Verses from Surah al-Baqarah on Ramadan (183-187)

[183] Believers! Fasts have been prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those that were before you – haply so you will learn self–restraint.

[184] (Fast them, for)  days numbered, yet, if one of you be sick or travelling, then (let him) count (and fast equal number) on other days. As for those who can fast (but with great exertion), for them is feeding of a needy person as (a means of) expiation, and (remember the rule that) whosoever does good of his own accord that is better for him1. Therefore, that you should fast is better for you, if you but knew.2

Commentary

1. “And whosoever does good of his own accord, that is better for him:” that is, if anyone of you gave twice the amount prescribed, or both fasted as well as fed the needy, then surely that is good for him – Ibn Mas’ud, Ibn ‘Abbas, Mujahid, Ta’us etc. (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

2. Mu’adh ibn Jabal reports: “when the prophet (saws) arrived in Madinah he used to fast the days of Ashura in addition to three days each month. Then Allah (swt) revealed: ‘Believers! Fasting has been prescribed for you…’ until ‘as for those who can fast (but with great exertion), for them is feeding of a needy, person as (a means of ) redemption… therefore, whoever wished to fast, fasted, and he who didn’t, did feeding the poor instead. (And there was no blame on Him). This remained the practice until Allah (swt) revealed: ‘therefore, let him who is present in this month, fast the month.’ This made it obligatory on every healthy person in the town to fast, leaving out the very old who could yet feed the poor instead” (Ibn Jabrir, Ibn Kathir).

[185] Ramadan is the month wherein the Qur’an was sent down,3 a guidance for the people and as clear proofs of the Guidance and a Criterion (of right and wrong).  Therefore, let him who is present in this month,4 fast the month (as a token of thanks). But if anyone of you be sick or are traveling, (let him) count (and fast equal number) on other days. Allah desires ease for you and does not desire hardship for you.5 (This) so that you may complete the prescribed period (of fasting) and proclaim (at the end) Allah’s greatness6 for having guided you (to the ways of worship) and so  that you may be thankful.

Commentary

3. Ibn ‘ Abbas is reported to have said that the Qur’an was sent down as one whole from the Zubur (Al–Lawh al–Mahfiz) to the Al–Bayt al–Ma’mur (also known as Bayt al–`Izzah) at the firmament nearest to the earth, in Ramadan, in the night of Qadr. Then from there it was revealed – in twenty-three years – to our prophet (saws) in quantities that the varying situations in his call required (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

4. Following these words some of the Companions of the Prophet abstained from leaving the town once the Ramadan moon had been sighted. ‘ A’isha (ra), for instance, inquired a visiting woman about her brother. She said he was preparing to travel. She told her to tell him not to go, and added: “if I and the month of Ramadan arrived, I would halt my journey there” (Ibn Jarir).

5. “Accordingly, the Prophet (saws) instructed Mu’adh ibn Jabal and Abu Musa Al–Ash‘ari while sending them to Yemen as his deputies: “Give them glad tidings, and do not repulse them. Make it easy and do not make it difficult. And co-operate), do not differ” (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

6. “And proclaim Allah’s greatness”: According to Ibn ‘Abbas, Zayd b. Aslam and Sufyan the allusion is to the takbirat that one is required to say upon sighting the moon of Shawwal until the Imam enters the mosque for the sermon on the day of ‘Eid (Ibn Jarir, Ibn Kathir).

[186] And when my slaves inquire with you (O Prophet) concerning Me, (let them know that) surely I am Close (to them).7 I answer the call of the caller when he calls on Me (seeking My help).8 Therefore, let them respond to Me, and have trust in Me, haply so they may be led aright.

Commentary

7. There are two opinions about the cause of revelation of this verse. One version says that it was revealed when some people asked the Prophet (saws) about Allah (swt), whether He was close so they could whisper their supplications, or far away, that they might cry out loud to Him. Another version is that some people asked the Prophet about the hour that was best for supplications. In either case, it was answered that Allah (swt) is close and does not fail to respond to the call of the suppliant (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

Abu Musal Al–Ash’ari says, “Once we were in a journey with the Prophet (saws). We did not descend a hill, ascend another, or march into a valley but raised our voices in unison chanting Allah’s greatness. The prophet came up from the rear and said: “People! Show mercy to yourselves. The one you are calling is neither deaf nor away. You are calling the Hearer, the Seer. The one you are calling is nearer to you than the neck of the beasts (you are riding)” – Ibn Kathir. Qurtubi and Ibn Kathir state some rules that should be borne in mind while making supplications.

The verse under discussion promises that Allah (swt) will answer the call of the suppliant. This can happen in a variety of ways, as stated in a hadith which says, “No Muslim makes a supplication in which he does not ask for a sinful thing, or severance of blood–relationship (qaati` al–rahm) but Allah (swt) grants him one of the three things: either He grants him what he has asked for in this world, or reserves it for him for the Hereafter, or words off an evil of equal magnitude.” The Companions said: “Then we shall increase (in His bestowals).” However, there are conditions that must be observed.

Supplication Rules

The suppliant should ask with full confidence. He should realize that the One he is asking has power over everything, and so can have no difficulty in granting him any request.

The suppliant should not be hasty, to say, “I supplicated and supplicated, but nothing happened.” When he says that, his supplication is rejected.

Another obstacle to the acceptance of supplications is partaking of the prohibited. A hadith says, “A man in long journey, in tattered clothes, covered in dust, raises his hands to the heavens and cries out: ‘O Lord! O Lord! But his food is unlawful, his drink is unlawful and his clothes are unlawful. So how can he be answered?”

The suppliant should make the supplication with full attention of heart and mind. For Allah (swt) does not answer prayers coming from an inattentive heart.

He should make his pleading with utmost humility and self–abasement.

There are moments when prayers stand greater chance of being answered. Such as: at dawn, at the time the fast is broken, the interval between the call and start of the prayers, (adhan wa iqamah), the time between afternoon and evening prayers on Wednesdays, at times of difficulties, during journeys, when one is ill, when it is raining and when the troops line up in the battlefield against the enemy (Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

Finally, there are some whose supplication is not rejected. The prophet (saws) said in a hadith: “There are three whose supplication is not rejected: (1) A just ruler, (2) The fasting man until he breaks his fast, and (3) The call of the oppressed whose call is raised up to the heavens (and Allah says), ‘By My Greatness. I shall help you, even if it be after a while.”’

Qurtubi adds that the supplication should not be chanted out (as, for instance, verses of the Qur’an).

Imam Razi points out that the purpose of supplications in not to inform Allah (of one’s conditions). It is to demonstrate servitude, humility, and one’s total attachment to Allah (swt).

Qurtubi also reports that Ibrahim b. Ad–ham was asked: ‘Why is it that we supplicate but are not answered?’ He replied:

“Because:

You have known God but did not obey Him.

You have known the Prophet (saws) but did not follow his Sunnah.

You have understood the Qur’an but did not live by it.

You devoured the blessings of God but did not offer thanks.

You have known the Paradise but did not seek it.

You have known the Fire, but did not try to avoid it.

You have known Satan but did not declare war against him, rather, you befriended him.

You have known death but did not prepare for it.

You buried the dead but did not draw lessons from it.

And you forgot your own defects and busied yourselves with the defects of the others.

(So how can your prayers be answered)?!”

8. That is, when I respond to your calls, while the fact is that I do not need you, you should also respond to My call, noting that you need Me (Razi).

[187] It has been made lawful unto you to go into your women in the nights of Ramadan: they are (like) your mantle and you their mantle.9 Allah was aware that (some of ) you were  betraying yourselves but (despite that) he relented toward you and pardoned you.10 So now you may go into them now, and seek what Allah has ordained for you.11 and eat and drink until the white streak of dawn becomes distinguishable from the black streak (of night);12 then observe the fasts until nightfall; but do not approach them (i.e., the women) while you are in devotional retreat in the mosques.13 (Remember) these are the bounds set by Allah, so keep well within them. Thus, does Allah make clear His commandments for the people in order that they may refrain (from violating them).

Commentary

9. One interpretation is that because of the intimate relationship and closeness that the husband and wife enjoy with each other, they become like garments unto each other: two personalities wrapped in one mantle. Another interpretation attributed to Rabi’, Mujahid, Qatadah, Suddi, and Ibn Zayd is that libas has been used in the sense of sakan (rest and comfort) i.e., each is a source of rest and comfort for the other as the usage in the verse 47 of al– Furqan which says: “It is He who made the night for you a source of comfort (libas)” – (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi).

10. This verse was revealed to grant relaxation in the rule which initially required that the Muslims abstain from food, drink and sex in the nights of Ramadan. They were free to eat, drink and have sex after the sunset but only until they went to bed. Once they had slept everything became prohibited until the next sunset. It so happened that Qays b. Sarmah came home one evening from a day’s hard work in the fields. He enquired if there was anything to eat. His wife said no, but promised to get something from the neighbors. However, by the time she could return, he had fallen asleep, he continued his fast into the next day but collapsed by the mid–day. This was reported to the prophet.

The second incident causing the revelation of this verse involves ‘Umar (ra). It is said that one evening he invited his wife to the bed. She told him she had already had a nap, (and so she was in the next day’s fast). ‘Umar though she was seeking an excuse and despite the protest had sex with her. Later, however, he realized the mistake and reported to the prophet (saws). The prophet told him that he didn’t expect this from a man like him. Nevertheless, Allah Most High, in His mercy, revealed this verse which brought great relief and joy to the Muslims (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

11. “And seek what Allah has ordained for you: ‘that is, children.’ This is the opinion of Abu Hurayrah, Ibn ‘Abbas, Anas b. Malik, Qadi Shurayah, Mujahid, ‘Ikrimah, Sa’id b. Jubayr, ‘Ata’; Zayd b. Aslam, Hakam b. ‘Utbah, Muqatil b. Hayyan, Hasan al–Basri, Qatadah, Dahhak and others (Ibn Jarir, Qurtubi, Ibn Kathir).

12. ‘Adiy b. Abi Hatim (who embraced Islam after the fall of Makkah) said: “When this verse was revealed I took two strings, one black and another white, and placed them under my pillow. I pulled them out and looked at them if I could distinguish one from the other. When I could, I suspended eating and drinking. Next day, I mentioned it to the Prophet (saws). He said: ‘You seem to have a pretty large pillow. It is the whiteness of the dawn and darkness of the night that has been meant.’” (Ibn Kathir )

As for the statement: ‘You seem to have a pretty large pillow,’ perhaps what the prophet meant is that you seem to have a pillow that is large enough to accommodate the horizon (Au.)

Mawdudi adds: “In fixing the time of obligatory rites, Islam has been mindful that these timings should be able to follow them. That is why Islam bases its timings in conspicuous natural phenomenon and not on the clock.”

Suhur

Regarding the pre–dawn meal (suhur), the prophet has encouraged that we do not miss it. He said in a hadith of Bukhari: “Do not forget the suhur’, for there is barakah in it” (Ibn Kathir).

As for the time limits for suhur, there seems to be sufficient flexibility, so that one can gulp down a hurried meal or a quick drink close to the dawn. Hudhayfah (ra) has been recorded by Ahmed, Nasa’i, and Ibn Majah as saying: “We took the pre-dawn repast with the prophet until it was almost the day–break save that the sun had not risen.”

However, cautions Ibn Kathir, this should be understood as expressing the proximity to the day and not meaning the day-break itself. This in view of the hadith of Bukhari and Muslim which records Zayd Ibn Thabit as saying: “We ate our pre-dawn meal with the Prophet (saws) and then stood up for prayers.” At that, Anas asked Zayd: “What was the time gap between the call to prayer and the prayers?” He said: “About (the time required to recite) 50 verses.”

Nonetheless, Ibn Kathir also reports the opinion of many who were not very rigid about the exact limits of the suhur period. Among them were many Companions of the Prophet such as Abu Bakr, ‘Umar, ‘Ali, Ibn ‘Abbas, and Zayd ibn Thabit. He also reports (as also does Ibn Jarir) Ibn ‘Abbas as saying: “There are two kinds of dawn. The one that appears in the horizon. This one does not make anything lawful or unlawful. It is the other one that appears on the mountain peaks that makes (eating) and drinking unlawful.”

Ibn Jarir also records several incidents from the earlier days to demonstrate that the suhur time was not followed very rigidly. Here are some: “Bara’ said, ‘I finished my predawn repast and then went to see Ibn Mas’ud. He said: ‘Here, drink some.’ I said: ‘Drink some.’ So I drank. Then we went out together to the mosque and the people were in (fajr) prayer.”

Hibban said. “We ate with ‘Ali and when we came out we found the people in fajr prayers.”

‘Amir b. Matar said, “We went to see Ibn Mas’ud. He presented the leftover of the suhur meal and we ate with him. Then the prayers began and we went out and joined the congregation.”

“This, however,” cautions Mufti Shafi’, should not allow one to grant himself undue leniency in view of the warning contained in the words: ‘These are bounds set by Allah.’

Therefore, once one becomes certain that the time is over, he should stop eating and drinking (Au.).

13. It was the practice of the prophet (saws) to spend several days and nights during Ramadan – and occasionally at other times also – in the mosque, devoting himself to prayer and meditation to the exclusion of all worldly activities, and since he advised his followers as well to do this from time to time. Seclusion in a mosque for the sake of meditation, called i‘tikaf, has become a recognized – though optional – mode of devotion among Muslims, especially during the last ten days of Ramadan’ (Asad).