The month of Ramadan is the month in which the Quran was sent down,
a guidance for the people, and clear verses of guidance and criterion.
[Quran: Chapter 2:183]


Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Different Levels in Fasting

This is an important article that explains the different levels of fasting. Imam Abu Hamid Al‐Ghazali mentions in his Ihya Ulumuddin that fasting has many levels: "It should be known that there are three grades of fasting: ordinary, special and extra‐special".

This Ramadan, ask yourself which level of fasting you would like to attain.

Ordinary Fasting means abstaining from food, drink and sexual satisfaction.

Special Fasting means keeping one’s eyes, ears, tongue, hands and feet and all other organs, free from sin.

Extra‐special Fasting means fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard in everything but Allah, Great and Glorious is He.

This kind of fast is broken by thinking of anything other than Allah, Great and Glorious is He, and the Hereafter; it is broken by thinking of worldly matters except those conducive to religious ends, since these constitute provisions for the Hereafter and are not of this lower world. Those versed in the spiritual life of the heart have even said that a sin is recorded against one who concerns himself all day with the arrangements for breaking his fast. Such anxiety stems from lack of trust in the bounty of Allah, Great and Glorious is He, and from lack of certain faith in His promised sustenance.

To this third degree belong the Prophets, the true saints and the intimates of Allah. It does not lend itself to detailed examination in words, as its true nature is better revealed in action. It consists in utmost dedication to Allah, Great and Glorious is He, to the neglect of everything other than Allah, Exalted is He. It is bound up with significance of His words:

“Say: ‘Allah!’ then leaves them to their idle prattling.” (Al‐An’am v 91)


As for Special Fasting, this is the kind practised by the righteous. It means keeping all one’s organs free from sin and six things are required for its accomplishment:

A chaste regard, restrained from viewing anything that is blameworthy or reprehensible, or that distracts the heart and diverts it from the remembrance of Allah, Great and Glorious is He, Said the Prophet: “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 receive from Him, Great and Glorious is He, a faith the sweetness of which he will find in his heart.”

Jabir relates from Anas that the Messenger of Allah, said: “Five things break a
man’s fast: lying, backbiting, slandering, perjury and lustful gaze.”

Guarding one’s tongue from twaddle [useless talk]. Lying, backbiting, slandering, obscenity, rudeness, wrangling and controversy; making it observe silence and occupying it with the remembrance of Allah, Great and Glorious is He, and with recitation of the Qur’an. This is the fasting of the tongue.

Sufyan said: “Backbiting corrupts the fast.” Layth quotes Mujahid as saying: “Two habits corrupt fasting: backbiting and telling lies.”

The Prophet 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.’”

According to tradition, two women were fasting during the time of Allah’s Messenger. They were so fatigued towards the end of the day, from hunger and thirst that they were on the verge of collapsing. They therefore sent a message to the Messenger of Allah requesting permission to break their fast.

In response, the Prophet sent them a bowl and said: “Tell them to vomit into it what they have eaten.” One of them vomited and filled half of the bowl with flesh blood and tender meat, while the other brought up the same so that they filled it between them. The onlookers were astonished.

Then the Prophet said: “These two women have been fasting from what Allah made lawful to them. They sat together and indulged in backbiting, and here is the flesh of the people they maligned!”

Closing one’s ear to everything reprehensible; everything unlawful to utter is likewise unlawful to listen to. That is why Allah, Great and Glorious is He, equated the eavesdropper with the profiteer, in His words, Exalted is He: “Listeners to falsehood, consumers of illicit gain.” (Al‐Ma’idah v 42)

Allah, Great and Glorious is He, also said: “Why do their rabbis and priests not forbid them to utter sin and consume unlawful profit?” Silence in the face of backbiting is therefore unlawful. Allah, Exalted is He, said: “You are then just like them.” (An‐Nisa v 140). That is why the Prophet said: “The backbiter and his listener are co‐partners in sin.”

Keeping all other limbs and organs away from sin: the hands and feet from reprehensible deeds, and the stomach from questionable food at the time for breaking fast. It is meaningless to fast, to abstain from lawful food, only to break one’s fast on what is unlawful. A man who fasts like this may be compared to one who builds a castle but demolishes a city. Lawful food is injurious in quantity not in quality, so fasting is to reduce the former. A person may give up excessive use of medicine, from fear of ill effects, but he would be a fool to switch to taking poison.

The unlawful is a poison deadly to religion, while the lawful is medicine, beneficial in small doses but harmful in excess. The object of fasting is to induce moderation. The Prophet 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, break their fast on human flesh through backbiting, which is unlawful. Others consider it an allusion to those who do not guard their organ from sin.

Not to over‐indulge in lawful food at the time of breaking fast, to the point of stuffing one’s stomach. There is no receptacle more odious to Allah, Great and Glorious is He, than a belly stuffed full with lawful food. Of what use is the fast as a means of conquering Allah’s enemy and abating appetite, 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 has even become the custom to stock up for Ramadan with all kinds of food, so that more is consumed during that time than in the course of several other months put together. It is well known that the object of fasting is to experience hunger and to keep check of your desire, in order to reinforce the soul in piety. If the stomach is starved from early morning till evening, so that no appetite is aroused and its craving intensified, and it is then offered delicacies and allowed to eat its fill, its taste for pleasure is increased and its force exaggerated; passions are activated which would have lain dormant under normal conditions.

The spirit and secret nature 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 intake to what one would consume on a normal night, when not fasting. 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 the 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 carry over into the night, making it easier to perform the night prayers (tahajjud) and to recite the litanies (award). 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 Allah, Glorious and Exalted is He: “We surely revealed it on the Night of Power.” (Al‐Qadr v 1)

Any one who puts a bag of food between his heart and his breast becomes blind to this revelation. But merely keeping the stomach empty is insufficient to remove the veil, unless one also empties the mind of everything but Allah, Great and Glorious is
He. That is the entire matter, and the starting point of it all is cutting down on food.

After the fast has been broken, the believer should swing like a pendulum between fear and hope. For one does not know if one’s fast will be accepted, so that one will find favour with Allah, or whether it will be rejected, leaving one among those He abhors. 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 that he once passed by a group of people who were laughing merrily. He said: “Allah, Great and Glorious is He, has made the month of Ramadan a racecourse, on which His creatures compete in His worship. Some have come in first and have 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 wastrels. By Allah, if the veil were lifted off, the door of good would surely be preoccupied with his good works and the evildoer with his evil deeds.” In other words, the man whose fast has been accepted will be too full of joy to indulge in idle sport, while for one who has suffered rejection, laughter will be precluded by remorse.

Of Al‐Ahnaf Ibn Qays it is reported that he was once told: “You are an aged elder; fasting would enfeeble you.” But he replied: “By this I am getting ready for a long journey. Obedience to Allah, Glorified is He, is easier to endure than His punishment.”

Source: Fasting & Ramadan: The Essentials by SM Hasan Al‐Banna


Special Ramadan Series

Dear Reader, Assalaamu’alaikum.

Ramadan Mubarak. We wish you a blessed and productive Ramadan! Make no mistake about it - keeping the fast and increasing our acts of worship during this blessed month is not an easy task. The physical demands of balancing work or school with fasting all day, feeling fatigued and less effective than you normally are, waking up for Suhoor, praying Teraweeh and Tahajjud prayers, dealing with sleep deficits.

But the last thing we would want is to let Ramadan pass us by without doing all that we aim and desire to. Do not allow yourself to feel guilty or regretful when Ramadan passes.

The Ramadan Series will send you emails with practical tips on how to gain and maintain the physical and spiritual energy necessary to embark on increased religious oligations so that you will reap the benefits from this blessed month. This includes special Ramadan duas to say during the month. Do sign-up today!

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