Sunday, September 14, 2008

The following are some notes that a sister, Maria Khan, wrote up on the Pre-Ramadan workshop I have been doing at Harvard for the last 5 years or so. Last year, Shaykh Suheil Laher and I did a combined session for the Harvard Islamic Society and MIT MSA. May Allah reward the sister and benefit people with it.

Notes on the Harvard Ramadan Intensive
Maria Khan
Fall 2007

Instructors: Shaykh Suheil Laher (MIT Muslim Chaplin) and Ustādh Taha Abdul-Basser (Harvard Islamic Society Muslim Chaplin)
Where: Harvard Islamic Society Prayer Space, Harvard Yard
When: September 2007


Ramadan is one of the practices upon which Islam is built. It is obligatory (wājib) for all ethically responsible (mukallaf) Muslims to seek and obtain a basic understanding of the key formal aspects of the Ramadan fast, so that they can perform a valid Ramadan fast and achieve the spiritual benefit associated with fasting the month. True spirituality is associated with belief and practice; it is only through sound belief and acceptable practice that one can heighten one’s spiritual attainment; hence the need for a solid understanding of the formal aspects of Ramadan fast.

Imam Abū Ḥāmid al-Ghazali’s (d. 505/1111) spoke of three levels of fasting: 1) Common level fasting: which is to abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse; 2) elite level fasting: which is to abstain from food, drink and sexual intercourse and to abstain from sinning with tongue, heart and the other faculties and limbs and 3) “elite of the elite” level fasting: which is to disengage one’s heart-mind (qalb) from all thoughts that do not bring one closer to Allah.

0. Repentance (Tawbah)
0.1 Three Components
0.1.1 Regret
0.1.2 Discontinuation of the sin
0.1.3 Resloution to never to do it again
0.1.4 Restitution, when the sin is against another person
1. Basic Terms
1.1 Ḥukm (plural aḥkām) is an ethico-legal value (e.g. obligatory, commendable, neutral, offensive and impermissible).
1.2 The Shar'ia (Islamic sacred ethics and law) is made up of aḥkam.
1.3 Fiqh is a deep understanding of ethico-legal values of human acts based on indicants (i.e. evidence) from the Qur'an and Prophetic Custom (Sunnah); Fiqh is knowledge of what is permissible (halāl) and impermissible (harām). Fiqh is “discovering” the ethico-legal values of the Sharī`a.
1.4 Sawm means “abstaining” in the Arabic language in general. In fiqh sawm = abstaining from food, drink, etc from true dawn to sunset as an act of devotion for Allah.
1.5 Fard 'ayn = personal obligation
1.5.1 As opposed to communal obligation (farḍ kifāya)
2. Fiqh of Fasting
2.1 Performing the Ramadan fast is a personal obligation (fard 'ayn) for each ethically responsible Muslim who does not have a shari`a-recognized exemption
2.1.1 A child who becomes mature during the day must abstain from those things that invalidate a fast for the rest of the day.
2.1.2 An insane person who gains sanity during the day must abstain from those things that invalidate a fast for the rest of the day.
2.1.3 A person who becomes Muslim during the day must abstain from those things that invalidate a fast. A convert need not make up the missed fast.
2.1.4 Exemptions Sickness: If fasting will aggravate the sickness, or delay the healing, of a person, that person does not have to fast. They must make up the days later when they are in good health. Strenuous physical exercise, like working out or heavy labor is discouraged, as it weakens the body. Travel: Traveling on a journey of 48 miles or more. If one feels as though there is no hardship in one's travel then one may fast. One must fast until one is actually traveling. A traveler must make up the missed fast. A traveler who has returned home and is not fasting should abstain from those things that invalidated a fast (in public and private) until sunset. Pregnancy and Breastfeeding: Pregnant and nursing women are exempted from fasting if they fear for themselves or their children. Hanafī school [madhhab (plural madhāhib)]: A pregnant or nursing woman can just make up the fasts. Shāfi`i and Ḥanbalī schools: If the pregnant or nursing woman feared for her child's health (only) and not her own, then she must perform substitution (fidyah), i.e. feed a poor person every day for each day of fasting that she missed, in addition to making up the fasts. Old Age: Very old people who are weak and will not regain their strength are exempt from fasting and must perform substitution (fidyah), i.e. feed a poor person for each day of fasting. Menstruation: A woman who is menstruating is exempt from fasting and must make up the fasts she misses later. A woman who is not fasting due to her menstrual cycle but who regains the ability to fast during the day must abstain (or should [Shāfi`i]) from those things that invalidate a fast.
2.2 Valid Fast
2.2.2 For a valid (ṣaḥīḥ) fast one must abstain from food, water and sexual intercourse from true dawn until sunset (maghrib). Refraining from talking the entire day is prohibited.
2.2.3 Intention One must make a separate intention (niyya) for each day of Ramadan that one is fasting. One makes the intention to fast during the night, before each day of fasting. One is not required to vocalize the intention of fasting. One makes the intention one's heart.
2.2.4 Fasting Begins at True Dawn Definition: If one observes the eastern horizon during the night (in optimal conditions which are not available in most cities) one sees two appearances of what could be called “the dawn.” The first dawn is “false dawn” (al-fajr al-kadhib); the second, which is more lateral in its spread is “true dawn” (al-fajr al-sadiq). It is sunnah to stop eating a short while (10-15 min) before Fajr even though it is allowed to eat until the time. In a hadith in Sahih Bukhari, Anas ibn Malik (the personal attendant of the Prophet (صلي الله عليه وسلم) asking Zayd ibn Thabit (one of the scribes of the Qur'an) how long the interval was between when the Prophet (صلي الله عليه وسلم) stopped eating and fajr. Zayd ibn Thabit's response was the amount of time that it took to recite fifty ayāt of the Qur'an. Another lesson to be drawn from this hadith: The scribe of the Qur'an, Zayd ibn Thabit, was closer to the Prophet (صلي الله عليه وسلم), during Ramadan than was his personal attendant, Anas ibn Malik. So we should read, contemplate, and keep in our memory the Qur'an as much as possible in Ramadan as it is the month in which the Qur'an was revealed.
2.2.5 Fasting Ends at Sunset Sunset is when the sun disappears below the horizon. It is suggested to add 3 minutes to the calculated timings for sunset. It is a Prophetic custom (sunna) to break the fast when the as soon as day has ended (i.e. as soon as the sun has set).
o It is impermissible to intentional refrain from eating during the night after a day of fast and then fast the next day.
2.3 Invalidating a Fast
2.3.1 There are three (3) ways to invalidate a fast indicated by the Qur'an Eating Eating something that is not normally eaten (e.g. pencils, dirt, pebbles) invalidates a fast. Drinking Engaging in sexual intercourse Masturbation invalidates a fast. A husband may kiss his wife as long as it does not lead to sexual intercourse or ejaculation. Note: Hanbalis and Maliki schools: Even the emission of pre-ejaculation fluid invalidates the fast (in case of kissing, masturbation or other physical contact). Hanbali and Maliki schools: Even pre-ejaculation fluid invalidates the fast (in case of kissing, masturbation or other foreplay physical contact).
2.3.2 Three ways to invalidate a fast indicated by aḥādith Inducing vomiting Inhaling something through the nose Therapeutic blood-letting that weakens the patient Note: according to the majority of scholars, invalidation by means of the third of these, i.e. therapeutic blood-letting, is abrogated.
2.3.3 Idle talk is discouraged.
2.3.4 Backbiting (ghība) reduces the value of one's fast.
2.4 Consequences of Invalidating the Fast
2.4.1 If one unknowingly invalidates one's fast by eating, drinking, engaging in sexual intercourse, etc.--i.e. if one breaks it out of genuine forgetfulness--then one’s fast is still valid. One need not make up that fast.But, it is obligatory to stop eating and drinking as soon one realize’s (i.e. remembers) and one must then continue fasting for the rest of the day (i.e. not eat, drink, etc. until sunset).
2.4.2 If one knowingly invalidates one's fast by engaging in sexual intercourse, then one must perform expiation (kaffārah), one must either: Free a slave or Fast for two months consecutively or feed 60 poor people
2.4.3 If one knowingly invalidated one's fast by eating or drinking anything which provides nourishment or medical benefit, then the fast is invalidated without disagreement. Hanafi school (but not the Shāfi`ī school): In addition, expiation (kaffārah) is required.
2.4.4 If one knowingly invalidates one's fast by any means other than those covered above (e.g. by eating sand or pebbles, or by masturbation) then the fast is invalidated, but expiation (kaffārah) is not required.

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