Getting to Know Allah
2:183 O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may be God-fearing;
2:184 For a fixed number of days. If any of you is sick or on a journey, then [an equal] number of other days. And those who find it extremely difficult (to fast) should, as a penance, feed a poor man. He who spontaneously does more good (increases the penance), it is for his own good. To fast is better for you, if only you knew.
2:185 The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Qur’an was revealed, providing guidance for mankind, with clear verses to guide and to distinguish right from wrong. He who witnesses that month should fast it. But if anyone is sick or on a journey, [he ought to fast] a number of other days. Allah desires ease and does not desire hardship for you, that you may complete the total number (of fasting days); glorify Allah for His Guidance, and that you may be thankful.
Ramadan is observed during the ninth month of the Muslim year, the Month of Great Heat (see Chapter “Allah's Calendar”), which is also the meaning of Ramadan. During this month, Muslims who are fit enough to do so are expected to fast from sunrise to sunset.
Only a small portion of the Koran was actually revealed during this month. The complete book was communicated to Muhammad over a period of approximately twenty years. Verse 2:185 had been interpreted as the Month of Ramadan being the month the existence of a book in Paradise—written by God with instructions on how He should be worshipped and how we should be behaved, if we did not want to end up as combustibles for His Hell—was first made known to Muhammad, who had withdrawn to a cave above Mecca to meditate and pray (See Shared Prophets: “How the Koran Came To Be,” Boreal Books).
Muhammad used to wait until the feast of Id-ul-fitr (also spelled Eid al-Fitr), which marks the end of Ramadan—and Id-ul-Adha (also spelled Eid-ul-Adha), which is celebrated on the final day of the Hajj—with his followers more convinced than ever of the need to rid the world of unbelievers, after a period of intense immersion in the Koran, to give his army its marching orders.
Narrated Abu Sa'id Al-Khudri:
The Prophet used to proceed to the Musalla (open space outside a mosque that is mainly used for praying,) on the days of Id-ul-fitr and Id-ul-Adha; the first thing to begin with was the prayer and after that he would stand in front of the people and the people would keep sitting in their rows. Then he would preach to them, advise them and give them orders, (i.e. Khutba). And after that if he wished to send an army for an expedition, he would do so.
Ramadan in the Land of the Midnight Sun
What are believers who live above the Arctic circle to do when the fast of Ramadan coincides with a period in which the sun does not set? Muhammad, who may not have been aware of the sun not setting above the Arctic Circle and below the Antarctic Circle during their respective summers, has nothing to say on the matter, leaving Islamic scholars to sort it out for themselves. Some scholars have “suggested fasting by the clock instead of by the sun, using the sunrise and sunset times of the holy city of Mecca as opposed to local time.” This could contravene the Koran. Allah, in the following revelation, makes it abundantly clear that it is only after darkness has fallen that it is halal to eat, drink and fornicate during the month of Ramadan, and to stop making merry and return to fasting and abstinence when “you can discern the white thread from the black thread of dawn.”
2:187 It has been made lawful to you on the night of fasting to approach your wives; they are a raiment for you, and you are a raiment for them. Allah knows that you used to betray yourselves, but He accepted your repentance and pardoned you. So now get to them (the wives) and seek what Allah has ordained for you. Eat and drink until you can discern the white thread from the black thread of dawn. Then complete the fast till nightfall. But do not approach them (the wives) while you are in devotion at the mosque. Those are the bounds of Allah; do not approach them. Thus Allah makes clear his revelations to mankind, that they may fear Him.
Others have suggested that “those who live close to the Arctic Circle, where they have continual night or continual day for several months, should look to the closest city to them where night and day are distinct.” That last suggestion is moot in Canada where it would still make for more than twenty-three hours without food if the closest city is Inuvik, Yellowknife or Whitehorse. The issue as to when to eat and when not to eat, when to have sex and when not to have sex, when to pray, etc., becomes even more confusing when Ramadan falls in the period when the days are one long, dark night.
Two hadiths about the circumstances surrounding the communication of Verse 2:187, which may have been revealed in stages:
It was the custom among the companions of Muhammad that if any of them was fasting and the food was presented (for breaking his fast), but he slept before eating, he would not eat that night and the following day till sunset.
Qais bin Sirma-al-Ansari was fasting and came to his wife at the time of Iftar (breaking one's fast) and asked her whether she had anything to eat.
She replied, "No, but I would go and bring some for you."
He used to do hard work during the day, so he was overwhelmed by sleep and slept.
When his wife came and saw him, she said, "Disappointment for you."
When it was midday on the following day, he fainted and the Prophet was informed about the whole matter and the following verses were revealed: "You are permitted To go to your wives (for sexual relation) at the night of fasting."
So, they were overjoyed by it. And then Allah also revealed: "And eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (of the night)." (2.187)
Narrated Sahl bin Saud:
When the following verses were revealed: 'Eat and drink until the white thread appears to you, distinct from the black thread' and of dawn was not revealed, some people who intended to fast, tied black and white threads to their legs and went on eating till they differentiated between the two. Allah then revealed the words, 'of dawn', and it became clear that meant night and day.