This Is Why We Fast

This Is Why We Fast

by | May 17, 2015 | Fasting, Ramadan

The Purpose of Fasting

In the Name of Allāh, all praise is due to Allāh, praise and security be upon the Messenger of Allāh.

To proceed:

The beautiful month of Ramaḍān is just around the corner and some of us, with the permission of Allāh, will be fasting almost 19 hours of the day. Living in England means we end up experiencing a whole Gregorian-calendar year of fasting every 33 years. [I was born on the first of Ramaḍān 33 years ago, thus in my lifetime, I have lived through Ramaḍān in every month of the Gregorian calendar wal-ḥamdulillāh].  So, we experience the extremely short and cold fasts in winter (9 hours long) and the long and hot fasts in summer al-ḥamdulillāh.

19 hours is a long time. Over 30 days that’s almost 570 hours of fasting during the summer. If you were to fast for 50 years you would have clocked up 1500 days of Ramaḍān fasting. In an average lifetime, a Muslim will have clocked up around 20,000 hours of fasting.

The Opportunity of Immense Rewards

Now, Allāh the Exalted normally rewards a person between 10-700 times the worth of one deed. However, in Ramaḍān, because Allāh holds fasting in such high regards He states He will reward it Himself i.e. however much He wants. In a ḥadīth reported by Muslim the Prophet [praise and security be upon him] said:

“Every action of the son of Ādam is given manifold reward, each good receiving ten times its like, up to seven hundred times. Allāh the Most High said:

“Except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will give recompense for it…”

So an optimistic person will be expecting a massive pay check on the Day of Judgement for all those hours they’ve put into going without food, drink and sex and putting up with hunger, thirst, lack of sleep, heat etc.

The Chance of Failure

I haven’t mentioned the above stats for fun.

Imagine standing in front of Allāh on the Day of Judgement and those 1500 days of fasting are placed on your scale of deeds and you are expecting to be rewarded handsomely for your efforts and instead of being rewarded with unimaginable and plentiful delights you are told that all your efforts, those 50 years of fasting, the 1500 days, the countless hours without food and water, experiencing all forms of discomfort from hunger and thirst, the lack of sleep and all the energies expended in praying at night count for absolutely nothing.

Instead, you are told, the only thing you earned from your abstention of food and water is hunger and thirst.

This is not a hypothetical scenario I’m talking about here. Some people will indeed end up with nothing but hunger and thirst as their reward from fasting.

Abū Hurayrah [Allāh be pleased with him] reported that the Prophet [praise and security of Allāh be upon him] said:

“Perhaps a fasting person will get nothing from his fast except hunger, and perhaps the one who stands to pray at night will get nothing from his standing except sleeplessness.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmiʾ]

Why? How could this happen? What can we do to ensure our efforts are not wasted so tragically?

Knowing Your Goal

The key to ensuring we do not end up like those people who will have wasted their efforts is to understand what the goal of fasting is, to understand what Allāh our Creator wants from us during Ramaḍān from our fasting. If we can comprehend that goal and purpose and understand what Allāh wants us to achieve; it will help us to ensure we do not turn up on the Day of Judgement with our efforts completely wasted.

When a person knows what his goal is, it helps to sharpen his determination and focus. He ends up utilising his time efficiently and not being distracted by frivolous and useless things that divert him from his goal. Knowing his goal allows him to measure his progress towards it and determine if he has gone off track so that he can put himself back in line. A person who does not know his goal is like the driver who drives his car without a destination. Yes he is driving, but he isn’t getting anywhere. Similarly, you could be fasting, but not be getting anything out of it.

The Objective of Fasting

In order to find the objective of fasting we need to look at the Qurʾān, the uncreated Word of Allāh. An important point to note here, before we examine the relevant āyah, is that Allāh informs us that the Qurʾān is guidance for those who have taqwā, i.e. to benefit from the guidance contained within the Qurʾān we need to become people of taqwā. Allāh says:

ذَٰلِكَ ٱلۡكِتَٰبُ لَا رَيۡبَۛ فِيهِۛ هُدٗى
لِّلۡمُتَّقِينَ ٢

{That is the Book in which there is no doubt. Guidance for those who have taqwā} [2:2]

Pertinently, when we look at the passage relating to fasting we find that Allāh explicitly informs us that the purpose and objective of fasting during the month of Ramaḍān is to attain this thing called taqwā. Allāh says:

يَٰٓأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ ءَامَنُواْ كُتِبَ
عَلَيۡكُمُ ٱلصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبۡلِكُمۡ
لَعَلَّكُمۡ تَتَّقُونَ ١٨٣

{O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may attain taqwā.} [2:183]

So, now you know what the purpose of fasting is. It is to attain this thing called taqwā. However, you cannot attain something you know nothing about. So:

What is Taqwā?

Linguistically, taqwā has been defined as being anything which one uses to shield himself.

In the Sharīʿāh however, taqwā has been defined in many different ways by our Salaf; however, the key point to understand is that all these different definitions that you will find essentially carry the same meaning.

So for instance, ʿAlī [Allāh be pleased with him] stated:

“Taqwā is to act upon the Divine Revelation, be content with little, to fear the Exalted and to prepare for the day of departure.”

When Muʿādh b. Jabal [Allāh be pleased with him] was asked to define those who had taqwā, he said:

“People who fearfully protect themselves from shirk and the worship of idols and they make worship sincerely for Allāh.”

Ibn Masʿūd [Allāh be pleased with him] said:

“Taqwā of Allāh is that He is remembered and not forgotten, that He is obeyed and not disobeyed and that He is thanked and not shown ingratitude.”

ʿUmar b. ʿAbd al-ʿAzīz [Allāh have mercy upon him] stated:

“Taqwā is not fasting during the day nor standing during the night and mixing between the two. Taqwā is to leave what Allāh prohibited and fulfil what He obligated, so whoever has been provided goodness after that then that is goodness upon goodness.”

The best definition of taqwā from the Salaf which encapsulates all of the above is that of the Successor, Ṭalq b. Ḥabīb [Allāh have mercy upon him] who said:

“When trials and tribulations occur, extinguish them with taqwā.” They asked: “What is taqwā?” He replied:

“That you practice the obedience of Allāh with a light from Allāh hoping for the reward of Allāh and that you leave disobedience to Allāh with a light from Allāh fearing the punishment of Allāh.”

It is said that ʿUmar b. Al-Khaṭṭāb asked Ubayy b. Kaʿb [Allāh be pleased with them both] about taqwā to which he said: “Have you walked down a path full of thorns?” He replied: “Of course.” He asked: “So what did you do?” ʿUmar said: “I tucked up my garment and went to great lengths [to avoid being harmed].” Ubayy said: “That is taqwā.”

The central point all of the Salaf were trying to make is that taqwā is nothing more than doing what Allāh ordered us to do and staying away from what He has prohibited, in hope of His Mercy and rewards and in fear of His Anger and punishment.

The Essence of Taqwā

So imagine if you will, that you are on one side of a wall and the anger and punishment of Allāh is on the other side of the wall. The wall is your shield i.e. taqwā. Your shield is made out of the performance of what Allāh has commanded and the avoidance of what He has prohibited. This is the essence of taqwā.

Taqwā and Guidance

The Qurʾān, as we mentioned earlier, is guidance for those who have taqwa i.e. it is guidance for those who are looking to do what Allāh ordered them to do and to avoid what He prohibited. So is it not interesting how Allāh tells us that the objective of fasting is to acquire taqwa and the month of Ramaḍān is known as Shahrul-Qurʾān [The Month of the Qurʾān]?

If you fast during Ramaḍān


You will attain taqwā


If you attain taqwā


You will be able to benefit from the guidance in the Qurʾān

The above helps us to understand why there is so much of a focus on the Qurʾān during the month of Ramaḍān – we are primed during Ramaḍān to benefit from its guidance.

The Levels of Fasting

In order to achieve taqwā though, we need to benefit fully from fasting. For there are some people who take nothing away from fasting in Ramaḍān except for hunger and thirst. Abū Hurayrah [Allāh be pleased with him] reported that the Prophet [praise and security of Allāh be upon him] said:

“Perhaps a fasting person will get nothing from his fast except hunger, and perhaps the one who stands to pray at night will get nothing from his standing except sleeplessness.” [Ṣaḥīḥ al-Jāmiʾ]

Accordingly, the scholars mention that there are 3 levels of fasting:

  1. Fasting of the Masses
    1. This is to restrain one’s stomach and private parts from fulfilling one’s desires i.e. avoiding food, drink and sex
    2. This is the lowest level of fasting
  2. Fasting of the Special Ones
    1. This is to do the above AND restrain one’s eyes, tongue, hands, feet, hearing, sight and the rest of the limbs from committing sins
    2. This is the middle level of fasting
  3. Fasting of the Elite
    1. This is to do all of the above AND fast with the heart by restraining it from all lowly thoughts and concerns which are distant from Allāh and to restrain oneself from anything other than Allāh.
    2. This is the highest level of fasting

This is the level of fasting Allāh is expecting from us. The one in which we restrain all of our limbs and faculties from anything Allāh dislikes and has made prohibited and even from those things which have no benefit even though they are not makrūh or ḥarām. It is for our hearts to be constantly preoccupied with Allāh and not being distracted by lowly thoughts and distractions.


Thus the aim of fasting is not merely the fasting of the body which is how most people understand it i.e. avoiding food, drink and sexual intercourse. A healthy person can go without food for approximately 60 days in extreme cases and one can also go without water for up to 5 days or so although it all depends on a number of variable factors. But this is not the place for delving into such intricacies as fleetingly interesting as they may sound.

The real purpose of fasting then, is the fasting of the heart which means to avoid all forbidden matters. It is to avoid backbiting, slander, lewd talk and foolish behaviour for the Prophet [praise and security of Allāh be upon him] said:

“Whoever does not give up false speech and acting upon it, Allāh has no need of his giving up his food and drink.” Reported by al-Bukhārī.

It is to engage in constant worship and remembrance of Allāh and not being neglectful of Him for an instant. That is the purpose of fasting. It is a means of training one’s soul, to place the parameters beyond our normal standards for a whole month in the hope that we continue to live up to those lofty standards after the month has passed.

The Removal of Obstacles

During the month of Ramaḍān, Allāh removes the principal obstacles towards good that we face every other day. He removes the whisperings of the leading devils for they are all locked up, He forbids us from feeding our desires for the duration of the day so as to weaken the nafs which usually inclines towards evil. Due to not being nourished with food, drink and sex, the nafs becomes weak thus allowing the higher and nobler part of us to take over during the month. It thus becomes easier for us to perform good deeds and behave in a righteous manner since all the barriers and motivators of evil are extinguished to a great extent during the month. We are in control even more than before.

Due to all these facilitative factors some of the Salaf advised us strongly to make sure that the days we fast are distinctly different from the days we do not fast. If the days we fast and the days we do not fast are exactly the same; then we are in trouble. Ramaḍān, therefore, is perfect grounds for training ourselves to discipline our souls without the usual pressures and threats we would have faced.

This makes it perfect for us to attain taqwa during the month of Ramaḍān. Taqwā in essence is to place between oneself and Allāh a shield from His Anger and punishment due to having reverential fear of Him. This is done by performing the duties He has obligated upon us and avoiding prohibited matters in expectation of a reward from Him and a light from Him and for fear of displeasing and angering Him and thus being under the threat of His punishment.

This is taqwā. As you can see – it’s not just about avoiding food, drink and sex. It’s a complete way of living and thinking that touches upon every part of our lives.

I ask Allāh the Mighty and Exalted to provide us with that special assistance [tawfīq] that He gives His slaves so that we can benefit from Ramaḍān in the manner He wants. I ask Allāh to help us achieve the primary goal of fasting and to bless us with all the rewards He has promised to those who fast for His sake alone.

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