The Merits of Fasting in the Prophetic Traditions
There are numerous Prophetic reports on the merits of fasting and its reward.
- On the delight derived from fasting, both in this world and in the Hereafter, the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) said, "The faster rejoices twice, one at the time of breaking his fast and the other when he meets his Lord."
- It has been reported that each day of fasting removes a person from Hell-fire by a distance of 70 years. The Prophet said, "Whoever fasts a day for the sake of Allah, Allah will keep him from Hell-fire at a distance covered in 70 years."
- On the Day of Judgment, fasting elevates the status of the faster by allowing him to enter Paradise from the Gate called Ar-Rayan, reserved exclusively for those who fast. The Prophet said, "There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Rayan through which only fasters will enter on the Day of Judgment. It will be said, 'Where are the fasters?' They will then enter through this gate. When the last of them enters, the gate will close and no one else will pass through it."
- It has been reported that fasting pleases Allah the Almighty. The smell of a faster's mouth, considered unpleasant, is sweet in the eyes of Allah. The Prophet said, "By He in Whose Hands is my soul, the smell of a faster's mouth is more fragrant to Allah the Almighty than the smell of musk."
- It has been reported that fasting entails a greater reward and excellence than any other act of worship. The Prophet said, "All of man's good deeds are rewarded tenfold or up to seven hundred times.
Allah the Almighty says: Except for fasting. It is Mine and I repay the faster who gives up his desires and food for My sake." The words, 'Except for fasting, it is Mine' mean that a person's fast is exclusively for Allah. Since it is an act of worship that is not manifest to others, it is only known to Allah and the faster. It is for this reason that Allah ascribes the fast to Himself and rewards it without limits because it cannot be performed except by exercising patience. Allah the Almighty says, Those who patiently persevere will truly receive a reward without measure. [Az-Zumar, 10]
Patience is of three kinds:
1- Patience to endure the obedience of Allah;
2- Patience to abstain from what Allah has prohibited;
3- Patience to endure pain and hardships.
All three are found in fasting which thereby requires patience to endure obligations, refrain from certain desires, and tolerate pangs of hunger and thirst and physical weakness— all for the sake of attaining the pleasure of Allah the Almighty. Because fasting includes all of these meanings, Allah ascribed it to Himself. He did not commission the angels to reward fasts themselves but undertook this task Himself by rewarding a fasting person beyond measure. The words of Allah, 'I reward it' mean that Allah's rewards stem from His Divine generosity and not from man's meritoriousness. Abu al-Hasan said that the words of Allah mean that paradise is the reward for every good deed but the reward for fasting is meeting Allah who will look at the faster as he will look at Him; speak with the faster as he will speak with Him without the intercession of a prophet or interpreter.'
The degrees of fasters
The three degrees to fasting
- The fast of the ordinary person: It consists of abstaining from food and drink and sexual gratification.
- The fast of the select few: It consists of abstaining from food and drink, sexual gratification as well as from keeping the ears, eyes, tongue, hands, feet and genitals free of sin. Sins committed during fasting diminish one's reward and prevents him from obtaining the many bounties present in this blessed month. A valid fast is the one that is devoid of sins and saves the faster from Hell-fire; committing a sin while fasting encroaches upon this protection.
This meaning was conveyed from the Prophet who said, "Fasting is Paradise provided it is not violated." The meaning of 'Paradise' here is 'shield'. Ibn al-'Arabi said, "Fasting is a Paradise of torment; it involves abstaining from desires when desires are rampant." Ibn Hajar commented on this saying, "In brief, if a faster abstains from desires in this world, this will shield him from Hell-fire in the Hereafter."
The select few from among the believers are those who seek to preserve the validity of their fast by refraining from committing sins, striving against their selves by keeping their body organs free from sin. They therefore strive to:
Restrain their ears from listening to what Allah has prohibited such as in eavesdropping, gossiping, tale bearing etc… unless he listens to them unintentionally or unwillingly and expresses his disapproval if possible.
Restrain their eyes from looking at what is prohibited and at what occupies the heart and distracts it from remembrance of Allah. The eyes were created for the purpose of guiding man through darkness and assisting him in his needs and for contemplating and reflecting upon the wonders of the Heavens and earth and learn from its many signs.
The Prophet told 'Ali, "O 'Ali! Do not follow a glance with a second for you will be forgiven the first but not the second." It has been reported that Prophet Jesus, peace be upon him, said, "Beware of looking [at what is prohibited] for this plants the seed of desire in the heart." Al Junayd (may Allah have mercy on him) was asked about what would help one lower his gaze and he replied, "By knowing that Allah's gaze upon you precedes your gaze upon that which you gaze upon."
Restrain the tongue by guarding it from trivial or idle talk, back-biting, gossip, offensive speech, ridiculing others, perjury and not fulfilling promises.
Restrain the hands by abstaining from what is forbidden such as unlawful gains, obscenity or encroaching upon others such as manipulating weights and measures, theft, bribery, hitting or harming others.
Restrain the feet by refraining from going to inform a ruler or another against a fellow Muslim, going to unlawful places, passing before a person who is praying without a barrier either deliberately or unnecessarily.
The genitals: Abstaining from what is prohibited during the fasting hours such as intercourse or from what is prohibited at other times such as fornication, homosexuality, bestiality, masturbation and intercourse during menstruation.
The Prophet ordered us to control the tongue by refraining from offensive talk and to restrain the rest of the faculties from sins in his comprehensive words, "Fasting is a shield. If one of you is fasting, he should avoid obscenity and should not behave impudently or foolishly. And if somebody quarrels with him or abuses him, he is to say, 'I am fasting, I am fasting.' " The hadith means that it is impermissible to utter offensive words, engage in sexual intercourse and its preliminaries.
Restraining the faculties from sins is mandatory during fasting as well as at other times. However, we have mentioned them in relation to fasting because at this time, the prohibition is greater than at any other time. Al-Qurtubi said, "It must not be understood that [these prohibitions] are permissible at times other than fasting. Rather, it is even more incumbent to avoid such things when one is fasting." Therefore, a fasting person must control his faculties against all that entails a prohibition. The poetic verses illustrate this point:
If my ears are not oblivious to what they hear and my eyes to what they see,
If my tongue is not subdued by silence,
I gain nothing from my fast save thirst and hunger,
And if I claim that I have one day fasted, then I have not.
If a person follows his whims and desires and is intent on disobeying his Lord, he must know that he will not earn the reward of fasting Ramadan but will only reap its thirst and hunger. The Prophet said, "Many are those whose fast does not profit them with anything save hunger and thirst and many are those whose night vigil does not bring them anything save wakefulness during the night."
"He who does not abstain from lying and from practicing falsehood, Allah is in no need of his giving up his food and drink."
- The fast of the elite: It consists of all of the above as well as abstention of the heart from worldly concerns and lustful thoughts and a total disregard of everything save Allah. The heart of such a person is occupied with nothing save Allah and what is conducive to fulfilling Allah's design concerning administering the earth.