Friday Sermon: Why You Should Start Fasting, By Imam Gusau
In The Name Of Allah, The Most Gracious, The Most Merciful
All thanks and praises are due to Allah, we seek His help and forgiveness. We seek refuge in Allah from the evil within ourselves and the consequences of our evil deeds. Whoever Allah guides will never be led astray, and whoever Allah leads astray will never find guidance. I bear witness that there is no god but Allah, He is alone without any partners, and I bear witness that Muhammad is His Servant and His Messenger.
“O you who believed, fear Allah as He should be feared and do not die except as Muslims in submission to Him.” [Qur’an, 3:102]
“O mankind, fear your Lord, who created you from one soul and created from it its mate and dispersed from both of them many men and women. And fear Allah, through whom you ask one another, and the wombs. Verily, Allah is ever watching over you.” [Qur’an, 4:1]
“O you who believed, fear Allah and speak words of appropriate justice. He will then amend for you your deeds and forgive your sins, and whoever obeys Allah and His Messenger has certainly attained a great attainment.” [Qur’an, 33:70-71]
Verily, the most truthful speech is the Book of Allah, the best guidance is the guidance of Muhammad, and the worst affairs are newly invented matters (in the religion). Every newly invented matter is a religious innovation, and every religious innovation is misguidance, and every misguidance is in the Hellfire.
Dear Brothers and Sisters! Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, the month of Qur’an, the month of blessing and mercy, is quickly approaching for Muslims, due to start around Wednesday, 16th May 2018 or Thursday, 17th May 2018, and will last 29 or 30 days. I say ‘around’ for the date and duration, because the Islamic calendar is based on the lunar cycle, and the beginning of each month is determined by when the new moon is seen.
This means that Muslims around the world await with great anticipation the announcement from their leaders that the new moon – known as the ‘hilal’ in Arabic – has been sighted. The excitement is greatest ahead of the crescent which will herald the first of Ramadan, topped only by the new moon which marks Eid-ul- Fitr, the celebration that takes place on the first day of the month after Ramadan (i.e. Shawwal), and marks the end of the month of fasting.
No wonder then that the crescent is a symbol of such potency among the Muslim Ummah. At its most fundamental level it determines the Islamic calendar which runs side by side with the solar calendar and so gives rhythm to the lives of Muslims.
Sighting the moon is a communal enterprise, and many Muslims especially in warmer climes will venture into the open as darkness begins to fall to see if they can spot the sliver in the sky that everyone is waiting for. When it marks the beginning of Ramadan it resonates with community and togetherness.
Fasts begin at dawn and last till dusk, and so the moon set in the backdrop of darkness represents the time available for eating and night prayers.
And of course, the new moon appearing at the end of Ramadan marks the close of an intensely spiritual and community-focused month of daytime restraint, ushering in the celebration of Eid-ul-Fitr, the festival of breaking fast.
Ramadan is a tough month physically and so the proclamation of the end of fasting mingles a sense of sadness that Ramadan has gone, with a natural excitement that daytime consumption is once again possible.
Eid is seen as a time of beginnings, and so the crescent moon carries with it the innocent pleasure of a fresh start.
The crescent moon is also the key symbol for Muslims: used in flags, cards and messaging. It is a favourite among marketers as it can act as shorthand for describing something ‘Islamic.’ The challenge for marketers is to avoid slipping from the status of shorthand, into being the lazy overuse of a powerful symbol that therefore becomes cliched and diluted in meaning.
For Muslims, the crescent brings with it a mix of excitement, nervousness and community togetherness, tying the emotional and functional parts of faith together. And when it comes to the arrival of the month of Ramadan, Muslims will be waiting for news as to the first sighting of the magical sliver in the sky.
Dear Servants of Allah! Know that, FASTING is not unique to the Muslims. It has been practiced for centuries in connection with religious ceremonies by Christians, Jews, Confucianists, Hindus, Taoists, and Jains. Allah the Almighty mentions this fact in the Qur’an:
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop Allah-consciousness.” [Qur’an, 2:183]
I also learn that some Native American societies observed fast to avert catastrophe or to serve as penance for sin. Native North Americans held tribal fasts to avert threatening disasters. The Native Americans of Mexico and the Incas of Peru observed penitential fasts to appease their deities. Past nations of the Old World, such as the Assyrians and the Babylonians, observed fasting as a form of penance. Jews observe fast as a form of penitence and purification annually on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur. On this day neither food nor drink is permitted.
Early Christians associated fasting with penitence and purification. During the first two centuries of its existence, the Christian church established fasting as a voluntary preparation for receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion and baptism and for the ordination of priests. Later, these fasts were made obligatory, as other days were subsequently added. In the 6th century, the Lenten fast was expanded to 40 days, on each of which only one meal was permitted. After the Reformation, fasting was retained by most Protestant churches and was made optional in some cases. Stricter Protestants, however, condemned not only the festivals of the church, but its traditional fasts as well.
In the Roman Catholic Church, fasting may involve partial abstinence from food and drink or total abstinence. The Roman Catholic days of fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In the United States, fasting is observed mostly by Episcopalians and Lutherans among Protestants, by Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and by Roman Catholics.
My respected people! Today, fasting took another form in the West: The hunger strike, a form of fasting, which in modern times has become a political weapon after being popularized by Mohandas Gandhi, leader of the struggle for India’s freedom, who undertook fasts to compel his followers to obey his precept of nonviolence.
With all what I have mentioned above, Islam is the only religion that has retained the outward and spiritual dimensions of fasting throughout centuries. Selfish motives and desires of the base self alienate a man from his Creator. The most unruly human emotions are pride, avarice, gluttony, lust, envy, stinginess, and anger. These emotions by their nature are not easy to control, thus a person must strive hard to discipline them. Muslims fast to purify their soul, it puts a bridle on the most uncontrolled, savage human emotions. People have gone to two extremes with regard to them. Some let these emotions steer their life which lead to barbarism among the ancients, and crass materialism of consumer cultures in modern times. Others tried to deprive themselves completely of these human traits, which in turn led to monasticism.
The fourth Pillar of Islam, the Fast of Ramadan, occurs once each year during the 9th lunar month, the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar in which:
“…the Qur’an was sent down as a guidance for the people.” [Qur’an, 2:185]
Allah in His infinite mercy has exempt the ill, travelers, and others who are unable from fasting during Ramadan.
Fasting helps Muslims develop self-control, gain a better understanding of Allah’s gifts and greater compassion toward the deprived. Fasting in Islam involves abstaining from all bodily pleasures between dawn and sunset. Not only is food forbidden, but also any sexual activity. All things which are regarded as prohibited is even more so in this month, due to its sacredness. Each and every moment during the fast, a person suppresses their passions and desires in loving obedience to Allah. This consciousness of duty and the spirit of patience helps in strengthening our faith. Fasting helps a person gain self-control. A person who abstains from permissible things like food and drink is likely to feel conscious of his sins. A heightened sense of spirituality helps break the habits of lying, staring with lust at the opposite sex, gossiping, backbiting and wasting time. Staying hungry and thirsty for just a day’s portion makes one feel the misery of the millions who go hungry or those who are living with hunger or are at risk of hunger. After all, why would anyone care about starvation if one has never felt its pangs oneself? One can see why Ramadan is also a month of charity and giving not a month of stinginess and miserliness.
At dusk, the fast is broken with a light meal popularly referred to as IFTAR. Families and friends share a special late evening meal together, often including special foods and sweets served only at this time of the year. Many go to the Mosque for the evening prayer, followed by special prayers recited only during Ramadan. Some will recite the entire Qur’an as a special act of piety, and public recitations of the Qur’an can be heard throughout the evening. Families rise before dawn to take their first meal of the day, which sustains them until sunset. Near the end of Ramadan Muslims commemorate the “Night of Power” when the Qur’an was revealed. The month of Ramadan ends with one of the two major Islamic celebrations, the Feast of the Breaking of the Fast, called Eid-ul-Fitr. On this day, Muslims joyfully celebrate the completion of Ramadan and customarily distribute gifts to children. Muslims are also obliged to help the poor join in the spirit of relaxation and enjoyment by distributing Zakatul-fitr, a special and obligatory act of charity in the form of staple foodstuff, in order that all may enjoy the general euphoria of the day.
* How To Determine The Beginning And End Of Ramadan
Beloved Servants of Allah! Precisely determining the beginning and end of Ramadan is very important because it indicates when to start and stop fasting. Therefore, it is an obligation on the Muslim community to ensure that this is determined accurately and publicized sufficiently.
* How The Islamic Lunar Calendar Works
The Islamic lunar calendar consists of twelve months, with Ramadan being the ninth month. Each month lasts twenty-nine or thirty days. Six months will be twenty-nine days and another six will be thirty days, thus making 354 days per lunar year. Technically, the lunar year consists of 354.37 days while the mean time between new moons is 29.53 days.
The way this was calculated during the time of the beloved Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) was that people would look at the sky at the beginning of every lunar month. If the new crescent was sighted, it would mean the next month has begun and the previous one has ended. The crescent is the sunlit portion of the moon as seen from Earth and varies according to the changing positions of the Sun, Moon, and Earth.
* How Ramadan Was Determined In The Prophet’s Lifetime
Dear Brothers and Sisters! Since each month could only consist of twenty-nine or thirty days, Muslims would go outside on the twenty-ninth day of Sha’aban (which is the 8 month in the Islamic calendar) after sunset to look for the new crescent in the sky. If the new moon crescent was seen by people sometime during the night, it would mean that the month of Sha’aban was twenty-nine days and now the month of Ramadan has entered. However, if it is not visible it means that the month of Sha’aban consists of thirty days and Ramadan will begin the following day.
The end of the month is determined in the same way by establishing that the new moon crescent is visible on the twenty-ninth of Ramadan after sunset. If it is then Ramadan will consist of only twenty-nine days and the following day is the month of Shawwal, which is Eid. However, if it is not visible it means that the month of Ramadan consists of thirty days and the month of Shawwal will begin the following day.
The Prophet (Peace be upon him) instructed his Companions to follow this method when he said:
“Start fasting when you see it (i.e. the crescent) and stop fasting (i.e. Ramadan is over) when you see it. If the sky is cloudy (and you can’t see the crescent on the 29) then consider Sha’aban as thirty days.” [Al-Bukhari]
It should be clear from this that months in the Islamic calendar were not known in advance whether they would consist of twenty-nine or thirty days.
* The Desire For Predetermined Months
As communications in the Muslim community became more complex, there was a need to have predetermined months for scheduling purposes. It would be very inconvenient for people in the same region to be using different calendars. Since the visibility of the crescent was not predictable in advance, another method would have to be used.
One such method was the new moon conjunction, which, in astronomical terms, is when the moon is precisely between the Earth and Sun. During conjunction (which is also known as moon-birth) the moon is not visible from Earth because the sunlit portion of the moon is facing away from the Earth.
New moon conjunction is precisely predictable and can be calculated exactly. The crescent moon only becomes visible from Earth about a day or two after the new moon conjunction because even when the three celestial bodies are not in a straight line, the moon is still too close to the sun’s glare to be seen with the naked eye from Earth. It is important to understand that the moon is ‘born’ about one or two days before it is actually visible, so moon-birth and
moon-visibility are two entirely different things.
Another method which was adopted in 1420 AH/1999 CE by the Ummul Qura calendar in Saudi Arabia was that if moonset occurs after sunset in Makkah on the 29 day of any month, then the month is over. This calculation is also precisely deterministic and took into consideration a time that is closer to the visibility of the moon than conjunction.
Also The Fiqh Council of North America (FCNA) and the European Council for Fatwa and Research (ECFR) have adopted a similar approach where the presence of the moon above the horizon at sunset anywhere on the globe is the criteria. This is precisely determined when the elongation of the moon is at least eight degrees and it is at least five degrees above the horizon.
* Which Calendar Should Determine Ramadan
As can be seen, even predetermined calendars which are calculated according to precise measurements require some specific methodology, such as conjunction, moonset-after-sunset, or some other precise measurements. The differing methodologies will result in different calculated calendars.
The question arose among some Muslim scholars: should Ramadan, and other religious days of fasting/celebration such as the 10 of Muharram (Ashura) and the 10 of Dhul Hijjah (Eid-Al-Adha), be determined through actual crescent sightings or a predetermined calendar?
Several Islamic scholars argued that dates which have a religious significance should be determined through actual crescent sightings, the way the Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him) did, and the calculated calendar can be used for civil purposes. Other scholars posited that a calculated calendar should be used for both civil and religious dates, the same way that it is used by most urban Muslims throughout the world for their prayer times, without having to actually check the light in the horizon for Fajr or the shadow-length for Asr.
* What Variables Result In Differing Opinions On The Issue
For example, in the year 1939, Egypt announced Eid-Al-Adha to be on Monday, Saudi Arabia announced it for Tuesday, and India determined it to be on Wednesday. This is common almost every year. How could there be three different dates?
There are several variables which result in different conclusions about when the lunar month should begin and end. Understanding these differences will help a person understand why the issue is not as simplistic as it seems.
Global Sighting vs Local Sighting: If one region in the world sees the crescent but the other does not, should they adopt the same date or a different date? Muslim scholars have disagreed over this issue because it was not directly addressed by the Prophet (Peace be upon him). In the past, one city like Makkah may sight the crescent but the Muslims in Damascus do not. News about the sighting would take a long time to travel, and the people of Damascus would have already skipped the first day of fasting, assuming that Ramadan had not begun yet. Therefore, in the past, some Muslim communities would begin and end Ramadan on different days. With the advent of modern communications, it seems that this issue has been resolved because one region can instantaneously send a message to another region about purported sightings. Nonetheless, it remains a variable which influences the date of Ramadan.
Rejection of Witnesses: If a person reports that they saw the new crescent, but no one else did, should that person’s testimony be accepted? Does there need to be more than one witness? What if the person is known to be dishonest or has a bad memory? What if they claimed to see the moon but it was almost impossible for them to actually see it? To what extent should their report be scrutinized? These questions, and others, concerning the testimony of witnesses results in different conclusions. One group may accept the testimony of a witness and declare the start of Ramadan, while another may reject it.
Usage of Technology: Should high powered telescopes or other technology be used to sight the new crescent, even if it cannot be seen with the naked eye? If so, how many of them should be deployed in each region of the world to ensure a proper sighting? Usage of such technology would potentially ensure an earlier start date, but would also be very costly and difficult to implement.
Potential Visibility or Actual Sighting: If it is known that the crescent is visible in a particular area, but no one actually goes out to sight it, for whatever reason, should it be taken into consideration? If high-tech internet-enabled telescopes were set up in different parts of the world and Muslims had the ability to stream the video from those devices, would this count as a sighting?
Accuracy of Visibility Calculations: Astronomers have developed maps to predict when and where the crescent is likely to be viewable on any given date. However, there is more than one way of determining this. How accurate are these calculations? Should we use these approximations to discredit witnesses who claimed they saw the crescent even though it was difficult or almost impossible to do so?
These are some of the variables encountered when attempting to determine the beginning of a month in the lunar calendar and should help explain why people arrive at different conclusions.
* How To Achieve Unity In Ramadan
It may sound ideal to try to unite the entire world upon one date, but given the host of variables involved in the process, it is unlikely to happen anytime soon. Since some aspects of determining the new month were left vague by the Prophet (Peace be upon him), people will naturally differ in trying to interpret what Allah and His Messenger really intended.
Therefore, I believe that trying to achieve local unity is more important, and should be the priority of our efforts. If two neighbouring countries were to observe Ramadan on different days, it would be less impactful than two neighbouring cities determining the month differently. Likewise, two neighbouring cities disagreeing would have less consequences than people in the same city, or the same Mosque, or even in the same household beginning and ending Ramadan on different days.
Respected Servants of Allah! The issue boils down to respect for authority. Muslims must obey and respect their leaders on this issue. In the absence of any central authority within a locality, whether it be a city, state, or country, any Muslim is free to adopt whatever criteria they want. Muslims, in any locality, must have leaders who are willing to come together and agree on one criteria to adopt, even if they do not agree it is the ideal or most correct method. This is the first step. The next step would be to ensure that the Muslims respect the decision of those leaders and agree to follow it, even if they are not convinced it is the most accurate method.
Until this occurs, Muslims may find peace in knowing that no calendar in the world is absolute, that the Prophet took into consideration foggy evenings when the crescent is not visible, and that Allah will judge us according to our intentions and efforts.
For example, like we, the Nigerian Muslim Ummah, Islamically and Sunnatically it is only the Amirul Mu’mineen, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar III, The President General of Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic affairs (NSCIA) and Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI) has the complete right to make an announcement for the starting and finishing the Ramadan fasting. The Sultan had a strong and reliable moon sighting committee which he is leading, together with him are the Emirs, Obas, Ohinoyis, Islamic scholars, religious leaders, university dons etc. They are following the guidelines of Islamic shari’ah concerning this important issue. Therefore it is a great innovation (Bid’ah), foolishness and lack of understanding of Islam for any Islamic scholar or any leader of any organization, sect or group to command his followers to fast or to stop fasting, because doing so is the simple way of bringing disunity, chaos and confusion in the Ummah. We have to fear Allah about the religion of Islam and the unity of this Ummah. We must avoid and stop making any contribution in disuniting the Ummah of Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon him).
* Who Is The Person Of Good Character (Adali) Whose Statement About Sighting The Moon May Be Accepted by the Sultan’s Committee?
Dear Servants of Allah! In Arabic, the word Adl (Person of good character) means upright or straight; its opposite is crooked.
In shari’ah terminology it means the one who fulfils the obligatory duties and does not commit major sins, or persist in committing minor sins.
What is meant by fulfilling obligatory duties is things like the five daily prayers.
And he does not commit major sins such as spreading malicious gossip and backbiting.
As well as being of good character, he must also have strong eyesight and good memory, so that his claims may be believed. If he has weak eyesight, weak memory then his testimony cannot be accepted even if he is of good character, because if he gives testimony even though his eyesight is weak, then he is deluded.
The evidence for that is the fact that Allah has made strength and trustworthiness among the reasons for offering employment to a person. In the story of Prophets Musa and Shu’aib (AS), one of Shu’aib’s two daughters said:
“O my father! Hire him! Verily, the best of men for you to hire is the strong, the trustworthy.” [Qur’an, 28:26]
And the ifrit among the jinn who was commanded to bring the throne of the queen of Saba said:
“And verily, I am indeed strong and trustworthy for such work.” [Qur’an, 27:39]
These two characteristics are the basis of every deed, including giving testimony.
[See Al-Sharh al-Mumti, vol. 6 page 323 and al-Mawsu’ah al-Fiqhiyyah, vol. 30 page 5, Kuwait edition]
Respected Brothers and Sisters! I ask Allah to assist us in living by the Quran and Sunnah. I pray He lets us recognise the truth for what it is and helps us to follow it, and that He lets us see falsehood for what it is and helps us to avoid it.
O Allah! Guide us and protect us from the causes of ignorance and destruction! Save us from the defects of ourselves! Cause the last of our deeds to be the best and most righteous! And forgive all of us.
Dear Brothers and Sisters! Anything good I have said in my today’s Sermon is from Allah the Almighty, and any mistakes are my own and I seek refuge in Allah from giving wrong advice and from all forms of calamities and fitnah. And I ask Allah’s forgiveness if I stepped beyond bounds in anything I said or I do.
May Allah be praised; and may the peace and blessings of Allah be upon His Messenger Muhammad and upon his family and Companions.
With this I conclude my Friday Sermon, and I ask Allah, the Almighty and the Sublime, to forgive all of our sins. So seek his forgiveness, He is All-forgiving and Most Merciful.
This Jumu’ah Khutbah (Friday Sermon) was prepared for delivery today, Friday, Sha’aban 17, 1439 AH (May 4, 2018), by Imam Murtadha Muhammad Gusau, the Chief Imam of Nagazi-Uvete Jumu’ah and late Alhaji Abdurrahman Okene’s Mosques, Okene Kogi State, Nigeria. He can be reached via: firstname.lastname@example.org or +2348038289761.