Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|11/23/01 at 00:51:09|
|"When you fast for a while |
Your nature is cleansed.
With the pure-of-heart
you may enter the garden.
To become light,
fast and burn like a candle.
Each morsel is the link that
chains you to the ground."
the following is an article on fastring written by Mohammad Alamgir. May
Allah grant us knowledge with wisdom on this month of Ramadan
Syeda J. Mansur (curie)
The Spiritual Context of Fasting - a Synoptic View
Fasting among the Pillars of Islam :
The five pillars of Islam are: Declaration of Faith, Salat, Zakat, Saum and
In the declaration of Faith, viz. La Ilaha Illallah, Muhammadur Rasoolullah
(i.e. nothing worthy of worship except Allah, and Muhammad is the Messenger
of Allah), we become conscious of the individual positions of Allah, the
Holy Messenger Muhammad (S:) and the rest of the Creation. It signifies that
every soul has come from Allah, and every soul goes back to Allah. A
successful return back to Allah is only possible through the Message and
Guidance given by Allah Himself. As a matter of fact, Allah has appointed
the Holy Messenger Muhammad (S:) to convey His message to every soul in
order to guide them towards the destination earmarked for them. Therefore,
when we say Muhammad (S:) is the Messenger of Allah, it is not only an
assertion of the high status of the Holy Messenger Muhammad (S:), it is at
the same time a reminder of the functional relationship of the Holy
Messenger Muhammad (S:) with Allah on the one hand and the rest of the
Creation on the other.
Salat (devotional Prayer), Zakat (minimum Charity), Saum (Fasting) and Hajj
(Pilgrimage) are the mechanics applied for that journey back to Allah. The
pre-requisites in these mechanics are the high moral standards of good
conduct exemplified by the Holy Messenger Muhammad (S:); and the efficiency
of these mechanics is a reflection of the spiritual relationship one
establishes with Allah.
Briefly, Salat is a vehicle which continually brings the soul in the
Presence of Allah. One may say, it is the rehearsal for the soul, before it
stands in the Grand Presence at the end of its journey. [A training in the
protocol, before visiting the King].
Zakat is a vehicle which reminds the soul that it is not alone in the
journey. The soul has to share the given resources with other souls, so that
everyone can have an easy passage towards the destination.
Hajj is a vehicle which brings home the message of the Grand Gathering that
will take place at the end of the journey.
Last but not the least, Fasting is a vehicle which brings the soul closer to
Allah by virtue of practising Samadiyyat, i.e. by emulating the divine
attribute As-Samad - One who is not dependent on anything.
What is said above about Salat, Zakat, Hajj and Fasting does not do any
justice to the extent and depth one can go in describing these mechanics.
The idea here is to put Fasting in the picture as a whole, and then look at
it in a bit more detail - especially in the spiritual context.
The Unique Role of Fasting :
The central theme of all divine worship is to perfect the ability of
recognising the greatness of Allah; to glorify Him as He must truly be
glorified; and to surrender to Him in the absolute terms. One who has done
that to the maximum limits of one’s potential is said to have acquired
divine qualities. That is exactly what the Holy Messenger Muhammad (S:)
required of us when he said, takhallaqu be-akhlaqillah i.e. inculcate in you
the qualities of Allah.
Now, in all the other forms of worship, viz. Salat, Zakat and Hajj, the soul
achieves a certain measure of purification which determines the measure of
its divine qualities. In these forms of worship, attention may not be
directly focussed on aquiring divine qualities, although the end result is
just the same.
In contrast, the primary attempt in Fasting is to emulate Allah in His
attribute of As-Samad. Allah does not depend on anything for sustenance. He
does not need any food or drink. In short, He is free from any biological
needs. He is above biology and bio-chemistry. However, our souls are
entrenched in our bodies, which are purely organic, i.e. they undergo growth
and decay; and therefore, for their biological function they need
sustenance; food, drink, sleep and a few other things.
Allah has decreed that the rank or position of khalifa, i.e. His deputy or
vicegerent, in short, the position nearest to Him, be given to human beings.
The various forms of worship are nothing but the secrets revealed by Allah
to man, to help him achieve that rank.
Fasting, in which we abstain from supplying the body its biological needs,
goes a long way in achieving that nearness. What we actually do in Fasting
is copy Allah, as it were, and live outside the bounds of biology.
That is why Allah has said in a Hadis-e-Qudsi, “as-Saumo Lee wa Ana Ajzi
Behi”, i.e. Fasting is for My sake, and it is I who will give the rewards
for it. There are two things in this statement. One, the rewards for all
other good deeds will be distributed, as it were, by the Angels; of course,
as per the command of Allah. But the reward for Fasting will be given by
Allah Himself. Second, the reward for all good deeds has been mentioned in
the Holy Quran and the Sacred Ahadis. But the reward for Fasting is the
vision of Allah Himself. That is why, the above Hadis-e-Qudsi is also read
as, “as-Saumo Lee wa Ana Ujziya Behi”, i.e. Fasting is for My sake, and I
will be the reward for it.
Fasting - a Training in Self-Restraint :
Let us look back at what is really denoted by Fasting. It would seem that
the reward just mentioned is too great, if abstinence from food and
biological functions is the only requirement in Fasting. Had it been so,
Fasting would be no different from starving, which people undertake to
reshape their body; or from hunger-strike, which is used as a weapon in a
non-violent agitation; or from the starving of a poor man, who is compelled
to do so because of lack of provisions. As a matter of fact biological
abstinence is mainly physical and very little spiritual, if at all. Whereas
what we are looking for is the spiritual connection, or the spiritual
context, in Fasting.
Allah therefore, in giving the reasons for Fasting, has summed up the whole
issue in one short, albeit comprehensive, phrase : “La’allakum Tattaqoon”,
that you may learn self-restraint. When we talk of self, we do not mean body
alone; we mean body, mind and soul.
Needless to say, in Fasting, restraint for the body is ‘abstinence’ from
food, drink and carnal desires. If one has to do it voluntarily, it does
require some level of spiritual strength. Even so, this is the lowest kind
Restraint of the mind would require ‘control’ over all the limbs of the
body, in order to stop them from committing the sins they usually commit.
This is the Fasting of the selected muslims.
Restraint of the soul means to remain ‘vigilant’, so that the soul does not
stray away from the Presence of Allah, i.e. the rememberance of Allah. This
is the Fasting of the very elect.
One may point out that, restraint of the mind and the soul are not specific
to Fasting. They should be practised all the time, fasting or not fasting.
The truth of the matter is, when the body is subjected to the rigours of
Fasting, it becomes easier for the spirit to take hold of the activities of
the mind and the soul. Herein lies the special significance of Fasting. No
wonder, it becomes much more productive when undertaken as a month-long
program, as in Ramadan.
This is the time during the year, when such a concerted effort is devoted to
repairing all the damage done to our body, mind and soul.
To repeat, Fasting is the totality of control imposed on all aspects of
self, so that all our overt and covert actions are in complete accord with
the commands of Allah.
Restraint of the Mind :
In elaborating what has been termed as restraint of the mind, Imam Abu Hamid
al-Ghazzali (may Allah be merciful with him) has said the following:
1. Restrain your eyes from looking at what may give you evil ideas, or what
will divert your attention from the remembrance of Allah. The Holy Messenger
Muhammad (S:) has said: Five things destroy Fasting — falsehood, backbiting,
slander, perjury and to see with lust or animal passion.
2. Restrain your tongue from useless and vain talks. Stop false-speaking,
back-biting, slander, abusive speech, obscurity, hypocrisy and enmity. Adopt
silence. Busy your tongue with the mention of Allah and the recitation of
the Holy Quran.
The Holy Messenger Muhammad (S:) has said: Fasting is like a shield; if
a man is fasting, let him not rebuke and dispute. If a man wants to assault
or start a quarrel, say to him, ‘I am fasting.’
Two women were fasting at the time of the Holy Messenger Muhammad
They became so much over-stricken with hunger, that order was sought from
the Holy Messenger Muhammad (S:) for them to break their fast. He asked for
a cup and told them to vomit what they had eaten. Both of them vomitted
fresh blood and flesh. The Holy Messenger Muhammad (S:) said, “The two women
fasted with lawful food, but broke their fast with unlawful food. The two
women back-bited people and ate their flesh.”
3. Restrain your ears from hearing evil talks. What is unlawful to utter,
is unlawful to hear. To remain silent at the time of back-biting is
The Holy Messenger Muhammad (S:) has said, “The back-biter and the
of back-biting are equal co-sharers in the sin.”
4. Restrain your hands, feet and other organs from sins. Save your belly
from doubtful things at the time of breaking fast. It is also injurious to
eat lawful food in excess.
When you commit a sin, you are drinking poison and destroying
When you do a lawful thing, it is like a medicine. The Holy Messenger
Muhammad (S:) has said, “There are many who do not gain by Fasting, except
hunger and thirst.
5. Restrain eating even the lawful food so much, at the time of breaking
fast, that it fills up the belly. The usefulness of Fasting is lost, when
you eat all that you could not eat during the day. To the sages, it is a sin
to spend the day preparing different food for breaking fast. The object is
to keep the belly empty, in order to control passion, and increase God-fear
(Taqwa). The belly which remains full from morning to evening increases
baser passions, greed and temptation.
Restraint of the Soul :
With respect to restraint of the soul, Imam Ghazzali (may Allah be merciful
with him) says the following:
The soul of one who is fasting, should remain in a constant state of fear
and hope, because he does not know whether his fast will be accepted or not;
whether he will be near Allah or not. This should be the case for every
Once, the great Hasan of Basra (may Allah be merciful with him) was passing
by a party of men who were playing and sporting. He said to them, “Allah has
made the month of Ramadan in which people should be running and competing
each other for good deeds.”
The object of Fasting is to anoint one with one of the divine attributes.
That attribute is Samadiyyat, which means, not only to be bereft of hunger
and thirst, but also to free oneself from all passions, like the Angels.
The rank of man is superior to animals, in that he can control his passions
using intellect. But he remains lower than the Angels as long as he has not
won the trials of his passions.
The Holy Messenger Muhammad (S:) has said, “Fasting is a trust. Let everyone
of you keep that trust. To explain the point, he read the verse from the
Holy Qur’an, ‘Allah commands you to give the trust to its rightful owners’
(4:58).” While reading the verse he (S:) placed his hands on his ears and
eyes and said, “Ear is a trust and eye is a trust.” Had it not been a trust,
he would not have said to the person who wanted to pick a quarrel, ‘I am
fasting’, in other words, ‘I have kept my tongue as a trust, I have to save
it from replying you.’
So it appears that for every affair there is an open matter and there is a
secret matter. There are things that we observe physically, and there are
things that we observe in our mind and soul. The totality of all that is the
spiritual context in which Fasting should be observed.
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