“As It Was Prescribed for Those Before You”

During Ramadan of 2021, the scholars of SeekersGuidance Arabiyya held daily lessons on various topics throughout the month. The lessons have been translated for the benefit of our English-speaking audience. Shaykh Faiz Iyad gave the fourth lesson.

In the name of Allah, the Most Merciful. All praise is due to Allah, Lord of all creation. May the best blessings and most perfect peace be upon our master, prophet, and intercessor Muhammad and all of his family and companions. Allah, You are perfect. We have no knowledge except for what You teach us. You are All-knowing and Wise. 

Dear respected brothers and sisters, I would like to congratulate you on the arrival of the blessed month of Ramadan. I ask Allah to allow us to make the most of it and benefit from it as it deserves to be benefited from. 

Dear brothers and sisters, the ayah in which Allah obligated us to fast is the ayah wherein He says, “O You who have believed, fasting was prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may attain Taqwa,” [2:183] as well as the ayah, “Whoever among you witnesses the month must then fast it.” [2:185]

The study of this ayah from an angle of fiqh is clear, and so other scholars may speak about it in that regard. But I have some notes on the particular part of the ayah in which Allah says, “fasting was prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you.” Allah obligates fasting for us just as he obligated it for those before us. But our fasting is not like theirs and not exactly equal to theirs. What is similar here is the very fact that it is mandatory, not in how or when the fasting is done. 

Fasting Is an Ancient Obligation

Of these notes that I wish to share first is the singularity of Allah’s religion in its roots, foundations, and objectives. Since fasting is an action that is beneficial to all humans at all times, Allah informs us that fasting is an ancient obligation. He mandated us to do it just as He mandated those before us. This is an indication of the singularity of Allah’s religion in its foundations and objectives, and there are many clear pieces of evidence of this very fact.

For example, when Allah says, “He has ordained for you the Way which He decreed for Noah, and what We have revealed to you and what We decreed for Abraham, Moses, and Jesus, to ‘Uphold the faith, and make no divisions in it.’” Imam al-Qurtubi, Allah have mercy on him, says in his tafsir on this ayah, “The meaning is that Allah ordained for the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, what He had ordained for the prophets before him. That is because the religions of all the prophets were one in their foundations that were never different in their principles such as monotheism, prayer, zakah, fasting, and Hajj, as well as coming closer to Allah through good deeds, returning the heart and limbs to Him, as well as honesty and commitment to our covenant, and upholding trusts and ties of kinship. As well as the prohibition of unbelief, murder, adultery, and harming others in any way, and even transgressing against animals. As well as ridding us of anything unbefitting and improper.

This is all a part of Allah’s single religion, the unified way. It was never taught any differently by any prophet, even if the numbers varied. This is why Allah says, “Uphold the religion and do not disperse therein.” [42:13] Meaning to keep it standing firm at all times and continuously protected, firmly established without any disagreement or confusion therein. Some people fulfilled that command, while others broke it. Anything beyond that amy have differed in the religions according to what Allah decided was most beneficial and wise for each period of time.” 

Imam al-Bukhari named a chapter in his Sahih book, “The Chapter on All of the Prophets’ religions being One.” In it, he mentioned the statement of the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, “The prophets are brothers, sons of different mothers. Their mothers are different, but their religion is the same.” The hadith means that the core of their religion was one, even though their laws and conducts differed. Just as Allah says, “For each we have made a law, and a way of life.” the Prophets all agreed on the religion that contained all of the basic principles of theology and action.

The Purification of Souls

The second note is that the purification of the souls can only be taken from the correct sources. Allah sent the messengers and revealed the scriptures, and ordained the divine laws to purify and refine the souls and rectify them. Fasting is one of the most important means of doing so. This is why Allah mandated it for us and the previous nations. And if we wish for the correct method of purifying our souls, we will find that it is a methodology that coincides with the fitra without any excessive strain or burden and no detachment from reality. Someone who follows it does not need to burden himself or find difficulty training and refining the soul, such as taking vows of silence or sitting in the sun, abandoning hygiene, going into seclusion away from people, or eating only one type of food, etc.

One this point, Bukhari and Muslim report from Anas bin Malik, Allah be pleased with him, who said, “Three men came to the houses of the wives of the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, asking about the Prophet’s worship, blessings and peace upon him. And when they were told about it, it was as if they saw it to be little. They said, ‘Where are we compared to the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him? He has been forgiven for all of his past and future sins!’ One of them said, ‘As for me, I will pray all night.’ Another said, ‘I will fast every day without exception.’ The other said, “I will abstain from women and never marry.’ When the Prophet, blessings and peace upon him, came, he said, ‘Are you the ones who said this and that? By Allah, I am the most fearful from Allah of you all and the most cognizant of Him. Yet I fast some days and eat others, and I pray, and I sleep, and I marry women. Whoever is averse to my way has nothing to do with me.’ 

Ibn al-Qayyim says, ‘So whoever attempts to purify his soul with a practice that the Messengers did not bring forth is like an ill person who treats himself according to his own assessment. How does his knowledge compare to that of a doctor? The Messengers are the doctors of the hearts, and so there is no way to purify them or repair them except through them and at their hands and a complete surrender to them.”

The Lord of Mercy and Forgiveness

The third point: It is from Allah’s kindness and generosity that He mandated this obligation upon His servants. Why? Because this great act of worship that Allah made a mainstay of this natural religion and without which the structure of Islam does not stand contains immense rewards and benefits on the societal and individual levels. There may be some difficulty to this task, but these difficulties compared to the gifts and fruits that it leads to are not bad, but are actually pure goodness. They are a form of pure generosity from Allah to His servants. As He ordained this act of worship for them through which they attain levels they could never have otherwise reached. 

There is an important question: why was the verb “prescribed” used in the passive voice? Of course, in Allah’s book we know who the actor of the verb was, as it is Allah, and so we use a special term for the passive verbs out of etiquette with Allah. The answer is that there is a subtle and important meaning here: Those ayahs contain a form of hardship with which the believers are tasked, as they are prohibited from intercourse with their wives and the delights of food and drink throughout the day. And so a subtle rhetorical tool here is used to avoid attributing that hardship to Allah. He is the Lord of mercy and forgiveness.

Perhaps this is the secret behind the word “prescribed” being used in the passive voice in many of the religious laws that contain a level of difficulty, hardship, and commitment. One example is the verses of legal retribution for crimes, as Allah says, “retribution for those killed has been prescribed upon you.” [2:178] Similarly, in the ayah of writing wills, Allah says, “Writing a will is prescribed for you that when death comes to one of you if he leaves behind wealth for the parents and relatives.” [2:180]

As for the active voice of the verb “prescribe,” it comes in the context of mercy and reminds believers of their blessings. Allah says, for example, in the ayahs of fasting, “… then you may be intimate with [your wives], and seek out what Allah has prescribed for you.” [2:187[ As well as in the ayah, “Your Lord has prescribed for himself mercy.” [6:54] As well as the ayah, “Allah has prescribed: ‘My messengers and I shall prevail.” He also says, “Those are the ones in whose hearts He prescribed faith.” [58:22]

Guarding That Which Is Firm

The fourth point: Guarding that which is firm. In this time of ours, things that used to be agreed upon as true and known by everyone as part of the religion are now being revisited and refuted after those who deny and hate the religion worked to destroy both the meaning and practice fasting. You can see them calling on people to break their fasts by claiming that fasting hinders production and keeps the ummah in a worthless state. They only wish by this to destroy the religion and its sanctity. And so this portion of the ayah came to emphasize the fact that the realities of the religion and its firm points, including fasting, are invincible to doubts and skepticism and too firm to be affected by the accusations of the liars in every age. By the simply saying “prescribed,” there is an indication to the consistency of its obligation, and further so with the preposition “upon,” indicating a command from a superior to an inferior. This all means that fasting is a firm pillar in every faith. 

The fifth point: when all share a difficulty, its burden is lightened. There is consolation in knowing that we are following those before us. Allah charged us with a certain level of difficulty in fasting, especially in the summer when the heat is intense and the days are long. This is a way of saying, “rejoice, for fasting didn’t start with you, as it is an ancient act of worship.” There is no doubt that when a person is told that others share a certain difficulty with him, it will become easier. This is why the poet al-Khansa’ said in her eulogy for her brother Sakhr, “The rising of the sun reminds me of Sakhr, and I remember him at every sunset. Were it not for the crowds around me crying for their lost brothers, I would have killed myself.”

Let the Competitors Compete

The sixth point: Motivation to compete in good deeds. This reminder is an encouragement for this ummah and a means of sparking their motivations to complete this act of worship and clarifying that fasting is not a difficult task that only they were tasked with. They are not distinct from those before them. Islam raises its children for each one of them to have high aspirations, never settling for less. We are meant to always strive for the perfect outcomes, feeling as though we are in the heat of competition, preparing well, and striving for success. Allah, for example, says, “then, for that, let the competitors compete.” [83:26] Allah also said about His righteous servants that they pray: “make us leaders for the pious!” [25:74] asking to be leaders whose good example is followed.

That is the end of my reflections, from the beautiful meaning of this ayah, especially that portion of it: “As it was prescribed for those before you.” 

I ask Allah to accept from you and from us and to grant us benefit from our fasting and this blessed month. He is All-Hearing, Near, and Ever-responding. All praise is for Allah, Lord of all creation.