The Meaning of Fasting and the Wisdom Behind it
Definition of fasting:
The lexical meaning of fasting is abstinence. In Islamic law, it means to abstain from certain things (under conditions and pillars of fasting and the absence of the things which nullify fasting) from the break of dawn until sunset.
Wisdom of prescribing fasting:
- Fasting is a means towards devoutness. This is because if a person abstains from certain lawful necessities such as food and drink for the sake of pleasing Allah and out of fear of His wrath and punishment, it then becomes easy upon him to abstain from what is prohibited, thereby attaining piety. For this reason, Allah the Almighty says,
O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint. [Al-Baqarah, 183]
- Fasting leads to sincerity. No one save Allah knows the truth of a person's fast—it is possible for a person to refrain from fasting without anybody's knowledge. Yet, nothing prevents a person from refraining from fasting except Allah's knowledge and nothing encourages him to fast except to earn His pleasure. A person who embraces this notion is endowed with sincerity. The hadith Qudsi stating "All [good] deed performed by son of Adam is for him save fasting which is exclusively Mine and I give reward for it," demonstrates this meaning.
- Fasting is a means to gratitude. This is because by abstaining from such things as food and drink and the rest of the lawful sensuous desires during the fasting hours, the full extent of these blessings becomes manifest, allowing a person to express his gratitude for all these great Divine bounties for which Allah does not ask for recompense. As a result, the heart overflows with mercy, compassion and sympathy for the poor, the needy and the destitute demonstrated by the words of Allah the Almighty at the end of the verses on fasting by the words, And perchance ye may be grateful. [Al-Baqarah, 185]
- Man is a perpetual sinner though he will be unable to tolerate the torture of Hell-fire. He was therefore commanded to fast to feel the pangs of hunger in this world which will, in turn, extinguish his sins, saving him from Hell-fire.
- Fasting is a means to ward off satanic insinuations by the cultivating the patience to endure hunger and thirst, refraining from sensuous desires and curbing man's blind pursuit of pleasure. An uninhibited spirit that freely pursues pleasures is easy prey for Satan, necessitating restraint and regulation to enjoy the blessings of Allah. Likewise it needs to be tamed to resist satanic temptations. This meaning is demonstrated in the words of the Prophet who said, "O youths, whoever has the means should marry for it helps to lower the gaze and preserve chastity. But those of you who do not have the means, should fast for it is a means to suppress sexual desire" [Bukhari and Muslim].
Fasting refers to refraining from base habits or indulging in desires. Man's spirit is inclined towards a love for superiority over other creatures and towards other things which hinder it from reaching Divine light, Allah has made fasting as a strong reason for removing these obstacles. The Prophet said, "Had it not been for the fact that devils hover around man, he would have been able to delve into the Heavenly Kingdom."
-The wisdom of prescribing fasting for an entire month: The reason for this is that, along with the six days from the month of Shawwal, the number of days fasted add up to the days of the year. This is because a person is rewarded tenfold for one good deed. Therefore, the month of Ramadan equals 10 months and the six days of Shawwal are equal to two months, making the total equivalent to 12 months. Therefore a person who persists in fasting the month of Ramadan and follows it up with six days from shawwal, is as if he has fasted the whole year.
The Prophets said, "Whoever fasts Ramadan and follows it with six days from the month of Shawwal, it is as if he fasted the entire year" [Recorded by Imams Ahmed and Muslim. An-Nawawi said that scholars have said that fasting the month of Ramadan and following this with six days from Shawwal is tantamount to fasting the entire year. This is because a good deed is rewarded tenfold. Therefore, the days of Ramadan are equivalent to ten months and the six days [from Shawwal] are equivalent to two].
The six days to be fasted are specific to Shawwal due to the month's proximity to the month of Ramadan; therefore these days serve to compensate for any deficiencies committed during the previous month.