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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 23 (Verses 183 to 188)



Section/Ruku 23 [Verses 183 to 188]: Fasting:
Chapter 2: (Al-Baqarah - The Cow)
(Revealed at Madinah: 40 sections; 286 verses)

1. Translation:

183 O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.

184 For a certain number of days.a But whoever among you is sick or on a journey, (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days. And those who find it extremely hard may effect redemption by feeding a poor man.b So whoever does good spontaneously, it is better for him; and that you fast is better for you if you know.c

185 The month of Ramadana is that in which the Qur’anb was revealed, a guidance to men and clear proofs of the guidance and the Criterion.c So whoever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein,d and whoever is sick or on a journey, (he shall fast) a (like) number of other days. Allah desires ease for you, and He desires not hardship for you, and (He desires) that you should complete the number and that you should exalt the greatness of Allah for having guided you and that you may give thanks.

186 And when My servants ask thee concerning Me, surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.a

187 It is made lawful for you to go in to your wives on the night of the fast. They are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them.a Allah knows that you acted unjustly to yourselves, so He turned to you in mercy and removed (the burden) from you.b So now be in contact with them and seek what Allah has ordained for you, and eat and drink until the whiteness of the day becomes distinct from the blackness of the night at dawn, then complete the fast till nightfall,c and touch them not while you keep to the mosques.d These are the limits of Allah, so go not near them. Thus does Allah make clear His messages for men that they may keep their duty.

188 And swallow not up your property among yourselves by false means, nor seek to gain access thereby to the judges, so that you may swallow up a part of the property of men wrongfully while you know.a

 2. Commentary:

183a. Fasting is a religious institution almost as universal as prayer, and in Islam it is one of the five fundamental practical ordinances, the other four being prayer, poor-rate, pilgrimage and jihad. “Fasting has in all ages and among all nations been an exercise much in use in times of mourning, sorrow and affliction” (Cr. Bib. Con.). It is also in vogue among the Hindus. Even Christians were recommended by Jesus to keep the fasts: “Moreover when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance. ... But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head and wash thy face” (Matt. 6:16, 17). Again, when the Pharisees objected to Jesus’ disciples not keeping the fasts as often as John’s, his answer was that when he was taken away, “then shall they fast in those days” (Luke 5:33–35).

But Islam has introduced quite a new meaning into the institution of fasting. Before Islam, fasting meant the suffering of some privation in times of mourning and sorrow; in Islam, it becomes an institution for the improvement of the moral and spiritual condition of man. This is plainly stated in the concluding words, so that you may guard against evil. The object is that man may learn how he can shun evil, and hence fasting in Islam does not mean simply abstaining from food, but from every kind of evil (B. 30:2). In fact, abstention from food is only a step to make a man realize that if he can, in obedience to Divine injunctions, abstain from that which is otherwise lawful, how much more necessary is it that he should abstain from the evil ways which are forbidden by God. All the institutions of Islam are, in fact, practical steps leading to perfect purification of the soul. But along with moral elevation, which is aimed at in fasting, another object seems to be hinted at, i.e., that the Muslims should habituate themselves to suffer tribulations and hardships physically as well. [Back to verse 183]

184a. The indefiniteness in a certain number of days is removed in the next verse which states it to be definitely the month of Ramadan. [Back to verse 184]

184b. The first two classes exempted are (a) those who are sick and (b) those journeying. Both are required to fast afterwards when sickness or journey ends. What is sickness or journey every man can determine for himself. A man who needs a medicine or is unable to bear the hardship of hunger or thirst should not fast. In journeying again, whether a man can easily fast or not is the determining factor. The companions of the Prophet, we are told, did not find fault with each other in these matters: “We used to be on a journey with the Prophet and he who kept the fast did not find fault with him who broke it, nor did he who broke the fast find fault with him who kept it” (B. 30:43). The third exception is in the case of those who find it extremely difficult to bear the hardship of fasting. The word used in the original is yutiquna from taqat which means the utmost that a man can do (R). The persons meant are those who find it extremely hard (yasumuna-hu jahda-hum wa taqata-hum). Such people may effect a redemption by giving food daily to a poor man. This exception covers the case of the woman who gives suck and the one with child, as also the old man who cannot bear fasting (B. 65: ii, 25); also such sick people whose sickness is prolonged and such people whose journey extends over the whole year. [Back to verse 184]

184c. Fasting is here called tatawwu‘, or the spontaneous doing of good, but it also means the doing of an act with effort, and fasting requires great effort on the part of man. The concluding words of this verse again point out the object of fasting. It no doubt entails hardship but it serves a very good purpose and brings about great good in the end. [Back to verse 184]

185a. The revelation of the Holy Qur’an commenced in the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Arabian year (Rz); hence, the month of Ramadan is particularly spoken of as being the month in which the Holy Qur’an was revealed. The root meaning of Ramadan is excessiveness of heat; the month was so called because “when they changed the names of the months from the ancient language, they named them according to the seasons in which they fell, and this month agreed with the days of excessive heat” (LL, Bd). [Back to verse 185]

185b. Al-Qur’an is the name by which the Holy Book revealed to the Prophet Muhammad (peace and the blessings of Allah be upon him!) is known, and by this name the Holy Book is frequently mentioned in the Divine revelation. The word is an infinitive noun from the root qara’a, which signifies primarily he collected together the things (LL). The secondary significance of the root word is reading or reciting a book, the word being applied to reading or recitation because, in reading, letters and words are joined to each other in a certain order (R). The name Qur’an really refers to both the root meanings, for on the one hand it signifies a book in which are gathered together all the Divine Books, a distinction to which the Qur’an itself lays claim in 98:3 and elsewhere (R), on the other, it means a book that is or should be read, the Holy Qur’an being the book “that has been truly described as the most widely read book in existence” (En. Br.). There are thirty-one different names under which the Holy Qur’an is spoken of in the revelation itself, the most important of these being al-Kitab, or the Book, and al-Dhikr, or the Reminder. The statement is made here that the Qur’an was revealed in the month of Ramadan. Elsewhere we are told that it was revealed on the lailat al-Qadr or the Grand night or the night of Majesty (97:1), which is a well-known night in the month of Ramadan, being the 25th or 27th or 29th night of that month. By the revelation of the Qur’an in the month of Ramadan is therefore meant the commencement of its revelation.

The month of Ramadan is thus a memorial of the revelation of the Qur’an. [Back to verse 185]

185c. There are three statements made here regarding the Holy Qur’an. Firstly, that it is a guidance for all men, and that therefore it contains teachings which are suitable and sufficient for all men in all countries and ages. Secondly, that it contains comprehensive arguments for the guidance, thus demonstrating the truth of what it asserts. Thirdly, that it contains arguments which afford a criterion, separating truth from falsehood, by making the faithful taste the fruits of faith and rejecters the evil consequences of their rejection of truth. [Back to verse 185]

185d. There are places on this globe where the days and the nights are so long that there exists no division into twelve months. Such cases are exceptional and rare. People there have no doubt some arrangements to work and rest and to carry on their own business, and they can also make arrangements for prayers and fasting. See further 187c. [Back to verse 185]

186a. In the midst of ordinances relating to fasting occurs this verse which speaks of the nearness of God to man and of the acceptance of his prayers. This is to show that fasting is a spiritual exercise and it brings about spiritual awakening in man. A man is required to abstain from satisfying the natural desires of hunger and thirst and to suffer certain privations, not because there is any harm or any moral delinquency in doing so, but imply because he believes that it is the commandment of God that he should abstain. As the Prophet said: “He gives up his food and his drink and his sexual desire for My sake: Fasting is for Me” (B. 30:2). This undoubtedly awakens a living consciousness of the existence of God in the mind. This is the idea underlying the words: My servants ask thee concerning Me. A real and earnest search for God is raised in the mind through fasting. I am near is the reply to that inner search. And then follow the words: I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me. God is near, but that consciousness only raises the further desire to get nearer and nearer to Him. For that man calls on God; he prays to Him to draw him closer and closer to Himself. And he is told that God accepts this prayer. The sincere yearning of the soul of a man to get nearer and nearer to God is always accepted. But this yearning and this prayer, the verse goes on to say, must be implemented by acts of obedience: So they should hear My call. Prayer to draw closer to God is therefore accepted when the earnestness of the soul’s yearning is shown by acts of sacrifice in the way of God.

It should be borne in mind that the acceptance spoken of here is primarily in relation to prayers for the attainment of the nearness of God. As regards the acceptance of prayers generally, prayers for deliverance from distress and affliction and prayers for the attainment of certain temporal benefits, we are told elsewhere: “Him you call upon, so He removes that for which you pray, if He pleases” (6:41). He accepts such prayers or does not accept them as He pleases. And while God accepts sometimes the prayers even of the unbelievers and the transgressors (10:22, 23; 17:67), and much more frequently of His faithful and righteous servants, He tries even the latter by making them suffer hardships; “And We shall certainly try you with something of fear and hunger and loss of property and lives and fruits” (v. 155). Thus while God’s dealing with even the transgressors is merciful, so that He sometimes accepts their prayers, His dealing with the faithful who call on Him and pray to Him is that of a friend — listening to their prayers or requiring them to submit to His will as He pleases. [Back to verse 186]

187a. The mutual relations of husband and wife are here described in words which could not be surpassed in beauty. In the first place, the sex instinct, a desire for the opposite sex, is classed with hunger and thirst. It is a natural desire and man could not live without satisfying it as he could not live without satisfying hunger and thirst. And then in these words — your wives are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them — we are told that while satisfying a natural desire, the relation of husband and wife has higher ends in view. They serve as a garment for each other, i.e., they are a means of protection, comfort and even embellishment for each other, and the weakness of one is made up by the strength of the other. [Back to verse 187]

187b. Takhtanun, or you acted unjustly to yourselves, is in reference to the injury which they caused to themselves by unnecessarily resisting the sexual craving or hunger and thirst. A case is recorded in which a man overpowered by hunger swooned at midday (B. 30:15). ‘Afa which means generally he pardoned or obliterated a wrong, also means he removed or did away with his mistake or misunderstanding or burden (LL). The reports narrated in connection with the revelation of this verse show that the Muslims at first thought that it was illegal to have intercourse with their wives, even at night, on the days during which they kept fasts. Others abstained from eating, etc., after going to sleep till next evening (B. 30:15). But this practice was, according to the unanimous opinion of all commentators, not based on any Quranic revelation or any order of the Prophet. Speaking of the revelation of this verse Bara’ said: “When fasting in Ramadan was enjoined, the Muslims did not approach their wives during the whole month of Ramadan and some people thus caused injury to themselves; so Allah revealed these words” (B. 65:ii, 28). The revelation of these words made it clear that intercourse with their wives was permitted to the Muslims during the nights of fasting as the satisfaction of hunger and thirst was permitted. The burden whose removal is referred to in the words ‘afa ‘an-kum was therefore a self-imposed one. [Back to verse 187]

187c. Khait, which ordinarily means thread, stands here for the tint of the dawn as the words min al-fajr make it clear; al-khait al-abyad means the whiteness of the day and al-khait al-aswad the blackness of the night (LL). This happens generally about an hour and a half before sunrise. The fast is to be broken with the coming of the night which starts with sunset.

An important question arises here regarding countries in which the days are sometimes very long, where it would be beyond the power of ordinary men to abstain from food from the breaking of the dawn to sunset. There is a report according to which the companions of the Prophet are related to have asked him about their prayers in a day which extended to a year or a month, and the Prophet is related to have answered that they should measure according to the measure of their days (AD 36:13). From this it would follow that in countries where the days are too long the time of fasting may be measured in accordance with the length of an ordinary day, or where practicable postpone the fasts to shorter days of about normal length. [Back to verse 187]

187d. Those people are meant who cut themselves off from all worldly connections during the last ten days of the month of Ramadan, passing day and night in the mosques. This practice is known as I‘tikaf. It is voluntary and not obligatory. [Back to verse 187]

188a. The injunction to abstain from illegally taking other men’s property is a fitting sequel to the injunction relating to fasting, for by fasting a man abstains from using what he has a legal right to, simply in obedience to Divine commandments. Fasting, in fact, enables a man to control his passions, and the more the passions are mastered, the less the greed for illegal acquisition. [Back to verse 188]



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Holy Quran Section > English Translation and Commentary of the Holy Quran by Maulana Muhammad Ali (Table of Contents) > Chapter 2 (Al-Baqarah - The Cow) > Section 23 (Verses 183 to 188)

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