You who have iman! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you � so that hopefully you will have taqwa. (2:183)
FASTING has been prescribed for us by Allah in order to make us people of taqwa. But what is taqwa?
Taqwa is that people do not find a fault in your speech and the angels do not find a fault in your actions whilst the angels of the throne see no fault in your inner motives. (Ibrahim ibn Adham).
In order to reach this stage, We must develop a high level of consciousness of Allah; be eager to please Him and fearful of disobeying Him. Earning the pleasure of Allah can be achieved by passing through several grades or degrees of taqwal: (See Ibn ]uzayy�s Kitab at-tashil fi'ulum at-tanzil, his tafsir of the Qur�'an.)
- that the slave should protect himself from kufr (covering over the truth), and that is the station of Islam;
- that he should protect himself from acts of disobedience and forbidden things, and this is the station of turning to Allah or repentance (tawbah);
- that he should protect himself from doubtful matters, and that is the station of caution or scrupulousness (wara);
- that he should protect himself from even those things that are permitted, and that is the station of doing without (zuhd);
- that he should protect himself from the presence of other than Allah in his heart, and that is the station of witnessing (mushahadah).
The reward for those who have attained taqwa, the mutaqeen, is the Garden. Therefore, fasting is a means to attain the highest honour in the Eternal Life, which is what all Muslims strive for. So how does fasting help us to achieve this? In a hadith, the Prophet stated:
Shaytan flows in the son of Adam with the flowing of rhe blood, (Bulehari and Musliin) to that some of the people of knowledge added: so tighten. his passages with hunger. (See Kashf al�Khafa)
Regardless of our circumstances, We are constrained by physical needs for our well being; the need for food, drink, mental rest, company and leisure. For many of us the ful?lment of these needs is the focus of our entire lives. We work in order to earn money so as to satisfy these needs. The more we earn, the more we consume, thus necessitating the need to earn more. This vicious cycle is a hallmark of this modern consumer society that distracts our attention away from spirituality.
Fasting is the perfect antidote to this excessive lifestyle. It is through fasting that we can move away from the physical and material world and towards the spiritual world. By fasting, by controlling food and drink intake, regulating speech and sleep and experiencing the spiritual realm we temporarily become relatively free of our physical needs, thus escaping for a while the prison of the senses.
The obsessive quest to ful?l physical needs is a veil between man and His Creator, which fasting lifts. Whilst fasting, there is the sense of closeness to Allah, peace of mind, a feeling of freedom and a state of relaxation and tranquillity. Fasting restrains carnal desire and those cravings which, if left uncontrolled, would weaken the soul and eventually destroy it. In fact, the Whole month of Ramadan is a programme that enables us to become acquainted with the spiritual world and to nourish the soul rather than the body.
He who puri?es it [the self] has succeeded, he who covers it up has failed. (91:9�1O)
But the benefits of fasting are not only con?ned to the Hereafter. There are also great personal and social bene?ts. Allah has given us the qualities of self-restraint and self�discipline which prevent us from caving into our desires Whenever We feel. However, we are surrounded by temptations that erode our level of self-control and allow us to succumb to our desires easily. It is at this point that our desires begin to control us and we become vulnerable and exposed to them. But in a hadith qudsi, we are told that fasting is a shield for the believer. It will protect us; it will give us the strength to gain mastery over our desires; it will make us people of strong and noble moral character.
Noble moral character is expressed through such qualities as honesty, respect for others, sacri?ce, generosity, patience and abandonment of those traits that are governed by our base desires. A society made up of upstanding people who care for and respect each other is a strong and healthy one, while a society that gives in to its desires is a selfish one.
Fasting is an effective means of developing character, because it teaches the principle of self-denial therefore encouraging sacri?ce for others. It is about becoming more aware of others, their rights and our responsibilities. It makes us more charitable and giving, with genuine concern and sincerity rather than a sense of duty. How many of us can empathise with a hungry man when our bellies are overfull?
Whoever eats little will understand and make others understand and will be clear and humble. Overeating weighs a person down and keeps him from much of what he wants (to accomplish). (Miilzammad ilm Wasi)
Fasting in Ramadan also fosters a sense of community and equality as young and old, rich and poor, employee and employer all observe the same practices. This creates an atmosphere of unity, because everyone is doing the same thing: Fasting, praying and reciting the Qur�an. There is a sense of brotherhood and sisterhood, a sense of belonging to a community of believers in which one is valued.
There are numerous health benefits from a fast conducted properly, although these are considered secondary to those bene?ts outlined above. Abu Huraira narrated that the Prophet said:
Fast and you will attain good health. (Ibn as-Sunni and Abu Nu�aym)
Abstention from food and drink allows the gastro�intestinal system to rest and rehabilitate thus encouraging healing of the body. It allows the body time to flush out toxic matter that has built up over the months and actually revives and rejuvenates the millions of cells in the body. It improves circulation, stamina and strength as well as lowering cholesterol, blood sugar and systolic blood pressure. All these medical bene?ts have been well-documented in the literature.
In order to reap all these benefits from fasting, we must not treat it as merely an exercise in abstaining from food and drink for a few hours. It is complete abstinence from all bad habits, Without which fasting is rendered invalid.
Whoever does notgive up lying and cheating, Allah has no need qf him giving up eating and drinking. (Muslim)
In order to derive full bene?t from the fast, it is important to take care that each of our body parts does not engage in any haram act. The eyes must be controlled so that they do not see inappropriate images; the tongue should not engage in gossip, lying or backbiting or even utter words that could hurt someone�s feelings; the ears should not listen to any inappropriate speech Whether gossip and backbiting, or through music and TV; the feet must not walk towards a place where haram acts are taking place.
We must fast With humility and be anxious to gain the pleasure of Allah through our acts of ibadah, acts which should continue in the night, to the extent that we are able, with the same fervour as during the day.