Merits of Fasting
by Shaykh 'Umar Sulayman al-Ashqar
Translated by Muhammad Al-Jibaly
Do you know of a deed that elevates and sublimes the soul - a deed that motivates toward gaining virtue and protects against corruption - a deed that strengthens the will power, rectifies the intention, reforms the body, heals weakness and brings the `abd (worshiper) closer to his Lord - a deed by which sins are forgiven, evil doings are reconciled, merit is increased, and the rank (of its performer) is elevated (before Allah) - a deed whose performer will be among the closest and the chosen upon Resurrection? This deed is Siyam (fasting)!
Fasting Implants Piety in the Heart
When we examine what has been mentioned in the Qur'an and the Sunnah about Siyam, we realise clearly all of its aforementioned merits. Look at what Allah (T) said (meaning):
Believers! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may have taqwa (piety). [Al-Baqarah 2:183]
When you reflect on this, you realize that Allah (T) has ordained Siyam in order to develop piety in our hearts and it is only for piety that Allah (T) honours the `ibad (worshipers). Allah (T) does not regard the physical beauty of the `ibad, but He rather looks into their hearts (where piety resides) and into their deeds that they have performed on the basis of piety. Allah (T) distinguishes between people according to their piety:
The most honoured by Allah amongst you are those with the highest piety. [Al-Hujurat 49:13]
Thus the goal of fasting is to acquire taqwa. This is also the goal of all other acts of obedience and worship, as is stated by Allah (in the meaning):
Mankind! Worship your Lord Who created you and those before you, that you may have taqwa. [Al-Baqarah 2:21]
Taqwa is all what concerns Allah (T) of our deeds:
The sacrifices' flesh and blood reach not Allah, but the taqwa is what reaches Him from you. [Al-Hajj 22:37]
The true meaning of taqwa is that the `abd knows his Lord by His Names and Attributes, knows His Greatness, His Omnipotence and His Power and this leads him to fear Him, and to beware of disobeying Him. Also, the `abd realises Allah's Mercy, Forgiveness, countless bounties, and the great rewards that He has in store for the believers, and this makes him hasten to please Him. However, the `abd will only attain taqwa by being persistent in obedience, fulfilling the required acts of worships, and increasing the voluntary ones - always keeping within the boundaries established by Allah (T), and acting in compliance with the Sunnah of the Messenger (S). One of the best definitions of taqwa is that of Talq bin Habib who said:
At-taqwa is to act in obedience to Allah, on a light (guidance) from Allah seeking Allah's reward, and to refrain from disobeying Allah, on a light from Allah, fearing His punishment.
As for the means of attaining taqwa , it is through Ihsan (perfection of deeds), which means:
... To worship Allah as if you see Him, for even though you do not see Him, He truly sees you. [Muslim]
The Qur'an stated that those who have piety are the successful. Allah (T) proclaims (what means):
These (who possess the qualities of taqwa) are on (true) guidance from their Lord, and it is these who will be successful. [Al-Baqarah 2:5]
Siyam demonstrates compliance with the orders of Allah (T), promptness to please Him, and renunciation of the desires and the needs of the individual. It is done without any supervision except that of Allah (T). This act implants taqwa in the heart. Once the heart is rectified, the deeds will be righteous. With this goodness of the heart and deeds, the Ummah (Nation) appointed by Allah (T) to lead humanity will then be righteous and will provide guidance to the path of integrity and righteousness.
The Reward of Fasting
Since fasting is kept secret between the `abd and his Lord, his sincerity in this deed is known only to his Creator. Therefore the reward is not based on the general recompensation rule mentioned by the Messenger (S):
The good deed is multiplied tenfold. [Al-Bukhari]
Only Allah (T) is capable of appraising the reward for the fasting person. The Messenger (S) said, quoting his Lord, in a Qudsi (holy) hadeeth:
All the doing of the son of Adam is for himself except for fasting: it is for Me and I reward it accordingly. [Al-Bukhari]
This is because fasting is a form of perseverance, and those who persevere will be rewarded with no limits, as the Qur'an tells [az-Zumar 39:10]. That is why the Salaf (Early Righteous Muslims) used to name the Month of Fasting as the Month of Patience.
Fasting Protects from Sinning
Siyam is a shield and a protection. It protects the `abd from committing sins or disobeying Allah (T) it prevents him from uttering obnoxious words and from doing evil deeds. This way the `abd protects himself from the Fire. The Messenger (S) said:
Fasting is a protection when one of you is fasting, he should avoid disgraceful speech and indecent behaviour, and he should avoid quarreling. [Al-Bukhari]
Thus Siyam is a strong fortress sheltering the person from the deception of Satan, and protecting him from slipping into dirt and sins. Furthermore, if someone behaves toward the fasting person in an evil manner, the Messenger (S) directs him to the excellent behaviour of not to respond similarly he says:
If someone should fight or quarrel with him, he should say: I am a fasting person - twice - [Al-Bukhari]
This reveals the misunderstanding of many Muslims who ignorantly think that fasting is a good excuse for bad behaviour and short temper. This is indeed a drastic mistake resulting from ignorance about the Din (Religion) of Allah (T).
An Important Wisdom
During the rest of the year, the body gets accustomed to a certain frequency and norm of meals. A person drinks water whenever he feels the need, and copulates with his wife at all times permissible by Allah (T). These habits, in the long run, make him a slave of his desires and passions they cause him to forget the ultimate objective of his creation: to worship Allah (T) only. Allah (T) provides for him the food, drink, and intimacy to help him accomplish this objective. However, when these things preoccupy him and become his obsession, he becomes their captive and humiliated slave. He becomes truly pictured by the hadeeth:
Miserable is indeed the slave of the dinar (a gold coins), and miserable is the slave of the dirham (a silver coin, about one tenth of a dinar) ... miserable and vanquished is he! Let there be no one to help him in as much as pulling a thorn that he would step on. [Al-Bukhari]
The great scholar al-Manawi, in his book Faydh ul-Qadeer, beautifully explained this wisdom as follows:
Fasting was only legislated to shatter the desires of individuals and to eliminate the causes of captivity, slavery, and worship of created things. If they ceaselessly pursue their physical needs, they soon become enslaved to them and this would detach them from Allah (T). Fasting would eliminate the motive to be enslaved to anyone else. It frees the person from the slavery of his desires, because true freedom is to possess material things without letting them possess him. Allah (T) appointed the human being as the honored khalifah (agent) in His Kingdom. If he lets his desires enslave him, he would be opposing All h's wisdom, making his desires superior to him, and making himself inferior to them:
Am I to seek for you a god other than Allah, although He has favoured you above all other creatures? [Al- A`raf 7:140]
Many people worship their desires and fasting frees them from this imprudent slavery and devotion to other than Allah.
Thus in this month, a person breaks his habits and rejects many of his desires this may be hard, but it is of definite benefit and value. Allah (T) says (what means):
You may hate a thing that is better for you.[Al-Baqarah 2:216]
That you fast is better for you if you did know. [Al-Baqarah 2:184]
Siyam, therefore, fortifies the will power. Furthermore, physicians prescribe it in many cases because it helps remedy some severe illnesses.
Special Merits for Fasting People
The Smell of their Breath: One of the wonders and virtues of fasting is that, contrary to people, Allah (T) loves the smell of the breath of fasting people:
By Him in whose Hand is my soul, the smell of the breath of a fasting person is better to Allah than the smell of musk. [Al-Bukhari]
Ar-Rayyan: Allah (T) honours the fasting people by reserving a special gate for their entrance to the Jannah. The Messenger (S) said:
In the Jannah is a gate called Ar-Rayyan (Thirst Quencher) through which only the fasting people will enter. Once they all get in, it will be shut forever. [Al-Bukhari]
They suffered from thirst in this life, and they will be rewarded by permanent thirst-quenching in the Hereafter. Opening the Gates of Good: Ramadhan is the best of all months, and good deeds are better in it (they earn more rewards). When this month arrives:
The gates of the Jannah (the Garden of Paradise) are opened wide, the gates of Hell are shut and the devils are chained down. [Al-Bukhari]
Chaining the devils reduces the influence of evil, and this allows the heart to seek its way to light and guidance with little interference. This explains why many wrong-doers repent and come back to their Lord in this month.
The Month of Forgiveness: Glad tidings for one of the best rewards for fasting were given by the Messenger (S) in the hadeeth recorded by Al-Bukhari:
He who fasts Ramadhan out of Iman (Belief in Allah and His promises) and ihtisab (Expectancy of Allah's reward), all his past sins will be forgiven.
Conditions for Forgiveness
We should notice though that the Prophet (S) has set two conditions (Belief and Expectancy) without which one would not deserve this reward of forgiveness. Belief and Expectancy are what distinguishes between habits and acts of worship. Without these two conditions, fasting would be a mere custom and an imitation that would hardly push one to do good or prevent him from committing evil. Fasting will not benefit the one whose fasting is based neither on Belief nor on Expectancy, but on show-off and customs, and Allah (T) does not need it:
Whoever does not give up lying and practising falsehood, Allah is in no need of his giving up food and drink. [Al-Bukhari and others]
One the other hand, the one who fasts because he believes that his Lord (T) has ordained fasting, and who hastens to obey Him expecting His reward, will certainly be granted the forgiveness, and his sins will be atoned. The Messenger (S) said:
The five daily prayers, the Jumu`ah prayer to the following Jumu`ah, and Ramadhan to the following Ramadhan will all atone the sins committed in between as long as one avoids the major sins (kaba'ir). [Muslim]
So let those who fast with true Belief and Expectancy have the good tidings of a pleasant ending, and a happy meeting with Allah (T) on the Day of Judgement:
A fasting person is happy twice: when he breaks his fast he is happy for completing his fast (successfully), and when he meets with his Lord he will be happy with his fast (because of its great rewards). [Bukhari and Muslim]