Salam. I was queried about it recently. One person wondered: if we have to follow public health guidance of sipping water periodically during the day to fight the coronavirus, then we may as well not fast! Another worried about logistics of food procurement in time for sahoor and iftaar, being in jail.
The short answer is no. Ramadan can’t be cancelled like Umrah or Hajj due to lack of social distancing involved in the latter two rituals and inherent danger of spreading coronavirus among peoples of the world. Ramadan is also different because:
1. Its start and end is – subhanallah! – linked to recurrent awesome cosmic signs – dawn and dusk, sunset, and moonsighting – and not worldly decisions of mortal governments:
و كلوا و اشربوا حتى يتبين لكم الخيط الأبيض من الخيط الأسود من الفجر. . . .
“Eat and drink until the white thread is distinguishable to you from the black thread of dawn” (Q.2:187)
The Prophet (SAW)said,
صوموا لرؤيته و أفطروا لرؤيته و انسكوا لها فإن غم عليكم فأكملوا ثلاثين. . . .
“Fast when you see (crescent of the new moon of Ramadan at the start) and break it (at the end), when you see it again” (Reported by Al-Nasaa’i)
As along as these celestial signs occur, if we observe them, we are witnesses to Ramadan annually and should fast if we are able. As Allah says,
فمن شهد منكم الشهر فليصم
“Whosoever amongst you witnesses (the month of Ramadan), let him fast” (Q.2:185)
2. Fasting is individualistic (not social) because the person abstains from food, drink, (and marital intercourse) during the fast. You can’t tell if I’m fasting and I can’t tell if you are fasting, but Allah knows. It’s an internal act of worship, refraining from things normally lawful – a great discipline in moral and spiritual development.
Because Ramadan can’t be banned doesn’t mean Muslims can’t be banned from observing it, as China did to Uighur Muslims since 2015 or earlier. Muslims can also be restricted in how they are used to conduct it at the masjid with social gatherings for iftaar/dinner, prayer, taraaweeh, etc due to the coronavirus plague. And Muslims can be exempted from Ramadan fast for legitimate reasons, if they are sick, travelling, elderly, in menses, pregnant, nursing, postpartum, with different types of compensation. But please do not fast, taking sips of water during the period, as it would nullify it.
Ramadan 2020 teaches us some important lessons. Think of the simplicity of the Prophet’s fast. He came home one day and asked his wife ‘Aa’isha for food but found nothing to eat. Imagine no food in the house of Allah’s Messenger! So he said “Then I am fasting” (Reported by Muslim). He used it as an act of worship and a distraction from food focus.
Taraaweeh? What’s that? It didn’t exist in its present format during the Prophet’s time or Abu Bakr’s caliphate. Rather, it was the Tahajjud prayer that he prayed with his Companions in last third of the night for 3 straight nights and then abandoned it on the 4th night for fear it might be become compulsory upon them (Reported by al-Bukhari & Muslim). It was revived as a Sunnah by the second caliph ‘Umar bn al-Khattab and later called Taraaweeh by Muslim jurists (fuqahaa’) because of the pause (raaha) between every 4 raka’aat. No Taraaweeh this year, so pray tahajjud at home.
There was no lavish iftar/dinner in the Prophet’s time or wastage of food, as found in many mosques across the globe! Rather, his iftar was simple: he used eat ripe dates or dried dates, or sipped a little of broth (Reported by Ahmad). It’s good to know about the simplicity and beauty of Islam in its earliest period in history and experience it ourselves now and again. Extravagance and unnecessay wastage are sins.
Indeed, Ramadan has arrived at a crucial time – amidst the global Covid19 plague – bringing not only food for thought but also tremendous benefits to the Ummah. Fasting is an act of worship that strengthens our sincerity to Allah and will power to navigate His commands and prohibitions, moral restraint, shield against Hellfire, purge of toxins from the body, rest for the stomach, empathy for the hungry poor, incalculable reward from Allah, imbibing of the trait of taqwaa, expiation of sins, and purification. Ramadan Mubarak!
Dr. F. Shuayb