be anything in your mouth at that time it can be swallowed or spat out and you won’t break your fast later; likewise, this is when we say our niyat, our intention to fast for that particular day.

  2. Quran/Ramadan/verse 185—-The whole Quran was revealed over a period of 23 years. Most consider this verse to mean the first revelations. Interestingly—Quran means recitation and the word Ramadan means “scorching” (hot) and implies “not enough”(food, water …etc).
    There are layers of meaning in the Quran. As the Quran tells us, there are verses that have a clear meaning and others that are “allegorical” and these are often open to speculation among muslims. (scholarship on such matters is called “Tawil”)

    Fasting—JD said it very well—Surahs begin with the phrase “In the name of God, the most compassionate, most merciful”—-that is the spiritual purpose of Ramadan—to foster compassion, mercy and God-consciousness in our souls/nafs. One can say, it is an excersise in “Islam” /submission (to God). Fasting is also a way to purify the body of toxins as well as a healing.

    In order to promote/foster spirituality, one needs a healthy body—as well as a healthy/balanced society, and healthy/happy relationships. The Quran addresses all these issues.

    Surah 91—verses 1–10 are interesting……
    1. By the Sun and her splendour
    2. By the moon as she follows her
    3. By the day as she shows her glory
    4. By the night as it conceals her
    5. By the firmament and her wonderful structure
    6. By the earth and her wide expanse
    7. By the soul and the proportion and order given her
    8. And the inspiration as to her wrong and her right
    9. Truly they succeed that purifies her
    10. And they fail that corrupts her
    ……

    Responsibility—Yes you are correct—our enthusiasm for the pursuit of spirituality should not be at the expense of our responsibilities. (On the other hand—our responsibilities should not so overwhelm us that we forget spirituality altogether—its about (a healthy) balance)

  3. You two, as usual, have given me a lot to reflect on.

    I think those are, generally speaking, excellent reasons for fasting. They teach important lessons in a very tangible and unavoidable way. They’re also things that can’t be gotten (at least not so poignantly) by doing anything else.

    When being told that we fast to remind ourselves of past suffering or for remembrance, I have always insisted that it’s quite easy to succeed at remembering in other fashions (studying, for instance), but to truly “learn about the hunger and thirst inherent in the lives of the impoverished,” as JDsg put it, one would really have to experience it (and even fasting during daylight can’t compare but only begin to teach). In any case, interesting reasons.

  4. Fasting/Ramadhan also has to do with “attachment to desire”–food, sex, egoic pursuits. The lowest state of conciousness/self is the “animal” stage(nafs amarra) where we are attached to “desires”. The rules of Ramadhan make it possible to experience a gentle detachment from this stage and go to the next level of consciousness/soul which transcends “ego” and pursues “God-consciousness”. (nafs lawama) Every year our soul/self is strengthened. As the Quran says–religion is not supposed to be a hardship or a burden. (either on us or on others)

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