Dear Ali: What is the origin of Ramadan? It seems that Muslims are the only ones who fast. Can you explain the history? SG, Abu Dhabi
Dear SG: Muslims, as believers of Allah, are no different from other groups who would at least once a year have a season of intensive worship, characterised by fasting, praying and training for self-control and discipline, to become a better and spiritually purified human being.
As Muslims, the holy month of Ramadan is the ninth month in the Arabic lunar calendar. This is the time when the holy Quran was revealed to the Prophet Mohammed, messenger of Allah, for the first time, around 610 CE.
It is stated in the holy Quran (Al-Baqarah 2:183): "Oh you who believe! Fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you, so that you may learn self-restraint". This verse shows clearly that Muslims were not the first ones to fast.
Many people do not know that Muslims have been fasting during Ramadan for more than 1,425 years, since they were ordered by God Almighty. But Allah prescribed fasting on many nations before us, and the holy Quran describes that in many different stories. For example, the story of Zechariah, who is a figure in the Bible and the holy Quran. In the Bible, he is the father of John the Baptist, who we refer to as "Prophet Yahya". He prayed and asked Allah to give him offspring, and was commanded to fast for three days by abstaining from talking. Likewise, our mother Maryam, the mother of Jesus, was also ordered by Allah to fast the same way when she became pregnant.
Fasting had always been one of the observances of pious people. The Prophet Mohammed told us that David used to fast every other day. Jesus is reported to have fasted 40 days and 40 nights (Matthew 4:2).
Dear Ali: What are the consequences if somebody has to break their fast? HJ, Ajman
Dear HJ: If somebody breaks their fast unintentionally by eating or drinking, then they must simply continue on for the rest of the day and the fast remains valid. This is a great essence of how Islam is so gentle and gives the worshipper the comfort to know that nothing is by force and we are humans, hence we tend to forget things.
However, for those who intentionally break their fast by drinking, eating or having sexual intercourse, the consequences are as follows: free a slave (which we know is not possible in the present day, and thank God for that). And if that is not possible, then a person must fast for two consecutive lunar months (approximately 60 days). If that is not possible, or it is something that a person feels is too much to handle, then feed and/or clothe 60 people in need. So there are other ways to pay back the day you intentionally broke your fast or decided not to fast.
But please note: this is not being judged by a court, nor is it in the government constitution or your employment contract. This is all between you and your God. The easiest way to make it up is by feeding 60 men, women or children who are in need. Such support can be donated to either the Red Crescent, by offering food to a group of people at your home or by buying food and distributing it.
Ali Al Saloom is a cultural adviser and public speaker from the UAE. Follow //www.ask-ali.com">www.ask-ali.com to ask him a question and to find his guidebooks to the UAE, priced at Dh50.