Featured, Tafseer

“O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you…”


This tafseer has been reproduced from Arabic Trench

 يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

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

(Al-Baqara, 2:183)

  1. Fasting is difficult and it requires patience

This verse of fasting is located near a number of verses that entail difficulty and patience.

Preceding this verse Allah says,

وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاء والضَّرَّاء وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ أُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ

and the patient in distress and affliction and in time of conflicts– these are they who are true (to themselves) and these are they who guard (against evil).

(Al-Baqara, 2:177)

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِصَاصُ فِي الْقَتْلَى

O you who believe! retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain.

(Al-Baqara, 2:178)

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ إِن تَرَكَ خَيْرًا الْوَصِيَّةُ لِلْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالأقْرَبِينَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ حَقًّا عَلَى الْمُتَّقِينَ

Bequest is prescribed for you when death approaches one of you, if he leaves behind wealth for parents and near relatives, according to usage, a duty (incumbent) upon those who guard (against evil).

(Al-Baqara, 2:180)

All these verses contain commands which are difficult and which require patience and perseverance for their implementation.

After this verse on fasting, there verses related to fighting which are also difficult and which require patience.

وَقَاتِلُوا فِي سَبِيلِ اللَّـهِ الَّذِينَ يُقَاتِلُونَكُمْ وَلَا تَعْتَدُوا ۚ إِنَّ اللَّـهَ لَا يُحِبُّ الْمُعْتَدِينَ

And fight in the way of Allah with those who fight with you, and do not exceed the limits, surely Allah does not love those who exceed the limits.

(Al-Baqara, 2:190)

وَاقْتُلُوهُمْ حَيْثُ ثَقِفْتُمُوهُمْ وَأَخْرِجُوهُم مِّنْ حَيْثُ أَخْرَجُوكُمْ ۚ وَالْفِتْنَةُ أَشَدُّ مِنَ الْقَتْلِ ۚ وَلَا تُقَاتِلُوهُمْ عِندَ الْمَسْجِدِ الْحَرَامِ حَتَّىٰ يُقَاتِلُوكُمْ فِيهِ ۖ فَإِن قَاتَلُوكُمْ فَاقْتُلُوهُمْ ۗ كَذَٰلِكَ جَزَاءُ الْكَافِرِينَ

And kill them wherever you find them, and drive them out from whence they drove you out, and persecution is severer than slaughter, and do not fight with them at the Sacred Mosque until they fight with you in it, but if they do fight you, then slay them; such is the recompense of the unbelievers.

(Al-Baqara, 2:191)

وَقَاتِلُوهُمْ حَتَّىٰ لَا تَكُونَ فِتْنَةٌ وَيَكُونَ الدِّينُ لِلَّـهِ ۖ فَإِنِ انتَهَوْا فَلَا عُدْوَانَ إِلَّا عَلَى الظَّالِمِينَ

And fight with them until there is no persecution, and religion should be only for Allah, but if they desist, then there should be no hostility except against the oppressors.

(Al-Baqara, 2:193)

Fighting and striving in the way of Allah requires patience, and there are many verses which link the requirement of patience with fighting in the cause of Allah.

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا اصْبِرُوا وَصَابِرُوا وَرَابِطُوا وَاتَّقُوا اللَّـهَ لَعَلَّكُمْ تُفْلِحُونَ

O you who believe! be patient and excel in patience and remain steadfast, and be careful of (your duty to) Allah, that you may be successful.

(Aal-Imran, 3:200)

Fasting is also a difficulty duty and requires patience which is why the Prophet ﷺ said:

 وَالصَّوْمُ نِصْفُ الصَّبْرِ ‘and fasting is half of patience.’ [at-Tirmidhi]

Therefore, the position of this verse of fasting is located between verses which entail general difficulty and which require patience.

  1. Use of the passive verb كُتِبَ

The verb كُتِبَ (to prescribe) is a passive verb and it came with the prepositional phrase (عليكم) mentioning what has been prescribed i.e. fasting. This is similar to Allah’s saying:

إلاَّ كُتِبَ لَهُم بِهِ عَمَلٌ صَالِحٌ

But a good work is written down to them on account of it.

(At-Tawba, 9:120)

Notice that Allah says:   يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا  ‘O you who believe!’ where He addresses the believers  directly and does not address the Prophet ﷺ nor did He say to him: قل  ‘Say’. Instead Allah addresses the believers directly to underscore the importance of the duty of this great ancient act of worship which was prescribed upon those before us.

  1. The meaning of كتب

The usage of the verb كُتِبَ entails difficulty and hardship, and generally matters which are detested. The meaning of كتب is obligation and duty, for example:

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِصَاصُ فِي الْقَتْلَى

O you who believe! retaliation is prescribed for you in the matter of the slain.

(Al-Baqara, 2.178)

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الْقِتَالُ وَهُوَ كُرْهٌ لَّكُمْ

Fighting is enjoined on you, and it is an object of dislike to you

(Al-Baqara, 2:216)

وَلَوْلَا أَن كَتَبَ اللَّـهُ عَلَيْهِمُ الْجَلَاءَ لَعَذَّبَهُمْ فِي الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَلَهُمْ فِي الْآخِرَةِ عَذَابُ النَّارِ

 And had it not been that Allah had decreed for them the exile, He would certainly have punished them in this world, and in the hereafter they shall have chastisement of the fire.

(Al-Hashr, 59:3)

In all the above verses difficulty is involved.

  1. The use of كتب with a preposition

As for the usage of the كتب له with the prepositional particle Laam, then it is used for matters which are good, for example Allah’s saying:

إلاَّ كُتِبَ لَهُم بِهِ عَمَلٌ صَالِحٌ

But a good work is written down to them on account of it.

(At-Tawba, 9:120)

وَيَسْتَفْتُونَكَ فِي النِّسَاءِ ۖ قُلِ اللَّـهُ يُفْتِيكُمْ فِيهِنَّ وَمَا يُتْلَىٰ عَلَيْكُمْ فِي الْكِتَابِ فِي يَتَامَى النِّسَاءِ اللَّاتِي لَا تُؤْتُونَهُنَّ مَا كُتِبَ لَهُنَّ

 And they ask you a decision about women. Say: Allah makes known to you His decision concerning them, and that which is recited to you in the Book concerning female orphans whom you do not give what is appointed for them

(An-Nisaa, 4:127)

وَلَا يَقْطَعُونَ وَادِيًا إِلَّا كُتِبَ لَهُمْ لِيَجْزِيَهُمُ اللَّـهُ أَحْسَنَ مَا كَانُوا يَعْمَلُونَ

nor do they traverse a valley, but it is written down to their credit, that Allah may reward them with the best of what they have done.

(At-Tawba, 9:121)

وَابْتَغُوا مَا كَتَبَ اللَّـهُ لَكُمْ

and seek what Allah has ordained for you

(Al-Baqara, 2:187)

The usage of كُتِب عليكم is used for matters which are difficult, hard and mandatory. Therefore, the act of fasting is mandatory and also difficult because it means leaving food, drink and any actions which nullify the fast from the time of dawn to sunset. Due to this Allah says:  كتب عليكم and He did not say: كتب لكم.

Sometimes the verb كتب comes without the preposition على or ل.  In any case the usage of the verb كُتب عليكم entails difficulty, hardship and obligation.

  1. The Difference between Active and Passive verbs with respect to Allah

The use of active and passive verbs with respect to Allah has rhetorical significance.

In matters of censure, reproach and difficulty, where the action is attributed to Allah, then in this case the passive verb is used.  This is so as not to think of Allah in unfavourable terms. Generally the active verb is used when the situation is one of blessing and favours from Allah. For example:

وَلَـٰكِنَّ اللَّـهَ حَبَّبَ إِلَيْكُمُ الْإِيمَانَ وَزَيَّنَهُ فِي قُلُوبِكُمْ

But Allah has endeared the faith to you and has made it seemly in your hearts.

(Al-Hujuraat, 49:7)

زُيِّنَ لِلنَّاسِ حُبُّ الشَّهَوَاتِ مِنَ النِّسَاءِ وَالْبَنِينَ وَالْقَنَاطِيرِ الْمُقَنطَرَةِ مِنَ الذَّهَبِ وَالْفِضَّةِ وَالْخَيْلِ الْمُسَوَّمَةِ وَالْأَنْعَامِ وَالْحَرْثِ ۗ ذَٰلِكَ مَتَاعُ الْحَيَاةِ الدُّنْيَا ۖ وَاللَّـهُ عِندَهُ حُسْنُ الْمَآبِ

 The love of desires, of women and sons and hoarded treasures of gold and silver and well-bred horses and cattle and tilth, is made to seem fair to men; this is the provision of the life of this world; and Allah is He with Whom is the good goal (of life).

(Aal-Imran, 3:14)

Another example is where giving of ‘The Book’ is mentioned. If it is in a positive context then Allah would say آتيناهم الكتابwe gave the Book’, and when it is in a negative context Allah would say: أوتوا الكتاب ‘and they were given the Book’.

In the case of fasting the passive verb was used because it involves difficulty and hardship. So Allah says:   كُتب   and He did not say: كتبنا.

In matters which there is apparent good, Allah attributes that action to himself. The following are some examples of the use of the active verb كَتَبَ.

يَا قَوْمِ ادْخُلُوا الْأَرْضَ الْمُقَدَّسَةَ الَّتِي كَتَبَ اللَّـهُ لَكُمْ وَلَا تَرْتَدُّوا عَلَىٰ أَدْبَارِكُمْ فَتَنقَلِبُوا خَاسِرِينَ

O my people! enter the holy land which Allah has prescribed for you and turn not on your backs for then you will turn back losers.

(Al-Maaida, 5:21)

أُولَـٰئِكَ كَتَبَ فِي قُلُوبِهِمُ الْإِيمَانَ

these are they into whose hearts He has impressed faith

(Al-Mujaadila, 58:22)

كَتَبَ عَلَىٰ نَفْسِهِ الرَّحْمَةَ

He has ordained mercy on Himself

(Al-An’aam, 6:12)

وَرَحْمَتِي وَسِعَتْ كُلَّ شَيْءٍ ۚ فَسَأَكْتُبُهَا لِلَّذِينَ يَتَّقُونَ وَيُؤْتُونَ الزَّكَاةَ وَالَّذِينَ هُم بِآيَاتِنَا يُؤْمِنُونَ

and My mercy encompasses all things; so I will ordain it (specially) for those who guard (against evil) and pay the poor-rate, and those who believe in Our communications.

(Al-A’raaf, 7:156)

The prepositional particle often gives the opposite meaning for example: رغب فيه ‘he desired it’ means he loved it, whereas ورغب عنه ‘He was averse to it’, means he disliked it. وضعه عليه ‘he was burdened by it’ and ووضعه عنه  ‘he brought it down’.

  1. Significance of using the word الصيام and not الصوم

Sawm and Siyam are verbal nouns that literally mean to desist from something; to leave or abandon a thing. Therefore the phrase sama al-farasu sawman means: ‘the horse has not eaten fodder’.  Nabigha, the famous poet said:

خَيْلٌ صِيَامٌ ، وخَيْلٌ غَيْرُ صَائِمَةٍ تَحْتَ الْعَجَاجِ ، وأُخْرَى تَعْلُكُ اللُّجُمَا

Many hungry horses (khayl sa’im) and well-fed horses stood in the midst of dust clouds in the battlefield, while others chewed on their bridles.

It was said that the Arabs used to prepare and train their horses and camels to withstand hunger and thirst so that they could perform well under the harshest of conditions. They also trained them to withstand storms and winds in order to prepare them for tempestuous journeys and wars. This was mentioned in a couplet:

We stood our grounds in the face of strong scorching winds as if we were standing alongside a fasting horse (faras sa’im) fighting stormy winds.

The verbal noun الصيام is used specifically in the Qur’an for worship and fasting only.

Allah says,

فَمَن لَّمْ يَجِدْ فَصِيَامُ ثَلَاثَةِ أَيَّامٍ فِي الْحَجِّ

but he who cannot find (any offering) should fast for three days during the pilgrimage

(Al-Baqara, 2:196)

As for الصوم it is only used for silence as in:

نَذَرْتُ لِلرَّحْمَـٰنِ صَوْمًا فَلَنْ أُكَلِّمَ الْيَوْمَ إِنسِيًّا

Surely I have vowed a fast to the Beneficent Allah, so I shall not speak to any man today

(Maryam, 19:26)

Allah did not use الصوم for worship in the Qur’an. Some words are singled out for specific signification just like the mentioning of الرياح والريح  for wind, الغيث والمطر  and specific usage of وصى وأوصى  to enjoin something, and such is the special case of using الصوم والصيام.

In the noble Hadith both الصوم والصيام have been used for worship such as in the Hadith: الصوم لي وأنا أجزي به  ‘The fasting for me, and I reward accordingly’ and الصوم نصف الصبر ‘Fasting is half of patience.’  However in in the Quranic usage it is only الصيام which is used for worship.

  1. The meaning of لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ ‘so that you may guard (against evil)’

Allah mentions that this worship of fasting is nothing new. It was a worship that was prescribed upon those before when He says:  كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ ‘as it was prescribed for those before you.’ Then Allah finally concludes by stating the wisdom for legislating this worship, which is to attain Taqwa (piety).

The word تَتَّقُونَ ‘to guard’ has been used, and Allah does not mention any specific thing which we should be conscious and fearful of, such as being fearful of the fire or fearing Allah. By omitting the object to be feared, it creates a general meaning i.e. be fearful of all the forbidden things and be aware of all sins. This is because fasting breaks the desires and controls it, as mentioned in the hadith of the Prophet ﷺ:

 ‏ يَا مَعْشَرَ الشَّبَابِ مَنِ اسْتَطَاعَ مِنْكُمُ الْبَاءَةَ فَلْيَنْكِحْ فَإِنَّهُ أَغَضُّ لِلْبَصَرِ وَأَحْصَنُ لِلْفَرْجِ وَمَنْ لاَ فَلْيَصُمْ فَإِنَّ الصَّوْمَ لَهُ وِجَاءٌ ‏‏

It was narrated that ‘Abdullah said: “The Messenger of Allah said to us: ‘O young men, whoever among you can afford it, let him get married, for it is more effective in lowering the gaze and guarding chastity, and whoever cannot then he should fast, for it will be a restraint (wija’) for him.’” (Sunan an-Nasa’i)

Fasting from this aspect helps the young men control their desires.

So the meaning of  لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ  is that perhaps you will reach a position of being pious. Also it is suitable to mention التقوىpiety’ because the notion of piety in Sura Al-Baqara is widespread.

Allah says,

 وَالصَّابِرِينَ فِي الْبَأْسَاء والضَّرَّاء وَحِينَ الْبَأْسِ أُولَئِكَ الَّذِينَ صَدَقُوا وَأُولَئِكَ هُمُ الْمُتَّقُونَ

 and the patient in distress and affliction and in time of conflicts– these are they who are true (to themselves) and these are they who guard (against evil).

(Al-Baqara, 2:177)

وَلَكُمْ فِي الْقِصَاصِ حَيَاةٌ يَا أُولِي الْأَلْبَابِ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

 And there is life for you in (the law of) retaliation, O men of understanding, that you may guard yourselves.

(Al-Baqara, 2:178)

كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمْ إِذَا حَضَرَ أَحَدَكُمُ الْمَوْتُ إِن تَرَكَ خَيْرًا الْوَصِيَّةُ لِلْوَالِدَيْنِ وَالأقْرَبِينَ بِالْمَعْرُوفِ حَقًّا عَلَى الْمُتَّقِينَ

Bequest is prescribed for you when death approaches one of you, if he leaves behind wealth for parents and near relatives, according to usage, a duty (incumbent) upon those who guard (against evil)

(Al-Baqara, 2:180)

أُحِلَّ لَكُمْ لَيْلَةَ الصِّيَامِ الرَّفَثُ إِلَى نِسَآئِكُمْ هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ لَّكُمْ وَأَنتُمْ لِبَاسٌ لَّهُنَّ عَلِمَ اللّهُ أَنَّكُمْ كُنتُمْ تَخْتانُونَ أَنفُسَكُمْ فَتَابَ عَلَيْكُمْ وَعَفَا عَنكُمْ فَالآنَ بَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَابْتَغُواْ مَا كَتَبَ اللّهُ لَكُمْ وَكُلُواْ وَاشْرَبُواْ حَتَّى يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ الْخَيْطُ الأَبْيَضُ مِنَ الْخَيْطِ الأَسْوَدِ مِنَ الْفَجْرِ ثُمَّ أَتِمُّواْ الصِّيَامَ إِلَى الَّليْلِ وَلاَ تُبَاشِرُوهُنَّ وَأَنتُمْ عَاكِفُونَ فِي الْمَسَاجِدِ تِلْكَ حُدُودُ اللّهِ فَلاَ تَقْرَبُوهَا كَذَلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ اللّهُ آيَاتِهِ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمْ يَتَّقُونَ

 It is made lawful to you to go into your wives on the night of the fast; they are an apparel for you and you are an apparel for them; Allah knew that you acted unfaithfully to yourselves, so He has turned to you (mercifully) and removed from you (this burden); 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 night, and have not contact with them while you keep to the mosques; these are the limits of Allah, so do not go near them. Thus does Allah make clear His communications for men that they may guard (against evil).

(Al-Baqara, 2:187)

الشَّهْرُ الْحَرَامُ بِالشَّهْرِ الْحَرَامِ وَالْحُرُمَاتُ قِصَاصٌ فَمَنِ اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ فَاعْتَدُواْ عَلَيْهِ بِمِثْلِ مَا اعْتَدَى عَلَيْكُمْ وَاتَّقُواْ اللّهَ وَاعْلَمُواْ أَنَّ اللّهَ مَعَ الْمُتَّقِينَ

The Sacred month for the sacred month and all sacred things are (under the law of) retaliation; whoever then acts aggressively against you, inflict injury on him according to the injury he has inflicted on you and be careful (of your duty) to Allah and know that Allah is with those who guard (against evil).

(Al-Baqara, 2:194)

It also is suitable with the beginning of the chapter of Al-Baqara where Allah says:

ذَلِكَ الْكِتَابُ لاَ رَيْبَ فِيهِ هُدًى لِّلْمُتَّقِينَ

This Book, there is no doubt in it, is a guide to those who guard (against evil).

(Al-Baqara, 2:2:2)

And this chapter has mentioned التقوى and its derivatives at least thirty-six times.

The real essence of التقوى means to guard oneself and be cautious. More generally it means to be observant of the orders and prohibitions of Islam pertaining to all aspects of the aspects of society including the political matters.

8. Conclusion

To conclude, it is apt to quote Shaeed Sayed Qutb from his Fi Dhilal Al Qur’an (In the Shade of the Quran)  about the purpose of fasting.

“For the Muslim community, or ummah, duty-bound to undertake a campaign of struggle, i.e. jihad, as a means of establishing Allah’s universal order, to assume the leadership of mankind, and to stand witness against the rest of mankind, it is only natural that fasting should he made obligatory.

 Fasting is a means of testing man’s determination and will-power, and an important aspect of man’s relationship with Allah. It is a discipline that teaches man how to rise above his physical needs and overcome the pressure of temptation in order to earn Allah’s blessings and reward. These are essential ingredients for the discipline and training of the believers so that they may carry God’s message forward despite the temptations, the obstacles and hardships they are bound to encounter. Although I am not in favour of justifying religious obligations and practices, especially in matters of worship, on the grounds of their immediate material benefits, which become apparent with experience or through scientific discovery, I would not deny that fasting has several obvious health benefits. But in my view, the whole purpose underlying religious obligations is far greater and more comprehensive than any physical advantages gained from them.

The overall aim is to adequately equip man for the fulfilment of his role in this world and for the perfection he is intended to achieve in the life to come. It is obvious that all religious practices and obligations are ordained by Allah with full consideration of man’s physical needs and capabilities, but we should not justify them solely on the basis of what our knowledge, limited as it is, may discover. The scope of human knowledge remains limited and incapable of comprehending the divine wisdom behind the order and the system Allah has chosen for the discipline of man and the administration of the universe as a whole.”

We ask Allah to accept our fasts in the blessed month of Ramadhan. Ameen.

Abu Yusuf