How Early Muslims Dealt with Ramadan

By Imam Asim Khan 

Fasting is designed to make us more religious, God-Conscious and disciplined.

A Pew Research Center survey of more than 38,000 Muslims around the world shows widespread observance of Ramadan.[1]

In the 39 countries and territories surveyed, a median of 93% say they fast during the holy month.[2]

Fasting is the second-most observed of the Five Pillars, behind only belief in God and the Prophet Muhammad, (peace be upon him) (median of 97%).

Despite the fact that more than a billion Muslims will be fasting this Ramadan, how many are aware of how the Early Muslims (Salaf), those who lived Islam in the best possible way, would observe this sacred month? How they would spend their days and nights and what would change for them during the sacred month.

The Prophet (peace be upon him) certified the first three generations as being the “best”. He said in the authentic hadith, which is mass-transmitted (mutawatir): “The best people are my generation, and then those who came after them, and then those who came after them”. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim)

As explained by the great Imam An-Nawawi, the first generation were the Companions, the next were the Followers (Tabi`in), and finally the Second Generation of Followers (Tabi` At-Tabi`in).[3]

By declaring that they were the best he demonstrated that as a collective they embodied the best understanding and practice of Islam. Therefore, if one wanted to experience the best Ramadan, he or she would have to learn how the best people spent it.

Before highlighting the five key areas of change that the Early Muslims would observe in Ramadan it is important to appreciate that this knowledge is meant to inspire the reader, to create optimistic goals in your mind to achieve, and to realize that if this was possible for the Early Muslims then it is certainly possible for us with Allah’s Help and Assistance.

The 5 Key Areas of Change

1 – Recitation of Quran

2 – Night Prayers

3 – Charitable Acts

4 – Not overindulging in food

5 – Safeguarding the Tongue

1 – Recitation of Quran

Unknown to many, the word associated with Ramadan in the Qur’an is not Fasting but rather Qur’an. Allah, Exalted is He, said:

The month of Ramadan is the One in which the Qur’an was sent down. (Al-Baqarah 2:185)

This point, along with the fact that Jibril (peace be upon him) would visit the Prophet (peace be upon him) every night of Ramadan to revise the Qur’an’, as Ibn Abbas informed us (Al-Bukhari), was understood by the Early Muslim to mean that they should increase in the amount of Qur’an they should recite. The following narrations give insight into how they would modify their Qur’an reading:

  • Imam Adh-Dhahabi narrates that Qatadah (d. 118AH) would complete one Qur’an every seven days but when Ramadan would come he would complete one Qur’an every three days and in the last ten he would complete one every night.
  • Al-Walid ibn `Abdul Malik (d. 96AH) would complete one Qur’an every three days and recite the entire Qur’an seventeen times in Ramadan.
  • In Ramadan, Al-Aswad ibn Yazid (d. 75AH) would complete one Qur’an every two nights. He would sleep only between Maghrib and `Isha’ (Sunset and Night obligatory prayers), and he would complete one Qur’an every six nights outside of Ramadan.
  • It is also reported the Sa`id ibn Jubayr (95 AH) would complete one Qur’an every two nights in Ramadan.

Is this possible for us?

For most, reading the entire Quran once in Ramadan is a challenge, but just how much time is required to finish it in two days? Is it even possible for those with families and jobs to accomplish this?

For those accustomed to Quran recitation, one Juz (part of the Quran) can be recited in 20 minutes, with each page taking around a minute to recite. Multiply this by 30 and you have a figure of 600 minutes, which equates to 10 hours. This would mean that the Early Muslims would spend around 5 hours a day with the Quran in the month Ramadan. It can be segmented over the day: before work, during lunch break, on the way home and a little more in the evening it suddenly seems possible. In fact, a friend recently told me that a female relative of his does exactly this. She reads the entire Quran once every two days. She has children, takes care of the home but spends every spare minute opening the Quran and reciting.

Can We Recite Quickly?

In his Adab Ash-Shari`ah, Ibn Muflih explains that so long as one pronounces the letters of the Qur’an properly he may recite it quickly.

Sheikh Abdul Aziz At-Tarifi was asked whether it is better to recite the Quran slowly with reflection rather than quickly but in greater quantity. He replied that as for the person who is ignorant of what the Quran speaks of, such as what the Quran has made halal and haram, what it has made obligatory and so on; then such a person with this basic understanding should not recite at speed. As for those who are generally aware of the key messages of the Quran and what it has made halal and haram, then there is nothing wrong with reciting at speed during this blessed month of Ramadan.

2 – Optional Night Prayers

There is nothing more beloved to Allah, Exalted is He, than performing the obligatory acts of worship such as the five prayers. Whoever can safeguard those prayers whilst also praying optional prayers like the Tarawih and Qiyam (optional night prayers) should aspire to be like the Early Muslims in this regard.

It is reported by Al-Bayhaqi that Umar ibn Al-Khattab would instruct Ubay ibn Kab and Tamim Ad-Dari to lead the people in prayer during Ramadan. They would read the long surah (al-Mi’in– those whose verses number in the hundreds) and some people would have to use a staff to keep themselves standing. They would finish their Qiyam close to the time of Fajr (Dawn).

It is reported in the Muwata of Imam Malik that the son of Abu Bakr As-Siddiq, `Abdullah, said that he heard his father say that they would finish their Qiyam and hurry to eat our food out of fear that Fajr would begin.

These reports indicate that some of the Early Muslims would spend more time in the late Qiyam than in the Tarawih prayer. Consider the following narration about Ibn `Umar. A report by Al-Bayhaqi says that he would pray at home during Ramadan and when the people would leave the Masjid he would grab his leather water-skin and go the Masjid of the Prophet (peace be upon him) and not leave until he had prayed Fajr.[4]

Can I Cheat Sleep?

The narrations about the Early Muslims and their night prayers demonstrate that they would reduce their sleep during Ramadan. According to a recent research conducted by a PhD student at Oxford, a Polyphasic Sleep pattern, in which a person only sleeps for a total 4.5 hours a day, can allow for a productive day with less sleep. The science behind this sleep model shows that a 3.5 hour sleep at night with three 20 min naps during the day (which could be at lunch, break and then at home) can suffice a person without compromising on their productivity. Indeed the student conducted the experiment on himself whilst doing the PhD.[5]

3 – Charitable Acts

Ibn `Abbas beautifully described the generosity of the Prophet (peace be upon him) when he said: ‘He was the most generous of all people…and when Ramadan came he would become even more generous such that he became like the blowing wind.’ (Al-Bukhari)

Following in his footsteps we find that Ibn `Umar would only ever break his fast with the poor. His family would request him to break the fast with them but he would refuse and reprimand them.

When Ramadan would enter Ibn Ash-Shihab Az-Zuhri would busy himself with only two things: reading Qur’an and feeding the poor.

One of the Early Muslims, Hammad, would provide the breakfasting meals for 500 people during Ramadan.

4 – Not overindulging in food

One of Imam Al-Ghazali’s top tips for waking up to pray optional night prayers was not to overeat before bedtime. In this regard you find the Early Muslims would eat very little at Iftar. There is a narration about Ibrahim ibn Abu Ayyub that states that he would only have two full meals during the whole month.

5 – Safeguarding the Tongue

Fasting has been legislated for a higher purpose, it is designed to make us more religious, God-Conscious and disciplined. The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘Whoever did not give up crooked speech and action, then Allah is not in need of his leaving food and drink.’ (Al-Bukhari) Ibn Hajar Al-`Asqalani explained “crooked speech” to include lying.[6] Other narrations add “idol-banter”. Ibn Battal explains that the Prophet did not mean by this that one should avoid fasting but rather that fasting whilst behaving in this way will jeopardize the acceptance of the fast.

Mujahid ibn Jabr once said there are two traits; whoever guards himself from them will have his fast accepted. They are backbiting and lying.





[3] See Sharh Muslim by An-Nawawi Vol 16, P. 85.

[4] See Kitab as-Sunan al-Kubra by Al-Bayhaqi

[5] See

[6] Fath al-Bari, Kitab al-Sawm by Ibn Hajar al-Asqalani


About the author:

Ustadh Asim Khan is currently the Imam of Redbridge Islamic Centre, Instructor for the Sabeel institute, & author for He appears regularly on Islam Channel’s religious programming & is currently presenting the Dreamer show for Eman Channel. Ustadh Asim has a special interest in Tafsir studies and teaches the subject in London where he lives.


Source: Taken with modifications from


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