by Ustaz Khurram Murad
cited from In the Early Hours
Sawm or fasting is another important instrument of tazkiya. It holds a unique status among all other forms of ibada. In a hadith qudsi we are told:
Every good deed of a man is granted manifold increase, ten to seven hundred times. But Allah says: Fasting is an exception; it is exclusively for Me, and I will give reward for it as much as I wish. (Bukhari, Muslim.)
The fruit of fasting ought to be that rich inner quality which the Quran calls taqwa:
O Believers! Fasting is ordained for you, even as it was ordained for those before you, that you might attain taqwa. [al-Baqara 2:183]
Taqwa is the most basic prerequisite for being guided by Allah. It entails God-consciousness, a sense of responsibility, accountability, dedication and awe. It is that which prompts and inspires us to fulfill our responsibilities towards the Creator. Taqwa is the main criterion by which Allah values the deeds of a Muslim. The Quran states: Surely the noblest among you in the sight of God is the most God-fearing of you. Verily God is all-Knowing and all-Wise. [al-Hujurat 49: 13.]
We must strive to the utmost to inculcate taqwa in our lives as Allah has ordained: Take provisions with you, but the best of provisions is taqwa. So remain conscious of Me, O you who are endowed with insight. [al-Baqara 2:197]
Fasting teaches us to remember Allah. It helps to instill in us certain attributes and qualities which develop our taqwa. We discuss some of these below.
i. Fulfilling Allah's Wishes
While fasting, the most basic physical needs - Food, water and sleep - are readily and joyfully sacrificed. Hunger and thirst are no longer harmful; Allah's displeasure is harmful. Physical pleasures no longer hold any lure; Allah's rewards do. The scale of values is turned upside down. The measures of comfort and pain, success and failure are radically changed. However, whatever the physical discomfort, the mortification of the flesh is certainly not the desired object. The gifts of Allah are there to be enjoyed but limits by Him must also be strictly observed. Once the sun has set, the fast must be broken and the sooner the better. All that was forbidden during the fasting hours, at His command, becomes permissible again, at His command. Similarly, eating before dawn is strongly encouraged even though the hour is early for it provides the necessary strength for the rigours of the day ahead. Fasting and praying are obvious acts of worship but eating also constitutes a form of worship.
Fasting strengthens our willpower. The Prophet has said: 'Sawm is a shield [or a screen or a shelter from the Hell-fire].' (Bukhari.) The regime of dawn-to-sunset abstinence from food, drink and sex, for the sake of Allah alone, internalises the lesson that we must never enter, acquire or even touch that which does not belong to us under the law of Allah. A man can no longer remain a slave to his own self-indulgence as he prepares for the arduous journey on the road to His Lord.
For many, it is difficult to see the value of long hours of hunger, thirst and sleeplessness. Productivity losses are difficult to accept in an age that has tried to promote economic growth at all costs. According to Islam, however, we are created to live a life of total submission to the One and Only Allah, and this purpose must be paramount in all scales of values. Fasting is crucial to this understanding. It shows that its purpose, like Allah's guidance through His Prophets and Books and all the rituals of worship, is to train us how we must live totally and unreservedly in submission to Allah.
iii. Protection From Shaytan
Fasting enables us to protect ourselves from the evil influences of Shaytan. While fasting: `Eyes should refrain from seeing evil, ears from hearing evil, tongues from speaking evil and hearts from reflecting evil.' (Bukhari.) The Prophet also said: `Five things break a man's fast: lying, backbiting, scandal-mongering, perjury and a lustful gaze.' (Azdi.) [ Cited by al-Ghazali in Ihya Ulum al-Din. See Inner Dimension of Islamic Worship, Islamic Foundation, Leicester, P. 76.]