Inner Dimensions of Fasting – The Real Purpose !
Reported on the authority of Sahl bin Sa’ad (R) that the Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Jannah (paradise) has an entrance by the name of AR-RAYYAAN which is exclusively reserved for the fasting individuals. On the Day of Judgment, they will be called to pass through this entrance, after which it will be closed behind them and no one else will be allowed to use it.” It should be known that there are three grades of fasting: Ordinary, Special and Extra-special. Ordinary fasting means abstaining from food, drink and sexual satisfaction. Special fasting means keeping one’s ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet-and all other organs-free from sin. Extra-special fasting means fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but Allah.See not what displeases Allah: A chaste regard, restrained from viewing anything that is blameworthy or reprehensible, or which distracts the heart and diverts it from the remembrance of God. The Prophet, said: “The furtive (secret) glance is one of the poisoned arrows of Satan, on him be God’s curse. Whoever forsakes it for fear of God, will receive from Him, Great and Gracious is He, a faith the sweetness of which he will find within his heart.”
Jabir relates from Anas that God’s Messenger, on him be peace,said: “Five things break a man’s fast: lying, backbiting, scandal mongering,perjury and a lustful gaze.” Speak no evil: Guarding one’s tongue from twaddle, lying,backbiting,scandal mongering, obscenity, rudeness, wrangling and controversy; making it observe silence and occupying it with remembrance of Allah and with recitation of the Qur’an. This is the fasting of the tongue.
Sufyan said:”backbiting vitiates the fast.” Layth quotes Mujahid as saying: “Two habits vitiate fasting: backbiting and telling lies.” 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!’ ” Hear no evil: 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 ” (They like to) listen to falsehood, to devour anything forbidden” (Qur’an 5: 42).
Fasting: The Physical Dimension
Allah (SWT) Almighty has constructed the universe upon a certain balance (al-mizan) and has likewise ordered this balance upon humanity. The great religion of Islam offers perfect guidance for every branch of our lives and among them is our health. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) said that a strong believer is better than a weak one. But Islam does not atop there. It offers a program of action for everything that it prescribes. The primary objectives of Salah, Zakah and Siyam are to bring us closer to Allah (SWT) and inculcate taqwa (piety and self restraint) within us. But the fact is that when Islam is taken as a unitary whole and its entire program implemented, each of its pillars reinforces the other and serves multiple purposes. Our purpose here is to examine the physical dimension of siyam (fasting) not as the primary aim, but as an inevitable byproduct when one enters into Islam whole-heartedly as Allah’s (SWT) commands.
Of all the injunctions of Islam, fasting is the one with the most obvious physical benefits. The Messenger of Allah (pbuh) stated that every act has a charity and the charity of our health is the fast. Those believers who recognize that sadaqah (charity) of their wealth does not diminish it in the least also recognize that fasting, when practiced properly, rather than diminishing our health actually promotes it.
The primary purpose of fasting is the inculcation of discipline and self-restraint, especially in appetite. Gluttony (overeating) and its natural consequence of obesity are a major cause of disease and illness in this country. It is for this reason that the Messenger of Allah (pbuh) has instructed us “to eat for one intestine, as opposed to the non-Believers, who eat for seven intestines.” It is estimated that about 80 million Americans are unnecessarily overweight, and millions are spent each year in futile attempts to lose weight and develop healthier diets. Obesity has been linked with a variety of major illness, including heart disease, hypertension, hypercholesterolemia, gout, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and osteoarthritis. Statistics have shown that obese people generally live shorter. And since obesity is in large part a discipline problem, the Islamic program of fasting as a means of curbing one’s appetite and developing self-restraint is an ideal solution, at least to reduce the scope of the problem if not eliminate it altogether.
But in my view, the greatest physical benefit of siyam is its role in the reduction of stress. A sound mind is the key to good health, and mental stress has been identified as the probable cause, or at the least an aggravating factor, in most illnesses. Numerous scientific studies have established the role of stress in medical illness. One such study found a higher rate of heart disease in people with the stressful ‘type A personality.’ These people are competitive, hostile and easily driven to frustration and anger. Another study found that stressful life events, especially the death of a spouse, are associated with high mortality. The profound effect of fasting in Ramadan in generating inner peace. contentment and tranquillity, the refraining from quarreling and abuse as well as the genuine feelings of brotherhood and good-will in this month are bound to have their physical effects on the body. How many Muslims can vouch that they feel much better and healthier during Ramadan and have more energy and enthusiasm? The long list of strategic Muslim victories achieved in Ramadan bears testimony to the promotion of health and physical energy by fasting.
Finally, fasting serves a detoxifying and purifying function. The old saying goes ‘you are what you eat’, and this is certainly true from a scientific point of view. The ill effects of hormones and preservatives found in modern foods have been documented. It is estimated that the average adult American carries five -to-10 pounds of toxic chemicals in his body. In addition, we have developed an appetite for many harmful substances, including nicotine, caffeine and excessive salts, which lead to hypertension, heart disease, our diets include excessive refined sugars, which lead to dental cavities and exacerbate diabetes. The fasting state mobilizes the body’s fuel and energy stores and increases es the excretion of waste products, this has a purifying effect. The Islamic principles of moderation, self-restraint and avoidance of harm can go a long way in overcoming these pitfalls.
Certainly, some can argue that the effects are nowhere to be seen in those who fast. But it cannot be the fault of the deen of Allah (SWT) if Muslims do not practice this institution properly and ignore its spirit and purpose. Fasting during the day and stuffing ourselves in the night is hardly in keeping with the spirit of siyam and will not lead to its physical or spiritual benefits Rather, we are instructed to eat with moderation, with a purpose, and to eat of the good and pure things which Allah (SWT) has made lawful. And if these wholesome principles are properly practiced, then their physical effects are assured the reward from Allah (SWT).
Fasting establishes supremacy of the soul
The preponderance of animality in man is an obstacle in the path of the manifestation of angelic and celestial attributes. Therefore, it has become necessary to subjugate this attribute of animality in man.
Since the dominance and power of bestial attributes are caused by eating, drinking and excessive indulgence in lowly desires – the latter playing the dominant role in the assertion of bestial attributes – it is essential to curtail and curb the onslaught of the flesh by a reduction in these factors (eating, drinking and indulgence in desire). Precisely for this reason do we find unanimity among all those who desire the supremacy of the soul and the subjugation of the flesh. All such men are unanimous in their assertion that the method of establishing the supremacy of the soul over the body is to reduce indulgence in eating, drinking and lowly desire. A remarkable fact is that this unanimity exists despite the different religions and lands of these men (i.e. those who desire the supremacy of the soul). It is of prime importance that the animal body remains within the power and control of the higher soul so that it (the body) becomes infused with the nobility and transcendence of the higher soul. It is likewise essential that the celestial soul remains aloof of the flesh in a way that will protect it from coming under the sway and control of the animal body. There is no better method of asserting the supremacy of the soul over the body than denial of the material and animal wants and desires of the body. Self-denial compels the animal body into obedience and submission of the celestial soul. Material dictates and animal desires are attributes of the animal self, therefore, by self-denial man aligns himself with the angelic realm. And, this purpose is achieved by means of fasting.
Why Fast ?
It has been related from Hazrat Abu Hurayrah (Radhiallaahu anhu), he says that Rasulullah (Sallallaahu alayhi Wasallam) said: “Whomsoever fasts during the month of Ramadaan out of deep sincere faith, with hope for an abundant reward from Allah, all his past sins will be forgiven, and he who passes his nights in devotions out of deep sincere faith, with hope for an abundant reward from Allah, and also he who keeps awake on the sacred night (Laylatul Qadr) their previous sins will be forgiven.”
IMPORTANCE OF MOTIVE AND NIYYAT
Everybody knows that a voluntary murder is abhorred by all civilisations and that all religions condemn such a murderer to Hell, whereas the innocent victim in question, the martyr merits Jannat. Everybody also knows that the defence of a rightful cause (against an aggressor) is a duty: and the one who kills an aggressor is considered to be a hero who merits all the rewards in this world and the hereafter. Is not the difference between these two killings of merely the intention? Similarly if one abstains from eating and drinking only on the prescription of a doctor, will he not be doing the same act as the one who gives up eating and drinking in compliance with the command, and for the sake of Allah? Allah is our Creator, Lawgiver who is going to revive us after death and to demand accounts of our actions in the present world. Whoever will have obeyed Him, shall obtain His pleasure, even if we have not understood the underlying secrets of His commandments. The fasting enjoined by a religion, by a revealed law must entail Divine pleasure if we accomplish it. And what spiritual and worldly benefit can be greater than the eternal pleasure of our Lord? Material motives should not be allowed to mar the purity of the intention. Let our fast be wholly and solely for the pleasure, and in compliance with the commands of Allah. Hence the celebrated saying of Rasulullah (Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam). “Indeed acts are judged according to their intentions.”
Shah Waliullah Dehlavi, a predominant personality of the 18th century, a great scholar and also a great saint, respected on all hands, In his celebrated work “Hujjatullah ul Baalighah” has made some penetrating remarks on the spiritual aspects of fasting:-
“Since the excess of animality hinders the emergence of angelic aspects, it was necessary that one should try and dominate one’s animality. Since the excess of animality and the accumulation and abundance of its stratas have their origin in food, drink and indulgence in carnal pleasures, a fast accomplishes what abundant food cannot. Therefore the method of dominating the animality is the diminishing of causes (of the excess of animality). That is why there is a uninamity among all those who desire the emergence of the angelic aspect in man as to diminish and reduce these. (eating, drinking etc.) There is no difference among the peoples of the world in spite of the difference of their religions and the distance between their respective countries. Moreover the ultimate goal is that the animality of man should become submissive to mans angelic side, so that the animality acts according to the inspirations and dictates his angelism, take colour from its colour, and his algelism prevents his animality from taking mean and lowly colours and getting abject impressions-like a wax getting the impression of a seal. To attain this, there is no method other than this. The angelic side of man should select something according to its own exigencies and should inspire and suggest this to the animal side of man; and that the animality should submit to this inspiration, not, act obstinately or rebel against it. Angelism should continue again and again to inspire its exigencies to the animality, and the animality should continue to submit to these exigencies, so that it becomes accustomed to them and proficient in them …”
Students learn for several months continuously, then they get a vacation. Employees work for six days a week, the seventh day being a holiday for leisure and rest. Men exert mental and physical energy the whole day, where after the repose of sleep renovates their faculties for the next day. Even machines and tools require relaxation, and we observe this for motor cars, aeroplanes, locomotives, etc. Is it therefore not reasonable to think that the stomach and the digestive organs also require rest? In fact modern medicine has also reached the same conclusion, and a large number of doctors in Europe, America, etc. prescribe, for various chronic diseases, forced hunger and thirst for longer or shorter periods according to the exigencies of the sickness and the physical capacities of the sick person.
They have also found various glands that secrete certain acidities in the stomach on account of hunger and thirst, and that these acidities kill many a germ which produce different diseases. Statistics have also shown that several digestive and other diseases are less abundant among people who have the habit of fasting every year.
We know that man requires a change of climate, air and water from time to time. Doctors send the person recovering from sickness for convalescence to a place other than his habitual living place. The more fortunate pass a time for vacation outside their home. In other words, it is necessary to change the normal habits from time to time. This is also a kind of rest. We see, for instance, that cultivators use their fields alternatively and give “rest” to the ground also. Continuity being harmful, Islam has forbidden the fasting during the whole year, even for those who want spiritual benefits thereby. Experience has also shown that if one fasts for ever, it becomes a habit, a second nature and therefore such a person does not profit by it as does the one who fasts with intervals. In fact, if one fasts for more than forty days consecutively, it becomes a habit; and if one fasts for less than a month, it has not much effect.
Those who fast on medical prescription or even under compulsion – as a discipline or such – do get the material benefits inherent in fasting; but there being no intention of a spiritual search, they do not benefit thereby spiritually. Muslims fast with the intention of complying with the order of Allah. They therefore have a piety and its reward; and at the same time they do not loose the physical and material benefits of the fasting. From whichever point of view one may study the Muslim way of fasting, it compares favourably with its counterparts in other civilisations.