The Spiritual Intention in Fasting

Abdelwahhab ash-Sharani

March 25, 2024

Translated by: Yassine Hicham

June 17, 2015

A general oath of allegiance was taken from us by God’s Messenger -God bless him and grant him peace- that the greatest part of our love for fasting be because God Most High has said “Fasting is Mine,” and not for any other reason, such as the pursuit of reward or the expiation of sins and the like. For whosoever does an act for God Most High, God will suffice him in this world and the Next, and will give him what no eye has ever seen, what no ear has ever heard, and what no human heart has ever perceived—not to mention divine rewards and expiation of sins and other personal desires in this world and the Next. We have never heard that God Most High has said regarding any act of worship that it is His in particular save the act of fasting, so were it not for the fact that it contains extra uniqueness, He would not have ascribed it to Himself.

I heard my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas -God have mercy upon his soul- say, “The meaning of God’s words ‘Fasting is Mine’ is that it is His insomuch as it is an attribute of Infinite and Absolute Plenitude [sifa samadaniyya], hence it is not described with eating or drinking [as God is not described with eating or drinking]. That is why the fasting person is ordained to abstain from sexual intercourse, sinfulness, and impolite speech—namely out of propriety [adab] with the attribute of Infinite Plenitude, whose name he has embraced [when fasting].”

Interpreting the meaning of God’s words “Every good deed of the son of Adam is for himself, except fasting, for fasting is Mine and it is I who give reward for it,” Sufyan b. ‘Uyayna said, “On the Day of Resurrection, God Most Exalted will subject His servant to divine reckoning and will take from his good deeds to redress the rights [of those he wronged], until nothing more remains except his act of fasting, whereupon God Most Exalted will redress the remaining rights he owed [to others] and enter him into Paradise by virtue of his fasting.” This interpretation is astounding!

One of the benefits of fasting is that it restricts the pathways of Satan within the fasting person’s body and becomes for him as a shield; and thus Satan has no entry-point by which he can enter his heart. This is from one year to the next, or from Monday to Thursday or from Thursday to Monday, or from the White Days [Ayyam al-Bid: the 13th, 14th, and 15th] of one [lunar] month to the next, or from the sacred months [of one year] to the sacred months of the next, or from one ‘Ashura’ [10th of Muharram] to the next, or from one Day of Arafat to the Day of Arafat in the following year—every fast done on a particular day will serve as a shield that protects the fasting person until the next time that day comes around, each in its own way.

For instance, the fast on Monday has its own perimeter; the fast on Thursday has its own perimeter; the fasts on the White Days have their own perimeter; the fasts in the sacred months have their own perimeter; the fast on the Day of Arafat has its own perimeter; and the fast on the day of ‘Ashura’ has its own perimeter. Each perimeter guarantees protection against specific things; therefore, Satan has no way of breaching these perimeters and whispering to the servant in them as he does with other pious works like prayer, alms-due, Hajj, ablution [wudu’], bowing, and prostration. All of these deeds expiate sins, but each in their own way. What we say here is supported by the raised [marfu’] narration of [Imam] Muslim that says, “The five daily prayers, one Friday prayer to the next, and one Ramadan to the next Ramadan—all of these expiate the sins committed in between them so long as the enormities are avoided.”

I heard my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas -God have mercy upon his soul- say, “The reason why the fast in Ramadan is for an entire month—either twenty-nine or thirty days—is because it was primarily legislated as an expiation for the morsel that Adam -peace be upon him- ate from the Tree; God Most Exalted ordered him to fast as an expiation for his act.”

It is narrated that the morsel he ate remained within his stomach for an entire month, after which it was excreted. It is also narrated that “A month is either thirty or twenty-nine days.” Understand this.

Know that the benefit of fasting cannot be gained except with extra hunger that goes above and beyond the hunger that is typically felt outside of Ramadan. Whosoever fails to increase his hunger in Ramadan is indistinguishable from the non-fasting person, since he has not restricted the pathways through which Satan moves—and this is especially the case when he consumes an assortment of food and drink, enjoys varieties of fruits, overeats at night and enjoys kanafeh and other desserts, or eats fried cheese, and then eats a similar amount in the early morning pre-fast meal [suhur].

Indeed, this person’s body opens up extra pathways for Satan, more in fact than on non-fasting days, and as a result the pathways of Satan by which Satan leads him to destruction are increased in this magnificent month that contains Laylat al-Qadr [the Night of Power/Destiny], which is better than one thousand months (one thousand months being the typical life span of most people: eight-three years). Were a servant’s lifetime of good deeds weighted against his good deeds on Laylat al-Qadr, the good deeds performed on Laylat al-Qadr would outweigh all of his other good deeds that were done sincerely and consistently and not marred by lassitude.

So how much more, then, would they outweigh acts that were tainted with ostentation and marred by disobedience, sins, moments of heedlessness, and sordid passions! Whoever looks with the eye of spiritual insight [‘ayn al-basira] will realize that all of the days of fasting leading up to Laylat al-Qadr are like a preparation and purification of the heart so it can be suited to behold its Lord (Exalted and Sublime be He!) during that Night.

It is my contention that most of the distinguished personalities of this age, not to mention others, are drowning in what we mentioned earlier: the entire month of Ramadan passes them by and their hearts are increased in darkness due to excessive food and sleep!

In the old days a believer would come out after fasting the month of Ramadan, and due to the intensity of purity that he would gain through the successive acts of obedience and abstinence from sin he know people’s thoughts through spiritual unveiling.

I heard Shaykh Ibrahim ‘Usfur the Majdhub [pulled by divine attraction and given to exuberant utterances] -God be well pleased with him- say, “By God, the fasts of these Muslims are invalid because they break their fasts with meat and sweets and other delights. As far as I am concerned, there is no fast save that of the Folk [the people who are devoted to God] who break their fasts with oil or vinegar or the like.” Because the Shaykh was majdhub, people were unable to understand the meanings of his allusions, but I understood the meanings of his words and allusions and condemnations. It was as if he was saying Muslims should only experience Ramadan in a state of intense hunger.

I heard my brother Afdal al-Din -God have mercy upon his soul- say, “It is from the propriety [adab] of the believer that when fasting people break their fast in his company, he should not sate them [with food] as is customary, but should rather sate them according to the Sunna, as the Prophet -God bless him and give him peace- said, ‘It is enough for the son of Adam to eat a small number of morsels [luqaymat] to keep his back upright.’

The philologists [ahl al-lugha] say that luqaymat is the plural of luqma [morsel], and that it equals three to nine morsels. Therefore, whenever a person brings out more than nine morsels to someone breaking the fast in his company, he has treated him badly and no reward remains for his act of feeding his guest, because he has transgressed the limits of the Sunna.”

This can only be practiced by one who has discarded the habits of human nature and given up ingratiating behavior with others and entered the vast expanse of Islamic Law and sincere works done for God alone—such that his concern for his fellow Muslim is stronger than his concern for his own self. From the signs that you have forsaken the habits of human nature is that if you refuse to feed someone till he is sated, you do not become perturbed by him speaking ill of you in the presence of your enemies. For the ruling on one who transgresses the Sunna in the sight of a knower [of God] is that of a child, and child should not be given everything it wants.

My master Ibrahim al-Matbuli -God be well pleased with him- would give those breaking their fast less than what they were accustomed to eating, so one day some of them issued a complaint against him to the Naqib [the one in charge of affairs pertaining to some group of people]. The Naqib responded, “Though you may complain about him in this life, you will thank him in the Next!”

One of the counsels of my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas -God have mercy upon him- was the following: “Beware of giving a guest in Ramadan more than a single flat-bread—as the tribal elders and others do—out of fear that he will be offended if you do not give him his fill, for if the reality of your action was to be unveiled to him, he would kiss your feet and say ‘May God reward you with goodness on my behalf, for you did not give my malicious ego its share of desire, and you instead strove to perfect its fast!’”

See to it, dear brother, that you tread the path under the guidance of a spiritual master so that he can extract you from the habits of human nature, and so you can interact with creatures with the qualities of mercy and concern. If you fail to do this, then it is inevitable that you will fear the rebuke of creatures.

I heard my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas -God have mercy upon his soul- say, “The Friends of God [Awliya’ Allah] are more concerned for the servants than the servants are for themselves. That is because the Friends of God prevent them from base desires that would diminish their spiritual station and which the servants would not do themselves were they able to heir the Prophetic legacy. Know this and act upon it, and God will see to your guidance. “And God turns to the righteous!” [Quran 7: 196]

Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and others narrated that God’s Messenger -God bless him and give him peace- said, God—the Exalted and Sublime—says, ‘Every good deed of the son of Adam is for himself, except fasting, for fasting is Mine and it is I who give reward for it.’ Fasting is a shield, so if one of you fasts, let him abstain from sexual intercourse and impudent acts. And if someone insults him or fights him, let him say, ‘I am fasting.’ By the One in Whose Hand is Muhammad’s soul, the odor of the fasting person’s mouth is finer in the sight of God than the fragrance of musk. The fasting person has two delights to joy him: when he breaks his fast he is joyful with his meal, and when he meets his Lord he is joyful with his fast.”

In [Imam] Muslim’s narration it says, “Every good deed of the son of Adam is multiplied in reward ten times its like, up to seven hundred times. God Almighty says, ‘Except for fasting, for it is Mine and it is I who give reward for it. He gives up his desires and food for My sake.’”

In the narration of Malik, Abu Dawud, and al-Tirmidhi it says, “And he will rejoice when he meets God—the Exalted and Sublime—and He rewards him. . . ” I say: The reason why the fasting person experiences joy in these two things is because man is composed of body and soul, and so the nourishment of the body is food and the nourishment of the soul is in meeting God. God knows best.

Al-Hafiz al-Mundhiri said: Concerning the meaning of [the Prophet’s] statement “Fasting is a shield”: the word shield [junna] is that by which a servant shields and covers himself, protecting him from what he fears. The meaning of this hadith, therefore, is that fasting shields and protects one from falling into disobedience. When used unrestrictedly, the word for “sexual intercourse” [rafath] can mean carnal relations or vile deeds. [Here] it means a man speaking to a woman about sexual matters. Many scholars say that [rafath] in this hadith refers to vile and ugly speech.

Al-Tabarani and al-Bayhaqi narrated in a raised [marfu’] tradition: “Fasting is for God, the Exalted and Sublime. None know the reward in store for the one who fasts save God, the Exalted and Sublime.”

Al-Tabarani narrated in a raised report (and the narrators in his transmission are affirmed for their probity and exactitude), “Fast and you will be healthy.”

Imam Ahmad narrated with a good chain of transmission, as did al-Bayhaqi in a raised report, “Fasting is a shield and an impregnable fortress that protects from the Hellfire.” And in the narration of Ibn Khuzayma in his rigorously authenticated collection, “Fasting is a shield from the Hellfire, like the shield one of you employs during fighting.”

Imam Ahmad, al-Tabarani, and al-Hakim narrated in a raised report (and all of their narrators are used approvingly in the rigorously authenticated collection of al-Bukhari), “Fasting and the Qur’an shall intercede for the servant on the Day of Resurrection. Fasting shall say, ‘O Lord! I prevented him from food and drink and desires, so allow me to intercede for him!’

Related Posts