History of fasting: When did fasting begin?

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History of fasting
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Introduction to fasting

There are some differences of opinion on the history of fasting. Scholars differ as to when and which fasting was first obligatory. Fasting is called ‘As-Siyam’ in Arabic. The word ‘As-Siyam’ literally means to abstain from any work. In the technical sense, fasting is the name of abstaining from eating, obscenity, extravagance, and all kinds of sexual misconduct from dawn to sunset.

According to the rules of Islam, it is obligatory for every healthy and conscientious adult Muslim to fast every day of the month of Ramadan. According to some scholars, fasting on 10 Muharram (i.e. Ashura) was the first obligation. And according to some, fasting was obligatory on the 13th, 14th, and 15th of every lunar month. In fact, the provision of fasting has always existed. From the time of Adam (AS) to the time of the Prophet (SAW) all the Prophets and Messengers had the rule of fasting.

History of fasting: The first fast in human history

Allah the Almighty imposed the rule of fasting on our original father Adam (AS) and started the practice of fasting for the first time in human history. Allah says: “O you who believe, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” (2: 183)

In the above verse, ‘Min Qablikum’ refers to the time of all the Prophets from Adam (AS) to ‘Isa (AS). As far as the history of fasting is known from the study of the Qur’an and Hadith, Allah sent Adam (AS) to Paradise and forbade him to eat the fruit of a tree. This was an instruction to observe a special kind of fast.

The commentators say that this was the first fast in human history. Adam (AS) and Eve (AS) ate the fruit of that tree at the instigation of Satan. And as a result, Allah sent them to the surface of the earth. Then they repented and fasted for 40 consecutive years as an expiation.

History of fasting: Fasting during the time of other prophets

In the time of all the Prophets, there was a rule of fasting. However, their method of fasting was different. For example, the Prophet (SAW) said about the fast of

Nuh (AS): Nuh used to fast all year round except 1 Shawwal and 10 Dhul-Hijjah. (Ibn Majah)

Musa (AS) fasted for 30 days before the Torah was revealed to him. Then Allah revealed to him and instructed him to fast for an additional ten days. Idris (AS) used to fast every day throughout the year. Dawud (AS) used to fast one day after another.

The historical relationship of fasting with Ramadan

The Prophet (SAW) said: Fasting in Ramadan was obligatory upon your previous Ummahs. According to a hadith the Prophet (SAW) said, “One month of fasting in Ramadan was made obligatory on Christians. Later, when one of their kings fell ill, they vowed that if Allah cured him, they would extend the fast for another 10 days. Then in the next period, when the king got sick while eating meat, they vowed to fast for another 7 days. Later another king said, why leave for three more days? And he added that we will observe these fasts in the spring. In this way, the number of fasts goes beyond thirty and reaches the quota of fifty.”

It is even said that the scripture of Ibrahim (AS) was revealed on the 1st of Ramadan. The Torah was revealed in 6 Ramadan, the Zabur in 12 Ramadan, and the Injil in 13 Ramadan. Although the month of Ramadan was not calculated outside of Arabia, it is said to have been calculated in conjunction with a foreign calendar.

History of fasting: The fast of Ummah of Muhammad (SAW)

The Prophet (SAW) used to fast only on the day of Ashura (10th Muharram) after his arrival in Madinah. Narrated Ibn Abbas: The Prophet (SAW) migrated to Madinah and saw that the Jews of Madinah fasted on the 10th of Muharram. He asked them, “Why are you fasting on this day?” They said, “Today is the day when Allah delivered Musa and his people from Pharaoh. And Pharaoh was drowned in the Red Sea. As a result, Musa (AS) fasted on this day as a sign of gratitude. So we also fast on this day.”

Then the Messenger of Allah (SAW) said,

“We are more deserving of following Musa (AS) than you.” He then fasted on the day of Ashura and instructed the Companions to fast. (Bukhari, Muslim)

Above all, on the 10th of Sha’ban of the second Hijri, Allah revealed a verse in the Holy Quran to make fasting in Ramadan obligatory. Regarding the purpose of making fasting obligatory, Allah says:

“O you who believe, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.” (2: 183)

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