Friday 7 June 2024

Responding to Objections on Islam: If fasting is a pillar of Islam, why (Prophet) Muhammad (ﷺ) enforced it after 14 years of proclamation of Islam

A lot of objections have been raised and still being raised about various facets of Islam. Generally these objections arise from ignorance of history of development of Islam or mere as point scoring, specially for Muslims who have not had in depth knowledge of Islam. We have in our previous posts on "Responding to Objections / Lies about Islam" have tried to answer many such queries. 

Today we take on yet another objection which someone asked me in comments box of one of my post. The objection is:

If fasting is a pillar of Islam, why (Prophet) Muhammad (ﷺ) enforced it after 14 years of proclamation of Islam

Before we give a detailed reply to the objection, it would be prudent to understand few basics:
  • Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) was merely a messenger and prophet of Allah. His job was to convey to others what he was directed to do so. He at his own, therefore, could not say a word or proclaim anything unless the commandment of enforcing an act was Divinely delivered to him (generally through the arch angel Jibraeel or the Gabriel). 
  • Secondly, the revelations which were received by Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) in Makkah were different from the ones received in Medinah. 
    • Since the aim in Makkah was to invite the pagans of Makkah to Islam, the revelations were generally short and their theme revolved around (Prophet) Muhammad (ﷺ) subjects pertaining to Tawheed, Prophethood, the Hereafter, and words of comfort for the Prophet ﷺ by narrating incidents from the past. Therefore we see that Surahs / chapters that are marked as Makki surahs / chapters are short and well focused to the infidels and inviting them to Islam.
    • The Madni revelations were reveled when the Muslim state of Medinah started to evolve and there was requirement to laydown rules to govern the lives of Muslims. Thus we see the Madni Surahs / Chapters generally consist of family and social laws, injunctions of Jihad and details of legislations - including fasting as well. Therefore we see in contrast to Makki surahs, the Madni surahs are rather too long, elaborative and directional. Take for example the 2nd chapter of Qur'an, Surah al Baqarah (The Cow) was is spanned over first two and a half chapters of Qur'an.
With this background, let us talk of enforcement of Fasting as one of the important pillar of Islam, in fact the third of five pillars of Islam (Others being Shahadah, Prayers / Salaat, Zakat [obligatory charity] and Hajj). Why the proclamation of different laws and directions was done mostly in the last ten years of enforcement of Islam and that too in Medinah is based on cerein ground realities, such as:
  • Those who reverted to Islam had lived a life of infidelity for centuries. Therefore it was not prudent to subject them to hard decisions right from the outset.
  • Take for example the menace of slavery. Slavery is part of the pagan culture and slaves, both male and female, were taken after overcoming another tribe and enslaving all able bodied men and women as slaves. These slaves were subjected to very hard life by  their rich masters who had absolute rights over them. Therefore abolishment of slavery could not have been done with one act. In fact through many revelations, the slavery was abolished in stages till the new Muslim understood the philosophy of not subjecting men and women to one's wishes and be their masters. 
  • Likewise, gambling and drinking, which were also embeded in the pagan life was abolished in stages and the final abolishment came in Medinah.
In the  same way, fasting, which entailed a very rigorous response from the new Muslims was not enforced straightaway in the initial stages of proclamation of Islam for two reasons:
  • In Makkah, Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) did not have a state of his own to proclaim acts that needed conditioning and lot of persuasion.
  • Since the weather conditions of Arabia are rather harsh, it is difficult to abstain from food and water due to extreme heat of the day. One could only abstain form food and water, and many other things otherwise Halal / permissible, unless one was highly motivated, understood many WHYs, only then one could deside to endure the rigours of fasting during the long hours of the entire day.
  • Therefore, it was necessary to prepare the Muslims through gradual development and establishment of Islamic practices and community structure. 
We must understand that Fasting is primarily an exercise of devotion to willingly renounce oneself, for a definite period of time, from all bodily appetites in order to form spiritual discipline and self-control. Muslims are prohibited from eating or drinking from dawn (fajr) to sunset (maghrib) when the adhan is sounded. It is considered time to begin fasting when a person standing outside can tell a white thread from a black thread, i.e. the light of the dawn and the darkness of the night.

Therefore, newly reverted Muslims needed to be conditioned to adapt themselves to the rigours of fasting. Herein under are factors which required a lot of time, fourteen years in case of enforcing fasting:
  • Gradual Revelation: Progressive Revelation: The Qur'an was revealed progressively over 23 years to address the evolving needs and circumstances of the early Muslim community. Early revelations focused on foundational beliefs, such as the oneness of God, the afterlife, and moral conduct.
  • Community Development: Community Building: In the initial years, the focus was on building a cohesive and strong community, especially given the challenges Muslims faced in Mecca, including persecution and social ostracism. This period required strengthening the faith and solidarity of the believers.
  • Social and Economic Stability: Economic and Social Stability: By the time fasting was prescribed, the Muslim community had migrated to Medina, where they enjoyed greater stability and autonomy. This allowed for the implementation of more structured forms of worship and communal practices.
  • Spiritual Maturity: Spiritual Preparedness: The early Muslims needed to develop their spiritual and moral foundation before undertaking more rigorous forms of worship. By the time fasting was prescribed, the community had matured spiritually and was better prepared to observe this demanding practice.
  • Legal and Social Framework: Establishment of Laws and Practices: The Medinan period saw the establishment of many social, economic, and legal norms in Islam. With the community more established and organized, it was appropriate to introduce fasting as a mandatory practice, as part of a broader framework of worship and piety.
  • Lessons from Previous Communities: Learning from Previous Revelations: Islam acknowledges the practices of previous Abrahamic faiths. Fasting was a well-known practice among Jews and Christians, and its introduction into Islam came at a time when the community could appreciate its significance and benefits, drawing lessons from these traditions.
  • Preparation for Greater Trials: Preparation for Future Challenges: Fasting not only purifies the soul but also builds resilience and self-discipline. As the Muslim community faced various trials and responsibilities, fasting served as a means to strengthen their resolve and readiness for future challenges.
  • Divine Wisdom: Ultimately, the timing of religious prescriptions in Islam is believed to be guided by divine wisdom, ensuring that the community could fully comprehend, accept, and practice these commands in the most beneficial manner.
Thus, the prescription of fasting 14 years after the proclamation of Islam was a strategic and well-timed step in the progressive establishment of Islamic practices, ensuring the community was adequately prepared spiritually, socially, and structurally to undertake this significant act of worship.

It was then that in the second year of Hijrah from Medinah (which was fourteen years after proclamation of Islam), Allah ordained Muslims to fast. This commandment is given in the 183-185th verses of Surah Al Baqarah as mentioned below:
  • "O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous." Surah Al-Baqarah (2:183)
  • "[Fasting for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during them] - then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] - a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers excess - it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew." Surah Al-Baqarah (2:184)
  • "The month of Ramadan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you, and perhaps you will be grateful." Surah Al-Baqarah (2:185)
Note: The context of the revelation of these verses is significant as it came at a time when the Muslim community in Medina was becoming more established and organized. The establishment of fasting during Ramadan was part of the broader development of Islamic practices and legal framework that was taking place during the early Medinan period.

This in very brief the reasons of enforcement of fasting after 14 years of proclamation of Islam. We should not say things in the air without first carrying out a little research, for an effort to know the answers to one's objections is abundantly available in the internet, social media and now the AI through ChatGPT. 
May Allāh (سبحانه و تعالى‎) help us understand Qur'ān and follow the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammad ﷺ, which is embodiment of commandments of Allah contained in the Qur'ān. May Allah help us to be like the ones He loves and let our lives be lived helping others and not making others' lives miserable or unlivable. May all our wrong doings, whether intentional or unintentional, be forgiven before the angel of death knocks on our door. 
وَمَا عَلَيۡنَاۤ اِلَّا الۡبَلٰغُ الۡمُبِيۡنُ‏ 
(36:17) and our duty is no more than to clearly convey the Message.”
That is Our duty is only to convey to you the message that Allah has entrusted us with. Then it is for you to accept it or reject it. We have not been made responsible for making you accept it forcibly, and if you do not accept it, we shall not be seized in consequence of your disbelief, you will yourselves be answerable for your actions on Day of Resurrection.

May Allah forgive me if my posts ever imply a piety far greater than I possess. I am most in need of guidance.

You may read more posts on countering / responding to lies / misinformation and disinformation about Islam: The Rebuttal: Countering disinformation being spread about Islam (Reference Page). Also read our following posts:
You may also refer to our Reference Pages  and Understanding Al Qur'an for knowing more about Islam and Qur'ān.
Disclaimer: The material for this post has been collected from the references given above. If anyone differs with the material contained in this post, one may consult the references and their authors.  If someone has more material about the subject, he/she is most welcome to share in the comments box to make the post all encompassing.

Photo | Resource References: | ChatGPT | Wikipedia | 1 | 2 |

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Fasting during Ramadan serves multiple purposes, including spiritual purification, self-discipline, and solidarity with the less fortunate. Its introduction at that particular time highlights the importance of readiness and context in religious observances.
Jazak Allah khair for indepth research on fasting. Jamil Canada 🇨🇦

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