It’s been a scorcher! Having completed the first week of fasting in Ramadan, British Muslims have been enduring searing temperatures they never anticipated. No doubt, in some countries summer temperatures in excess of 30 degrees is regarded as mild or moderate. But here, given that we are a pretty much sun-starved nation, it’s a veritable heat wave! Along with the eighteen or so hours of fasting (or twenty hours, depending on what timetable is being utilised), the heat has made Ramadan quite a challenge this year. Yet amidst the suffocating heat, the heightened thirst and the increased fatigue, there are subtle blessing which come along with the Ramadan heat.
In our second visit to Ibn Rajab’s Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (the first may be read here), we find our pietist and hadith master discussing this very issues: fasting in the heat of summer and its attendant virtues. He writes:
‘Among those [deeds] whose rewards are multiplied during extreme heat is fasting, due to the thirst felt during the midday heat. Which is why Mu‘adh b. Jabal expressed regret on his deathbed that he would no longer be able to experience such thirst again at midday. Such was the case for others among the pious predecessors (salaf) too.
It has been reported that Abu Bakr al-Siddiq, may God be pleased with him, would fast during the summer, but not fast during winters.
Whilst on his deathbed, ‘Umar, may God be pleased with him, advised his son ‘Abd Allah, may God be pleased with him: “Cleave to the qualities of faith,” and the first of them he mentioned was fasting in the intense summer heat.
Al-Qasim b. Muhammad relates that ‘A’ishah, may God be pleased with her, would fast in the searing heat. It was asked of him: What made her do that: He said: “She would take advantage of [the days before] death.” … And one of the pious women [of the past] would choose the hottest days to fast. On being asked why, she replied: “If the price is cheap, then everyone would purchase it.” What she meant was that she wanted to do those deeds that very few people would be able to do, because of the huge difficulty involved. And this was from her lofty resolve (‘uluw al-himmah). …
Rawh b. Zinba‘ was travelling between Makkah and Madinah during an extremely hot day. A shepherd from the mountain approached him, so Rawh said: “O shepherd! Join me for some food.” He said that he was fasting. Rawh said: “Do you fast in such severe heat?” The shepherd replied: Should I let my days pass by in vein? So Rawh said: “You have utilised your days responsibly, O shepherd, whilst Rawh b. Zinba‘ has not.”
‘Ibn ‘Umar would fast optional fasts until he would almost faint. Yet still he would not break his fast. And Imam Ahmad would fast until he [too] would almost pass out; so he would wipe water over his face. He was asked about fasting in the extreme heat, so he responded: “There is no problem with wetting a towel and then squeeze water upon himself to cool himself. The Prophet, peace be upon him, was at al-‘Arj and he poured water over himself whilst fasting.”1
Abu’l-Darda would say: “Fast on the days that are very hot, in preparation for the heat of the Day of Resurrection. Pray two rak‘ahs in the darkness of night, in anticipation of the darkness in the grave.”
It is recorded in the Sahih; from Abu’l-Darda, who said: “You have seen us along with God’s Messenger, peace be upon him, on some of his travels in extremely hot weather, and a man would have to press his hand against his head due to the severe heat. And none of them would be fasting, save the Messenger of God and ‘Abd Allah b. Rawaha.” In the narration of Muslim, it states that this was during the month of Ramadan.2
When those who fast for God’s sake, in the heat, patiently endure the dehydration and intense thirst, God will single-out for them one of the gates of Paradise called Rayyan. Whoever enters through it, shall be given to drink; and whoever drinks, shall never again be thirsty. When they have entered through it, the gate shall be closed and none will enter through it except them.’3
In closing, I’d like to stress that the point of citing such reports is not to encourage irresponsibility or to suggest that we should burden ourselves with more than we can bear: the strong in body and health are not like the elderly, infirm or the chronically ill. Rather, the point was that since temperatures have soared, and we are fasting, that our resolves may be strengthened by recalling the immense reward which comes with the increased hardships of fasting on days of intense heat. As for the saintly men and women of the past who were mentioned above, then their resolves, calibre and quality of faith was something entirely different. They knew their levels, as we should know ours: Those are a people who have passed away. Theirs was what they did, and yours is what you do. And you will not be questioned about their actions. [2:134]
1. As per Malik, al-Muwatta, 1:194.
2. Al-Bukhari, no.1945; Muslim, no.1122.
3. Lata’if al-Ma‘arif (Riyadh: Dar Ibn Khuzaymah, 2007), 694-8, slightly abridged.