Breaking the Fast in Public: What the Quran Says

Abdellatif Zaki is a professor of Languages and Communication at Institut Agronomique et Vétérinaire Hassan II, Rabat, Morocco. He has taught introductory courses to the study of the Koran and Islam as well as courses on various intercultural issues. He has …Breaking the Fast in Public: What the Quran SaysRabat – Prior to addressing the issue of fasting, let me start with a few reminders from the Quran that must frame any discussion of Islam and must be referenced for any debate of Islamic issues. God alone is the protector of religion. He, alone, is the protector of the Quran, which is the source and reference for the Faith.

“We have, without doubt, sent down the Message; and We will assuredly guard it (from corruption),” (The Rock: 9).

God, therefore, does not need the support of anyone to protect religion and does not invest anyone with the duty or responsibility of helping Him in this wonderful task. He is the Helper and the Protector. Claiming any authority in protecting religion or the Koran would mean becoming an associate of God. Anyone who falls into this category will not enjoy the pardon of God. Luckily, God is magnanimous and pardons all sins of whomever He wishes. “Allah does not forgive that partners be set up with Him; but He forgives anything else, to whom He pleases; to set up partners with Allah is to devise a sin Most heinous indeed,” (Women, 48).

This is a critical issue in Islam, which has no priesthood and which does not accept intermediation between God and his followers. There can be no church, no priests, no rabbis or no monks in Islam. Because of this constraint, a trend has been developing since the earliest eras of Islam in which some self-appointed individuals issue religious decrees in supposed communication with the Prophet, others claiming to have been appointed by the Prophet, and still others claiming that they retain the science and knowledge of the Religion. This trend reflects the development of what is now referred to as “Political Islam” and witnesses to the ideolizational process that splintered Islam into many different ideologies with attached political and economic interests.Among these trends, the elites specializing in the interpretation of the Quran and in converting it into dominant or militant ideologies have established themselves in corporations around schools, mosques and palaces of rulers. They transformed themselves into exclusive clubs who set the rules, codes of behavior, moral norms, and validate and inform values they themselves create, thereby excluding the bulk of the population from knowledge. The formula “religious sciences are not for the populace” (kalamu annasi laiyssa lil’awaam) was one of the cornerstones of the culture they spread amongst the people. In this school of reasoning, only the few affiliated to specific schools are authorized to read, explain and interpret the texts.

These elites developed networks that branched—and still do to a great extent—into all sectors of public and private life and controlled not only what people did, but what they had to think, feel and believe as well. These are the groups who refer to themselves as religious scientists (ulema), which prohibit the interpretation and explication not only of the Koran and the Hadith, but also of the writings and commentaries of their predecessors, sanctified as if they were revelations. These are also the groups who have integrated politics, morals and religion into one single ideology and set themselves as gatekeepers for it. They even created agencies for enforcing submission to the groups with as much violence and coercion despite the explicit Divine principle that “there is no compulsion in Religion.” Their own writings, interpretations and commentaries are scaled to the hierarchy of the Koran and the Hadith which end up under siege.

In fact, in several Ayat God reminds the Prophet himself that it is not upon him to coerce people into the faith, and that no soul will accept the faith unless God wishes it and authorizes it.

[10:99] “Had your Lord willed, all the people on earth would have believed. Do you want to force the people to become believers?

[10:100] No soul can believe except in accordance with GOD’s will. For He places a curse upon those who refuse to understand,” (Youssef).

By doing this, these self-appointed gatekeepers of the religion interfere with the prerogatives that God has made His own. The whole matter, the rule, the mastery and the Law over all is His Alone, “None can command except Allah,” (Youssef, 67).

Unlike God who has no need to create difficulties for his creatures and who always sees that hardships are followed with relief: “So, verily, with every difficulty, there is ease,” (Al Inshirah 5). These individuals tend to confiscate all freedoms and turn the life of people into hell. God deals with His own creatures as He pleases, rewarding them and punishing them for their smallest deeds as He wishes: “Then shall anyone who has done an atom’s weight of good, see it! And anyone who has done an atom’s weight of evil, shall see it,” (Azzalzala, 7-8). God does not mandate anyone to retaliate for Him.

God makes His prohibitions and penalties for breaches of religious decrees such as adultery, prostitution, theft, homicide and defamation described in detail in the Koran, but none for breaking the fast in Ramadan or for missing prayers. He reserves the privilege for those He wishes to punish to Himself, when and where He chooses. In Taha 124, it is clearly stated that those who do not heed the message of God will have a life of hardship and will face the punishment of God Himself at Doomsday. Nowhere is it stipulated that God mandates anyone to punish on His behalf, except in the cases that are explicitly mentioned.

Ramadan and the conditions for Fasting

Islam calls upon Muslims to observe fasting in the month of Ramadan. The Quran stipulates the obligation and its conditions in an explicit manner in Surat the Heifer, 183-85:

[2:183] “O you who believe, fasting is decreed for you, as it was decreed for those before you, that you may attain salvation.

[2:184] Specific days [are designated for fasting]; if one is ill or traveling, an equal number of other days may be substituted. Those who can fast, but with great difficulty, may substitute feeding one poor person for each day of breaking the fast. If one volunteers (more righteous works), it is better. But fasting is the best for you, if you only knew. [2:185]

Ramadan is the month during which the Quran was revealed, providing guidance for the people, clear teachings, and book of statutes. Those of you who witness this month shall fast therein. As it is decreed, those who are ill or traveling may substitute the same number of other days. God wishes for you convenience, not hardship, that you may fulfill your obligations, and to glorify God for guiding you, and to express your appreciation.”

This latter ayah makes no explicit provision for the expiation of purposeful breaking of the fast for no legal reason. Actually, the Koran does not specify any penalty for breaking the fast neither in private nor in public. As a matter of fact, the prophet never punished a person for breaking the fast for a legal reason. On the contrary, the most frequently quoted Hadith on the issue shows so much clemency and forgiveness that even the penalties provided in other traditions are practically cancelled. In this Hadith, a man is reported to have come to the Prophet who was among his companions and complained to him that he had committed a deadly sin. When the prophet inquired about the sin, the man admitted to having had sexual intercourse with his wife, the worst sin against the fasting in Ramadan.

The Prophet neither ordered that the man be imprisoned, punished in any way nor humiliated in public. Instead, he recommended that the man observe the first repentance, which is freeing a slave. However, the man was too poor to do so. The prophet then ordered he fast two consecutive months. The man complained that he would not be able to do that because of his inability to control his sexual desire. The prophet then recommended he observe the third repentance by feeding sixty needy people. The man replied that he was too poor to do that as well. Meanwhile, a person offered the prophet some dates. He ordered that the man be given those dates so that he could feed sixty needy people. The man pointed out to the Prophet that his own family was in need and could use those dates. The Prophet is reported to have had a big laugh and authorized the man to use the dates for his own family.

This Hadith makes it explicit that the forfeiter faces no human punishment, no imprisonment, no flogging and no public exhibition for his deed. The prophet mentions three penalties none of which is prison or a fine. The forfeiter has three options, namely, to fast two consecutive months and, if he judges he cannot, he feeds sixty needy people provided he can spare food after feeding his own family. This is all there is in the Koran and Hadith about the issue. Anything else is ideology and politics.

This discussion should further be framed within the principles announced in the following set of Ayat from five different chapters of the Koran, which call on the Prophet to leave it to God to accept or not to accept His creatures in the Faith:

“O you who have believed, upon you is [responsibility for] yourselves. Those who have gone astray will not harm you when you have been guided. To Allah will you return all together; then He will inform you of what you used to do,” (The Table, 105).

[26:215] “And lower your wing for the believers who follow you. [26:216] If they disobey you, then say, ‘I disown what you do’,” (The Poets).

([88:21] “You shall remind, for your mission is to deliver this reminder. [88:22] You have no power over them. [88:23] As for those who turn away and disbelieve. [88:24] GOD will commit them to the great retribution. [88:25] To us is their ultimate destiny. [88:26] Then we will call them to account,” (Al ghashia).

[28:56] “You cannot guide the ones you love. GOD is the only One who guides in accordance with His will, and in accordance with His knowledge of those who deserve the guidance,” (Al qassas).

[76:28] “We created them, and established them, and, whenever we will, we can substitute others in their place. [76:29] This is a reminder: whoever wills shall choose the path to his Lord [76:30] Whatever you will is in accordance with GOD’s will. GOD is Omniscient, Wise. [76:31] He admits whomever He wills into His mercy. As for the transgressors, He has prepared for them a painful retribution,” (Al Insan).

As is clear from these Ayat, God does not enjoin His prophet to punish anyone for not complying with his call to join the Faith, and requests that he dissociate himself from them. In all these Ayat, it is said that God alone is responsible for the will of his creatures and, therefore, He alone will judge them and enforce His law on them as He alone knows.

What we have been witnessing these last two decades is a bold challenge of these teachings by the elite of ulema, who have claimed the right of enforcing the Laws of God which He has reserved for Himself. They have been investing in the political field through organizations that are supposedly independent and non-governmental, but which are actually all created, funded, supported and run by proxies on behalf of a few governments, among which are the Iranian, the Saudi, and more recently, the Qatari governments.

These organizations essentially operate within the illiterate and uneducated populations, in which they penetrate with contingents of half literate and educated individuals trained in religious propaganda techniques and strategies, including intimidation and collective corruption. With the rising power of information technologies and the drop in prices of hardware and connectivity, virtual platforms and agoras have become the fighting ground of these ideologies and the recruitment instruments of psychologically fragile individuals and socially and economically vulnerable groups.

As long as ignorance, illiteracy, poor education and social and economic vulnerability are present, the hegemony of these self-declared gatekeepers of the religion will prevail. They take advantage of the ignorance of the populations and of various forms of vulnerability to create economic and social dependence on them. They can thus convince these populations that their claims to power are legitimate, omitting the lessons that God taught His Prophet that all Rule and Hegemony belong to Him, “command is to God alone,” and that religion and the places of worship all belong to Him: “And [He revealed] that the mosques are for Allah, so do not invoke with Allah anyone else,” (Al Jinn, 18). This simply means that religion is not politics and that nothing but God and His words will be glorified in them. Mosques, and by extension religion, is not a place for the practice of politics or for the promotion of anyone but God.

Failure to observe these conditions has resulted in the political consequences that are ravaging Muslim communities and their political systems with few exceptions. In fact, it was only since rival political groups sought to justify and legitimate their right to rule Muslims with religious arguments that these problems started. Some claim this legitimacy on the basis of their affiliation to the Prophet, others claim that they have been chosen by God and others because of their affiliation with Aïcha, one of the wives of the Prophet and daughter of the first Khalifa. Still others, the Kharijites, claim that any Muslim can rule other Muslims regardless of his ethnic origin, his ancestry, social status, and economic situation.

As can be seen from these different arguments, only the latter abides by the equality principles expressed in the Hadith, which stipulates that there is no difference between an Arab and a non- Arab, a white person and a black person, unless it is with taqwa. Taqwa encompasses the fear of God and total compliance with his teachings and enjoinments.

In conclusion, while God has prescribed fasting the whole month of Ramadan and has reserved severe retributions for noncompliance, He has mandated no human being to substitute for Him and to enforce His judgment and His sentence on them in their lifetime in His stead. Likewise, He has stipulated no obligation of hiding from others to eat and he has not provided any penalty or punishment for such. Anyone, be he a physical entity or be it an institution or establishment, who appoints themselves as a representative of God has, therefore, gone astray from the right path, gone against the will of God and committed a great sin against the will of God.

I once observed an argument stating that the penalties enforced by Muslim communities have been decided according to the Koranic principle of conducting affairs in consultation: “Those who hearken to their Lord, and establish regular Prayer; who [conduct] their affairs by mutual Consultation; who spend out of what We bestow on them for Sustenance…” (Shura, 38).

This argument is not valid in this case, as it bears exclusively on public issues and political decisions and not on matters related to worship, creed, and faith, which only God regulates and of which accountability is due to Him alone. The Hadith that recommends initiating good traditions which will be well rewarded does not apply to setting up penalties where neither God nor His messenger have not set any.

Morocco World News


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