Abu Umamah, may Allah be pleased with him, asked the Messenger of Allah, upon whom be peace, to tell him of an action by which he may enter Paradise. The Prophet, peace be upon him, said, "Take to fasting, there is nothing like it." [An-Nisa'i, Ibn Hibban and Al-Hakim. Sahih]
In this hadith, the Prophet, peace be upon him, singled out fasting when asked about a deed that leads its doer to the best of rewards, Paradise. This fact alone is sufficient for us to understand the greatness of fasting. Mere knowledge of the importance and superiority of fasting. However, is not enough for a Muslim to attain Allah's pleasure and then, if Allah wills, His great reward. Indeed, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said:
"Perhaps a person fasting will receive nothing from his fasting except hunger and thirst."
This hadith should raise our concern about fasting and increase our desire to perform this act of worship with the best intention and in accordance with the Sunnah of the Prophet, upon whom be peace.
The first step for a Muslim to realise is the fact that fasting the month of Ramadan is obligatory and that Allah has prescribed it for us in His Book:
"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those who came before you; that you will perhaps be God-fearing."
Thus Allah, the Most High, teaches us that fasting is an obligation and a means to attain taqwa (to be God-fearing); that which increases believers in their ranks with Allah:
"The most honourable among you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most pious."
Furthermore, we should realise the words of the Prophet, peace be upon him, in which he tells us that Allah said:
"The most beloved deeds with which my slave comes closer to Me are the obligatory deeds."
Virtues of Fasting as Mentioned in the Qur'an and Sunnah
The Reward for Fasting is Immense
"Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed receiving then times its like, up to seven hundred times. Allah the Most High said, 'Except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will give recompense for it, he leaves off his desires and his food for Me.' For the fasting person there are two times of joy; a time when he breaks his fast and a time of joy when he meets his Lord, and the smell coming from the mouth of the fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of musk."
Also, Sahl ibn Sa'ad reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said:
"Indeed there is a gate of Paradise called Ar-Rayyan. On the day of Resurrection those who fast will enter through it; no one enters it except for them, and when they have entered, it is closed so that no one enters it, so when the last of them enters it, it is closed, and whoever enters it drinks, and whoever drinks never becomes thirsty."
Fasting is a Shield Against the Fire
"Fasting is a shield with which a servant protects himself from the Fire."
"On the Day of Judgement, fasting will say: 'O My Lord I prevented him from food an desires so accept my intercession for him.' "
Fasting is a Means for One's Sins to be Forgiven
"He who fasts Ramadan, due to iman and hoping for reward (from Allah) then his past sins are forgiven."
The Supplication of the Fasting Person is Answered
"There are in the month of Ramadan in every day and night those to whom Allah grants freedom from the Fire, and there is for every Muslim an supplication which he can make and will be granted."
Fasting is an Expiation for Various Sins
"Perform the Pilgrimage and the Lesser Pilgrimage for Allah ... but whoever among you is ill or has an ailment of the head must pay a ransom, either by fasting or by charity ... "
"Never may a believer kill a believer unless by mistake ... and those who find this beyond their means must fast two consecutive months. Such is the penance imposed by Allah; and Allah is Knowing, Wise."
And more (5:89, 5:95 and 58:3-4).
The Fasting Person Will Be Among the True Followers of the Prophets and the Martyrs
A man came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and asked, "O Messenger of Allah, what if I testify that none has the right to worshipped but Allah and that you are the Messenger of Allah, and I observe the five daily prayers, and I pay the zakah, and I fast and stand in prayer in Ramadan, then amongst whom shall I be?" He said:
"Amongst the true followers of the prophets and the martyrs."
Fasting is a Shield Against One's Base Desires
"O youths, whoever amongst you is able to marry then let him do so, since it restrains the eyes and protects the private parts, and he who is unable, then let him fast because it is a shield for him."
Once we realise the greatness of fasting and what achievement it leads to, we must put all our efforts in performing fasting in the best manner possible. And since fasting is worship, it must be done solely for Allah's sake, and no intention is accepted, other than pleasing Allah and seeking His Face with all one's sincerity. Without a correct intention, no deed is of any value in the Hereafter. We Muslims must constantly verify our intentions and consider why we perform fasting. Do we do so merely because it is the practice of our parents and friends, or do we do so because it is part of our tradition, or perhaps because we simply want to conform to our environment in order to avoid any problems? A Muslim who realises that only that which is with Allah remains, and that He is the only One who grants and withholds, would not be of those to which the Prophet, upon whom be peace, alluded to in the hadith:
"On the Day of Judgement, a caller will cry out, 'Whoever performed a deed for someone other than Allah may seek his reward from that for which he performed the deed.' "
Certain Aspects and Rulings Related to Fasting
- For the obligatory fast in the month of Ramadan, it is incumbent on everyone to have intention before the appearance of Fajr.
- Fast is performed between the time of true Fajr (that which makes food forbidden for the fasting person, and makes Fajr prayer lawful, as explained by Ibn 'Abbas) and the time as soon it is seen that the sun has set.
- The interval between the end of suhur (the pre-dawn meal) and the start of the obligatory prayer is the interval sufficient to recite fifty ayat, as indicated by the Prophet and related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.
- Eating suhur contains many blessings and the Prophet, peace be upon him, ordered us to do take it, forbade us from leaving it and told us to take suhur to make a distinction between our fast and the fast of the People of the Book. In spite of this, Ibn Hajr reports in Fath al-Bari that there is consensus that it is recommended. Allah knows best.
- Falsehood, ignorant and indecent speech are to be avoided as they may render one's fasting futile.
- A fasting person can begin fasting while in the state of janabah (major state of impurity that requires bath due to a sexual intercourse).
- Use of siwak (tooth-stick) is permitted. Likewise, washing the mouth and nose is permitted, but it should not be done strongly.
- The Prophet forbade a youth to kiss while fasting, while he allowed an old man since he is able to control himself.
- Giving blood and injections which do not provide nourishment does not break the fast. Also, there is no harm in tasting food, provided it does not reach the throat.
- Pouring cold water over one's head and taking a bath contain no harm to a fasting person.
- It is from the Sunnah of the Prophet and the practice of his companions to break the fast as soon as the Sun sets even if some bright redness remains upon the horizon. Muslims are strongly encouraged to hasten breaking the fast. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: "The din will not cease to be uppermost as long as the people hasten to break the fast, since the Jews and the Christians delay it." [Abu Dawud and Ibn Hibban. Hasan]
- The Prophet, peace be upon him, used to break his fast before praying and he used to break it with fresh dates, if not then with older dates. And if not with dates, than with some mouthfuls of water.
- The supplication of the fasting person when he breaks his fast is not rejected. The best du'a (supplication) is that reported from Allah's Messenger, peace be upon him. He used to say when breaking the fast, "The thirst has gone, the veins are moistened and the reward is certain, if Allah wills." [Abu Dawud, Al-Bayhaqi, Al-Hakim and others. Hasan]
- The Prophet said, "He who gives food for a fasting person to break his fast, he will receive the same reward as him, except that nothing will be reduced from the fasting persons reward." [Ahmad, At-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban. Sahih]. Also, a fasting Muslim should not reject invitation of another Muslim to break fast.
- Deliberate eating and drinking, making oneself vomit, menstruation, after-birth bleeding, injection containing nourishment and sexual intercourse all nullify the fast.
- As for Laylatu'l-Qadr, the Night of Decree, it is better than a thousand months. The Prophet, peace be upon him, told us, "Seek it in the last ten, and if one of you is too weak or unable then let him not allow that to make him miss the final seven." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. That which is the most specific states, " ... seek it on the (twenty) ninth and the (twenty) seventh and the (twenty) fifth." [Al-Bukhari]
- The Prophet, peace be upon him, used to exert himself greatly during Laylatu'l-Qadr. He would spend the nights in worship, detaching himself from women and ordering his family with this. So every Muslim should be eager to stand in prayer during Laylatu'l-Qadr out of iman and hoping for the great reward.
- The Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, "Whoever stands (in prayer) in Laylatu'l-Qadr out of iman and seeking reward then his previous sins are forgiven." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
- The supplication that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, taught 'Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, to say when seeking the Night of Decree is, "O Allah you are the one who pardons greatly, and loves to pardon, so pardon me." [At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah. Sahih]
- It is Sunnah to pray Tarawih in congregation and the one who knew the best the practice of the Prophet at night, 'A'ishah said, "Allah's Messenger did not increase upon eleven raka'at in Ramadan, or outside it." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
- All who are capable should take advantage of the month of Ramadan and perform i'tikaf, i.e. fully attach oneself to worshipping in the mosque. One should inquire how the Prophet performed i'tikaf.
- Zakat ul-Fitr is prescribed by Allah as a purification for those who fasted from loose and indecent talk, and to feed the poor Muslims as a provision for 'Eid ul-Fitr. One should inquire further about rulings related to it, especially upon whom it is obligatory and what is its quantity.
- The last but not the least, we should strive to constantly improve our worship and obedience of Allah, the Most High, including once the month of Ramadan is over, if Allah wills.
This article was published in the 11th issue of Nida'ul Islam magazine, January-February 1996