The fast of the Prophet had a vital role as a method of training the nafs (soul) and spirit, which is the objective of cultivating people in the Islamic civilisation. Therefore, as the second of the types of worship that is done with the body, it is one of the requirements of Islam.
The worship of fasting, which trains both the human spirit, and human body as well as the society, is not a type of worship that is unique to the Muslims, but it was known in the Period of Ignorance (Jahiliyyah) and it is also known in other religions. The Arabs of the Period of Ignorance used to fast the ‘Ashura Fast’. In addition, they used to fast after visiting the idols in the month of Rajab, which is the seventh month of the lunar calendar, from among the forbidden months and is also named “the month of the Mudar tribe”.
The Ashura fast used to be kept on the 10th day of the month of Muharram. The Jews in Medina city used to keep the Ashura fast as well. It has been claimed that the Arabs acquired the tradition of the Ashura fast from the Jews and it has also been said that they maintained it as a type of worship left from the time of Prophet Ibrahim and Prophet Ismail.
Before the Ramadan fast was made obligatory, Prophet Muhammad used to keep the Ashura fast when he was in Mecca. He continued to keep the Ashura fast after his move to Medina, but he left the Muslims free regarding whether or not to fast on Ashura day after the fast of Ramadan was made obligatory (Bukhari, Sawm, 69). Our Prophet recommended to keep the fast on the ninth and eleventh days of Muharram as well as the tenth day (Ashura) in order not to be similar to the Jews (Bukhari, Sawm, 69).
A type of fast called the fast of slience is mentioned with regards to the unbelievers. People used to fast by making the intention not to speak during the day and keeping silent until the evening. It is understood that a similar type of fast was observed among the Jews as well. As a matter of fact, the exalted God says the following in the chapter Mariam [in the Qor’an]: “Eat, drink, be consoled. If you see any human being, tell him: ‘I have vowed a fast to the Rahman (Allah), so I will not speak to anyone today” (Mariam, 19/26). This fast was abolished in the Islamic period (Abu Dawood, Sunan, III, 293-294). Ramadan fast is a physical worship that was made obligatory in the month of Shaban in Medina in the 2nd year after the Hijrah [the moving of the Prophet from Mecca to Medina] (18 months after the Hijrah). The obligation to pay the sadaqah of fitr [a special type of alms] was also introduced in the same year.
Ramadan fast is a long fast that lasts from sunrise until sunset for a month. The Arabs did not fast during Ramadan in the Period of Ignorance and the Jews who lived in Medina did not fast such a fast either. A person refraining from sensual desires, eating and drinking anyting in a disciplined way from the first dawn until sunset for a month for the sake of God is an important method of purification of the soul. Fasting has many benefits in individual and social life.
Our Prophet recommended fasting on the ninth and eleventh days of Muharram in addition to the tenth day (Ashura) in order not to be similar to the Jews.
The selection of the month of Ramadan as a month of fasting was done in line with the commandments of the divine will. Since the fast of Ramadan is observed in accordance with the lunar calendar, a person will have fasted on all days of the solar calendar for twice or three times in his/her life. On the other hand, it is a type of worship that is carried out under all conditions from the summer to the winter since it is not kept according to the solar calendar and its timing changes from year to year. The Qor’an was revealed in the night of Qadr, which the Qor’an describes as “better than a thousand months”.
The Prophet used to fast on certain days of the month when he was in Mecca. It is narrated that he fasted three days a month after his move to Medina and he recommended this to his companions. It is possible to consider this sunnah [i.e. Prophetic tradition] as a process of preparation of the Muslims for the worship of fasting in Ramadan.
It is stated clearly in the Holy Qor’an that fasting was made obligatory both for the nations that lived in the past and for Muslims: “O you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, so that you may learn self-restraint” (Baqara, 2/183-185).
The Prophet used to increase his other worship in Ramadan in addition to fasting and he used to prefer to enter itiqaf [self-isolation for the purpose of worship] at the mosque in the last 10 days of Ramadan. This is because fasting is not only being hungry in the practice of the Prophet. The messenger of Allah (S.A.W. –i.e. peace be upon him) saw fasting as a shield that protected the Muslims from evil deeds. Among the fundamental features of a fasting person are being very patient and avoiding saying unpleasant words to people in interpersonal relations. The messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) said “Allah has no need for a person who does not avoid bad words and deeds to leave eating and drinking” (Bukhari, Sawm, 8).
The Prophet recommended Muslims to spend more time on worship and supplication in the night of Qadr, which is a night from among the last ten days of the month of Ramadan. He himself spent the last ten days of Ramadan with worship and thereby acted as an example of spiritual purification.
Archangel Gabriel (peace be upon him) used to come to the Prophet everyday in Ramadan and he used to recite the revelation that was revealed that year. The Prophet used to be more generous than the blowing wind when he met with Archangel Gabriel (peace be upon him) (Bukhari, Sawm, 7).
The Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) tried not to miss any of his daily activities in the month of Ramadan and he used to carry out the work he had to do –if any- on the days that he fasted. As a matter of fact, it is seen that he went on many campaigns in Ramadan. He went on the Badr campaign in the year in which Ramadan was made obligatory.
One of the campaigns that he set off for during Ramadan was the conquest of Mecca. The Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) set off from Medina on the 10th of Ramadan in the year of conquest. He fasted until he reached Kadid on the itinerary. However, he did not fast after that point. Most of the companions did the same as him (Bukhari, Sawm, 34). Abu Said stated that some of the companions continued to fast and some of them did not observe the fast, but the Prophet ordered them not to fast when the danger of confronting the enemy appeared. During the campaign, those who fasted did not criticise those who did not fast and those who did not fast did not criticise those who fasted either.
The Prophet used to increase his other worship in Ramadan in addition to fasting and he used to isolate himself in the mosque in last ten days of Ramadan and focused on worship (itiqaf). This is because in the practice of the Prophet, fasting was not only a worship that consisted of being hungry.
One of the important types of worship of solidarity of Muslims during Ramadan is the sadaqah of fitr (alms of fitr). The sadaqah of fitr was an obligation that started before the obligation to pay zakat for those assets of Muslims that exceeded the amount that was required for this. The sadaqah of fitr was one sa [a unit of measure] of date, barley or raisins for everyone whether for a child, adult, a woman or a man. It was two handful amount of wheat. The Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) used to make a speech two days before Eid [the days of celebration after Ramadan], he used to order the sadaqah of fitr to be paid to the poor before coming to the mosque for Eid prayer and he used to say “save the poor from walking around hungry today”. The Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) used to distribute the sadaqah of fitr after returning from the Eid prayer. (Darekutni, Sunan, vol. 2, p. 141). The Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) used to pray the Eid prayer at the mosque before the khutbah on the day of eid [the Eid sermon].
The Prophet used to fast outside of Ramadan and also recommended the Muslims to fast. The six day fast that is observed in the month of Shawwal is among these. However, he did not allow the Muslims to fast for several days without interruption (fast of wisaal). (Bukhari, Sawm, 48; Abu Dawood, Sawm, 24).
According to a narration by Anas bin Malik, the Messenger of Allah (S.A.W.) used to fast so many days that they used to say “he will always fast from now on”. Also he used to leave fasting for so long that they used to say “he will not fast from now on” (Abu Dawood, Sunan, 2430).
The fasting of the Prophet has had a vital role as a method of the Islamic civilisation whose aim is training the soul and the spirit. Therefore, it is the second one of the requirements of Islam among the types of worship that is carried out with the body. Our beloved Prophet was very sensitive about fulfilling the worship of fasting as he made the utmost effort to carry out the other types of worship; he continued to fast extra days as an expression of thankfulness. Thus, he demonstrated in his own life how the Muslims could apply a method that was indicated by the divine will in the matter of the training of the soul.