For those having now started to fast, it has probably become apparent that the next few days will serve to normalise daylight abstinence. The apprehension that preceded Ramadan was driven for many by the unwarranted coverage it received from major media outlets citing, as the BBC put it, our leading scholar Usama Hasan who demands that we should fast in moderation, be balanced, and take the rather more enlightened non-literalist approach. This vernacular that views every Muslim issue through the lens of securitisation is something with which we have become accustomed. Instead of discussing fasting as a means to God’s grace through sacrifice, fasting somehow becomes a battle against nefarious religious literalism.
In this context there has, once again, been a number of declarations fraudulently re-termed fatwas. Let alone qualifying as religious verdicts – the definition of which is very specific – these declarations fail to meet the requirement of nominal acumen, their authors provide insipid arguments and opt for artificiality in order to attract superficial attention. As we have seen time and again, when their arguments fail to make traction, they throw hissy fits with politicised ad hominem remarks, throwing around accusations of extremism or radicalism. All of which is not only disgraceful sportsmanship but a pitiable attempt to intimidate interlocutors when pseudo-scholarship falls on its face.
Rather than radicals promoting an extreme interpretation of the fasting period, the case is that Muslims are simply continuing to do what they have done for thousands of years. Thus it is perplexing that there is a need to offer a fatwa, not to those who have sought one, but to the national press as if to infer that to support the 19 hour fast is indicative of radicalism. The term moderate repeatedly crops up as if Mr Hasan’s view is most easy-going, yet the irony is that the concession conferred by God is far more progressive: if the fast is so difficult that one’s wellbeing is threatened then simply do not fast and make them up at a time of one’s convenience before the next Ramadan: “And whoever from amongst you is unwell or on a journey then (fast for) a period on other days.” (Quran 2:185)
However, Mr Hasan takes the restrictive approach rather than accepting the flexibility and leniency God offers, so clearly this isn’t really about a progressive and moderate shariah – he rejects it when proposed. In his fatwa he views the concession God offers to make up fasts at another time as equivalent to illegitimately moving Ramadan out of the summer and into the seasons of autumn, something abominable in his eyes. Yet he inconsistently advocates moving the fast out of its specified period into an arbitrary timeframe for those who might struggle a little. And where God permits the sick to make up the fast at another time Hasan’s reasoning implies that God Himself is moving Ramadan out of the summer and into the seasons of autumn. Putting this aside, even if it were the case, if God is fine with it why should Mr Hasan object?
Every one of Mr Hasan’s arguments are poorly constructed, matters are either conflated or arbitrarily identified. He fallaciously associates those who might become unwell with those who find the fast a bit of a struggle. The shari’ah very clearly demarcates between the two; the former are offered a very lenient concession and the latter is essentially the purpose of fasting. The overarching notion that Mr Hasan continuously asserts is one that religion is easy, which it certainly is, but fails to nuance such ease with the fact that the obligation of fasting, or any other act of worship for that matter, is predicated by taklif. Whilst the technical term means ‘legal obligation’, the Arabic word means hardship, thus the commandments of God are meant to be testing, and it is through perseverance through such tests that paradise is earned. This is where the balance of the shari’ah actually lays. God tests mankind and offers opportunities to earn paradise, but the tests themselves are neither beyond what humans can bear nor are they ever on the extreme end. And given the variance of ability amongst humans, for those who have their own personal impediments, God confers dispensations.
Now the topic of shar’i dispensations, or rukhas, it is an entire subject of study in Islamic jurisprudence. The Prophet said: “God loves that His concessions be availed, and abhors that He be disobeyed” (Ahmad) Al-Zarkashi in his Bahr al-Muhit defined a legal concession as being: “an (divinely) established ruling in opposition to the evidence due to a (valid) reason.” Al-Shatibi wrote in his opus al-Muwafaqat: “that which has been decreed (by God) due to an extremely testing reason; it is an exception to a fundamental rule that would normally necessitate a prohibition, and restricted to circumstances of necessity.” For every situation that can be reasonably termed unbearable or unmanageable, Allah offers a way out. But Mr Hasan’s preoccupation seems to be with making it easy for those who do not like the idea of a long fast. Whilst our compassion might incite empathy, it is not our job to decree on behalf of our Lord. The fact that the vast majority of Muslims will be fasting everyday points to one very undeniable fact; the summer fast is not intrinsically unbearable. Whilst the month starts off as somewhat difficult, it quickly becomes normal and millions of people effortlessly adjust. The discomfort of a dry throat and empty stomach is what makes fasting so commendable to God – “I shall reward him, he forsakes his desires and food for my sake.”(Muslim) The perseverance one must exhibit in having to maintain levels of productivity but with less energy than normal is what earns paradise. The idea that we shall simply waltz into heaven is a complete misnomer – “do people assume that they shall be left to say: ‘we believe’ and not be tested?” (Quran 29:2)
Is the shari’ah about balance and flexibility as Mr Hasan put it to the BBC? Well not exactly, and such a statement fails to display the precision with which legal scholars are trained to reflect. The shari’ah is about serving God, the perpetual struggle for divine grace, the practice of effectuating the love of Allah and having it reciprocated, “say if you love Allah, follow me, Allah will love you and forgive your sins.” (Quran 3:31) As the ancient jurisprudents would put it: ‘it is to act in concordance with divine directives and avoid what God has prohibited.’ Yes, balance and flexibility underpin the mercy of God and His expectations of imperfect mortals, but given the indeterminate nature of such notions and their dependence on context, this is something we glean from wilful compliance to the law and not through the process of abolishing it.
The unfortunate case of Mr Hasan’s insights is that they have neither been decreed by God nor is his use of scholastic precedence sound. The opinion of the Azharite scholars he cites in his declaration very much revolves around their idea of a moderate fast, where the things that make a fast difficult are not only the length of the fast but also other factors such as temperature and the lifestyle of citizens. In the Middle East temperatures easily reach 40-50 Celsius with many Muslims engaged in manual labour throughout the day. Whilst the UK might be warm, an average of 20 Celsius is hardly synonymous, as well as the fact that we live in a highly industrialised society where work takes on a different nature. If we were to work on balance, an 18-19 hour fast in 20 Celsius might be said to equal a 13 hour fast in 40 Celsius for those performing manual labour. In fact, the latter scenario is probably far more unmanageable than the former.
A pertinent point that has been overlooked when discussing the length of the fast is that the British fast commences from the early hours of the morning which means that the vast majority of Muslims will sleep through a substantial portion of it. Thus the actual hours of conscious abstinence – one cannot find difficult something one is unconscious of – are approximately 13-14 hours which, by Mr Hasan’s own admission, is rather moderate given that he would like British Muslims to adopt Makkah’s observance times which can be up to 15 hours. The arbitrary nature of his revision was characterised by his BBC interview where he couldn’t make up his mind telling us: “12 to 14, 15, 16 hours…” So 16 hours would be deemed moderate yet an extra two or three completely unmanageable?
Oddly, for all of Mr Hasan’s talk of British Islam, he refers to a number of modern mainly Egyptian scholars who neither had much to do with the UK nor actually experienced Ramadan in its summer months. In fact, his assertion that we might follow Makkah’s observance times is somewhat peculiar given his advocacy to abandon Makkan moon sighting in favour of a British practice. This contradictory attitude comes across as impulsive and unconsidered. First we’re told we mustn’t move Ramadan out of the summer and into the seasons of autumn but are encouraged to move the fast out of its specified period. Then it is suggested we shouldn’t follow Makkah in deciding when to start the season of fasting since we live in the UK, but it is perfectly fine to do so when dictating the length of the fast?
The inattention and nonchalance with which the issue has been approached is unreflective of the scholastic training and erudition required to provide British Muslims with shar’i solutions to complex contemporary problems. It is further exacerbated where there is an inability to differentiate between shortcomings that require spiritual cultivation and legitimate shar’i concerns. And where the entire affair is projected with the use of a vernacular that has served in the demonisation of an entire religious community and the politicisation of their religious practice, the matter isn’t simply one about fatwas and adab al-ikhtilaf (the etiquette of differing) but the need to assert a confident and sound expression of the Islamic faith and pronounce a rejection of godlessness dressed as piety.
There is no need for a fatwa; the practice of British Muslims fasting the entire month makes is rather evident. For those unwell the Most High confers a concession. For those unwilling to meet the decree of God aggravated by the prospect of being taken out of their comfort zones, the Prophet put it plainly: “With what then will you enter paradise?” (al-Hakim)
 Quran 2:185
 Musnad Ahmad; narrated by Abdullah b. Umar
 Muslims; narrated by Abu Hurairah
 Quran 29:2
 Quran 3:31
 al-Hakim; narrated by Bashir b. al-Khasasiyah