The Purpose of Fasting in Islam
By: Allamah Sayyid Sa'eed Akhtar Rizvi
“O ye who believe” Fasting is prescribed to you…..that ye may (learn) self-restraint………….” (Qur’an; chapter-2:verse 183)
The command for fasting in Ramadhan came in the first year of the Hijra. The Holy Prophet delivered a lecture on the last Friday of the preceding month, Sha’ban, in which he said:- “O people! You are now under the shadow of the month which has a night (Night of Qadr) which is better than thousand months. It is the month of Ramadhan in which fasting has been made compulsory by God. It is the month of patience; and the reward of patience is paradise. It is the month of mutual sympathy.
“Whoever feeds a fasting brother at the time of breaking the fast God will be as much pleased with him as though he would have emancipated a slave, and it means that his sins of past would be forgiven”.
Somebody pleaded that not everybody was affluent enough to feed others. The Holy Prophet said: “Allah is generous enough to be pleased with you even if you break the fast of Muslim brother with a morsel of date or a cup of water if it is the only thing which you can offer”. God does not see the wealth offered but it is the feeling of the heart only which counts. Then the Holy Prophet proceeded to say: “Anybody who makes the burden of his servants lighter in this month Allah will make his sins lighter for him on the Day of Judgment”.
The word ‘Ramadhan’ is derived from the root ‘R-M-Dh’, which indicate ‘Heat’ and ‘Restlessness’. It is said that the name of the month indicates the hardships which accompany a fast like thirst and a comparative restlessness.
But the best explanation was given by the Holy Prophet himself, who was the final authority on every thing. He said: “Ramadhan burns the sins and faults as fire burns the wood”.
Imam Muhammad al-Baquir told one of his companions: “O Jabir! Whoever, during Ramadhan, fasts in days, stands for prayers in parts of nights, controls his sexual desires and emotions, puts rein on his tongue, keeps his eyes down, and does not injure the feelings of others, will become as free from sin as he was the day he was born”. Jabir said: “How tough are these conditions!”
Have you courage enough to try to fulfill these ‘tough’ conditions in this Ramadhan and be freed from the chain of past sins?
Fruit of Fasting
“The month of Ramadhan is the month of God, (bringing) His blessing, mercy and forgiveness”. (Holy Prophet).
The month of Ramadhan gives us a chance to start life afresh. Muslims should make resolutions during this month, to act upon during the year. This is the month when emotions remain under the control of reason. Thoughts, in this month are not wild, feelings not hard. Forgiveness, generosity and love of God through the love of His creatures are infused in our soul. Naturally, it is the best time to decide how are we going to live in the coming year. We should know what do we want to achieve and how.
Why not start making your program just now? And when you have completed the list of your ambitions, here is a simple test to see how much have you benefited from fasts of Ramadhan.
Do your resolutions include such items as helping the needy (not by just handing out a few shillings, but by helping him to stand on his own Legs)? Have you thought of showing more respect to the elders, loving more tenderly those who are younger? Is there anything concerning your neighbors and friends? Have you any inclination to forgive your enemies? Have you resolved to live more honestly and more sincerely? And above all, is there any room for God and His Prophet in your thoughts and programs?
If the answer is ‘Yes’, accept my congratulations; you are a real Muslim; you know the meaning of the fast of Ramadhan.
If on the other hand, the answer is in negative, there is some need of improvement in your faith. And if you really want your faith to be more perfect time is never lost. Though the month of Ramadhan is coming to its end very soon, you may still take its advantage. There is no need to feel sorry for yourself. If you really want the love of God it is yours for asking. It is the easiest goal to reach and the most difficult. It all depends, not so much on the path, as on the traveler. If your heart is pure, it is the easiest thing in the world, if you want to put the love of God in a corrupted heart, it is just impossible.
As is clear from the tradition of the Holy Prophet quoted above, this month is the month of blessing, month of mercy and month of forgiveness. If anybody wants these benefits, he should strive for it, with more zeal and more sincerity in the remaining few days of this holy month. If we spend our time in remembering God, praying for His love, repenting for our sins, we can be sure that God will bless us with His love and His mercy.
Spirit of Fast
“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you…. That ye may (learn) self-restraint ……..(Qur’an, 2:183).
Fast like living things, has a body and a soul. The required abstinence from food, water, sexual relations etc. Is the body of the fast: “piety” is its soul. If we are not striving to refine our character by fast, our will be a body without soul. Fast cleans our body from impurities. Likewise, it must purify our hearts and minds from all impure thoughts improper desires and undisciplined sensations.
The Holy Prophet saw a woman, who was fasting on that day (not in Ramadhan), abusing her girl-servant. The Prophet admonished her and told her to break her fast. The woman protested: “But I am fasting today”. The Holy Prophet said: “But was not your fast broken by the abuses you were hurling upon that poor girl?”
Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq has said: “Your fast day should not be like other ordinary days. When you fast, all your sense – eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet – must fast with you.” How?
Eyes: Keep your eyes off unlawful things and objects; spend this most precious gift of God in good cause and pious acts and read Qur’an and Do’as.
Ears: Abstain from hearing unlawful gossip, lies, false statements, music and obscene topics. Pay your attention towards sermons and topics of learning etc.
Tongue: Do not tell lies or useless tales; do not spread rumors or, damaging gossips about other persons; keep aloof from falsity. Use the power of speech in spreading the word of God; in creating goodwill in the society.
Hand: Do not inflict injury upon others by your actions; instead strive to help them as far as you can.
Feet: Do not go towards forbidden places, like bars and cinemas. Do not run between people creating a strife. Go towards those places, where God is remembered; and your movements should be to bring people together.
And above all, your heart and mind must be with you in fasting. Because fast in its real sense, will not be complete unless your thoughts, your emotions, your actions – in short, all aspects of our life – become pure, clean and free from blemish.
Purpose of Fasting
“(The month of Ramadhan) is the month of repentance, month of forgiveness, month of reward”. (Holy Prophet)
The month of Ramadhan is called the “month of God” It strengthens the relation between a man and his Creator. Think of a person abstaining from necessities of life, like food and water (to say nothing of other pleasures) 16 hours a day, for one month at a stretch; think again that he does so not because of any external pressure, but by his own free will; and remember that he expects no worldly reward and that his only wish in fasting is to be nearer to Allah – and then you may appreciate how strong is the relation between a Muslim and his Lord.
By fasting, a Muslim subjugates his worldly desires and strengthens his spiritual powers. He learns a lesson most relevant to his spiritual well-being; he comes to realize that nothing (not even his body and soul) is his own. After this realization, he can appreciate the freedom given to him by God in almost all walks of life during the past eleven months.
He will know that he can never claim of that freedom of action as a matter of right. It is just a grace of God for which he should ever remain thankful to Him.
That appreciation will lead to gratitude, and that gratitude will show itself in his behavior and deeds all his life, making him a trustworthy friend and a lovable companion.
As the month of Ramadhan prepares a Muslim to become a perfect man, it is called “the shield against the Hell”. Also, the Holy Prophet said: “God says that fast is for me only and I Myself will give its reward”.
”O ye who believe, turn to Allah with sincere repentance, in the hope that your Lord will remove from you your sins and admit you to the Heavens ……….” (Qur’an, 66 : 8).
This Holy month of Ramadhan is generally referred to as the month of Tauba’ (repentance). Repentance is the best way to the Grace of Allah for a person who has sinned. Allah is His infinite grace, forgives sins if the sinner repents sincerely. The operative word is ‘sincerely’.
To describe ‘sincere repentance’. Imam Ja’far as-Sadiq (A.S.) said: “Repenting and never committing that sin again”.
According to the ‘Islamic belief, repentance uttered by tongue, without a change of heart, is no repentance at all Repentance must produce change in habit, honesty in dealings, fear and Love of Allah in prayers, improvement in character, generosity in behavior and humility in nature.
Amir-ul-Mumeneen Ali (A.S.) described the characteristics of repentance in the following word: “Repentance has six elements: A repentant must be really sorry for what he had done: he must have firm determination not to do it again; he must make amends for whatever wrongs he did to others; he must fulfill all the obligations of religion which he had neglected previously; he should fast long enough to melt away the flesh grown from unclean and unlawful food; and he should feel the taste of obedience to God, as he was previously enjoying the taste of sin”.
When a man repents sincerely Allah makes him as clean as he was on the day he was born. The Holy Prophet (S.A.) has said: “One who repents from sin is like the one who never committed any sin”.