Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Philosophy and Benefits of Fasting in Ramadan

The Philosophy and Benefits of Fasting in Ramadan

God has charged the Muslim community with the task of conveying His message, as preached by the long line of noble prophets and brought to its fullness by Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). It has to make the divine message known to mankind, calling on them to implement it in real life. Such an implementation ensures the creation of a perfectly happy human society, free of all social oppression and exploitation of one class by another.

The Muslim community is likely to encounter much opposition as it attempts to fulfill its task and deliver the divine message. Normally, the opposition is mounted by those who have vested interests in maintaining the status quo. For this reason, the Muslim community launches a campaign of struggle, or jihad, to remove this opposition in order to allow people to listen to God’s message and make their free choice of whether to accept or reject it.

As Islam adopts a positive attitude to all aspects of life, its campaign of struggle adopts all necessary means to ensure success. Obviously, the Muslim community needs a great deal of preparation and training in order to be able to launch a campaign of struggle. Fasting is the cornerstone of this training. It is only natural that fasting should be ordained for the Muslim community in order to help it fulfill its mission. Fasting is the best area where firm resolve and strong willpower are truly demonstrated. It also shows the essence of man’s relation with God, which is a relation based on total submission and complete obedience by man. Fasting is also a symbol of man’s rising above all needs of his body and willingly enduring their pressures in order to win God’s pleasure.

All these are very important elements in the training of the Muslim community so that it will be able to overcome the hardships it may come to face. The route mapped for this noble community is a thorny one, full of hardships, while all sorts of pleasures and temptations beckon the travelers along this route from the sidelines calling them to change their course and abandon their message.

Mustafa Al-Rafi’ie, a leading Arab writer who lived in the early part of the twentieth century describes the month of Ramadan as a 30-day school. It is a very apt description because our fasting month is indeed a highly advanced school with an annual course lasting 30 days. It is a practical course, which equips the participants for their very important task and provides them with the necessary training to overcome the difficulties that lie ahead.

When we fast we learn to resist our most important needs: food, drink and sex. During the fasting time, which lasts from dawn to dusk, we may not have any of these. Thus, the needs of our basic instincts of survival are kept in check. We are speaking here of the survival of the individual, for which food and drink are absolutely necessary, and the survival of the human kind, which is ensured through the satisfaction of the sexual desire. When we are able to control these, other needs are easier to control. To help us in this task, God attaches great reward to fasting. In a sacred Hadith, the Prophet (peace be upon him) quotes God as saying: “All actions a human being does are done for his own sake, except fasting which is done for My sake. I will reward it accordingly.” We know that good actions are rewarded by God at a minimum of ten times their value, but this could rise to 700 times their value, or even higher. The Hadith refers to this and promises an even higher and richer reward.

It should always be remembered, however, that Muslims do not consider the reward they get from God as the motivator for their actions. Their prime motive is to do what God bids them to do, for this is the way in which they give credence to their claims to be believers. Anyone who claims to be a believer but does not act on the basis of his faith, implement its requirements or fulfill its duties is not truly a believer, because his actions do not confirm his claims. The Prophet defines sound faith as that “which is deeply rooted in one’s heart and to which credence is given by action.” Thus, action is most important. Fasting is an action by abstention, which overcomes basic needs and desires. Hence it testifies strongly to one’s faith.

Moreover, fasting is very beneficial to one’s health. It enables the body to have a very welcome rest which helps it to function better through the rest of the year. It is important to note the health benefits of fasting, but it is even more important to avoid making the mistake of attributing such a great act of worship to its apparent health advantages only and to claim that the purpose of fasting is to improve the physical or mental health of the Muslim community. We may, however, take note that what God imposes on us as a duty also serves our own needs for a continued, prosperous existence on this earth. God imposes on us only what benefits us and helps us to fulfill our mission. He has no interest in causing us any affliction or hardship.

Thus, although fasting yields some important health benefits, these benefits are a secondary product. The main purpose of fasting which, as the Qur’an states, was also imposed on former communities of believers in earlier divine religions, is to help us to be more conscious of God and more obedient to Him so that we may be able to deliver His message to the world at large

1 comment:

Mohamed said...

Schacht asserts that hadiths, particularly from Muhammad, did not form, together with the Qur'an, the original bases of Islamic law and jurisprudence as is traditionally assumed. Rather, hadiths were an innovation begun after some of the legal foundation had already been built. "The ancient schools of law shared the old concept of sunna or ‘living tradition’ as the ideal practice of the community, expressed in the accepted doctrine of the school." And this ideal practice was embodied in various forms, but certainly not exclusively in the hadiths from the Prophet. Schacht argues that it was not until al-Shafi`i that ‘sunna’ was exclusively identified with the contents of hadiths from the Prophet to which he gave, not for the first time, but for the first time consistently, overriding authority. Al-Shafi`i argued that even a single, isolated hadith going back to Muhammad, assuming its isnad is not suspect, takes precedence over the opinions and arguments of any and all Companions, Successors, and later authorities. Schacht notes that:

Two generations before Shafi`i reference to traditions from Companions and Successors was the rule, to traditions from the Prophet himself the exception, and it was left to Shafi`i to make the exception the principle. We shall have to conclude that, generally and broadly speaking, traditions from Companions and Successors are earlier than those from the Prophet.

Based on these conclusions, Schacht offers the following schema of the growth of legal hadiths. The ancient schools of law had a ‘living tradition’ (sunna) which was largely based on individual reasoning (ra'y). Later this sunna came to be associated with and attributed to the earlier generations of the Successors and Companions. Later still, hadiths with isnads extending back to Muhammad came into circulation by traditionists towards the middle of the second century. Finally, the efforts of al-Shafi`i and other traditionists secured for these hadiths from the Prophet supreme authority.

Goldziher maintains that, while reliance on the sunna to regulate the empire was favoured, there was still in these early years of Islam insufficient material going back to Muhammad himself. Scholars sought to fill the gaps left by the Qur'an and the sunna with material from other sources. Some borrowed from Roman law. Others attempted to fill these lacunae with their own opinions (ra'y). This latter option came under a concerted attack by those who believed that all legal and ethical questions (not addressed by the Qur'an) must be referred back to the Prophet himself, that is, must be rooted in hadiths.These supporters of hadiths (ahl al-hadith) were extremely successful in establishing hadiths as a primary source of law and in discrediting ra'y. But in many ways it was a Pyrrhic victory. The various legal madhhabs were loath to sacrifice their doctrines and so they found it more expedient to fabricate hadiths or adapt existing hadiths in their support. Even the advocates of ra'y were eventually persuaded or cajoled into accepting the authority of hadiths and so they too "found" hadiths which substantiated their doctrines that had hitherto been based upon the opinions of their schools’ founders and teachers. The insistence of the advocates of hadiths that the only opinions of any value were those which could appeal to the authority of the Prophet resulted in the situation that "where no traditional matter was to be had, men speedily began to fabricate it. The greater the demand, the busier was invention with the manufacture of apocryphal traditions in support of the respective theses."

In summary, Goldziher sees in hadiths "a battlefield of the political and dynastic conflicts of the first few centuries of Islam; it is a mirror of the aspirations of various parties, each of which wants to make the Prophet himself their witness and authority." Likewise,

Every stream and counter-stream of thought in Islam has found its expression in the form of a hadith, and there is no difference in this respect between the various contrasting opinions in whatever field. What we learnt about political parties holds true too for differences regarding religious law, dogmatic points of difference etc. Every ra'y or hawa, every sunna and bid`a has sought and found expression in the form of hadith.

And even though Muslim traditionalists developed elaborate means to scrutinize the mass of traditions that were then extant in the Muslim lands, they were "able to exclude only part of the most obvious falsifications from the hadith material." Goldziher, for all his scepticism, accepted that the practice of preserving hadiths was authentic and that some hadiths were likely to be authentic. However, having said that, Goldziher is adamant in maintaining that:

In the absence of authentic evidence it would indeed be rash to attempt to express the most tentative opinions as to which parts of the hadith are the oldest material, or even as to which of them date back to the generation immediately following the Prophet’s death. Closer acquaintance with the vast stock of hadiths induces sceptical caution rather than optimistic trust regarding the material brought together in the carefully compiled collections.

From Daniel Brown Muslim Scholar from America

The relevance of the past: classical conceptions of Prophetic authority

The word sunna predates the rise of Islam and is well attested in pre-Islamic sources. The word sunna was likely to be applied to Muhammad even during his lifetime (p8).

The Quran never mentions sunna-al-nabi (sunna of the Prophet). The application of the term sunna is likely to be post-Quranic, especially when applied exclusively to Muhammad.

Early muslims did not give precedence of Muhammad's sunna over other sunnas, such as the sunna of the early caliphs or early companions. The sunna term was not exclusive to Muhammad. There were no rigid distinctions about sources of religious law, i.e. it wasn't concrete that Muhammad's sunna could be used as a source of law.

Shafi was born in 204 AH (193 years after Prophet Muhammad's death). He was the first to argue the Prophet's sunna as a source of law, identified to authentic prophetic hadith, and give it an equal footing to The Quran. Different attitudes to sunna existed during Shafi, al-kalam (a particular group or school of thought) rejected hadith altogether in favour of The Quran alone. Shafi's view was also oppossed early by schools of jurisprudence in Hijaz, Iraq and Syria, who applied the term sunna to Muhammad, his companions and the early caliphs as well.
After Shafi, it is rare to find the term sunna applied to other than Muhammad. Al-kalam argued the sunna of Muhammad should never be allowed to rule on The Quran and described the science of hadith (as in the methods used to collect hadith) as arbitrary. Evidence of this was the hadith was filled with contradictory, blasphemous and absurd traditions. [top]

Challenges to the view of the organic relationship between The Quran and sunna are not completely unprecedented in the history of Islamic thought. Some of the opponents of Shafi argued that The Quran explains everything (e.g. 16:89) and needs no supplement, this was because one of Shafi's central arguments was the need to clarify The Quran. This opposing viewpoint was snuffed out after the triumph of the traditionist view. However and it was not until the 19th and 20th centuries that the argument was seriously revived. One of the reasons Daniel Brown gives for the defeat of the opponents of Shafi was that they could not deny the authority of the Prophet. If for example, you found a hadith that was truly authentic then there is no way you can deny it because as it states in The Quran the Prophet was a very good example. Also, Shafi emphasised that to obey the Prophet was to obey God. Under this pressure, the opponents of Shafi were defeated. Rarely does the author address how specific arguments were defeated unfortunately, which was the most disappointing aspect of this book.

The question arose: how is it possible to determine which hadith were authentic and which were not?

In the 19th and 20th centuries, increased criticism and scrutiny by Western scholars of Islam showed Muslims that the hadith could not stand up to the criticism, whilst The Quran could. It made Muslims look back on the hadith and reflect more and examine their basis and origin in Islam.

The authenticity of hadith

The great compilations of the hadith took place in the 3rd century AH (i.e. beginning about 189 years after Prophet Muhammad's death, with the 6 books being complete about 280 years after his death), p83. In the eyes of most Muslim scholars sahih (reliable/authentic) hadith could with a high degree of confidence be considered to represent the actual words and deeds of the Prophet. On the other hand, few scholars would have argued the system was full proof. Any information in the hadiths was no absolute truth, it had to be classified as conjecture. The opponents of the hadith at the start were a minority. It was not seriously questioned.
Goldziher was unquestionably the most important 19th century critic of hadith. He became the first scholar to subject the hadith to a systematic historical and critical method. His study was published in 1896. Joseph Schacht "origins of Muhammadan jurisprudence" in 1950 was published. Like Goldziher, he concluded that few, if any traditions originated with the Prophet.
Even the Prophet recognised that there were people among his companions or those living during his lifetime were spreading lies about him. This is testified to in a hadith in Bukhari (p85). There is documented evidence that the companions disagreed with each other and criticsed each other, for example Aisha and Ibn Abbas were reported to have criticised Abu Hurayra. A number of companions demanded evidence for the truth of reports passed onto them. Umar alledgedly questioned a report from Fatima bint Qays. Umar is also reported to have confined three companions to Medina to keep them from spreading traditions. Abu Huyrara was only with the Prophet for 3 years, yet he is alledged to have been the most prolific in transmitting hadith. Biographical literature provides ample material for criticism for Abu Huyrara's character, Umar called Abu Huyrara a liar for example. Aisha criticised Anas for transmitting traditions as he was only a child during the life of the Prophet. And Hassan called both Umar and Zubair liars.

The process of hadith transmission was primarily oral, at least through the first century. Even after written collections of hadith were compiled, oral transmission remained the ideal (p88). Abu Rayya argues that the late date when traditions began to be registered in written form more than 100 years after the Prophet's death became a major obstacle to the fidelity of hadith (p89). Emerged in final form only in the 3rd and 4th centuries

Those who argue that Muhammad's companions began to record hadith in writing during his lifetime must explain the Prophetic prohibition on writing of hadith. Contradictions within the hadith exist regarding this subject. (p91)

Under orders from Caliph Hisham, Shihab al-Zuhri was first assigned to collect hadith. This tradition has commonly been taken to mean that al-Zuhri, under duress, became the first traditionist to violate the Prophet's prohibition on recording hadith in writing. Al-Zuhri is reported to have said: "We disapproved of recording knowledge until these rulers forced us to do so. After that reason we saw no reason to forbid the Muslims to do so." In other words, before al-Zuhri writing was the rare exception; after him writing of traditions became commonplace. This argument is bolstered by numerous accounts that early generations of pious Muslims, including not only al-Zuhri and traditionists like him but also the first four Caliphs, strongly disapproved of writing hadith.
The evidence strongly suggests that early generations of Muslims did record traditions in writing, however having reports about written records is rather different than having the records themselves. Thus, the apparent aversion of pious Muslims to the recording of hadith should be interpreted as reluctance to record an official, public collection of hadith. (p92)

Scholars agree that forgery of hadith took place on a massive scale. The science of hadith developed gradually as a response to this problem. The early written compilations called suhuf were little more than random transcriptions or personal collections. Muslim sources identify the first systematic collection in recording of the hadith with the Ummad Caliph Umar and with the scholars Abu Bakr. No such collection has survived. The earliest systematic collection is the muttawata of Mailk bin Anas, 179 AH (168 years after Prophet Muhammad's death), p94. Isnad (checking of transmissions) was not applied until after the early 2nd century AH according to Schacht. The book studies in early hadith literature stated it was earlier than this. For middle ground see Juynboll: "Muslim tradition". Major works of hadith (p161 footnote 70).

According to some, forgers of hadith became active even during the lifetime of the Prophet. In the Caliphate of Umar, the problem became so serious that he prohibited transmission of hadith altogether. The degree of the problem that resulted can be seen from the testimony of the muhahadithin (those who collect hadith) themselves. Bukhari selected 9000 traditions out of 700 000 (p96). When Bukhari reports that he selected from over 700 000 traditions, he is counting every different transmission chain, even when the substance of the tradition are the same (p99). The point is that hadith criticism did not begin during the 3rd century but was practiced continually from the time of the companions onwards (p99).