The hours of fasting in Ramadan vary based on the geographical position of the city where one lives. In some regions, the fasting hours might be extremely long while in other places it might be too short such that one wonders if the goal of fasting (Sawm) has been accomplished or not. Extended fasting might cause difficulties.
Some might complain that there is no advantage in fasting long days. Others might find excuses to avoid fasting altogether. But, Islam does not want Muslims to suffer. There are, therefore, some rulings on how to fast on very long days and very short days, that we review them all next.
In the case where the days are very short, one should perform fasting in its typical way, from dawn to sunset, according to the prayer times. Hence, short fasting hours does not change the default time rulings on fasting (Swam) .
Fasting is not a mere act of depriving oneself of foods or drinks, but it aims at spiritual growth and salvation, inner peace, exercising patience, strengthening the social ties and experiencing how poor people live their lives .
Hence, the obligation on fasting is not to make people suffer; as it is stated in Surah Baqarah: “Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship” (2:185). So, there are some rulings on long fasts which make them less difficult.
Long fast (Swam), especially in hot summer days, is tough. In this case, one should fast according to the prayer times of his\her city of residence. But, if it is extremely difficult, whenever during the day he\she feels unable to continue, he\she is allowed to break the fast (Swam) and have to fast (it is obligatory, Wajib) later on for those missing (Qaza) fasts in shorter days of the current year and before the next Ramadan 
However, different religious experts (Mujtahids) have different opinions on this matter. We explained one of those views above. There are two other opinions as follows and one of them might be the opinion of your religious expert (Mujtahid):
In any case, one should fast according to the prayer times of the city of residence;
One should fast according to the prayer times in a “moderate region,” with the normal day length, that is on the same meridian as his\her city of residence.
Fasting is obligatory due to its spiritual and physical benefits. It is not to put pressure and make people suffer. If it is tough to fast in very long days, one can fast according to the rulings stated above.
We know leaders, kings, and queens by their power and might and sometimes feel terrified hearing their names. Those in power, usually, being occupied with many apparently vital matters, forget about those beneath them, the deprived ones. But, looking at the life of Imam Ali (AS), the commander of faithful and Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) rightful successor, we find a leader whose manner was incomparable to the ones we've seen or heard about so far. He was the father of orphans, a provider for the needy, and the defender of justice.
In what follows, we will have a glance at the life of this exceptional Islamic figure of all time.
Imam Ali (AS) was born inside the Ka'ba in Mecca on September 28, 600 CE . He was from Banu Hashim branch of Quraysh. His mother was Fatima bt. Asad and His father, Abu Talib, a respected man by various Arab tribes, was the uncle and guardian of the Prophet (PBUH&HP) and was of the most celebrated personalities of the Quraysh .
When he was six years old, a famine took place in Mecca. Since Imam Ali's (AS) father had a large family and providing for them in that situation was a difficult job, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) and his uncle, al-'Abbas, decided to help him. Therefore, they offered to take care of his children. So, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) took Imam Ali (AS) under his own guardianship . Imam Ali (AS) recounted those days as such:
"When I was a young child, the Prophet (PBUH&HP) took care of me. He would bring me to his chest and I would sleep in his bed, so close to him that I could even smell his scent. He would chew food for me and then feed me with it. He found no lies in my speech, nor any shortcomings in my actions" .
When the prophethood assigned to Muhammad (PBUH&HP) in 610 A.D in Hira cave through Gabriel sent by Allah, Imam Ali (AS) was the first man, and Khadija (AS) was the first woman to acknowledge his call and believed in him. The ten-year-old Ali (AS) at the time would pray with the Prophet (PBUH&HP) on the mountains around Mecca . He also supported Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) when he was ordered to announce his mission publicly, starting with his close relatives. In return, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) declared him as his brother, executor of his will (Wasi), and successor .
In 615 A.D, Polytheists besieged Muslims in a valley called Abu Talib, where they were prohibited from trade and were under severe sanctions. During this challenging time, Imam Ali (AS) and his father Abu Talib, devotedly helped Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP). To save the Prophet's (PBUH&HP), which was under the threat of polytheists, Imam Ali (AS) risked his own life and even slept where Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) used to sleep. The most well-known account of this sacrifice is when after Abu Talib's demise, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) decided to immigrate to Medina. He was informed of the secret plan of polytheists to murder him on the night when he was ready to start his journey to Medina. As a counteract, Imam Ali (AS) slept in Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) place, so that he could secretly leave his house to Medina . A few days later, Imam Ali (AS), along with his mother and Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) daughter, lady Fatima (AS), joined the Prophet (PBUH&HP) in Medina.
In 632 A.D, Imam Ali (AS) accompanied Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) on his last pilgrimage to Mecca . After the Hajj, on his way back to Medina in an area called Ghadir Khum, the Prophet (PBUH&HP) proclaimed Ali (AS) to be his successor and the executor of his will . This event is known as the Event of Ghadir Khum and is celebrated by many Muslims around the world.
Imam Ali (AS) asked Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) daughter's hand in marriage. He consulted this request with his daughter, lady Fatima (AS), and after realizing her willingness to marry such an honored and pious man, Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) consented to their marriage.
There is a disagreement on the exact date of their marriage; however, the most accepted one is on May 25, 624 A.D . Together, they had five children named Hasan, Hussain, Zaynab and Umm Kulthum  and also Muhsin, who was aborted before his birth.
After Prophet Muhammad's (PBUH&HP) demise and despite his speech in the incident of Ghadir, while Imam Ali (AS) and the Prophet's (PBUH&HP) family were busy with his burial, a group of the heads of Medina gathered in a place called Saqifa Bani Sa'ida to choose a successor for the Prophet (PBUH&HP) from themselves . As a result, Abu Bakr was chosen as the caliph of Muslims, which was followed by Umar ibn Khattab's caliphate and then Uthman b.Affan.
Finally, in June, 656 A.D and after the assassination of Uthman, Imam Ali (AS) became the caliph and the leader of the Muslims. Two days after the beginning of his caliphate, in his first sermon, Ali (AS) urged that all the wealth and properties that had been unjustly taken must be returned, and emphasized justice concerning the distribution of public properties and wealth .
As George Jordac, the Lebanese Christian writer puts:
"In the eyes of Ali son of Abu Talib rulership and caliphate did not mean that the ruler should sit on the throne of dignity, strengthen his power and make his position the means of enslaving the people… Caliphate does not mean that people should be subjugated at the point of the sword, and by means of bloodshed and force, or that they should obey the caliph on account of fear or covetousness. Ali was a man who did not worship God because he desired forgiveness or because he feared punishment. On the contrary, he worshipped God because He deserved to be worshipped. He wished that the people should obey the caliph on account of his being worthy of obedience and not because of fear or greed of gain" .
During his four-year rule, he never did injustice to a soul, and he distributed wealth among people fairly, was observant of the poor, orphans, and the homeless. He was more like a compassionate father to people than a mighty unapproachable ruler. He lived a simple life, as he thought his life had to be like the poorest in society. He never favored any of his relatives over others in his government and refused to give them what they didn't deserve or had not any right to. In short, his government was the best instance of an ideal Islamic political and social system.
As Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) said in a narration Imam Ali's (AS) virtues and merits are impossible to number . Nevertheless, we will try to mention some of his most significant characteristics.
His Unbound Compassion and Generosity
Kindness and compassion was an inherent characteristic of Imam Ali (AS). Poor or rich, young or old, Muslim or non-Muslim, man or woman, all would enjoy his regard and profound generosity. It is said that he used to water the date gardens of Jews in Medina with his own hands . Jordac describes this characteristic of him as such:
"Ali was more kind to the people than anyone else and refrained from harming any person. He became oblivious of his own self in order to assist others and considered this self-abnegation to be part and parcel of his life. His entire life was dedicated to the support of the oppressed and the helpless so that he might realize their rights from the tyrants who considered themselves entitled to usurp the rights of others on account of noble descent and racial discrimination." 
This noble character was so kind that he refused to take revenge from the person who attacked him while praying in the mosque, which caused his martyrdom a few days later. He forbade his children to bring any harm to this person and commanded them to give him food and drink instead and treat him respectfully.
Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) said: "I am the city of knowledge, and Ali (AS) is its gate, whoever wants to enter this city, has to pass the gate first." . Allah had endowed Prophet Muhammad (PBUH&HP) a breath of His divine wisdom, so when he calls Imam Ali (AS) as "the gate" to this divine wisdom through which people can enter, he is considering Imam Ali's (AS) wisdom as the prerequisite for reaching out to this vast knowledge.
As Jordac puts: "Ali was brought up by his cousin. He became his disciple and adopted his habits and conduct. The Prophet's heritage became implanted in his heart and brain. He reflected over the Qur'an with the intellect and eye of a sage and learned its latent realities" .
Imam Ali (AS) himself used to invite people to ask him their questions before they lost him since he was sure he would answer them in the wisest manner possible .
Imam Ali (AS) used to fast during the day and give away his food to the poor at night and slept hungrily. Based on an account, he and his family fasted for three days, and each night gave away their Iftar to one needy person who had come to their door. Some interpreters of the Quran believe that this act of Imam Ali (AS) and his family was followed by revealing this verse of the Quran :
"Those who give their wealth by night and day, secretly and openly, they shall have their reward near their Lord, and they will have no fear, nor will they grieve" (2:274)
He also gave away the money he earned through labor and tied a stone to his stomach to fight off his hunger. Whenever he gained a considerable amount of money, he informed the poor and the needy of it and divided it between them and then gave thanks to Allah through performing Salat .
According to some hadiths, one day a beggar entered the mosque and asked for help; but, no one gave him anything. He raised his hands toward the sky and said, "O God! Witness that I asked for help in the mosque of Your Prophet (PBUH&HP) and no one gave me anything." When he said this, Imam Ali (AS) was performing ruku' in prayer and pointed to the small finger of his right hand which had a ring on. The beggar went near and took the ring off from Imam's (AS) finger. Some exegetes believe  that this verse of the Quran referred to this incident: "Your guardian is only Allah, His Apostle, and the faithful who maintain the prayer and give the zakat while bowing down" (5:55).
He loved Allah, and his love was not tainted by fear or expecting a reward. His worships and prayers were purely for His sake and with the intention of His satisfaction; "The basis of this worship is reason, conscience, and spiritual perfection" . This deep and pure faith that had penetrated his very bones turned him into a self-aware and pious man who aligned his every action with Allah's will and commands. As Jordac puts:
"Ali's piety was not the outcome of circumstances like that of other pious persons, who engage themselves in worship on account of the weakness of their souls, or to escape the vicissitudes of life and to keep aloof from the people, or in imitation of their ancestors, and the effects of the events of life confirm it because as a rule, people accord respect to ancestral customs and traditions… His worship was, in fact, a continuous effort and a campaign against mischief for the sake of human life and prosperity… According to Ali, the essence of piety is to sacrifice one's life for the sake of truth and justice" 
He was born in the house of Allah, Ka'aba, and martyred in his dwelling, the mosque. As if Allah had destined him to always be in His arms.
Imam Ali (AS) said: "Your faith should be at such a level that you should prefer truth to falsehood even though it may cause you loss and falsehood may bring you gain" . And he did so in practice. He would choose truthfulness no matter what the result and never surrendered to injustice.
Another sign of his bravery was his disapproval of going into a war. Despite his strength and high physical power, he would rather peace and would not start a war unless it was inevitable. However, when he attended a battlefield, he fought courageously and never escaped from the enemy. Even on the battlefield, he was the forgiving man who pardoned his enemy when he found them defeated and defenseless.
On the morning of January 26, 661, Imam Ali (AS) was struck with a poisoned sword of Abd al-Rahman b. Muljam al-Muradi who was one of the renegades (Kharijites) [i] while performing Salat in the Grand Mosque of Kufa (today's Najaf in Iraq). He was martyred from this injury two days later and was buried secretly at his request .
Imam Ali, The Beacon of Justice and Humanity
Imam Ali's (AS) exemplary character and life can be a guiding light for all truth-seeking human beings. His deep affection for people, his care for justice and equality, his social and political insight, and his sincere devotion and faith in Allah made him a man whose fame reaches out to generations centuries later than his martyrdom.
[i] Khawārij or Kharijites were a group of Muslims who rioted against Imam Ali (AS) in the middle of, and after, the Battle of Siffin, as well as in the event of Arbitration. They then began the Battle of Nahrawan against the Imam (AS).
- Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol. 1, p. 5.
- Ibn Athīr, Usd al-ghāba, vol. 1, p. 15.
- Ibn Hishām, al-Sīra al-nabawīyya, vol. 1, p. 162.
- Nahj al-balagha, Sermon 192, p. 222.
- Muṣāḥib, Dāʾirat al-maʿārif-i Farsī, vol. 2, p. 1760.
- Muhammad ibn Jarir al-Tabari, History of the Prophets and Kings, vol.2, p.331.
- Ibn Saʿd, al-Ṭabaqāt al-kubrā, vol. 2, p. 131.
- Ayyāshī, Tafsīr al-ʿAyyāshī, vol. 1, p. 4.
- Mufīd, Masār al-Shīʿa, p. 17.
- Masʿūdī, Ithbāt al-waṣīyya, p. 153.
- Ibn Shahrāshūb, Manāqib Alī b. Abī Ṭālib, vol. 3, p. 133.
- Nahj al-Balagha, Sermon 15. , p.39.
- George Jordac, The Voice of Human Justice (Sautu'l ' Adalati'l Insaniyah), p.72. PDF.
- Yusuf b. Qazawughli, Tadhkirat al-khawas, p. 13.
- George Jordac, The Voice of Human Justice (Sautu'l ' Adalati'l Insaniyah), p.33. PDF.
- Al-Hakim al-Nishapuri, Al-Mustadrak alaa al-Sahihain, vol.3, p. 126.
- George Jordac, The Voice of Human Justice (Sautu'l ' Adalati'l Insaniyah), p.40. PDF.
- Ali ibn Abd-al-Malik al-Hindi, Kanz al-Ummal, vo.13, p.165.
- Abbas Qomi, Muntahi al-Amal, vol.1, p.284.
- al-Shaykh al-Saduq, Al-Amali, p.169.
- Ḥākim al-Ḥaskānī, Shawāhid al-tanzīl, vol. 1, p. 209-239.
- George Jordac, The Voice of Human Justice (Sautu'l ' Adalati'l Insaniyah), p.29. PDF.
- ibid, p.28.
- Mohammad-Baqer Majlesi, Bihar al-Anwar, vol.70. p.106.
- Mufīd, al-Irshād, vol. 1, p. 27-28.
Whatever we look at or even see, enters our mind and soul, and sticks to them. Imam Ali (AS) said: “The eye is the reporter of heart and the messenger of mind.” . It means that every act of looking profoundly affects our heart and soul. The prophet (PBUH&HP) said: “Avoid unnecessary excess looks as they grow lust in your hearts and make you heedless.” .
In another saying from Imam Ali (AS), we read that: “The eyes are the snares of Satan” . That is why Islam has special guidelines and rules about at what or whom, one is allowed or not to look. And, this is more pressing in case of Muslims living in a non-Muslim society, where they are constantly exposed to both men and women freely and improperly dressed in the streets, TV, magazines, web pages, etc. Islam has regulated looking at the opposite gender according to the two categories: Mahrams and non-Mahrams .
A man is permitted to look at the body of a woman who is his Mahram, except her private parts (Awrah). And he must not look at her body from the navel down to the knee. This means that a woman should dress decently even in the presence of her Mahrams. One’s wife is an exception to this rule; married couples are allowed to look at the entire body of each other.
It is forbidden for a man to look at the body of any non-Mahram woman but he can look at her hands and face as long as they do not have any decoration. If the woman is Muslim, then he is not allowed to look at her hair. But if she is not Muslim, looking at her hair is not forbidden as long as it is not for pleasure.
Generally, there is no sin on a man for the first involuntary look at any non-Mahram woman, but the second look should be avoided . In any case, men should remember that: “Tell the faithful men to cast down their looks and to guard their private parts. That is more decent for them.” (24:30).
This rule also extends to adolescent boys and even younger ones, who understand women’s physical attributes and might be attracted to them. They should be taught to lower their gaze, too. Since children’s minds and souls are clear lands ready to be cultivated with several types of thoughts and ideas mostly captured by eyes, we need to teach them which seeds they should plant in their lands to attain Allah’s eternal satisfaction.
A man is not allowed to look at another man’s private parts, nor a woman at those of another woman; whether Muslim or not. Besides, looking at any parts of the body of another man, even the face and arms, will be forbidden for a man if done with the intention of having pleasure. The same ruling applies to a woman towards another woman. This also means that one should always cover his/her private parts in the presence of others, even of the same gender.
A woman is allowed to look at the body of a man who is her Mahram, except his private parts, if it is not for having pleasure. One’s husband is an exception to this rule as mentioned earlier.
A woman is not permitted to look at the body of a non-Mahram man, except for the face, hands, and that amount which men usually [i] do not cover and if it is not for pleasure.
One is permitted to look at the entire body of a child until he/she reaches the age when the child’s consciousness of sex has developed, or when evidence of sexual urge is noticed on him/her; even if it is before reaching puberty. However, it is better to accustom the child to always dress properly.
As a general rule, it is forbidden (Haram) to look at anyone (even at one’s own body) or anything (including people’s photos and films, statues, etc.) with the intention of having pleasure (with the exception of one’s spouse), even if one is looking at a Mahram.
In cases of “necessity” such as in administering first aid, medical treatment [ii] or during a trial testimony where the judge requests the witness to look at a non-Mahram to identify him/her , all the rules of the prohibition of looking become void. As an instance, if a doctor is compelled to look at a part of the body of a non-Mahram woman, he must only look at that part necessary for the treatment, but not more than that. Also, if possible, the examination or testing must be performed over the clothing. Other exceptions are looking at one’s spouse as explained above.
[i] This, although following a definite limit indicated in Islamic ruling that should be respected, is based on the normal condition of each society to some extent.
[ii] In the case that a doctor of the same skill and with the same gender is not available.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 104, p. 41, T. 52.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 72, p. 199.
- M. B. Majlesi, “Bihar al-Anwar”, vol. 77, p. 294.
- Ibn Babawayh, “Man la yahduruhu al-Faqih”, vol.3, p.474, T. 4658.
- looking to others