By Shaykh Ahsan Hanif, PhD
There is a fascinating yet little known branch of the Sciences of Qur’ān known as ʻIlm al-Munāsabah. This science explores the themes of the sūrahs (chapters) of the Qur’ān as well as the relationship between those chapters; that is, how each chapter links to the previous and next chapters, the relationship between versus within a single chapter and the minor differences found in similar verses, such as a word added or removed when, for example the story of a Prophet is mentioned in different chapters.
My first exposure to this science blew my mind and broadened my horizons as to the beauty, eloquence and overall miraculous nature of the Qur’ān. I am sure we have all wondered why it is that within a single chapter, Allah will begin with a verse about worship, then moves onto war, then go back to fiqh rulings and then turn to a story of the Prophets etc. Is there possibly a relationship and link between all of these various strands?
Indeed this is often an argument employed by orientalists; the Qur’ān in its current form and order is incoherent as it is thematically in disarray. Rather, they postulate, the Qur’ān should be reworked to either be in some chronological order or some semblance of theme, whereby a single story, say of the Prophet Abraham is mentioned in its entirety from beginning to end. This is not the place to discuss and debate this issue suffice to say that the aforementioned science more than adequately deals with this supposed problem. Every verse, word and letter of the Qur’ān has been placed there for a wisdom by the All-Wise . They are not randomly ordered or haphazardly scattered but few see the light of relevance between them.
Yet you will find very few works on this subject and even fewer experts in this field (I am certainly not one!). For one, the science requires deep contemplation of the Qur’ān, a mastery of its sciences and the Arabic language, and most importantly the favours and blessings of Allah to be able to delve into the bottomless oceans beneath the surface of its poetic form, structure and words.
“(This is) a Book which We have sent down to you, full of blessings that they may ponder over its Verses, and that men of understanding may remember.”[38:29]
Yet if there was anyone who understood the depth and breadth of Qur’ānic wonders, it is our Prophet , who with the advent of Ramadan would eagerly anticipate the daily visits of Jibrīl , whence the both of them would revise the Qur’ān. The happiness, contentment and joy this would bring to the Prophet is best described by Ibn ‘Abbās , “The Prophet was the most generous of people. He would be at his most generous in the month of Ramadan when Jibrīl would visit him. He would visit each night in Ramadan and revise with him the Qur’ān. The Prophet would be more generous than the free blowing wind.”
In this article, I want to demonstrate how some of the most famous Prophetic narrations we have about Ramadan, and fasting in general show the keen intelligence, insight and reflection of the Prophet in pondering over the verses of the Qur’ān. Per chance, it will inspire us this Ramadan to not only read the Qur’ān and its translated meanings, but to stop after every verse and ponder, reflect, contemplate, think and question.
The verses of fasting can be found in Sūrah al-Baqarah, 183 – 187. For the sake of brevity, I will not quote the verses in full here but I would urge that you open the Qur’ān (or a translation) before you in order to fully appreciate the following links between the verses and narrations. These verses of fasting are preceded by three verses (180 – 182) pertaining to the laws of inheritance and in particular the role of the executor in administering the estate. Immediately after the verses of fasting, Allah speaks about the prohibition of devouring wealth unjustly and bribing people in authority in order to attain wealth unlawfully. What then, is the link between these three seemingly random topics? And how do the narrations of the Prophet highlight those links?
Contemplation #1 – Fasting Embodies Taqwā
Allah in verse 183 tells us that fasting leads to piety. This verse is preceded by verses which speak of the one who upon his deathbed dictates his will and leaves it with an executor. However, this executor, instead of being trustworthy and having integrity, is treacherous and changes the will, excluding the rightful heirs and including undeserving ones in their stead. Such deceitful people may even swear an oath by Allah without the slightest hesitation thus compounding their sin. Thus the three verses (180 – 182) discuss the evil of false testimony and treacherous speech in order to attain wealth unlawfully.
Fast forward to verse 188, and you will find Allah conveying to us another form of treachery, albeit one of action this time as opposed to speech; those who devour wealth, land and property unjustly by bribing rulers, judges and people in positions of authority. So the verses of fasting are preceded and succeeded by verses which highlight verbal and physical treachery. In between, we have the verses of fasting.
Fasting, from all of the acts of worship most embodies integrity, trust, honesty and truthfulness. When you pray, others can clearly see you praying. When you pay zakāh, your bank balance will be deducted or your mattress becomes less firm due to fewer notes beneath it. When performing Ḥajj, thousands will witness your actions. However, fasting is not so. Fasting is a secret act of worship. You could easily eat and drink without anyone being the wiser. Similarly, in other than the month of Ramadan, you could be fasting without anyone noticing. It is this sense of God-consciousness, piety and integrity that fasting breeds. Just as fasting breeds this within one’s inner self, so too it should show upon one’s tongue and in ones actions.
The Prophet understood this, and alluded to it in the famous ḥadīth, “Whosoever does not leave treacherous speech and action, then Allah has no need that they should abandon their food and drink.”
Contemplation #2 – The Spiritual Fasting & Night Prayer
In verse 183 Allah gives the command to fast. Verse 185 speaks about the Qur’ān having been revealed in the month of Ramadan, and as we know from another verse, its revelation specifically began on the Night of Decree (Laylat al-Qadr). One of the most beloved times and states in which to recite the Qur’ān is during the night and in the state of prayer.
Yet Ramadan is not simply about fasting and praying. Rather, this blessed month should inspire and teach us to fast and pray the way the Prophet would. It should be a fast and prayer which breeds attentiveness wherein one’s heart is content and tranquil, which instills humbleness before the Lord and Creator of all and which begets gratitude to the One who guided and bestowed upon His weak slaves innumerable blessings and bounties.
This sense of spirituality and how to achieve it is indicated by Allah at the end of verse 186, “…so let them obey Me and believe in Me that they may be led aright.” The true fast and prayer requires belief. A belief which is achieved when one recognises their poverty before Allah , their immense need of Him and how they would be lost if He neglected them for even the blinking of an eye. Yes, we worship Him because He commanded us to do so, but this can only take one so far, it is our love of Allah which makes us sacrifice our whims and desires for what pleases Him, a love which would not exist if we did not believe in Him as the one and true Lord. Thus our belief results in obedience; obedience which hinges upon hoping for the reward of Allah and fearing His punishment. Whoever combines between belief, obedience and this sense of hope will be led aright and attain Allah’s forgiveness and pleasure.
The Prophet summarised all of this in the beautiful narration, “Whosoever fasts the month of Ramadan whilst having belief and hoping for Allah’s reward will have all their past sins forgiven. Whosoever stands the month of Ramadan whilst having belief and hoping for Allah’s reward will have all their past sins forgiven. Whosoever stands Laylat al-Qadr whilst having belief and hoping for Allah’s reward will have all their past sins forgiven.”
Contemplation #3 – Fasting is a Means of Nearness to Allah
Before the verses which discuss treachery in issues of inheritance, Allah dedicates two verses (178 – 179) to equality in punishment and applying the laws of Allah justly and fairly. This verse is primarily for those who judge in such affairs, the rulers and their appointed deputies such as governors and judges. After these two verses, Allah alludes to the oppression which is suffered by those who are excluded from their rightful wealth, either through the manipulation of the will or due to corrupt officials using their power for personal benefits. However, in verse 182 Allah refers to those who in the face of oppression attempt to establish truth and justice,
“But he who fears from an executor some unjust act or wrongdoing, and thereupon he makes peace between the parties concerned, there shall be no sin on him.”[2:182]
Thereafter Allah speaks about the fasting person who fasts the hours of daylight,
“…and eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), then complete your fast till the nightfall.”
These three types of people despite seeming to have little connection between one another all make sacrifices which attest to their integrity. They do this for the sake of Allah. The ruler established the laws of Allah justly even though he has the power and ability to oppress and bend those laws to suit his own wants and needs. The one who attempts reconciliation in affairs of inheritance disputes, risks the wrath and anger of the oppressing party, but he does so as the truth is more precious to him than their adulation. Thirdly, the fasting person sacrifices food, drink and desires even though all three can easily be taken.
Thus, these three categories have a special place in the sight of Allah as we see in the following narration in which the Prophet joined the three of them in the virtue of duʻā’, just as Allah indicates this in verse 186, a verse of duʻā’ which comes in the midst of the verses of fasting. The Prophet said, “Three people will not have their supplications rejected; the one fasting until he breaks his fast, the just ruler and the oppressed.”
Contemplation #4 – Fasting Inspires Goodness
The scholars have always informed us that fasting and in particular the fasting of Ramadan is a training ground. This one month teaches us piety, sacrifice and discipline, thereby motivating us for the remaining eleven months. One such motivation of fasting is that it encourages other good deeds. In Ramadan, we often recite the Qur’ān, make duʻā’, give charity and so on. More specifically, fasting should also inspire one to show acts of goodness towards others.
The verses we are analysing in this article infer such good deeds. Two such good deeds are visiting the sick and following the funeral procession. In verse 180, Allah states,
“It is prescribed upon you when death approaches anyone of you if he leaves wealth, that he makes a bequest to his parents and next of kin…” [2:180]
This verse is referring to the one who is upon his or her deathbed, and such people are more than likely severely ill. This illness will eventually lead to their deaths. The writing of the will is a right the heirs have upon this person, and although not explicitly mentioned, it can be understood that this person upon their deathbed also has rights. Foremost among these rights is to visit them in their sickness and follow their funeral procession after their death.
Another good deed which is also alluded to in these verses of fasting is the act of feeding others and especially the poor. Allah says, “And as for those who can fast with difficulty, they have (a choice) to feed a poor person. But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for him.” The verse although speaking primarily about the expiation of those who are unable to fast, also points to the general recommendation of feeding others, “But whoever does good of his own accord, it is better for them.”
These four good deeds; fasting, visiting the sick, feeding the poor and following a funeral procession are gathered in the following beautiful tradition in which the Prophet asked his Companions (ranhum) one day, “’Which one of you awoke today in a state of fasting?’ Abū Bakr replied, ‘I did.’ He asked, ‘Who from amongst you followed a funeral procession today?’ Abū Bakr replied, ‘I did.’ He further asked, ‘Which one of you fed a poor person today?’ Abū Bakr replied, ‘I did.’ He enquired, ‘Who visited a sick person today?’ Abū Bakr replied, ‘I did.’ The Prophet said, ‘These four traits do not gather in a single person on a single day except that they will enter Paradise.’”
Contemplation #5 – The Close Link Between Fasting & Pilgrimage
The verses of fasting are followed by a verse in which Allah warns against the unlawful devouring of wealth. After this, Allah states,
“They ask you about the new moons. Say: These are signs to mark fixed periods of time for mankind and for the pilgrimage.”[2:189]
Why then is pilgrimage used in this verse about the crescent and not Ramadan which also requires the sighting of the new moon for its beginning and end?
The month of Ramadan also signifies the closeness of Ḥajj as the months of Ḥajj begin with the onset of Shawwāl. Indeed, in the days leading up to Ḥajj, it is recommended to fast, and fasting the Day of ʻArafah is extremely virtuous for those not performing Ḥajj. Likewise, to perform the lesser pilgrimage or ʻUmrah during Ramadan is also very rewarding.
The Prophet again understood the link and relationship between the two as is characterised in the famous narration, “ʻUmrah in Ramadan is equal to Ḥajj.”
Thus as you see, these are some examples of the beauty and wisdoms of the Qur’ān that the Prophet derived in some of the most famous and beautiful narrations regarding fasting. O Allah, we ask You by every Name belonging to You with which You named Yourself, or revealed within Your Book, or taught to any of Your creation or preserved in the knowledge of the unseen with You, that You make the Qur’ān the life of our hearts and the light of our breasts, a means of removing our sorrow and a release from our anxiety.
 It should be noted here that I am not an expert in this field. However, Allah has blessed me to benefit from those who are, and to read from both classical and contemporary works on the subject. One such expert is Shaykh ʻAdnān ʻAbdul-Qādir to whom the article owes a great deal. I am grateful to him for allowing me to render his points with my own thoughts.
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 3220 from the narration of ʻAbdullāh ibn ‘Abbās (ranhu).
 Ṣaḥīḥ al-Bukhārī, no. 6057 from the narration of Abū Hurayrah (ranhu).
 Sūrah al-Qadr, 97:1.
 Sūrah al-Baqarah, 2: 186.
 Sunan al-Nasā’ī, no. 2201 from the narration of Abū Hurayrah (ranhu).
 Ṣaḥīḥ Ibn Ḥibbān, no. 3428 and others from the narration of Abū Hurayrah (ranhu).
 Ṣaḥīḥ Muslim, no. 1028 from the narration of Abū Hurayrah (ranhu).
 Sunan al-Tirmidhī, no. 939 and others from the narration of Umm Miʻqal al-Asadiyyah (ranha).
Shaykh Ahsan Hanif, PhD, was born and raised in Birmingham, UK. He memorised the Qur’an at a young age and at the age of 17 received a scholarship to study at the Islamic University of Madinah, Saudi Arabia. As well as attaining an ijazah in the Qur’an and a diploma in Arabic, Shaykh Ahsan graduated from the Faculty of Shari’ah Studies in 2006. Upon his return to the UK he obtained his PhD from the University of Birmingham.
He is currently an imam at Green Lane Masjid, Birmingham as well as the head of the Qur’an & Hadith Studies Department for AlMaghrib Institute. He has spoken at Islamic conferences in various countries, published translations of Arabic works and is a presenter of IslamQA for Islam Channel.