All of these things are true and valid, but I think it is equally important not only to enjoy all of these things but also to appreciate the attitude that Ramaḍān builds in its first recipients. The month of Ramaḍān is a gift from Allāh. The first recipients of this gift were given a khatbah (sermon) by Allāh that prepared them to really take advantage of this month. I think looking at the āyāt from the angle of being a sermon and advice from Allāh Himself to the believing companions is a huge attitude changer.
Fasting – the Beginning
First and foremost, fasting did not begin in Ramaḍān. The Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam) used to fast before Ramaḍān, and there were a few days of the month that were specified. Some scholars argue that in Sūrat’l-Baqarah when fasting is mentioned, the first āyāt about fasting are not about Ramaḍān but about the fasting that came before Ramaḍān, which was the middle few days of every month that the Prophet and the believers used to fast. Allāh mentioned in that āyāt, "Those of you who have īmān, fasting was prescribed upon you just as it was upon those who came before you." This is also a hint that the fasting of the Prophet was similar to the fasting of the people of the Book up until that point.
"…so that you may have taqwa." This āyah is from Sūrat’l-Baqarah, and the first half of Baqarah is about Bani Isra‘īl who were given many commandments and Allāh expressed hope for them that it would perhaps make them people of taqwa. When the mountain was hovering above them and they were given the Torah in their hands, Allāh told them, "Hold onto what We have given you with all your might. Keep remembering what is in it so that you can have taqwa." I want you to keep this in mind. Bani Isra‘īl was given their book, and Allāh told them that if they hold onto it and remember what is in it, then maybe they will get taqwa. Now Allāh is talking to us and saying, "You have the month of Ramaḍān. Fasting is prescribed upon you just as it was prescribed on those before you so that you can have taqwa." On the one hand, people are being told to hold to a book and that will be their means of becoming more conscious of Allāh, and we are being told to hold onto fasting to become conscious of Allāh.
In the next ayah, Allāh says, "a limited number of days." This is the evidence scholars use to say that perhaps this is not talking about Ramaḍān. The Arabic suggests a minimal, and the purpose is to talk about something less than ten days.
Allāh mentions in the same ayat that there are a few number of days, and if for some reason you miss it (i.e. traveling), you can make them up or give fidyah and make it up financially. The option was left open for those who couldn’t do their fasts, and Allāh said, "Whoever wants to volunteer and make up those fasts, it is better for him. If you fast, it is better for you if you know." This language suggests that it is not mandatory. The early ruling was that they could fast or give fidyah. This was clearly easier. It was less than a month, and if a day was missed, you could compensate for it financially.
Now I want to talk to you about the historical backdrop that is being set which I think is so significant and powerful. The second half of Surat' l-Baqarah talks about the Jews and the parallels we have with them. We used to fast the same days as them and prayed in the same direction as them, which changed. Allāh mentions Ibrāhīm (‘alayhi’l-salām) in Sūrat’l-Baqarah and then the House that Ibrāhīm (‘alayhi’l-salām) built and then the commandment comes down that the qiblah had to be changed. They had to pray in a different direction and could not pray towards Jerusalem anymore but had to pray towards Masjid al-Ḥarām. This was an uproar because the Jews took pride in that being the capital. A new capital was established by Allāh. The Muslims are being distinguished in their identity from the Jewish people. The Prophet used to fast on the same days, and then Allāh told him to fast in Ramaḍān. They are being distinguished in terms of their identity from the previous book in yet another way, and they are being cut off from the previous nation. Look at the progression.
In the first half of the Surah, Allāh lists the crimes of Bani Isra‘īl. He says, “I gave you preference over all other nations.” The āyāt proceed and their crimes are listed and it becomes more and more clear why they don’t deserve that status. So they are reminded and the Arabs are reminded that the common beginning is Ibrāhīm who built the House, and his legacy is the one we are supposed to uphold. The children of Isra‘īl failed. Then Allāh called us a new ummah. Allāh gave us a new capital and new direction of prayer, and Allāh says, "That is how We made you a middle nation."
Ramaḍān and the Qur’ān
Allāh (subhanahu wa ta 'ala) then turned His attention to the fast. He didn’t just tell us to fast 30 days. How did Allāh describe this month Himself? What wording did He use? The word shahr’l-Ramaḍān is mentioned. What is the first thing we hear about the month of Ramaḍān? We don’t hear that it is the month of fasting. It is the month in which the Qur’ān was revealed. The most important and climax of what makes us different of the previous nations is that their books have now become obsolete. We don’t look for validation in their books. Allāh says, "This is the month in which the Qur’ān was revealed." Allāh uses beautiful language, and sometimes when we read the translation, we miss these things.
He defines the Qur’ān. The Qur’ān is defined in many places, but the way it is defined here in this Sūrah is truly unique. He says, "It is a guidance for all people." What did Bani Isra‘īl believe? That guidance was specifically for them and not all people. The Qur’ān is guidance for all of humanity. "Absolutely clear, self-evident proofs of guidance in it" means that for the one who wants to explore and find out whether it is the truth or not, it will be self-explanatory if they come with sincere intention.
"A clear distinguisher": In other words, the book came to distinguish us from all other people. The book came to distinguish itself from all forms of falsehood. Sometimes falsehood has 90% truth and 10% falsehood, but al-furqan says that it has to be absolutely pure true or it is falsehood and there is no mixing allowed.
"And whoever witnesses this month should fast." The introduction is incredible. Allāh didn’t begin by saying that this is the month you should be fasting. Allāh changed the subject entirely and said that this is the month in which the Qur’ān was sent down, which is guidance for humanity and the absolute distinguisher between truth and falsehood and guidance and misguidance.
The entire introduction is not about fasting but about the Qur’ān. Think about this. When we think about Ramaḍān, what do we think about first? We think about fasting and the food first. We think of the parties first. Allāh tells us that our minds should first go to the fact that we are celebrating the greatest document ever given to human possession. There is a tradition of the prophets, including our Prophet (sallallahu 'alayhi wa sallam), where there were days and days of fasting. Fasting wasn’t even prescribed. Mūsa (‘alayhi’l-salām) had forty days of fasting.
What is the tradition of fasting, and how is it connected to revelation? When we fast, we all know that this is a denial of our human, worldly appetites. We are being denied those appetites for some time, and the purpose is to allow the other appetites to be fed. We are so concerned about the appetites of our body, stomach and lust, but there is another appetite we have of our souls. Look at the beauty of Ramaḍān. In the day you are starving your body, and in the night, you are feeding your soul. You are listening the Words of Allāh, which is food for the ruh. On the one hand you are weakening your physical self, and on the other hand, you are strengthening your spiritual self. You can carry this strength through the rest of the year.
TO BE CONTINUED...
Notes from http://ramadanprep.ummahnow.org/Day%207%20of%20Ramadan%20Prep%20-%20Nouman%20Ali%20Khan.pdf