Islam - Lesson 8
Pillar 3 & 4
Almsgiving (Zakat) and fasting (Sawm) are the third and fourth pillars of the Islamic faith.
Pillar 3 & 4
Central Articles of Islamic Faith and Practice
II. Unifying Principles: Five Pillars (part 2)
A. Confession of Faith (Shahadah)
B. Ritual Prayer (Salat)
LESSON BEGINS HERE
C. Almsgiving (Zakat)
1. Minister to the poor
2. Support Islamic missions
D. Fasting (Sawm)
1. Ninth month of Ramadan
2. Feast of ‘id al Fitr (Breaking of the Fast)
Islam is based on teachings in the Qur'an. Knowing the teachings of Islam helps us to understand the uniqueness of the teachings of Christianity and the perspective of Muslims.
Arabia in the 6th century was a land where traders and raiders lived. Mecca was a city in which many religions were practiced.
In his early life, Muhammad was influenced by Judaism, Christianity and the Hanifs.
As Muhammad began telling others about his revelations, he was forced to flee Mecca and went to Medina. After he consolidated his power and influence he returned to Mecca.
The text of the Qur'an was revealed directly to Muhammad.
The Qur'an has passages that teach about both practical and spiritual aspects of daily life. The world was created in six days and there will be a culmination of events at the end of the age.
The first two pillars of the Muslim faith are the confession of faith (Shahadah), and ritual prayer (Salat).
Almsgiving (Zakat) and fasting (Sawm) are the third and fourth pillars of the Islamic faith.
Pilgrimage (Hajj) is the fifth pillar of Islam.
Da'wah and jihad are two methods that the Qur'an describes for Muslims to approach infidels.
After Muhammad's death in 632 AD, he was succeeded by the four "rightly guided caliphs."
The split between the Sunni and Shi'a groups began when there was a disagreement over who should succeed Muhammad after he died. Sufi Islam is the mystical expression of Islam and could be compared to the monastic movement in Christianity.
Many Muslims consider the Hadith an important source of information for guidance in how to live their lives.
Sharia is Islamic religious law which regulates both public and private aspects of life.
Different groups within the Sunni and Shia traditions have various perspectives on how the teachings in the Qur'an and Hadith should be interpreted and applied.
Sufi Muslims are more contemplative, mystical, individualistic, syncretistic, and non-legalistic than someone who is an orthodox Muslim.
Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Hausa and Tiv.
Folk Islam is a popular expression of Islam which has synthesized indigenous beliefs and customs into the religion. Two expressions of this in Nigeria are the Yoruba and Maguzawa.
The Qur'an contains a description of Jesus' life and ministry.
The description in the Qur'an of Jesus' death, resurrection and deity are different than that of the Bible.
Islam does not teach the doctrine of the Trinity.
Islam has clear teachings in cultural areas such as the significance of beards, acceptable types of clothing, behavior and acceptable clothing for females, and food and dietary restrictions.
In order to make it easier for Muslims to understand and accept the message of the gospel, Christians can approach them with the assumption that they probably misunderstand the Gospel, that the number one stumbling block for Muslims is Christianity, and that the most effective approach is Jesus plus nothing.
Comparison of teachings of Christianity and Islam.
This course is an introduction to the religion of Islam. There are 24 separate lectures totaling approximately 16 hours. These lectures were given at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in South Hamilton, Massachusetts.
The purpose of this course is to provide an introductory study of the structure, beliefs and practices of Islam. Special emphasis will be placed on a study of the theology of the Koran. The student will read and study the entire Koran along with important selections from the Hadith, Shari`a material and Sufi writings. The actual historical manifestations of contemporary Islam will be explored with a special emphasis on Islam in the African context. Throughout the course there will be a concern to demonstrate how Islamic thought is different from Christian thought and how the gospel can be most effectively communicated to members of the Islamic faith, the second largest and fastest growing religion in the world today.
The class handouts that Dr. Tennent mentions in the lecture are not available. There is an outline for each lecture and when you login, you will see links on the class page for books that Dr. Tennent recommends for you to read along with this class.
Course: Introduction to Islam
Lecture: Pillar 3 & 4
Before we start this, we don’t really have a great Qur’anic passage to open with today. But I will just in passing make an observation which perhaps you have already made in your own reading of the Qur’an.
II. Unifying Principles: Five Pillars (part 2)
A. Confession of Faith (Shahadah)
One of the themes that is very dominant in the Qur’an is the connection between faith and good works. Have you notice that yet? Just to give you a few examples: In 85:11, “But those who have faith and do good works shall be rewarded with gardens watered by running streams.” That is a very, very common phrase in the Qur’an, the paradise garden promised for good works. Take for example, Surah 10:9. “As for those who believe and do good works, Allah will guide them to their faith. Rivers will run at their feet in the garden of delight.” From Surah 18, ayah 108, “To those that have faith and do good works, they shall forever dwell in the gardens of the paradise.” And on and on it goes, dozens of references very similar to that throughout the Qur’an, which link the good works and faith with paradise. So these good works are largely found in these lectures we are doing now on the five pillars of Islam.
B. Ritual Prayer (Salat)
So we are now on the second part of the five pillars, the Salat. We have pretty much covered all of this, but I’m not sure I mentioned to you the most important and favored Surahs that are used. I want you to be aware of the most used Surahs in the Salat because the importance of this is significant.
Surah 1 is used: “In the name of Allah, the compassionate and merciful. Praise be to Allah, Lord of the creation, the compassionate and merciful, King of judgment day. You alone we worship. To you alone we pray for help. Guide us to the straight path, the path of those whom you have favored, not of those who incurred your wrath, nor of those who have gone astray.” This is very, very prominent in their prayers. Surah 112: “Allah is one, the eternal God. He begot none, nor was he begotten.” This is very important because the point I wanted to make sure that you had clear is that even though the Qur’an as a whole has many causative ayahs and passages about Christ and Old Testament relation, etc., many of the passages which are most familiar to the Muslims contain anti-Christian polemics; and so we have pointed that out. Surah114, we spent some time on that already. Essentially the part, “I seek refuge in the Lord of men, the King of men, the God of men, from the mischief of the slinking prompter who whispers in the hearts of men.” Surah 2, ayah 255 is also used quite frequently. This is one of the enthronement verses that we mentioned before. That is important because of the role of that phrase and the idea of Allah’s presence.
One of the things we will look at at the very end of this is, What is the comparable doctrine in Islam to the doctrine of omniscience and omnipotence. In our own thinking, don’t we always link the three “omnis” together – omnipotence, omniscience, omnipresence - right? But in Islam you may see frequently the two mentioned, not the omnipresence. That says a lot about the theology of the presence of Allah.
Surah 24:35, “Allah is the light of the heavens and the earth. Allah guides to his light whom he wills.” In the passage we used for I think our very first opening Qur’anic passage, first or second, was the names of Allah, which is used with the supha. Remember the supha? This is the little beads, the 33 beads that you count three times. This is something that is prominent.
Many Muslims on a daily basis will encounter these particular texts in the Qur’an. In fact, if you are really in a Muslim area, a strong Muslim area, the children will go to school and very early on they have a very systematic process in a Muslim school. So when a child graduates, they supposedly know the entire Qur’an. That is the plan. But if they do not actually do it the way you might expect, you don’t just say, “Okay, you will learn Surahs 1 and 2 next year and Surahs 3 and 4, and eventually go through it.” They don’t do it that way. They actually take certain passages and verses and entire chapters first. Those are repeated and renewed and renewed, and they add to it. So many don’t actually memorize the entire Qur’an, but there are certain passages which they tend to know; and these are some of the ones that are learned early on. There are a lot of reasons why these become more familiar. Again, this is assuming a more orthodox context. You may find many Muslims in the world who wouldn’t be able to string together two ayahs. But certainly, these are some examples of those who are faithful and would know these.
We have tried to reflect along the way about the Jewish and Christian precedence to this. As far as the movements, the rak’ah, in prayer, these are also found in the Old Testament. Standing to pray is found in both Testaments. For example, 1 Kings 8:14-22, Nehemiah 9:2, Mark 11:22. The idea of prostration with your forehead to the ground, which is a Muslim posture of prayer you see so often, is found in the Bible, in Num 16:22, for example, 1 Samuel 24:8, Nehemiah 8:6, Matthew 26:39. So the idea of prostration is not something unknown to Muhammed’s observance of Jewish/Christian practice. The idea of kneeling, sitting or lifting up the hands is found in Psa 28:2, Psa 134:2 and even 1 Tim 2:8. The precedence is quite profound for the movements as well as the direction and ablution. All of these things we have seen paralleled.
The final aspect of Salat is the times of prayer. You will notice that in the Qur’an there are several passages which do talk about times of prayer. I think Surah 111, ayah 1 and 14, reflect probably the most typical sayings in the Qur’an about prayer. “Recite your prayers morning, evening and in the nighttime.” That is very, very typical of what you find in the Qur’an. There are several examples of that. The Qur’an speaks and commands Muslims to “conduct prayer at the appointed hours”. But as I think I have alluded to, no time does the Qur’an specifically say that Muslims should pray five times. That is not in the Qur’an, to the total shock of most Muslims when you bring this to their attention. It is found in the Hadith.
The closest thing I have found to fivefold prayer in the Qur’an is found in Surah 17, ayah 78. This is probably the closest you will find to a fivefold prayer. Surah 17, ayah 78, “Recite your prayers at sunset, at nightfall and at dawn, the dawn prayer has its witnesses. Pray during the night as well, an additional duty, the fulfillment of which your Lord may exalt you to an honorable station.” That could be possibly twisted to think in terms of fourfold prayer, though it is unclear how it fits with the actual prayers that are outlined in the Hadith. Nonetheless, that is the closest thing you are going to find to a fivefold prayer.
Why is this important? How many times in Jewish precedent do we find prayer? Three times we know in Daniel. We know even in the New Testament Peter and John going up to the temple at the time of prayer. This is something which is very, very much a part of Judaism historically and particularly the Judaism that Muhammed was exposed to, the idea of a legislated, threefold prayer. Take, for example, Psa 55:17. “Evening, morning and noon I cry out in distress and he hears my voice.” Dan 6:10, it sounds like he is referring to Salat. Listen to this, “Daniel went home to his upstairs room where the windows were open toward Jerusalem.” There he is, he is facing Jerusalem. He has his own qiblah. Three times a day he got down on his knees and prayed, giving thanks to God. So you have the threefold prayer, you have him facing Jerusalem, the whole thing there in Daniel chapter 6. The early Christians followed this. If you read the text, Acts 3:1, Acts 10:9, Acts 16:16 are some examples in the early church.
This is further important because of the way Muslim clashes actually happen and it is not just a concession, it is actually legislatively allowed in Sharia law. According to Sharia law, you notice that you have the morning prayer, there is the noonday prayer, there is a late afternoon prayer, sunset prayer and night prayer. This is the traditional classic fivefold times of prayer as outlined in the Hadith. Actually outlined in the Hadith is the fivefold prayer and later in other Hadith collections where they put together these particular times.
The Muslim clerics had to carefully define when is morning prayer, when is nighttime prayer, they had to decide this; again, drawn directly from Jewish precedence, in terms of how the rabbis determined the beginning of the day because as you know, the Sabbath began at sunset on Friday, to sunset Saturday. It did not just happen during the day on Saturday. It became a very important issue in Judaism, how do you determine the beginning of Sabbath? It was determined in the exact same way that the Muslims determined it and in the Qur’an itself. That is, the morning prayer is determined by a cleric looking at a white thread and a black thread. Of course, if it is dark, you cannot distinguish a white thread from a black thread. But at some point you will be able to distinguish the white thread from the black thread. The moment you can, that is when the call to prayer must go forth. The moment the muezzin, who is the guy who gives the call to prayer, the Adhan, once the muezzin can distinguish the black thread from the white thread, then you issue the call to prayer.
That makes sense as a workable plan if you are in Arabia, or anywhere where you have a lot of sun and a lot of night and all of that, it’s okay. The nighttime prayer is the same way. You determine when is exactly the point where you cannot determine the difference between a white thread and a black thread. That constitutes the night prayer, again brought directly out of Jewish practice. The noonday prayer, once again, is quite simple, when the sun is directly overhead, etc. They have all kinds of legislative ways of determining how you define the proper times of prayer.
The problem comes in the fact that as Islam spread, if you are in a place like say, Alaska or in Scotland. I speak from experience about Scotland and my wife used to live in Alaska. If you are in Scotland, it doesn’t even get light in the wintertime until 9:30 in the morning, it is already dark by 3:30. That would dramatically push together the fivefold prayer. In Alaska there are times in their winter where you could not distinguish between the morning light, which is the morning prayer, and noon and sunset at night all happens within an hour. And the sun, you can barely see the little glow. It is really depressing. My wife lived in Alaska and she is kind of a bright, bubbly person, so she could absorb it. But she said that if you have any tendencies toward depression, don’t move to Alaska; or if you do, do it in the summertime. People say to me, why was I successful in a PhD program in Edinburgh? My answer is, because I moved there in July. The classes don’t start until October. This is a really big mistake they make in Edinburgh. They started the class in October, I got there in July, so I had several months to work and get into the library and all of that. When the students arrived in October, it started getting dark, and people are fighting fits of depression by November and December. I am not trying to discourage you from going to Edinburgh, just go in the summertime. You can get tickets to Edinburgh in February for like $100. That is a good time to go to Edinburgh and check it out because the tickets are unbelievably priced at that time.
What happened was, they made provision for essentially squashing the fivefold prayer. What they do, according to the plan, is that you can actually join sunset prayer with night prayer and join the noonday prayer with the afternoon prayer. So you have the morning prayer, then you have this prayer which is joined with this one. Then you have the sunset prayer joined with this one. So there are three, you have a threefold prayer. There are a ton of Muslims, even faithful ones, who follow this program. I mentioned before the rakahs, how many you do silent and outloud and all of that. You do have to double up. You don’t get a pass card. You have to do both the prayer, all of the Salat, the rak’ahs both times. For example, in the noonday prayer you have four solid cycles; afternoon, four solid cycles of rak’ahs; so you have to do eight raka’hs in order for them to count as those prayers. But it still is a basic provision which brings the Muslims practically speaking, down to the Jewish threefold prayer. I think it is very interesting, the precedent for this in the Muslim context with the Jewish system.
C. Almsgiving (Zakat)
The third pillar of Islam is the almsgiving or Zakat. This third pillar refers to the Islamic social and religious responsibility for the community. This is found in one other place, Surah 107, another place this is outlined in the Qur’an. There are two major purposes of the Zakat. The first is to minister to the poor. The Qur’an specifically emphasizes the importance of ministry to the poor and the needy, the widows, the orphans, the destitute, in language again somewhat similar to what you find in the Old Testament regarding the enfranchisement of widows and people that would normally be on the margins, the command to make sure they are not disenfranchised. You find similar language in the Qur’an and the Hadith.
The other major purpose is to support Islamic missions “vastly,” Islamic outreach, furthering of the Islamic message. This would include military jihads and other kinds of peaceful adventures which can be fueled by the Zakat. Therefore the military expenditures in the Muslim world typically are fueled by the Zakat. So that is a big difference from our world obviously because we don’t see any connection. In fact, if you go into the Muslim world, typically in these days, the Zakat is a specific tax for Muslims, that goes to further Islamic work. It depends on the Shariah law code. It is hard to say actually what the Shariah law would be in every case. A typical example would be two and-a-half percent of your income would go directly to the mosque. That is a little different from the tithe, which would be 10%; but in the Christian context, 10% voluntary often comes down to two and-a-half percent.
You have already heard statistics, most churches are generally receiving about two, two and-a-half percent of the income of their church parishioners. What that means is that this is roughly equivalent to a tithe in terms of the amount of disposable income that mosques have to do the various things they are involved in. This is a figure that is legislated and it is interpreted in different ways: 2.5% gross, 2.5% is their first deduction, so they have similar tithe issues regarding how to interpret the Zakat. In some countries the Zakat has almost an IRS type force to it, in the sense that you have people that are employed by the government to make sure that everyone pays the Zakat. In other cases, the Zakat is a self declaration where you declare how much you make and therefore that determines what your Zakat is.
But if you are not a Muslim, you cannot pay the Zakat. It is impossible because Zakat is only for Muslims. If you are not a Muslim, you pay what is known as the jizya, which is the equivalent of the Zakat for the nonbeliever. We mentioned and you will remember the concept of the dhimmis or protected status. That protected status was given to somebody if they agree to pay what in the Qur’an is called the alms tax. The alms tax for the nonbeliever is a jizya. This is for those who have protected status, which would mainly include Jews and Christians. I mentioned, I think, it also later included when they brought in Hindus and Buddhists into this category.
The jizya is greater than the Zakat because you have to pay the equivalent of the Zakat and you also have to realize that a nonbeliever in the protected status is exempt from the military. In Shariah law you are exempt from military service if you have a country governed by Shariah law. We have yet to explore in the modern world -we will before the class is over - how some countries may be Muslim but are not governed by Shariah law. Some are maybe secular countries that do have Shariah law. So it is not simple to make a blanket statement. But if you have a country that is governed by Shariah law, you cannot allow non-Muslims to fight because war is by nature holy. Therefore, if you have nonbelievers participating in warfare, it can corrupt and destroy the whole thing. The person who is given protective status must pay the normal Zakat, but must pay another fee, which would essentially make up for the fact that they are exempt from military service. In return they get guaranteed protection from the state, from the Muslim Shariah law state. They say that, you are an unbeliever, you pay this much. We will say you are paying five and-half percent, for example. You are paying almost double what Zakat is, or over double, it depends on again, the Shariah. You are paying a certain amount of money over what they are paying, but you are guaranteed protection, even though you don’t serve in the military.
Again, according to Shariah law, this is maybe applied with some leniency; but according to Shariah law in most places, because the Hadith demanded it, if you can prove that you are not protected – for example, say you are paying the jizya, you are faithfully praying and all of that and you get raided or your wife gets raped or some horrible thing happens to you – then you have the right to go to the state or the government in your area and demand the return of the jizya, and they must return it to you. That is the way it is supposedly a two-way street. You do pay this, you pay more because you are exempt from military service, but we guarantee your protection. When you are not protected, then you get your money back. That is the way it is supposed to work.
The Qur’an teaches this throughout. Surah 3:92 for example, dealing with the Zakat, “You shall never be truly righteous until you give in alms what you dearly cherish. The alms you give are known to Allah.” Certainly you have seen over and over again in the Qur’an, as you read through it, the reference to recite your prayers and pay the alms tax. Do you notice that? Very frequent statement in the Qur’an. Take for example 2:43, 2:83, 2:110. These are just examples from the second Surah, four examples just in Surah 2. Probably another great verse to have in your notes for the Zakat is Surah 9, ayah 60 because it actually explains the use of the Zakat, all to be used only for the advancement of Allah’s cause, for the ransom of captors and debtors and for distribution among the poor, the destitute, the wayfarers, those who are employed in collecting alms and those that are converted to the faith. That is a duty enjoined by Allah. He is wise and all-knowing. This gives you some perimeters for how it is used in the Qur’an itself. Notice that it included those who are employed in collecting the alms tax. That means there is a provision here to actually pay people to help make sure that it is properly collected.
Once again, the Zakat is found as an important practice in Judaism and Christianity. The passage in Surah 9:60 which I read to you is extremely similar to what you find in Deut 15:11, Prov 19:17 and even the New Testament. If you read Matt 6:1-4 and Matt 25:35-46 you find several references to Christian giving which are similar to things that we see in the Qur’an.
D. Fasting (Sawm)
The fourth pillar of Islam is fasting. Specifically, this is not just a general concept of fasting, just the way the Salat is not a general way you should be praying. The Sawm or the fasting, refers to a particular fast which is done in a very precisely legislated way. We need to be careful to underscore that this is properly legislated according to the dictates of the Qur’an and understood properly.
According to the proper fast, this is a total fast that includes not only food, which is the way that most of us would interpret fast, abstention from food. But in the case of the Muslim fast, it includes food, water or any kind of fluid as well as sexual intercourse during the fast. As you know, the human body cannot last for very long without water. Yet this fast continues for an entire lunar month. So, how do you fast for 28 days without food, water or sexual intercourse? The way this was done in the Qur’an – and I am convinced once again that this is taken directly from Jewish/Christian practice, but it has been modified somewhat – is that you actually have alternating fast and feast. The way it works is this. This is not, as people often say, a Muslim breaking all of the rules, it is the way it is actually legislated. During the daytime, beginning at sunrise morning call to prayer. Again, why it is so important when he can discern the difference between a white thread and a black thread? The moment the muezzin issues the call to morning prayer, the day’s fast begins. It concludes at the moment that he calls for nighttime prayers, again when he distinguishes the white thread from the dark thread, that is when it concludes. So it is essentially a daylong fast during the day. Once again, once you get out of the Muslim world into particularly the extreme northern hemisphere, places where Islam did spread and you had shortened days, this is often done by clock and so it is not done according to this kind of daylight/nighttime thing. During the nighttime you are allowed to eat. So Muslims will eat at night and fast during the day, eat at night, fast during the day. Again, this is a significant variation, nevertheless a variation on the Christian theme of Lent and the relationship to Easter.
I do not know if we have low church, high church or whatever; so please forgive me if you are from a low church and you don’t like me to mention Ash Wednesday or something. Lent begins always on a Wednesday and a festival or a fast day called Ash Wednesday. We call it Ash Wednesday, it is always on a Wednesday. The reason it is Ash Wednesday is because it is 40 days prior to Easter, not counting Sundays. It is very, very important to note that. If you come from a low church background, it is hard to appreciate the importance of this in the thinking of people in the ancient world because Lent was widely practiced by Christians in the ancient world, so the Lenten fast was taken very, very seriously.
The problem with the Lenten fast was a similar problem to the fast in the Muslim context. You have a fast that goes for 40 days, leading to Easter. Think of Jesus in the wilderness for 40 days. You have the Israelites in the wilderness wandering for 40 years. It is a good, important number. The problem is, you cannot have a fast for 40 days without passing through Sundays, obviously. In the church you cannot fast on a Sunday. Why can’t you fast on a Sunday? Because of the Resurrection. This is the main thing about Sunday, the shift from the Sabbath. The Jewish Sabbath would look back to the first creation and changing to the first day of the week, looking towards the new creation. God ceased from his labors on the first day and the rule and reign of God over his creation; and on Easter we remember and celebrate again the breaking of the Sabbath of God, which is present in the Person of Jesus Christ, the Risen Lord.
It is incompatible on the Christian calendar to have a Sunday where you fast. Instead, you feast on Sundays and you alternate during the week with fasts between, alternating feast and fast. There is no question that Muhammed is aware of the fact that Christians can be in a fast period like Lent, interjected with feast days. So he is aware of the concept of an alternating feast and fast. There is nothing like the Muslim fast in the way they do it, where it is morning and night every day. But it is stunning, the parallel is worth pointing out, in the West. The way it is done on the Muslim calendar is, they have chosen the ninth month for the fast day. That, again, is important. What is the ninth month? Ramadan. Ramadan is the name of the ninth month and you recall, Muhammed received his first revelation of the Qur’an, the so-called “night of power and excellence” on Ramadan. So the fast begins at Ramadan and leads up to basically a huge feast, which is in many ways like our Christmas because that is when everybody exchanges presents and go visit their families and all of that, leading up to the break in the fast. That is a huge gift giving time. It is the #1 gift giving time in the Muslim calendar. It is the end of the Ramadan fast. The day after that, there is a huge festival where everybody celebrates the end of the fast.
It is the ninth month. Remember, the ninth month is a lunar month. It is not based on the Western calendar. So because the lunar month over the years gradually migrates to different parts of the year; so over a period of your lifetime you would see Ramadan focus at different times. There are people who say things like, “It is difficult because this year Ramadan falls during hot weather.” Obviously, if you have Ramadan falling during cold weather or cooler weather, it is much easier to fast than during a very, very difficult hot season. So Ramadan can over the years gradually shift because it is based on the lunar calendar. That is the way the fast works.
When I was in Pakistan, actually the one time I was actually living there during Ramadan, you could literally hear the people tear into their food when the call of prayer came. There was serious feasting at nighttime. In fact, it is a well known fact that more food is consumed in the ninth month than any month in the Muslim calendar. There is a lot of eating and consuming because you are thinking about the morning and looking forward to the morning and you eat a lot at night. The problem of course is that during the daytime, if it is hot, it can be very difficult to work during the daytime in the heat of the day without drinking water. You are not even supposed to swallow your own saliva. So you will see a lot of Muslims will wear a cloth around their neck and they have the cloth in their mouth to make sure that they are not even swallowing their saliva. This is something that is important.
Surah 2, ayah 185 we have the Qur’an explicitly commanding the fast. “In the month of Ramadan the Qur’an was revealed. Therefore whoever of you is present in that month, let him fast.” This is important. But “He who is ill or on a journey,” - this is also true if you are pregnant, they are kind of considerate of that – “shall fast a similar number of days, but later on.” There is a makeup fast that happens quite often in the Muslim year where if you are unable to fast for whatever reason – if you are traveling, on a journey – you can do a makeup fast in a different part of the year.
There was a period apparently where Muhammed had said that there should be no sexual intercourse in the entire month of Ramadan, day or night. This apparently was grievous to the people and so in Surah 2, ayah 187 he says, “It is now lawful for you to lie with your wives on the night of the fast. Eat and drink until you can tell a white thread from a black one in the light of the coming dawn. Then resume the fast until nightfall and do not approach them, and say your prayers in the mosque.” So again, Muhammed himself allows for eating all of the way until dawn if you want to. A lot of business is transacted in the nighttime and a lot of people shift their business and they will work at night, they sleep in the day, particularly if it is hot. When I was in the Muslim world during the Ramadan, it was a ghost town because people were not working. In fact, I was so hungry at one point, I got a whole bag of plums and my wife and I were eating these plums secretly in an alleyway. I felt kind of funny, I actually felt guilty eating those plums because I was afraid I might be seen and someone might go berserk or something. There was nobody eating. From where I was sitting, it was a very well kept fast.
At the end of the Ramadan fast there is the feast of the breaking of the fast and this fast is broken with an exchange of gifts, visiting relatives and friends. The breaking of the fast celebrates the end of Ramadan.
You will notice in the Hadith, in one of the Hadiths there you find Muhammed specifically showing his adherence to Jewish practice in the fast. The prophet came to Medina and saw the Jews fasting on the day of Asherah. He asked them, “What is this?” They told him, “This is the day in which God rescued the children of Israel from their enemies, so Moses fasted this day.” The prophet said, “We have more claim to Moses than you.” So the prophet fasted on that day and ordered Muslims to fast on it as well. Even the Hadith shows that Muhammed learned about fasting, the whole idea of fasting, from the Jews. Once again, I think it is an important precedent. You have fasting regulated in the Old Testament, Judges 20, 26; 2 Samuel 1; 2 Samuel 3.
I mentioned about the white thread and the dark thread, which we mentioned in Surah 2:187, which has this black thread and white thread, is taken directly from the Jewish Mishna, which long precedes this. The fast is not regulated in quite the same way as the Lenten fast. I think, again, the Christian connection with Lent is certainly something that is worth noting.