One of the pillars of Islam is fasting in the month of Ramadan. Muslims and many others are aware that fasting involves abstaining from food, drink, and sexual intimacy from dawn to sunset during the lunar month of Ramadan. But like all other forms of worship in Islam, fasting has deeper aspects to it.
One of the great and luminaries of Islam was the scholar Abu Hamid al Ghazali, who lived in the fifth century Hijri (11 century Common Era). In his extensive writings, he elucidated the inner aspects or “secrets” of the outward forms of worship in Islam. In the following, I will refer to his explanations of fasting.
It is important to note, that among the forms of worship in Islam, fasting occupies a unique position.
In an authentic hadith, or tradition, related from the prophet Muhammad (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) , it is said:
Abu Huraira reported Allah’s Messenger (ﷺ) as saying:
“Allah the Exalted and Majestic said: Every act of the son of Adam is for him, except fasting. It is (exclusively) meant for Me and I (alone) will reward it. Fasting is a shield. When any one of you is fasting on a day, he should neither indulge in obscene language, nor raise the voice; or if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him he should say: I am a person fasting. By Him, in Whose Hand is the life of Muhammad, the breath of the observer of fast is sweeter to Allah on the Day of judgment than the fragrance of musk. The one who fasts has two (occasions) of joy, one when he breaks the fast he is glad with the breaking of (the fast) and one when he meets his Lord he is glad with his fast.”
In the first part of this Hadith, the prophet (Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) states that Allah (The Most Glorious and High) has identified fasting as a special act that is meant only for him and that he will reward in a special way.
Imam Ghazali comments on his Hadith in his famous book, Ihya Ulum Al-Din (The Revival of the Sciences of Religion). He points out that fasting is special among the forms of worship in two specific ways.
The first way is that fasting is a hidden form of worship. To the casual observer, there is no way of knowing for sure that a person is fasting unless they tell you directly. Secondly, fasting is a means of warding off Shaytan (the devil) because it involves controlling ones natural desires (hunger, thirst, and sexual appetite).
Imam Ghazali further went on to describe the different levels of fasting that can be practiced by people. First, there is the fasting prescribed by ordinary, common people. Secondly, there is the fasting practiced by the elect, and then there is the fasting practiced by the elect of the elect, which is the highest level.
The lowest level of fasting is to fulfil the minimum requirements of abstaining from food, drink, and sex. This is the level practiced by most of the common Muslims. The second level involves controlling the faculties and limbs from haram activities. This includes the following:
Fasting of the eyes – preventing them from looking at forbidden or disliked things
Fasting of the tongue—preventing it from speaking what is forbidden including things like lying, slandering, or backbiting.
Fasting of the ears—preventing them from hearing what is forbidden including the same things that are unlawful for the tongue mentioned above.
Keeping the limbs (such as the hands and feet) from committing what is unlawful.
Ensuring that the food one eats when breaking the fast is earned through lawful sources. Also avoiding overeating when breaking ones fast.
When breaking’s one fast, one should have a balance between hope of having it accepted and the fear that it may not be.
This second level is something that Muslims should aspire to as it is achievable for many with the help of Allah (The Most Glorious and High). The highest level of fasting, which is achieved by those closest to Allah, is it to constantly be in a state of being occupied by the awareness and remembrance of Allah (The Most Glorious and High), and not to break from this state for even one moment while fasting.
As we enter the month of Ramadan, let us strive hard to perfect our fasting and make it acceptable to Allah (The Most Glorious and High). In our worship, always look at those who are the best of us and strive to follow them towards achieving the pleasure of our Creator.
– Mohammed Taqiuddin Hussain