The purpose of fasting in Ramadan is to achieve Taqwa, i.e. to become God-fearing and pious etc. But I fast year in, year out and see no change… especially when Ramadan is over! So what can I do to help become and remain a God-fearing and pious person?
By Shaykh Salim Ghisa
In the name of Allah the Most Beneficent and Merciful.
Allah Subhanahu Wa Ta’ala says:
"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become pious." (Al-Baqarah, 2:183)
Fasting has many benefits and grades. People believe that just by staying hungry and thirsty from dawn ‘til dusk it will make them a pious person.
The reality is that when the time comes to open the fast they will probably eat more than normal and during the day still continue to behave in their normal way. This is why they don’t truly benefit from fasting in the month of Ramadan.
Fasting is not just for the body but also for the soul. One’s eyes, ears, tongue and all other bodily parts should perform the fast too. The fasting of the eyes is to lower them and not look at anything which would lead to sin.
The fasting of the ears is to abstain from listening to anything which is Haram or could lead to Haram. In this day and age when we fast we certainly abstain from food, drink and conjugal relations but do we fast for the spiritual well being of ourselves? If the answer is no then how can one expect to obtain piety and Taqwa.
To ensure that absolute Taqwa would be practised the Holy Prophet (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) himself used to perform I’tikaf (seclusion) in the Masjid.
The Holy Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
"Whoever has not left untruthful talk and acting upon it: Allah has no need of him putting aside his food and drink." (Sahih Al-Bukhari)
The etiquette of the fast of the pious includes lowering the gaze, protecting the tongue from unlawful or offensive speech which is hurtful, or which simply offers no benefit, and guarding the remaining physical faculties.
Jabir relates from Anas that the Holy Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) said:
"Five things break a man's fast: lying, backbiting, gossiping, perjury and a lustful gaze."
There is also the Hadith where two women came to the Prophet of Allah (may Allah bless him and grant him peace) and he instructed them not to open their fast after sunset. He then advised them that they had not been fasting but had eaten meat. They denied this and the Holy Prophet (May Allah bless him and grant him peace) asked for a container to be bought and instructed then to vomit into the container. They did this and chunks of meat came out. He then told them that although they had fasted from food and drink they had eaten the flesh of their brother by backbiting and this was the cause for their fast not being counted.
Other etiquettes of fasting in Ramadan include not filling up with food and drink at night, but rather eating small portions since Mankind fills no container more evil than his stomach - since whenever one eats his fill at the beginning of the night will not be of use to himself for the rest of the night.
It is the same regarding eating one's fill before beginning the fast; he will be of no use to himself until near noon, since too much food leads to laziness and abatement. And besides, the whole purpose of fasting is missed by eating too much, since the point is that one taste hunger and forgo what he desires.
An important part of achieving taqwa through fasting is to do more Ibadah in Ramadan as there is increased reward in this month. One should firstly read the five daily prayers and then try to make up for missed prayers in the past. We should try spending time in Dhikr (the remembrance of Allah), reading and understanding the Qu’ran and learning about the Deen.
If one is to fast how Islam prescribes us to do so, then we can’t not benefit from the month of Ramadan. It will insha Allah help us to become a Godfearing and pious person.
I would recommend all readers to study the detailed analysis of fasting in Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship by Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali, trans. from the Ihya' by Mukhtar Holland.
Of course Allah knows best.