Nabi Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam said:"Fasting is a shield from the fire of Jahannam."(Tirmidhi)
O you who believe! Fasting has been prescribed for you, just as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may develop piety. (Surah Al-Baqarah, verse 183)
What does Saum mean?
Saum is the Arabic word for fasting. The plural of Saum is Siyaam. Literally, Saum means to abstain. The technical meaning of Saum is to abstain from eating, drinking and sexual intercourse, with the intention of fasting, from Fajr to sunset.
Fasting is a critical pillar of our beautiful religion
The command of fasting has been mentioned with great emphasis in the above verse as it is a crucial pillar of Islam. Allah has made it compulsory upon every Muslim male and female to fast. If it was not made compulsory those who are slaves of food, drink and pleasure would have found a means of escape from it.
Allah mentions in the verse that past nations also fasted. This is to encourage and motivate the Muslims. Even though fasting is a sacrifice upon ones desires but when many people are involved in a difficult task the burden seems easier.
Why do we need to fast?
Fasting is a great method of achieving piety (taqwa) because fasting helps to control the desires and this is the basis of taqwa. When one develops the habit of controlling the lawful desires of eating, drinking and sexual intercourse with one's spouse than it will be easy to stay away from the Haraam desires. Control of the desires now weakens the inclination towards sin.
By fasting we move closer to the angelic nature within us as angels have no need for food and drink.
Fasting teaches patience
A few verses before the verse of fasting Allah mentions Sabr (patience). See Surah Baqarah, verse 153. Fasting helps to build patience as one has to exercise self control in the heat of the day. One has to suppress one's thirst and hunger in order to develop the higher self. Fasting removes the animal instinct of impulsiveness and haste from within. Fasting also teaches one to be content and satisfied with little.
Allah loves a fasting person
In a Hadith the Prophet Sallallahu Alaihi Wasallam mentioned : "Allah says that all of man's actions are for himself but fasting is for me and I will grant the reward for it."
Fasting has been singled out in this Hadith as a special form of worship because :
1. It controls the desires in a manner different from all the other types of worship.
2. Fasting is a secret worship which only Allah knows. Salaah, Haj, recitation of Qura'an, etc all have a physical dimension and pride can easily creep in. Fasting, however, is a state of abstention. Pride cannot easily come in as others do not know whether a person is fasting or not.
How good is your fast?
Imam Ghazali Rahimahullah, the great scholar and mystic, has mentioned three stages of fasting:
1. Fasting of the general masses - Abstaining from food, drink and sexual intercourse only. This is the weakest form of fasting.
2. Fasting of the pious - In addition to abstention from food and drink a person guards the eyes, ears, tongue, hands, feet and all the parts of the body from sin.
3. Fasting of the prophets and the close servants of Allah - In addition to guarding the limbs of the body from sin there is fasting of the heart and mind so that the thoughts are restricted to Allah. Evil intentions and worldly thoughts are prevented from entering the heart.
To attain perfection of the second level of fasting Imam Ghazali has given five advices :
a. Lowering and protecting the gaze from evil and sinful sights.
b. Protecting the tongue from vain talk, obscene language, lying, back-biting, carrying tales, etc. Keep the tongue busy in remembering Allah and reciting the Qura'an.
c. Protecting the ears from listening to evil. Words which are Haraam to speak are also Haraam to listen to.
d. Protecting the remainder of the limbs of the body from evil.
e. Eating less than one's normal meals. How can the fast be beneficial when the Iftaar has such a variety of foods which are not even eaten at other times of the year? Does fasting not teach once to abstain from eating to one's fill?
Points to ponder
a. Do not overeat in Ramadaan even if it is Halaal food. A small dose of medicine will cure. A higher dose will cause harm.
b. To engage in sin while fasting is like a person who refrains from fruit according to doctors instructions but consumes poison.
May Allah make your Ramadaan a spiritually uplifting experience and may He grant you the true enjoyment of Ibaadah, Aameen