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Ramadan in Quran and Sunnah

by Lamyaa Hashim

Ramadan is the ninth of 12 lunar months observed in Islam. Rules surrounding its practice are found in the Quran and the Sunnah (traditions of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh).

For Muslims, Ramadan is a time of fasting and worship that is prescribed by Allah (God), the Almighty and reinforced by the traditions (Sunnah) and words of Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him. It is one of the five main pillars of Islam.

While fasting itself is mentioned in four Ayahs (verses) in the Qur’an, the word, Ramadan is mentioned but once. All Ayahs come from Surat (Chapter) Al-Baqara and are discussed here.

183. O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious).

The first Ayah in order makes clear that fasting is not a new concept among monoetheists and that Allah (God) wishes to prescribe it for the new believers. Here it is expressed as a tool used to obtain piety and reverence.

184. (Fasting) for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the same number (should be made up) from other days. And as for those who can fast with difficulty, (e.g. an old man, etc.) they have (a choice either to fast or) to feed a poor person (for every day). But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for him. And that you fast, it is better for you if only you know.

From this Ayah it is learned that Allah is merciful upon those unable to fast. Expiation is given for those that find it difficult as long as they feed a poor person for every day of missed fasting. Then there is the “but”. It is highly encouraged that one not have to be prompted to do good works, it is more meaningful when done of one’s own accord. The Ayah, then, after giving an option, reminds that if one can possibly fast it is better for them than they could ever imagine.

185. The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur’an, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadan i.e. is present at his home), he must fast that month, and whoever is ill or on a journey, the same number (of days which one did not fast must be made up) from other days. Allah intends for you ease, and He does not want to make things difficult for you. (He wants that you) must complete the same number (of days), and that you must magnify Allah [i.e. to say Allahu Akbar; Allah is the Most Great) on seeing the crescent of the months of Ramadan and Shawwal] for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him.

Here is seen the first and only mention of the word “Ramadan” in the Qur’an.

While the previous two Ayahs’ spoke about the fasting itself, this one is specific to the importance of the month of Ramadan itself. Most significantly, it is the month in during which the Qur’an was revealed from Allah, the Merciful, by way of the Archangel Jibreel (Gabriel), to Prophet Muhammad, pbuh.

Then Allah describes the importance of the Qur’an in the believer’s life as a guide for life – the ultimate criterion between right and wrong. Since the Qur’an was revealed during Ramadan, it is recommended to complete at least one full reading of the Qur’an during the month. For this, the Qur’an is divided into 30th’s, with 1/30th read each day/night.

The Ayah makes clear when the month begins: when whoever sights the crescent – all it takes is the sighting by a credible person (contrary to today’s politics). This is further corroborated in the Hadith from Saheeh Al-Bukhari: According to Abdullah bin Umar, Allah’s Apostle, pbuh, mentioned Ramadan and said, “Start fasting upon seeing the crescent of Ramadan and stop upon seeing the crescent (of Shawwal), but if the sky is overcast (if you cannot see it) then act on estimation (and in another narration (Abu Huraira); “if the sky is overcast than complete 30 days of Shaaban (the preceding month)”.

After that there is a change from the previous Ayah which has now been abrogated regarding those unable to fast at that time. Now, it is stressed that those days must be made up in later days (before the next Ramadan). Of course, if one absolutely cannot fast and that situation does not change throughout the year, by all means they should expiate by feeding the poor, but if their situation changes, the fast should be made up, as the importance and the reward of it is so great.

Characteristics of Fasting in the Quran

Rules surrounding its practice are found in the Quran and Sunnah (traditions of Prophet Muhammad, pbuh). Chapter 2, Verse 187 contains the last mention of fasting.

Continuing on from Surat-Al-Baqara in the Qur'an...

186. And when My slaves ask you (O Muhammad) concerning Me, then (answer them) I am indeed near (to them by My Knowledge). I respond to the invocations of the supplicant when he calls on Me (without any mediator or intercessor). So let them obey Me and believe in Me, so that they may be led aright!

"The gates of Heaven are open and the gates Hell are shut and the devils are chained" during Ramadan, making it prime time to invoke Allah. It is underlined that obedience and belief are a requirement for the privilege of being led aright.

187. It is made lawful for you to have sexual relations with your wives on the night of the fasts. They are Libas (a shield) for you and you are a shield for them. Allah knows that you used to deceive yourselves, so He turned to you (accepted your repentance) and forgave you. So now have sexual relations with them and seek that which Allah has ordained for you (offspring), and eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), then complete your fast till the nightfall. And do not have sexual relations with them (your spouses) while you are in ‘Itikaf (confining oneself to the Masjid/Mosque for prayer and worship, leaving the world behind). These are the limits set by Allah, so approach them not. Thus does Allah make clear his Ayahs (proofs, evidences, lessons, signs, revelations, etc.) to mankind that they become Al-Muttaqun (pious; reverent).

In this last Ayah regarding fasting, mankind’s past transgressions are recalled – specifically that when previous generations fasted and sexual relations were forbidden during the whole of the fast, people would actually cheat and think that they were not seen by Allah.

Allah’s Mercy upon the believers led to the new laws of fasting which allowed for sexual relations at night. He sets out the hours during which one may eat and drink, as well as special injunctions for those who wish to confine themselves to the Masjid for worship in the last 10 days.

The Ramadan/Fasting Ayahs all culminate in the warning from Allah that the limits He has set are not to be trespassed nor even neared. So, the warnings were given very clearly as a Mercy in order to help the believers achieve true piety.

Allah's Words: "...and eat and drink until the white thread appears to you distinct from the black thread"


Adi Hatim, may Allah be pleased with him said that when those verses (regarding fasting) were revealed to him he took two hair strings - one black and the other white - and kept them under his pillow. He would go outside looking at them throughout the night but couldn't discern anything. So, the next morning he went to the Prophet, pbuh, and relayed to him what happened. 'Adi Hatim,mabpwh, narrated that his reply was: "That verse means the darkness of the night and the whiteness of the dawn".

Apparently it was not only 'Adi Hatim that was confused. It is also narrated that others would tie black and white threads around their legs and kept on eating til they could tell the difference between the two - it was only after that point that the words, "of dawn" were revealed in the Qur'an (the book that makes things clear).

Some of the Sunnah Regarding Ramadan

While fasting Ramadan is called for in the Quran, there remain questions about the gray areas (i.e. what does and doesn't negate fasting). The answers are in the Sunnah.

As, previously discussed in parts one and two, there are a total of 4 Ayah's (Verses) regarding fasting in the Qur'an, with only one of them mentioning Ramadan specifically. As could be expected, situations arose which caused questions to be asked regarding specific circumstances.

Skipping Suhur (the Pre-Dawn Meal)

It is known from the Ayah's regarding fasting (2:183-185; 2:187) that it is permissible to eat and drink until the first light of day break, so what about Suhur as a specific meal? It is narrated by Anas bin Malik, may Allah be pleased with him (mAbpwh), that the messenger of Allah (Prophet Muhammad, peace be upon him (pbuh) said, "Take Suhur, for there is a blessing in it".

It should be noted that the Prophet, pbuh, was known to fast continuously for more than one day on more than one occasion. The people, in trying to keep with his Sunnah (example), tried to do the same, with difficulty. The prophet, pbuh, said that unlike them, he was provided by food from Allah and forbid them to do the same.

When Should Suhur be Taken?

The Sunnah is to take it shortly before dawn. Narrated Anas, mAbpwh, that Zaid bin Thabit, mAbpwh, said , "We took the Suhur with the Prophet, pbuh. Then he stood for the prayer." I asked, "What was the interval between the Suhur and the Adhan [call for prayer]?" He replied, "The interval was sufficient to recite fifty verses of the Qur'an."

The companions of the Prophet, may Allah be pleased with them, used to eat hurriedly in order to be sure to make it in time for Salat-Al-Fajr (the dawn prayer) with the Prophet, pbuh, himself.

What if Someone had Sexual Relations and then the Adhan was Called?

If a couple has engaged in sexual relations during the permitted time and they accidently sleep through the call to prayer, meaning the entrance into the time of fasting, their fast is still accepted. All they have to do is perform the full ablutions as required for the state of "Janaba" (sexual impurity) and pray what they have missed.

The precedent for this was set by the Prophet himself, pbuh, according to two of his wives: Aisha and Um Salama, may Allah be pleased with them. Additionally, according to Aisha, he used to kiss and embrace his wives while fasting. She added that he had a very strong control over his desires.

Jabir, mAbpwh, said that if a man had a seminal discharge from just a look (not physical or intentional), then he remained fasting.

What about Intentional Intercourse While Fasting?

The short answer is: the person that does that should expiate that by fasting another day. That is backed up by Said bin Al-Musaiyib, Ash-Sha'bi, Ibn Jubair, Ibrahim, Qatada and Hammad.

The complicated answer is that the Prophet, pbuh, according to Abu Huraira and corroborated by Ibn Mas'ud, mAbpwh, said, "Whoever did not fast for one day of Ramadan without genuine excuse or a disease, then even if he fasted for a complete year, it would not compensate for that day."

The two statements are not contradictory in that one should at least physically, spiritually and emotionally correct himself when he can for his own benefit and learn from his mistake. The statement regarding nothing being able to compensate for one intentionally missed day of Ramadan shows the great importance and seriousness placed on fasting in Ramadan that cannot be compared to by fasting during any other time (but not that does not mean it should not be physically made up for by the repentant).

However, in another Hadith regarding a different situation, when a man came to the Prophet, pbuh, expressing remorse (by the words "I have been ruined"), it is relayed that he asked the man if he had the capacity to free a slave and, when he said no, he asked if he could fast two months consecutively (to which he also said no). He then asked him if he could feed sixty poor people. The man said no again.

There was a long silence, after which, according to Abu Huraira, someone delivered a basket full of dates to the Prophet, pbuh. The Prophet, pbuh, asked him to give those dates in charity for the poor. The man indicated that he was the poorest person in the area. The Prophet then smiled and said, "Feed your family with it".

Fiqh of Ramadan

Many people are surprised at how simplified things can be in Ramadan. Why make fasting difficult if it doesn't have to be? The Quran and Sunnah have already laid it out.

One might begin to ask, "What are the main components of the fast?" Essentially, there are two:

  1. Have the intention to fast. (One of the famous Hadith from Annawawi collection is that the Prophet, peach be upon him (pbuh) said: "Actions are based on intentions and for each what he intended"
  2. Don't do anything that causes you to break your fast. Abu Sa'id al-Khudri reported that the Prophet, pbuh, said: "Whoever fasts the month of Ramadan, obeying all of its limitations and guarding himself against what is forbidden, has in fact atoned for any sins he committed before it." (according to Ahmad and al-Baihaqi, with a good chain (i.e. reliable hadith)

To reiterate what was covered earlier in this series and broaden it, here is a list of those who are exempt from fasting:

  1. Children under 12 (unless they have already reached puberty)
  2. Travelers
  3. Insane people
  4. Those who are sick and/or injured
  5. Menstruating women
  6. Women during the 40 day post-partum period
  7. Elderly
  8. Breastfeeding women
  9. Pregnant women

All of them are to make up the fast by fasting at a later time after Ramadan, except for the feeble elderly and the chronically sick and insane. Those are to expiate by feeding a poor person. How much food is given depends on what the expiator would consider a satiating meal by his own standards on a day-to-day basis during Ramadan.

Those things that would break the fast of a fasting person would include a change of status into one of the areas just listed, as in the case of a woman who began Ramadan and began menstruating during the second week. As soon as menstruation begins the fast is broken. Menstruating and post-partum women must break the fast as their fasting is not permissible even if they wanted to do it. The same rules of Salah (fard prayer) apply to them.

What Is Permissible During the Fast?

Now that the "deal-breakers" have been covered, it is time to examine things that are permissible or even encouraged during Ramadan.

Hurrying the Iftar (Breakfast meal)

It is preferred to not delay the breaking of the fast. As soon as the dark of night is seen approaching from the West, the fast should be broken. This is in accordance with the words and actions of the Prophet, pbuh, as heard and observed by Umar, Ibn Numair, and Abdallah bin Abi Aufa, may Allah be pleased with them.

Traveler Exemption

Although traveling was already mentioned as an exemption, this is to clarify that the type of travel that would allow one to cut his prayers short is the type of travel that exempts one from fasting in lieu of making it up later. This is a choice given to the traveler, however it has been said that Allah loves that his servants take advantage of his permissions when given. Some may find it harder to make up later and in this day of comfortable travel may opt to fast instead of going solo after Ramadan.

Drinking or Eating by Mistake while Fasting

Abu Huraira, mAbpwh, reported Allah's Messenger, pbuh, as saying: "If anyone forgets that he is fasting and eats or drinks he should complete the fast; for it is only Allah Who has fed him and given him drink.



Lamyaa Hashim has lectured internationally on Islamic and Middle Eastern Socio-Economics and Palestinian issues for over 25 years. She served as the world news editor for Islamic Horizons magazine in the early nineties, and her journalism and poems have appeared in various publications around the world and translated into several languages. Her educational background includes Cardiovascular Science, Holistic Nutrition, Political Science/Modern Middle Eastern Studies and Islamic Jurisprudence, having studied in both the United States and Saudi Arabia.


The Holy Qur'an
Sahih Al Bukhari; Kitab al-Saum, Hadiths 123, 140 & 141

Read more:

Sahih Al-Bukhari, Kitab El-Siyam, Hadith 145-149, 157

Sahih Al-Bukhari; Kitab Al-Siyam

40 Hadith Annawawi

Fiqh us-Sunnah, Volume III; As-Sayyid Sabiq; Tranlated in English by Abdul-Majid Khokhar, Muhammad Sa'eed Dabas and Jamal al-Din M. Zarabozo; American Trust Publications; 1991; pp113-115

Sahih Muslim; Kitab Al-Sawm; Ahadit 2421-2425

And hold fast, all together, by the rope which Allah (stretches out for you), and be not divided among yourselves; and remember with gratitude Allah's favour on you; for ye were enemies and He joined your hearts in love, so that by His Grace, ye became brethren; and ye were on the brink of the pit of Fire, and He saved you from it. Thus doth Allah make His Signs clear to you: That ye may be guided.

Quran: 3:103
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