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Fasting: A Divine Treatment for Body and Soul

Undrestanding Fasting in Islam:
By Adam Asar and Huseyin Bingul
man supplicate
Fasting forms a private connection between the Creator and the creation, and it has deep inner aspects along with its more obvious benefits and merits

Fasting is a school for the training of both the physical body and the soul, and it has numerous merits and benefits.

However, just as with any other act of worship, Muslims observe the fast not for the benefits, but rather because they wish to totally submit to the will of God.

Believers are aware that worldly benefits are not the goal of any kind of worship. Muslims draw closer to God by abandoning the things they enjoy, and this makes the sincerity of their devotion to God all the more evident.

They know that God will be pleased with them if they abandon worldly comforts for His sake. The reason for their worship is the Divine command and its result is God’s good pleasure.

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. Concerning the fast of Ramadan, the Quran declares:

{The month of Ramadan, is the month in which the Quran (began to be) sent down as a pure source of guidance for people…} (Al-Baqara 2: 185)

How Does Hunger Accomplish What Abundance Cannot?

Human beings have both carnal and spiritual sides. The physical body of a human is comparatively small, but the soul is infinite, allowing them to embrace the whole universe. Human beings are not only material objects, a creature consisting of a stomach, nor do they only have a limited, cumbersome, simple, or transient corporal body.

Human nature is so universal that in themselves human beings contain some aspect of all that exists in the universe. The countless tendencies, desires, feelings, dreams, thoughts, and ideas of humanity are like an index of the universe. God Almighty has ornamented the Earth with countless blessings and has given it to humanity, the vicegerent of God on Earth.

Each day they receive lavishly prepared dining tables, one after another. Their sustenance is sent to them from the Heavens via the trees, each of which gives a different fruit in a different season of the year and the Earth nourishes them with every kind of delicious provisions.  He has granted you all that you would ask Him. Should you attempt to count God’s blessings, you cannot calculate them.

But humankind is innately inclined to extreme misjudgment and ingratitude. (14: 34) Both the Earth and the skies were created to serve humanity, and the main reason why human beings exist is to worship God, making worship a fundamental aim in itself. (51: 56).

Repentance after committing sins and the redemption of sins through fasting strengthen the free will of humanity

God, the most Gracious, gave us countless favors but unfortunately, for the most part we are unaware of and thus not thankful for these bounties. We are like a fish that is in the sea but unaware of the water as a blessing. One of the signs of a person being mature is the subjugation of the bestial characteristics of the brain and the soul. Human nature is difficult to deal with; it is sometimes excessive and sometimes regressive. Severe measures are sometimes needed to suppress the excesses.

In this sense, it is very difficult to satisfy the carnal soul; the more you give the more it demands. The carnal soul continuously commands human beings to commit sins. According to a Quranic decree, the Prophet Joseph describes the carnal soul in the most eloquent way saying:

{I free not my own self of blame, for the human soul is certainly prone to evil, except to whom my Lord has granted His Mercy. Surely my Lord is All-Forgiving, Most Merciful.} (Yusuf 12: 53)

Repentance after committing sins and the redemption of sins through fasting strengthen the free will of humanity and purify the soul.  God Almighty has provided humanity with the willpower to ascend from the lowest rank to a most exalted one, or vice versa. Therefore, sometimes humans can surpass the angels and become closer to God, while at other times some people are worse than any devil. (95: 4-6)

Since the excess of animality hinders the emergence of angelic aspects, it is necessary that human beings should try to dominate their animalistic side. When the dominance of the soul over the body weakens or when the body becomes dominant, human beings become slaves to their carnal desires. They pay no heed to the intellect or to religious admonitions and spend all their energy trying to quench their thirst and hunger for worldly delights. Their only concern is to find new ways of satisfying their carnal desires.

They have to invent substances that increase the appetite, that aid digestion, or even act as stimulants. “Such people are like a donkey or an ox, even if they are at the peak of science, culture, and civilization. They will commute between the dining room and the toilet all their life and will have no time for any principles or for the eternal life. All their faculties will die, except for those pertaining to lust, food, drink, and foolish entertainment.”

No depiction can be more precise and more elegant than that of the Quran:  {… as for those who disbelieve, they shall enjoy this world and eat as cattle eat; and the Fire shall be their abode.} (Muhammad 47: 12)

Fasting is the reins and bit that restrain the carnal self. It hinders human beings from becoming arrogant like pharaohs.  

Fasting Helps Us to Become Aware of God’s Blessings

exploring the wisdom behind the act of fasting strengthens the faith of Muslims

As for spiritual merits and therapeutic benefits that may be gained from performing the fast, these cannot be considered to be the sole results, irrespective of how satisfactory the fruits are. Since believers fast to seek the pleasure of God and to gain salvation in the Hereafter, it is clear that the fruits and benefits of the fast are in the Hereafter.

Nevertheless, exploring the wisdom behind the act of fasting strengthens the faith of Muslims who are aware that whatever God commands is always good and whatever He prohibits is always bad and harmful. This helps them proceed in the awareness that God, Who is so compassionate and generous, rewards good deeds both in this world and the Hereafter.

Fasting is a school for the training of the spirit, the purification of the heart, and protection from committing sins. No matter whether one fasts only for a day or a month, the person fasting cuts himself off from worldly comforts, including food, drink, and sexual relations, that are otherwise lawful in the ordinary course of life, at the behest of God, who shall give a reward for it.

Although everything done for the sake of God has a reward, none of the good deeds or acts of worship can be compared to fasting when it comes to God’s pleasure and reward. As reported by Abu Hurayrah, Prophet Muhammad stated that God said in the sacred hadith:

“Every act of the humanity is for themselves, except fasting. It is for Me, and I shall reward it. That is because they abstain from food, drink and carnal desires for My sake.”(Muslim)

Fasting forms a private connection between the Creator and the creation, and it has deep inner aspects along with its more obvious benefits and merits. Thus, fasting has a special quality that is not found in anything else and that is its close connection to God; this is so much so that He says: “Fasting is for Me, and I shall reward it.” God has chosen fasting for Himself, and He will reward it and multiply the reward without measure.  Sincerity is very important when one observes an act of worship.

Sincerity means doing something only for God’s sake. Fasting reflects this characteristic well, for it cannot be known whether a person is actually fasting or not. Only God and the person fasting can know this. Moreover, there is no need to make the fact that one is fasting known to other people.  Therefore, believers must observe fasting in complete cordiality and refrain from actions that may harm their sincerity. They should not depress or annoy others, or expect anything from them while observing the fast, as this is only for God. 

People of deep perception think that, “fasting is for me,” means “I am Samad,” (the one to whom all created beings turn to for all their needs, and who is not dependent on anything or anyone for any need). God is not in need of anything, and He does not need our fasting, either. It is an act of worship observed for God alone; fasting causes a positive change in the nature of the person fasting and brings about perfect moral values that God will reward in a way beyond the imagination of human beings.

Fasting is a worship that is not evident to other people and therefore there is no ostentation. Therefore, in the second part, God says: “and I will reward it.” 

The Teachings of Jesus Concerning Fasting

Whenever you fast, do not be like the hypocrites, with sad faces. For they disfigure their faces, that they may be seen by men to be fasting. Most certainly I tell you, they have received their reward. But you, when you fast, anoint your head, and wash your face; so that you are not seen by men to be fasting, but by your Lord who is in secret, and your Lord, who sees in secret, will reward you. (Mathew 6: 16-18)

The Bible alone has 74 references to fasting. The Bible mentions that the Prophets Jesus, John (the Baptist), Moses, Daniel, Elijah, and David (peace be upon them all) fasted. Prophet David fasted every other day. This fast of David is one of the most virtuous of the recommended fasts in Islam as well. Prolonged fasting was practiced by the Biblical saints, Ahab, Anna, Esther, Hannah, Ezra, and the apostles.

The Bible also mentions that Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert before starting his ministry.

Fasting is not only mentioned in the Bible, both the Old and New Testament, but also in the Mahabharata of Hinduism, and in the Upanishads of India, as well as being observed among the Jains. The original significance of fasting as a form of spiritual devotion was the same among the nations and communities of such ancient civilizations as the Celts, Aztecs, Babylonians, ancient Peruvians, the Assyrians, the ancient Greeks, and the Egyptians. Namely, fasting as an institution for spiritual reasons is common to all religions and faiths. 

The life accounts of all the Prophets in revealed scriptures and in popular knowledge show that they were actually leading a holy way of life for a certain period of time, even before they started receiving Divine Guidance. During this period, they abstained from food, drink, and other human needs, and they enabled their souls to have communion with God and finally were rewarded with His revelation. Prophet Moses, Prophet Jesus, and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon them all), who are guides for the purification and perfection of the soul, observed fasting during the preparation phase of their difficult missions.

Prophet Moses spoke with God and received the Law after fasting for forty days: “And he was there with the Lord forty days and forty nights; he did neither eat bread, nor drink water. And he wrote upon the tables the words of the covenant, the Ten Commandments.” (Exodus 34: 28)

The Bible also mentions that Jesus fasted for forty days in the desert before starting his ministry. Similarly, Prophet Muhammad was called to the prophethood at the age of forty while fasting and worshipping during the month of Ramadan in the Hira cave on top of a mountain in solitude. This is another proof of the fact that fasting is an influential factor in the maturation and purification of human beings.  The Quran is the greatest evidence concerning the order of fasting prescribed for modern and ancient people alike. (Al-Baqarah 2: 183)

Source: The Fountain Magazine - Issue 52 - http://www.fountainmagazine.com
Related Links:
Fasting: An Islamic Perspective
First Ten Days of Ramadan: A Shower of Mercy
An Introduction to Ramadan
During Blindness I Could See
All About Ramadan

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