Allah Says in the Qur’an:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you—as it was for those before you—so perhaps you will become mindful ˹of Allah˺ [Qur’an 2:183]
“O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you“
Linguistically, the Arabic word for fasting (الصِّيامُ) means to refrain from something. In Islamic law, the word specifically refers to abstaining from food, drink, and sexual intercourse with intention.
“as it was for those before you“
There are three opinions among Muslim scholars who this refers to:
- It refers to the People of the Book
- It refers to the Christians only
- It refers to people of all [previously revealed] religions
In what way were those before us prescribed fasting similar to us? There are two opinions among Muslim scholars:
Their fasting was similar to us in ruling and description but not number of days. Sa’eed ibn Jubayr said, “It was prescribed for them that if one of them slept before eating, then it was forbidden for that person to eat or drink until the following night. They were also forbidden to have sexual intercourse during the night [if intending to fast during the following day]. However, the Muslims were given concessions to such rules.” This would mean then that this verse was abrogated by the verse, “It has been made permissible for you to be intimate with your wives during the nights preceding the fast” [Qur’an 2:187].
Their fasting was similar to us in the number of days only. There are two statements among the scholars on what this means:
First: In the beginning of Islam, there was an obligation to fast three days of every month and it was this same obligation prescribed for those before us. Then this ruling was abrogated by the obligation of fasting in Ramadan. This was reported by Ibn ‘Abbas and Qatadah. This means this verse was abrogated by the verse, “Ramaḍan is the month in which the Quran was revealed as a guide for humanity with clear proofs of guidance and the standard ˹to distinguish between right and wrong˺. So whoever is present this month, let them fast” [Qur’an 2:185].
Second: It was the month of Ramadan itself that was made obligatory on the Christians as well. Perhaps this occurred during the hottest period of the year and they found it difficult, so they changed it to some period between winter and summer. Then they made expiation for it by fasting extra 20 days. If this is the case, then it means this verse is fixed and not abrogated.
“so perhaps you will become mindful ˹of Allah˺“
There are two opinions on what this means:
Meaning perhaps you will become mindful of Allah with regards to things which are forbidden for you during fasting, such as, eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse. This was said by Abu Ja’far al-Tabari.
Meaning that fasting can be a reason for the person to return to taqwa (being mindful of God) because during it the self is overcome, the desires are broken, and there is departure of pleasure [i.e. because the person is in a weaker state due to hunger, it is easier to avoid falling into sins, which is the essence of taqwa]. This was said by Az-Zajjaj.
Sources: Tafseer Ibn Jawzi and Tafseer al-Mawardi