Today, Muslims mark the first week of fasting during the month of Ramadan, the holiest month on the Islamic calendar – a season of intensive worship, praying, and self-control and discipline, for spiritual purity.
Before Prophet Muhammad (SAW) received the command to fast as contained in the Qur’an chapter 2 verse 183, Islamic traditions indicate that Muslims used to fast the day of Ashura (the 10th day of the month of Muharram; the first month of the Islamic calendar).
The Islamic faith (Imaan) being built on six pillars, recognises prophets that came before Muhammad as prophets of Islam, and therefore, by the second year of Hijra (Prophet Muhammad’s migration from Mecca to Medinah), when he received the divine orders to fast, he was not receiving a new concept in the worship of Allah.
In the verse, Allah says that fasting has been prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, which implies that Allah had decreed fasting on many nations before Muhammad. In various chapters of the Qur’an, Allah talks about his prophets like Zakariyah who prayed to Allah to give him an offspring; he was commanded to fast for three days by abstaining from talking.
Mariam, the mother of Isah (Jesus) was also ordered by Allah to fast the same way when she became pregnant. Prophet Daudah (David) used to fast every other day, and prophet Isah (Jesus) is said to have fasted for 40 days. During Prophet Muhammad’s time, fasting during Ramadan became obligatory with the revelation in verse 183 of Surat Al-Baqarah of the Qur’an, thus forming one of the five pillars of Islam.
In fact, before his death, Prophet Muhammad had observed nine fasting seasons.