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Asian Tribune is published by World Institute For Asian Studies|Powered by WIAS Vol. 12 No. 2423

Ramadan – the Muslim month of Fasting (Part 4)

By Dr. Habib Siddiqui

According to Imam al-Ghazali (may Allah have mercy on him), one of greatest scholars of Islam (11th century CE), there are three grades of Fasting: ordinary, special and extra-special.

Ordinary Fasting involves abstaining from food, drink and sexual satisfaction. It is the Fast of ordinary Muslims. (This is the Fasting of ordinary Muslims.)

Special Fasting involves keeping one's ears, eyes, tongue, hands and feet -- and all other organs -- free from committing sin. (This is the Fasting of Mu'mins, or pious Muslims.)

Extra-special Fasting involves Fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but Allah. – [Ihya' of Imam al-Ghazali, tr., From Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship by Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali by Muhtar Holland] The Fasting of the Prophets, the true devotees, the righteous and the intimates of Allah belong to this grade. It consists in utmost dedication to Allah.
The etiquette of Fasting consists of six things:

"First, one should guard all his members from impropriety, and not restrict abstinence to stomachs and genitals [alone], but keep his eyes from anything that distracts him from Allah.

Second, one should guard his tongue from idle talk, slander, and lying.

Third, one should guard his ears from anything that should not be said or heard.

Fourth, one should guard his hands and feet and all his limbs from impropriety.

Fifth, when breaking the Fast one should not eat anything unlawful or doubtful, nor eat too much of that which is completely lawful.

Sixth, one's mind should be suspended between fear and hope, since he does not know whether his Fast is accepted or not." [Bahr al-Fava'id]

These six conditions, as explained below by Imam al-Ghazali (may Allah have mercy on him), must be accomplished for extra-special Fasting.

1. See Not What Displeases God

This involves having a chaste regard that restrains the self from viewing anything that is blameworthy or reprehensible, or that distracts the heart and diverts it from the remembrance of Allah. Muhammad, on him be peace, said: "The furtive glance is one of the poisoned arrows of Satan, on him be Allah's curse. Whoever forsakes it for fear of Allah will find the sweetness of faith within his heart."

Jabir, a Companion (sahaba), relates from Anas (may Allah be pleased with both of them) that God's Messenger Muhammad, on him be peace, said: 'Five things break a man's Fast: lying, backbiting, gossiping, perjury and a lustful gaze.'

2. Speak Not...

This involves guarding one's tongue from idle chatter, lying, gossiping, obscenity, rudeness, arguing and controversy; making it observe silence and occupying it with remembrance (zikr) of Allah, and with recitation of Qur'an. This is the Fasting of the tongue.

Sufyan (may Allah have mercy on him), one of the early Followers (tabi'in), said: 'Backbiting annuls the Fast.'

Layth quotes Mujahid (may Allah have mercy on both of them) as saying: 'Two habits annul Fasting: backbiting and telling lies.'

The Prophet, on him be peace, said: 'Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is Fasting he should not use foul or foolish talk. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say: "I am Fasting, I am Fasting!"'

This essence of fasting is captured appositely by one of the great poets of Islam, Mowlana Jami (may Allah have mercy on him), who wrote:

Do not arouse your temper by Fasting:
Nothing is better than patience and gentleness.
When a Fast becomes the cause of trouble,
Better to break it than to keep it.

- [Baharistan]

3.Hear Not...

This involves closing one's ears to everything reprehensible; for everything unlawful to utter is likewise unlawful to listen to. That is why Allah equated the eavesdropper with the profiteer, in His words: 'Listeners to falsehood, consumers of illicit gain.' [Qur'an 5:42]

Allah also said: 'Why do their rabbis and priests not forbid them to utter sin and consume unlawful profit?' [Qur'an 5:63] Silence in the face of backbiting is, therefore, unlawful.

That is why the Prophet Muhammad, on him be peace, said: 'The backbiter and his listener are co-partners in sin.

4.Do Not...

This involves keeping all other limbs and organs away from committing sin: the hands and feet from reprehensible deeds, and the stomach from questionable food at the time for breaking Fast. It is (absolutely) meaningless to Fast -- to abstain from lawful (halal) food - only to break one's Fast on what is unlawful (haram). A man who Fasts like this may be compared to one who builds a castle but demolishes a city.

The object of Fasting is to bring moderation. The Prophet, on him be peace, said: 'How many of those who Fast get nothing from it but hunger and thirst!' This has been taken to mean those who break their Fast on unlawful food. Some say it refers to those who abstain from lawful food, but break their Fast on human flesh through backbiting, which is unlawful. Others consider it an allusion to those who do not guard their organs from sin.

5.Avoid Overeating

This involves not over indulging in lawful food at the time of breaking Fast, to the point of stuffing one's belly. There is nothing more abhorrent to Allah than a belly that is stuffed full with lawful food. Of what use is the Fast … if at the time of breaking it one not only makes up for all one has missed during the daytime, but perhaps also indulges in a variety of extra foods? It is well known that the object of Fasting is to experience hunger and to restrain desire, in order to reinforce the soul in piety.

The spirit and intent of Fasting is to weaken the forces which are Satan's means of leading us back to evil. It is, therefore, essential to cut down one's food intake to what one would consume on a normal night, when not Fasting. Truly, no benefit is derived from the Fast if one consumes as much as one would usually take during the day and night combined. Moreover, one of the properties consists in taking little sleep during the daytime, so that one feels the hunger and thirst and becomes conscious of the weakening of one's powers, with the consequent purification of the heart.

One should let a certain degree of weakness to carry over into the night so that it is easier to perform the night Prayers (tahajjud) and to recite the praises (awrad) [of Allah]. It may then be that Satan will not hover around one's heart, and that one will behold the Kingdom of Heaven. The Night of Destiny represents the night on which something of this Kingdom is revealed. This is what is meant by the words of God, Exalted is He: 'We surely revealed it on the Night of Power.' [al-Qadr, 97:1]

Anyone who puts a bag of food between his heart and his breast becomes blind to this revelation. Nor is keeping the stomach empty sufficient to remove the veil, unless one also empties the mind of everything but Allah. That is the entire matter, and the starting point of it all is cutting down on food.

6. Look to God With Fear and Hope

After the Fast has been broken, the heart should swing like a pendulum between fear and hope, for one does not know if one's Fast will be accepted. This is how one should be at the end of any act of worship one performs.

It is related of al-Hasan ibn Abil Hasan al-Basri (may Allah have mercy on him), one of the early Followers (tabi'in), that he once passed by a group of people who were laughing merrily. He said: 'Allah has made the month of Ramadan a racecourse, on which His creatures compete in His worship. Some have come in first and won, while others have lagged behind and lost. It is absolutely amazing to find anybody laughing and playing about on the day when success attends the victors, and failure the wasters. By God, if the veil were lifted off, the doer of good would surely be preoccupied with his good works and the evildoer with his evil deeds.'

Of al-Ahnaf ibn Qays (may Allah have mercy on him) it is reported that he was once told: 'You are an aged elder; Fasting would enfeeble you.' But he replied: 'By this I am making ready for a long journey, Obedience to Allah is easier to endure than His punishment.'

Such are the inwardly significant meanings of Fasting. [Ihya' of Imam al-Ghazali, tr., From Inner Dimensions of Islamic Worship by Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali by Muhtar Holland]

- To be continued –

- Asian Tribune -

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