A Story of Faith and Revelation

Did you know that Ramadan has been observed by over 2 billion people for 1400+ years now? That’s right, for 14 centuries, Muslims all over the world have spent one month of every year fasting!

But do you ever wonder how this all began? Let’s take a journey through time and uncover the rich and incredible roots and see the history of Ramadan:

The Origin of Fasting (Sawm) in Islam

How did this concept of ‘fasting’ come to existence in Islam?

To address this, we need to go back to the very beginning, 610 A.D. to be precise.

This is when the Holy Quran was first introduced in the second year of the Islamic (Hijri) calendar, shortly after the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) migrated to Medina. During this time, the Prophet (ﷺ) observed fasting in a similar manner to the Jews, who also fasted on specific days. 

But, Allah ﷻ revealed to the Prophet ﷺ that fasting in Islam would be different.

The revelation of Ramadan came to the Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) during the night of Laylat al-Qadr, or the Night of Power, when the Angel Jibreel revealed the very first verses of the Quran to the Prophet while he meditated in the caves of Hira.

إِنَّآ أَنزَلْنَـٰهُ فِى لَيْلَةٍۢ مُّبَـٰرَكَةٍ ۚ إِنَّا كُنَّا مُنذِرِينَ

“Indeed, We sent it down on a blessed night, for We always warn ˹against evil”

Quran 44:3

With that being said, Muslims fast to also commemorate the revelation of the Quran in Ramadan. Fun fact, Muslim scholars often debate on the exact night the Quran was sent down. But, many agree that the Holy Book was revealed on the odd nights of the last 10 days of Ramadan, marking this as the most sacred time of the month!

Who can Fast?

After its revelation, the month of Ramadan was designated as the month of fasting in Islam, and fasting (Sawm) was included as one of the core 5 pillars of Islam. Fasting would now be from sunrise to sunset, and it would be compulsory for all adult Muslims. The verses pertaining to the importance of fasting were revealed to Prophet Muhammad in February 624 BC, or in the month of Shawwal in the second year of Hijrat (Migration).

يَـٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُوا۟ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

“O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you—as it was for those before you—so perhaps you will become mindful ˹of Allah.”

Quran 2:183

But, by the mercy of Allah (ﷻ), fasting was not imposed on everyone without exceptions! Muslims who were travelling, sick, or menstruating were made exempt from fasting. 

شَهْرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلْقُرْءَانُ هُدًۭى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَـٰتٍۢ مِّنَ ٱلْهُدَىٰ وَٱلْفُرْقَانِ ۚ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ ٱلشَّهْرَ فَلْيَصُمْهُ ۖ وَمَن كَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوْ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍۢ فَعِدَّةٌۭ مِّنْ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ ۗ يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ بِكُمُ ٱلْيُسْرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ ٱلْعُسْرَ وَلِتُكْمِلُوا۟ ٱلْعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُوا۟ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَىٰكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ

“(It was) the month of Ramadan in which the Recital was sent down as guidance for mankind… So whoever of you witnesses the month, then he shall fast it. But whoever is sick or on a journey, then (he must fast) a period of other days. Allah wants ease for you and does not want hardship for you…”

Quran 2:185

How has Fasting Changed Over Time?

The first Muslims of Medina learned to fast all day under the guidance of Prophet Muhammad (ﷺ) in the vicinity of the deserts, where food and water supplies were scarce. Did you know that the word ‘Ramadan’ itself stems from the Arabic root ‘ar-Ramad’, meaning ‘scorching heat’?

While fasting was an incredibly physically and mentally strenuous process back then, especially with the weather conditions, it has become much easier for Muslims now to observe their fast.

All due to advancements in technology and transportation! Modern conveniences such as refrigeration and air conditioning are a massive help in alleviating some of the physical challenges of fasting.

Through it all, the changes in the observance of fasting during Ramadan over time highlight the enduring importance of this sacred time of year.

So, in a nutshell

No, Ramadan is not about starving oneself. The history of Ramadan is complex, it is a month of great blessings, a time of spiritual renewal and growth for Muslims all around the world who engage in worship and increase their awareness of God.

As we enter the month of Ramadan, let us remember the significance of this sacred month and the teachings it brings. May it be a time of peace, love, and blessings for you and your loved ones!

Written by Izzah Adnan