Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) has said in the Qur’an (2:183)
Ya ayyu-ha’lladhina amanu kutiba alai-kum siyamu ka-ma kutiba ala ‘lladhina min qabli – kum la’ alla-kum tattaqun
‘O you who truly believe!
fasting is prescribed for you,
even as it was prescribed
for those before you, in order that
you may practice true devotion.’
Al-Hasan al-Basri (Reh) said:
“Whenever you hear Allah (SWT) saying: “O you who truly believe!” You
must listen carefully and pay the closest attention, for those words are intended to alert you, either to a commandment you must obey, or a prohibition you must not infringe.”
The prescribed institution of fasting is a unique moral and spiritual characteristic of Islam. The fast in the month of Ramadan which requires Muslims to refrain from food, drink and sexual relations from first light until sundown, is firstly an act of worship which brings reward from Allah (SWT)
The Prophet (SAW) has said that Allah (SWT) says: “Fasting is Mine, and I determine its reward. He (the believer) abstains from his carnal appetite, his food, and his drink for My sake. Fasting is a protective shield.” And the Prophet (SAW) said that it’s a protective shield by means of which the servant (of the Lord) is shielded from the fire of Hell.
Secondly, fasting is a means of self-purification. The Prophet (SAW) once said; “You must be sure to practice fasting, for your hearts will then be purified.”
He (SAW) said that “Patient endurance is half of faith, and fasting is half of patient endurance.”
Many Prophets, Companions of the Prophets and the Saintly people have spoken about hunger and its meritorious nature. The noble Prophet (SAW) said: “Make war on your souls with hunger and with thirst, for the reward which this brings is as that of participation of jihad. There is no action more beloved in the sight of God than that to hunger and thirst.”
He (SAW) was once asked, “O Emissary of God! Who is the best of men? And he (SAW) replied; He who eats and laughs but little – and is content with such clothes as suffice to cover his parts.”
Al-Hasan said that the Prophet (SAW) said: “Meditation is half of worship, while eating meagrely is all of it.”
He (SAW) also said; “The most exalted amongst you in God’s sight on the Day of Judgement shall be those who hungered and mediated the longest for His sake (Glorious is He!). While the most loathsome amongst you in His sight on that day will be those who slept, ate and drank abundantly.”
The meritorious nature of hunger is mentioned in the long tradition told by Usama ibn Zayd and Abu Hurayra (RO), in which the Prophet (SAW) said: “The nearest of all men to God (Great and Glorious is He!) on the Day of Arising, shall be those who were often hungry, thirsty and sad in this world and who were affectionate and God fearing; who when seen went unrecognised, and who when absent were never missed by men, but yet were known to the provinces of the earth and were compassed by the angels of heaven.”
Al-Hasan relates that A’isha (RA) said: “I once heard the Emissary of God (SAW) say; ‘Knock persistently on heaven’s door, and it shall be opened unto you.’ “How should we do that?” I asked, and he replied, “With hunger and thirst.” The Prophet (SAW) own eating habits were such that he would never eat his full for three days in a row.
A Friend of God, Sahl al-Tustari (reh) once said that “God draws nearer to His believer through his hunger, illness and tribulation, save those whom He will.”
A sage was once asked, “By what rope may I tie my soul?” And he replied, “You should tie it with the rope of hunger and thirst and bring it low by extinguishing your pride.”
According to Sohail Tustari (reh) “When God created the world, He set sin and ignorance in satiety (glut) and knowledge and wisdom in hunger.”
Another famous Saint Bishr al-Hafi (reh) said; “Hunger purifies the heart, kills caprice and yields subtle knowledge.”
Abd al-Wahid ibn Zayd used to swear by God that; “God has never purified anyone save through hunger.”
Regarding the wisdom of fasting, Imam Al-Ghazali (reh) writes; “as the physical form diminishes, and the reliance on the world becomes more tenuous, then the nafs is subdued, the unseen world becomes nearer of access, and the need to spend time in earning a living is reduced and prayer itself becomes easier.”
Imam al-Ghazali (reh) spoke of 10 specific benefits of hunger. Among them are that hunger purifies the heart and sharpens one’s insight. Abu Sulayman al-Darani, said; “make yourselves hungry for this abases the soul, softens the heart and yields heavenly knowledge.” The Prophet (SAW) said that “The light of wisdom comes from hunger, while remoteness from God (SWT) comes from satiety, and proximity to Him comes from loving the poor and being close to them.”
Another recognised benefit of fasting that he speaks of is that it results in the softness and purity of the heart, by which it is then ready to obtain the delight of intimate discourse with Allah, and be affected by His remembrance. If we think of the many acts of remembrance we do which are done with the tongue and with an attentive heart, while the heart still nonetheless fails to find any delight in it and is not affected. When however, it is softened (due to certain circumstances) you will see that it’s affected most powerfully by the remembrance of Allah, and will take great delights in communing with Him. That is why Abu Sulyman al-Darani said: “Worship is sweetest for me when my belly cleaves to my back.”
Imam al-Ghazali (reh) also stated that “hunger reminds one of those who are hungry and needy and will therefore lead to compassion, feeding the hungry, and charity towards Allah’s creatures; in contrast to this a man who is sated will be heedless of those who are hungry. So when Prophet Joseph (as) was asked, “Why do you hunger when you hold in your hands so many storehouses of the land?” he replied, “I fear that I may eat my fill and forget the hungry.”
However one of the greatest benefits in hunger that Imam al-Ghazali (reh) speaks of is that it breaks the desire for sin, and in achieving mastery over the soul which commands evil. For “all sins originate in one’s desires and strengths, the stuff of which is food in every case: when you eat less, the desires and strengths will be weakened. Just as you cannot master a stubborn riding beast, without weakening it through hunger, for when it eats it’s full it becomes strong and obstinate and defiant, so it’s the same with the soul.
Hadhrat A’isha (RA) said that “the first innovation (bid’a) to appear after the Messenger of Allah (SAW) was that people would eat their full, and when the people’s bellies were sated, their souls bolted with them into the things of the world.” So we see that hunger and fasting does not constitute just one benefit; rather it’s the storehouse of all benefits. It was for this reason that it is said ‘hunger is one of God’s storehouses.”
It is said that hunger deflects sexual desire; and the desire for unnecessary speech, for in the case of a hungry person, the desire for unnecessary talk is not aroused, and thus enables him to save himself from the faults of the tongue such as slander, obscenity, lying and backbiting and so forth. When by contrast he is sated, he will need to be entertained and will necessarily arouse himself by deprecating other people, and as the Prophet (SAW)’s said; “People are cast down on their noses into Hell only by the harvests reaped by their tongues.”
Hunger also repels sleep which in turn leads to longer prayer and eventually closeness to Allah (SWT). A famous saying by a Shaykh whenever food was served to him was; “Assembled aspirants! Do not eat much, lest you drink much, which will cause you to sleep much and therefore to lose much.”
Many, in fact seventy saints have said that sleeping abundantly is a waste of a lifetime. The reasons for this are that it results in missing Tahajjud prayer which has great merit attached to it. Sleeping abundantly also results in a dull disposition and a hardness of the heart and consequently one is prevented from tasting the sweetness of worship. Therefore as someone put it, “fasting is a Godly prescription for self-reassurance and self-control, for maintenance of human dignity and freedom for victory and peace.”
The venerable Abd al-Qadir Jilani (reh) states that “if we fast in a proper manner, the result should be that we are in control of ourselves, that we are able to exercise full command over our passions, disciplines and desires and resist all evil temptations. By this course we are in a position to reassure ourselves, to restore our dignity and integrity and to attain freedom from the captivity of evil. Then once we obtain all this, we should have established inner peace, which is the source of permanent peace with Allah and consequently the entire universe. Allah has made the fast therein an obligatory religious duty, and the observance of night prayer therein a voluntary practice. If someone seeks to draw near [to the Lord] therein by setting just one example of good conduct, or performs just one religious obligation that person will be exactly the same as someone who discharges seventy religious obligations during all other months of the year”.
The venerable Abd al-Qadir Jilani (reh) also stated that the month of Ramadan is the “month of patient endurance [sabr] and the reward for patient endurance is the garden of paradise. It’s the month of charitable sharing [musawa], and it’s the month which sustenance for the true believer is increased. So, if someone provides a meal for a person who is keeping the fast, this will result in forgiveness for his sins, and his emancipation from the Fire of Hell. It’s a month, the beginning of which is a mercy, the middle of which is forgiveness, and the last part of which is a deliverance from the fire of Hell”.
Abu Sa’id al-Khudri (reh) stated that Allah’s Messenger (SAW) once said;
“The Garden of Paradise and the gates of heaven will surely be flung open on the first night of the month of Ramadan, and they will not be closed again until the very last night thereof. Each time, without fail, that a male or female servant [of the Lord] performs the ritual prayer during any night of this month, Allah will credit him or her with seventeen hundred good deeds for every act of prostration [sajda]. For that servant, he will build in the Garden of Paradise a house, made from a single red ruby that has 70 doors. Each of these doors will have two leaves of gold, beautifully adorned with handles fashioned from red ruby. If someone keeps the fast on the first day of the month of Ramadan. Allah will forgive him every sin until the last day of Ramadan and his fasting will be expiation until that same point in time. For every day on which he keeps the fast, he will be granted a palatial mansion in the Garden of Paradise, equipped with a thousand doors made of Gold. From early in the morning, seventy thousand angels will beg forgiveness on his behalf, although they will stay out of sight. For every act of prostration he performs, by night or by day, he will be granted a tree in the shade of which a rider can travel for one hundred years without ever passing beyond it.”
Sheikh Abu Nasr ]Muhammad ibn al-Banna] has informed on good traditional authority that it was Abu Huraira (RO) who first reported this next saying of the Prophet (SAW); that; “When the first night of Ramadan has arrived, Allah surveys His entire creation. If He takes notice of a particular servant of His, it means that He will never cause him to suffer torment. As soon as Ramadan comes around, the gates of the Garden of Paradise are flung open, the gates of the fire of Hell are shut and locked, and the devils [shaytan] are shackled and tied up tight.”
According to another traditional report, this one transmitted on the authority of Nafi ibn Burda, Abu Mas’sud al –Ghifari (May Allah be pleased with him) once heard the following words uttered by the Prophet (SAW);
“No servant [of the Lord], who keeps the fast for at least one day of Ramadan, can possibly fail to be married to a wife from among the brides of Paradise, those maidens with such lovely eyes [al-hur al-ain] The wedding will take place inside a pavilion made from a single hollowed pearl. This fits the description given by Allah (SWT). ‘Fair maids, close-guarded in Pavilions (55:72)’.
Every Woman amongst them will be dressed in 70 fine articles of clothing, no item being the same as the other. She will be given 70 kinds of perfumes, none with the same fragrance as any other. She will be given seventy throne like raised couches, made from a red ruby studded with pearls. Upon each of these couches there will be seventy cushions and on every cushion there will be a canopy. Every woman will have seventy thousand pageboys to attend to her needs, as well as 70,000 maidservants to attend to the needs of her husband. Each of these maidservants will carry a dish made of gold, containing some kind of cooked food the last morsel of which will be found to have a delicious flavour that went unnoticed in the first bite. Her husband will be given special treats like this as he reclines upon a couch made from red ruby. Such will be his reward for everyday on which he has kept the fast of Ramadan, quite apart from what he may have earned by performing charitable deeds!”
There are several traditional reports; including descriptions of how the month of Ramadan will be experienced by the inhabitants of the Garden of Paradise. Among them is a hadith related by Ibn Abbas (RO) who once heard these words being uttered by the Prophet (SAW);
“The Garden of Paradise will surely be refurnished and redecorated from year to year with the advent of the month of Ramadan. The brides of Paradise will ask the doorkeeper [custodian] of the Garden of Paradise, ‘What night is this?’ Whereupon he will reply that this is the first night of the month of Ramadan, the night when the gates of Paradise are opened for the sake of those members of the Community [Ummah] of Muhammad (SAW) who are keeping the fast.” In confirmation of these words, Allah [Exalted is He] will promptly say: “O Ridwan, open the gates of all the Gardens of Paradise! O Malik! Shut the doors of the blazing fire of Hell, to keep out those members of the Umma of Muhammad (SAW) who are keeping the fast. O Gabriel, go down to the earth below, shackle the defiant and rebellious devils and tie them up securely with chains. Then cast them into the deepest depths of the oceans, so that they cannot meddle with the Community of My beloved friend [Habibi], Muhammad (SAW) and spoil their experience of fasting.”
According to this same report, the Prophet (SAW) then went on to say:
“On each and every night of the month of Ramadan, Allah (Almighty and Glorious is He) will say three times:”
“Does anyone have a request to make, so that I may grant it?”
“Is there anyone who wishes to repent, so that I may relent toward him and accept his repentance?”
“Is there anyone wishing to seek forgiveness, so that I may forgive him?”
The Prophet (SAW) continued further that ; “On each and every day of the month of Ramadan, by the time when the fast is duly broken [iftar], Allah (Almighty and Glorious) will have taken out a million of His servants from the fire of Hell, even though all of them had incurred the penalty of damnation. Moreover when the day of Congregation (Jum’a) comes around, it will be during every single hour that Allah (SWT), delivers a million of His servants from the Fire, even though they deserved the penalty of damnation. (hellfire). As for what will happen on the last day of the month of Ramadan, on the day Allah will deliver a number equal to the total of all those He has delivered between the first month and the last.
As soon as the Night of Power [Lailat al-Qadr] has arrived, Allah (Exalted is he) will give the order to Gabriel (PBUH), who will promptly descend to the earth below, travelling in a multitude angels and bearing a green banner, which he will set up on top of the Ka’ba. Gabriel (PBUH) has no fewer than six hundred wings, which he only unfolds on the Night of Power [Lailat al-Qadr]. He will therefore spread them on that night, and by so doing, he will span the entire distance between the East and the West. Gabriel (PBUH) will command the angels to infiltrate into this Community [Ummah], so they will insert themselves unobtrusively among its members. They will then give the greeting of peace to every believer who is found to be observing the night vigil, performing the ritual prayer, and practicing the remembrance of Allah. They will exchange greetings with them, and say “amin” to their prayers of supplication, until the break of dawn.
At this point Gabriel (PBUH) will cry out: “O company of angelic friends, now is the moment for us to be homeward BOUND!” But they will ask: “O Gabriel, what has Allah done to meet the needs of the believers belonging to the Community of Muhammad (May Allah bless him and give him peace)?” So he will respond to this by saying: “Allah (Exalted is He) has scrutinised them carefully, and He has pardoned and forgiven them all, with only four exceptions”
Allah’s Messenger was quick to explain: There are four exceptions: Anyone who is addicted to intoxicating liquor; anyone who is disobedient toward his parents; anyone who is guilty of disrupting a bond of kinship; and anyone who is spitefully reluctant to abandon a grudge, and stubbornly unwilling to accept the restoration of good relations with anyone who has offended him”
The venerable Abd al Qadir al Jilani (reh) said that the “month of Ramadan is the month of serenity and purity, the month of fulfilment and faithfulness, and it is the month of those who practice the remembrance of Allah. The month of those who endure with patience, and the month of those who are honest and truthful. So if it doesn’t have the effect of improving our heart, if it doesn’t induce us to desist from rebellious acts against Allah, and doesn’t make us avoid bad company, then what else can exert a positive influence on our hearts? What goodness can be hoped in a case like ours? What redeeming quality can survive in someone like us? What successful outcome can be expected from individuals like us? You had better pay attention and try to learn from what has happened to you. Come to your senses, wake up from your slumber, shake off your heedless indifference, and take a good hard look at what has befallen you. However little time you still have left, you must seize every opportunity for repentance. Take full advantage of the time that is still available (in Ramadan) for seeking forgiveness and practicing worshipful obedience. If you follow this advice, you may yet be one of those who receive the blessings of mercy and compassionate grace. Then, when the month of Ramadan comes to its close, you should bit it farewell with the shedding of tears. You should weep over your unfortunate self. For as you must well be aware, many a keeper of the fast will never keep another fast, and many a keeper of the night prayer will never keep the night prayer again.
May Allah include us among those who’s fasting and prayers will be accepted, among those whose evil deeds will have been transformed into good deeds, among those whom Allah will allow by His mercy to enter the Gardens of Paradise, and among those whose degrees He will have exalted.
O Merciful of the Merciful.”
By Sumra Ghafoor