Praise be to Allah who has thwarted the hopes of Satan and frustrated his designs by making fasting a bulwark and a shield for his righteous servants; who taught them that the way of Satan to their hearts lies in secret lust; who has made known unto them that only through subduing its secret lust could the soul assert its superiority.
Fasting is distinguished from other pillars of Islam by its special and peculiar position in relation to Allah, since He said through the mouth of His Messenger (PBUH):
Every good deed will be rewarded from ten-to-seven hundred fold except fasting which is endured for my sake and which I shall reward.
To have an idea of the excellence of fasting in Ramadan, one has only to remember the words of the Prophet (PBUH):
By Him in whose hand is my life, the foul breath of the fasting man’s mouth is more fragrant before Allah and better pleasing to Him than fragrant musk.
(Bukhari and Muslim)
And since the excellence of fasting has become so very important, it is necessary for Muslims to know its inward and outward conditions. However, this discourse will be concerned with the inward requirements of fasting because this aspect of fasting is less covered in comparison with the outward duties and regulations of fasting, which are heavily discussed.
Pondering upon the nature of fasting, one of Islam’s major acts of worship, people of knowledge came to the conclusion that there are three levels of fasting:
The Fast of The Ordinary Person
This fast consists of the abstinence of appetite, sexual intercourse, noise, arguing, etc.
The Fast of The Select Few
This one is that of keeping the ears, eyes, tongue, hands, feet — together with all the other senses — free from sin. The people in this category free themselves from sin in the following ways:
- Refraining from looking at anything that is blameworthy or disapproved, such as telling lies, backbiting, telling tales, perjury, covetousness and lustful gazes.
- Keeping the tongue free from ranting and raving, lying, backbiting, tale-telling, obscenity, abusive speech, wrangling and hypocrisy. Rather, one should busy oneself with the remembrance of Allah and the recitation of The Quran.
- Closing the ears to all that is reprehensible.
- Constraint of the rest of the senses from sin. Restraining the hand from evil, curbing the foot from the pursuit of wickedness, avoidance of questionable foods at the break of the fast, etc.
- Over-indulgence when breaking the fast, even when the food is Halal. The spirit — as well as the secret of fasting — is to weaken the flesh, which is Satan’s tool for turning mankind back to evil.
- After breaking the fast, the heart should remain in a state of suspense between fear and hope as one does not know whether the fast has been accepted.
The Fast of The Elite
The fast of the elite is the fast of the heart from bad thoughts, worldly worries and anything else that may divert one’s attention from Allah.
The fast of the elite means the fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but Allah. This kind of fast is broken by thinking of worldly matters, except for those conducive to religious ends, since these constitute provision for the Hereafter and are not of this lower world.
To this third degree belong the Prophets, the true Awliya’ (saints) and the intimates of Allah. It consists of utmost dedication to Allah, and the neglect of everything other than Him. It is bound up with the significance of His words:
Say: ‘Allah (sent it down) then leave them to play in their vain discussions.’
Surah al-An’am, 6:91
The Inward Requirements of Fasting
In order for one to achieve the highest level of Fasting — the one practiced by the righteous — one should keep one’s organs free from sin, and certain things are required to accomplish this type of fast:
1. Avoid Seeing What Displeases Allah
This means restraining the eyes from viewing anything that is blameworthy or reprehensible, or that distracts the heart and diverts it from the remembrance of Allah.
2. Avoid Speaking What Displeases Allah
The Prophet (PBUH) said:
Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is fasting he should not use foul or foolish talk. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say: ‘I am Fasting, I am Fasting!’
(Bukhari and Muslim)
3. Avoid Hearing What Displeases Allah
Closing one’s ears to everything reprehensible; for everything unlawful to utter is likewise unlawful to listen to. That is why Allah equated the eavesdropper with the profiteer in His words:
Listeners to falsehood, consumers of illicit gain.
Surah al-Ma’idah, 5:42
4. Avoid Doing What Displeases Allah
Keeping all limbs away from sin: the hands and feet from reprehensible deeds, the stomach from questionable food. The Prophet (PBUH) said:
Many of those who fast get nothing from it but hunger and thirst!
This has been taken to refer to those who break their fast on unlawful food.
5. Avoid Overeating
Not to over-indulge in lawful food at the time of breaking fast, to the point of stuffing one’s belly. There is no receptacle more odious to Allah than a belly stuffed full with lawful food. Of what use is the fast as a means of conquering God’s enemy and abating appetite, if at the time of breaking it one just wishes to make up for all the food and drinks one has missed during the daytime? It has even become the custom to stock up for Ramadan with all kinds of food products, so that more is consumed during that time than in the course of several other months put together.
It is well known that the object of fasting is to experience hunger and to check desire, in order to reinforce the soul in piety. If the stomach is starved from early morning till evening, so that its appetite is aroused and its craving intensified, and it is then offered delicacies and allowed to eat its fill, its taste for pleasure is increased and its force exaggerated; passions are activated which would have lain dormant under normal conditions!
The spirit and secret nature of fasting is to weaken the forces which are Satan’s means of leading us to evil. It is therefore essential to cut down one’s intake to what one would consume on a normal night, when not fasting.
6. Look to Allah with Fear and Hope
After the fast has been broken, the heart should swing like a pendulum between fear and hope. For one does not know if one’s fast will be accepted — such that one will find favor with Allah — or whether it will be rejected, leaving one among those He abhors. This is how one should be at the end of any act of worship one performs.
So, every act of worship has an outward form and an internal form: an external husk and an internal pith. It is for you to choose whether to be content with the husk or to join the company of the wise and learned.
Translated by N. A. Faris