Teachings of Islam on Fasting
Importance of Self-reform and Abstention from Base Desires
The Light (UK), August 2010 Issue (pp. 1–3)
یٰۤاَیُّہَا الَّذِیۡنَ اٰمَنُوۡا کُتِبَ عَلَیۡکُمُ الصِّیَامُ کَمَا کُتِبَ عَلَی الَّذِیۡنَ مِنۡ قَبۡلِکُمۡ لَعَلَّکُمۡ تَتَّقُوۡنَ ﴿۱۸۳﴾ۙ
1. “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.” — The Holy Quran, 2:183.
وَ اِذَا سَاَلَکَ عِبَادِیۡ عَنِّیۡ فَاِنِّیۡ قَرِیۡبٌ ؕ اُجِیۡبُ دَعۡوَۃَ الدَّاعِ اِذَا دَعَانِ ۙ فَلۡیَسۡتَجِیۡبُوۡا لِیۡ وَ لۡیُؤۡمِنُوۡا بِیۡ لَعَلَّہُمۡ یَرۡشُدُوۡنَ ﴿۱۸۶﴾
2. Allah says: “And when My servants ask you (O Prophet) about Me, surely I am near. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me, so they should hear My call and believe in Me that they may walk in the right way.” — The Holy Quran, 2:186.
وَ لَا تَاۡکُلُوۡۤا اَمۡوَالَکُمۡ بَیۡنَکُمۡ بِالۡبَاطِلِ وَ تُدۡلُوۡا بِہَاۤ اِلَی الۡحُکَّامِ لِتَاۡکُلُوۡا فَرِیۡقًا مِّنۡ اَمۡوَالِ النَّاسِ بِالۡاِثۡمِ وَ اَنۡتُمۡ تَعۡلَمُوۡنَ ﴿۱۸۸﴾٪
3. “And swallow not up your property among yourselves by false means, nor seek to gain access thereby to the authorities so that you may swallow up other people’s property wrongfully while you know.” — The Holy Quran, 2:188.
4. “He who does not give up uttering falsehood and acting according to it, God has no need of his giving up his food and drink.” — The Holy Prophet Muhammad.
5. Jesus fasted forty days and forty nights, and explained it by saying: “It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:2–4). Moses also fasted forty days and forty nights (Exodus 34:28).
Purpose of Fasting in Islam:
- To develop and strengthen our powers of self-control, so that we can resist wrongful desires and bad habits, and therefore “guard against evil” (see extract 1 above). In fasting, by refraining from the natural human urges to satisfy one’s appetite, we are exercising our ability of self-restraint, so that we can then apply it in our everyday life to bring about self-improvement.
- To attain nearness and closeness to God so that He becomes a reality in our lives. As we bear the rigours of fasting purely for the sake of following a Divine commandment, knowing and feeling that He can see all our actions, however secret, it intensifies the consciousness of God in our hearts, resulting in a higher spiritual experience (see extract 2 above).
- To learn to refrain from usurping other’s rights and belongings. In fasting we voluntarily give up even what is rightfully ours; how can then we think of unlawfully taking what is not ours but belongs to someone else? (See extract 3 above).
- Charity and generosity is especially urged during Ramadan. We learn to give, and not to take. The deprivation of fasting makes us sympathise with the suffering of others, and want to try to alleviate it; and it makes us remember the blessings of life which we normally take for granted.
Fasting in Islam does not just consist of refraining from eating and drinking, but from every kind of selfish desire and wrong-doing. The fast is not merely of the body, but essentially that of the spirit as well (see extract 4 above). The physical fast is a symbol and outward expression of the real, inner fast.
Fasting is a spiritual practice to be found in all religions (see extracts 1 and 5 above). The great Founders of various faiths, such as Buddha, Moses and Jesus, practised quite rigorous fasting as a preliminary to attaining their first experience of spiritual enlightenment and communion with God. This kind of communion is indicated in extract 2 above.
Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad on Fasting:
“People are unaware of the true nature of fasting. The fact is that no country or realm can be described if one has not been there. Fasting is not just the state of remaining hungry and thirsty. Its nature and effect can only be discovered by experience. The human makeup is such that the less food is consumed the greater is the purification of the soul and the development of the powers of inner vision. God’s purpose is that you should reduce one kind of food (physical) and increase the other kind (spiritual). The person fasting must remember that the aim is not simply to remain hungry; he should be engrossed in the remembrance of God so as to attain severance from worldly desires. The object of fasting is that a person should abstain from the food which nourishes the body and obtain the other food which satisfies and brings solace to the soul. Those who truly fast for the sake of attaining to God, and not merely as a custom, should be absorbed in the praise and glorification of God, and in meditating upon His Unity.”
Maulana Muhammad Ali on Fasting:
“The real purpose of fasting is to attain righteousness. A person who undergoes hunger and thirst, but does not behave righteously, has done nothing. If someone is told the aim and object of doing a certain duty, and he does that duty but without attaining the required aim and object, it is as if he has not done that duty.”
Prayers during Ramadan urged by Maulana Muhammad Ali on our Jamaat [Movement]:
In the month of Ramadan, Maulana Muhammad Ali used to exhort the Jamaat to undertake a spiritual exertion (called a mujahida) in two forms. One was to fall in prayer before God and beseech Him tearfully in tahajjud prayers to enable us to carry out the work of the propagation of Islam and the Quran, and the other was to make financial sacrifices. In this connection he has written many heart-felt, moving prayers in his articles and khutbas [sermons] published in Paigham Sulh and entreated every member of the Jamaat [Movement] that at least in the month of Ramadan they should treat the tahajjud prayer as obligatory for them.
Some prayers that he urged upon the Jamaat are translated from Urdu below. These are based on the Sura Fatiha. Each verse of the Sura is followed by a prayer based on the meaning of the verse.
اَلۡحَمۡدُ لِلّٰہِ رَبِّ الۡعٰلَمِیۡنَ ۙ﴿۱﴾
“Al-hamdu li-llahi Rabb il-‘alamin — ‘All praise is for Allah, the Lord of the worlds’. O God, You have provided the very best means for the physical development of human beings. Now provide for Your creation spiritual nourishment through the Quran, as they have moved far off from You and are lost in darkness, racing towards destruction. Acquaint their hearts with the bliss that is attained by bowing at Your threshold.
“O God, Who granted the Holy Prophet Muhammad and his Companions unique success, enabling them to transform the destinies of entire countries and nations, foster and nourish us and our Jamaat today to make it reach the pinnacle of success in spreading the Quran and propagating Islam in the world. Let the foundations for the propagation of Your religion be laid by our hands, upon which an edifice continues to be raised till the Day of Judgment.
الرَّحۡمٰنِ الرَّحِیۡمِ ۙ﴿۲﴾
“Ar-Rahman-ir-Rahim — ‘The Beneficent, the Merciful’. Your mercy is so boundless that it is aroused even without humans asking for it. It is by Your mercy that the efforts of human beings come to fruition. By Your beneficence, provide guidance through the Quran to those who are engulfed in darkness. Make successful our insignificant efforts, that we may take Your holy message to these people.
مٰلِکِ یَوۡمِ الدِّیۡنِ ؕ﴿۳﴾
“Maliki yaum-id-din — ‘Master of the day of Judgment’. O God, we are Your humble, unworthy servants. There are shortcomings in us, in myself, in my Jamaat. Sometimes Your orders are even disobeyed. By means of Your authority of judgment, forgive our faults and infringements, and let them not be obstacles to the success of our efforts.
اِیَّاکَ نَعۡبُدُ وَ اِیَّاکَ نَسۡتَعِیۡنُ ؕ﴿۴﴾
“Iyya-ka na‘budu wa iyya-ka nasta‘in — ‘You do we serve and You do we beseech for help’. We serve You and wish to exalt Your name in the world. This is the sole aim of our lives. But we are small in numbers and weak while the task is colossal. We who are exhausted, weak, humble and sinful, beg only You for help. Grant this Jamaat the success which You bestow on people who spread Your name in the world.
اِہۡدِ نَا الصِّرَاطَ الۡمُسۡتَقِیۡمَ ۙ﴿۵﴾ صِرَاطَ الَّذِیۡنَ اَنۡعَمۡتَ عَلَیۡہِمۡ ۙ۬
“Ihdi-nas-sirat al-mustaqim, sirat-allazina an-‘amta ‘alai-him — ‘Guide us on the right path, the path of those upon whom You bestowed favours’. You have been showering Your servants with the greatest favours. You have never let those fail who made it their aim in life to exalt Your name. Guiding us on the straight path, confer on us the same favour which You granted to those before us. Blow the breeze of Your help upon us as You made it flow for them and open the doors of Your bounty upon us in the same way.
غَیۡرِ الۡمَغۡضُوۡبِ عَلَیۡہِمۡ وَ لَا الضَّآلِّیۡنَ ٪﴿۷﴾
“Ghair-il-maghdubi ‘alai-him wa la-ddallin — ‘Not those upon whom wrath is brought down, nor those who go astray’. O Master, let it not be that we make worldly gain to be our objective and give up spreading religion, as is the state of the general Muslims today, or that we become misguided and destroy our powers for the sake of following exaggerated, wrong beliefs, as some are doing.”
Another Prayer by Maulana Muhammad Ali:
“O God, Your Holy Word that was revealed for the guidance of the world is not being spread even by its believers. But it is Your promise that You will make it prevail in the world. We too heard the voice of one who came to call to Your message (Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad), and our feeble hands came forward to take this great burden. It was this voice which revived our dead hearts. But our Jamaat is like an ant facing the mountain of unbelief. It is Your promise which has strengthened our hearts. We need Your help above all. We know we are unworthy and not fit to receive Your help, but, O God, Your religion, Your Quran and Your Prophet are deserving of Your help. Let help for them be today manifested through our hands, may Your light illuminate our dark hearts, and may we witness with our own eyes the fulfilment of Your promise.”
— From Mujahid-i Kabir, Urdu biography of Maulana Muhammad Ali, pages 267–270.