Our beloved Messenger ﷺ said, “Fasting is half of ṣabr” (Tirmidhī).
Ṣabr, often translated as patience, refers to holding back our reactions and being in control of our emotions, and to persevere in doing something we dislike, for the sake of Allah. Ṣabr is a key provision in our journey to Allah.
The reward of ṣabr is unique. Allah (subḥānahū wa taʿālā) informs us,
إِنَّمَّا يُوَفَّى ٱلصَّٰبِرُوْنَ أَجْرَهُمْ بِغَيْرِ حِسَابٍ
“Certainly, those who observe patience will be given their reward in full without measure” (39:10).
Like fasting, the reward of ṣabr has been left unspecified. It has been kept a surprise. This is because it is a difficult quality to attain. To persevere and not give up, to endure life’s difficulties without complaint and to continue struggling against all the odds is a trait of the great. It is as Allah described, one of the “matters that require strong resolve” (31:7).
Ṣabr is the path to attaining Allah’s forgiveness, mercy, and guidance. It is the secret to worldly and eternal success. It is the means of being protected from one’s enemies, and to becoming a role model for the believers. Ṣabr leads to one enjoying the special companionship (maʿiyyah) of Allah, and attaining His love.
There are three types of ṣabr
Fasting combines the three types of ṣabr:
(1) Ṣabr in obeying Allah
The first type of ṣabr involves persevering and remaining steadfast on the commands of Allah. Throughout Ramaḍān, standing for long during the night prayers, spending long durations in the recitation of the Qur’ān, and iʿtikāf in the masjid require ṣabr. Fasting for 20+ hours in certain countries, along with other life commitments, such as long hours at work, isn’t always easy. Thus, enduring the hunger, thirst and fatigue for the sake of Allah develops ṣabr.
(2) Ṣabr in staying away from sins
The second type of ṣabr is ṣabr in staying away from sins. Fasting especially, is designed to help us develop this type of ṣabr. The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Fasting is a shield from the Hell-fire” (Tirmidhī). Fasting restrains lust and greed for food. Fasting also includes the ‘fasting’ of the tongue, eyes, ears etc. Controlling these impulses should make us less vulnerable to shayṭān and sinning. When this occurs, our hearts become purified, and we will inshāAllah be saved from the punishment of the Hell-fire.
(3) Ṣabr in regards to the trials Allah has decreed
Fasting nurtures the soul to bear difficulties. It develops a person’s willpower and resolve. A person who fasts regularly (and properly) is much more equipped to respond to life’s challenges with patience and fortitude.
Imām al-Ghazālī (raḥimahullāh) categorised those who fast into three categories:
Fasting is a physical and spiritual detox: it removes the toxins from the body and the spiritual heart, allowing our bodies and souls to heal and become healthy. Fasting is a training programme to help us stop sinning, especially the sins of the tongue, the eyes and the ears.
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “There are many who fast, who gain nothing of their fast except hunger; and there are many who stand for the night prayer, who gain nothing of their prayer except sleeplessness” (Ibn Mājah).
This ḥadīth illustrates the wisdom behind fasting. It is not merely to give up food, drink and intimacy, but rather it is to be conscious of Allah (ʿazza wa jall) in every action.
In order to protect ourselves from this warning, we should be extremely conscious of our tongues in Ramaḍān.
- Backbiting and slandering
- Foul language
- Saying hurtful things
The Messenger of Allah ﷺ said, “Whoever does not give up lying and false conduct, Allah has no need in him giving up his food and his drink” (Bukhārī). Similarly, he ﷺ said, “Fasting is a shield, as long as one does not damage it.” In another narration, he ﷺ said, “By lying or backbiting” (Nasā’ī).
We should be very conscious of every word we utter. The Prophet ﷺ said, “Indeed, one of you utters a statement which pleases Allah, thinking it does not amount to much; yet Allah decrees His pleasure with him because of it, until the day he will meet Him. And indeed, one of you utters a statement which angers Allah, thinking it does not amount to much; yet Allah decrees His anger with him because of it, until the day he will meet Him” (Tirmidhī).
“If you see hardness in your heart, weakness in your body, and deprivation in your livelihood, know that you have spoken about something that does not concern you!” – Mālik b. Dīnār (rahimahullah)
Ramaḍān is the perfect time to cultivate our akhlāq (good character), to develop self-restraint, and to control our tongues; and this should be something we carry forward to the rest of the year, and make it a permanent part of our lives The Prophet ﷺ taught us a method to use during our fasts: “When one of you wakes up fasting, he should neither use obscene language nor act ignorantly. If anyone insults him or argues with him, he should say: ‘I am fasting, I am fasting.’” (Muslim) This also teaches us that a true Muslim is conscious of other’s feelings and does not hurt them with his words.
“A man fasts from the pure and lawful, but he breaks his fast with the evil and unlawful: the flesh of his brother (i.e. ruins his fast by backbiting his brother).” – Yāḥyā b. Kathīr (raḥimahullāh)
Similarly, we should be conscious in our dealings, and we should make an active effort to stop cheating, being fraudulent in our dealings, and dealing with interest (ribā).
Ramaḍān should train us to become real Muslims, as our beloved Prophet ﷺ said, “The Muslim is the one from whose tongue and hand the people are safe.” (Nasā’ī)
ʿAbdullāh b. al-Mubārak (raḥimahullāh) was asked, “Summarise for us good character in one phrase.” He replied, “Avoiding anger.” Ramaḍān is the time to control our anger, and especially when we may be feeling irritable due to hunger (‘hangry’). If you feel angry, seek Allah’s protection from shayṭān, perform wuḍū, move away and control your tongue. Ramaḍān is the time to develop forbearance, to overlook people’s faults and to refrain from reacting when provoked.
“Tie up your anger with a ‘chain’ of forbearance. Anger is like a dog; if it is let loose, it will wreak havoc.” – Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh)
The purpose of fasting is to attain taqwā: to train ourselves to stop sinning. Sometimes we may limit our understanding of worship and taqwā to something which is only between us and Allah. But what fasting teaches us is that Allah takes the rights of His servants very seriously. If we violate the honour and rights of our fellow believers, our fasting becomes deficient, and may not be accepted to Allah. Hours and nights of worship can be reduced into nothing, and it may be due to just a minute of backbiting. The nūr of fasting and qiyām should become apparent in our daily lives, and especially in our interactions with our families, neighbours and colleagues.
“Let there be an aura of tranquillity and dignity on the day of your fast. And don’t make the day when you fast the same as the day you don’t fast.” – Jābir (raḍiy Allāhu ʿanhumā)
We have to protect ourselves from all ḥarām, including looking at that which is ḥarām. This has become especially more important in our times, with the increase in shamelessness, easy access to ḥarām images and the normalisation of it. The eye is the entry point to our heart. What we look at affects our emotions, desires and thoughts. Gazing at ḥarām gives shayṭān open access to our hearts.
Once you see something ḥarām and it captivates you, your heart becomes imprisoned by it, and you can’t stop thinking about it. This is why the scholars said that lowering the gaze liberates the heart from the clutches of one’s desires. Allah (ʿazza wa jall) says, “Tell the believing men to lower their gaze and guard their chastity. That is purer for them…” (24:30). Thus, one of the most powerful means to purify the soul is guarding one’s gaze and protecting one’s private parts.
One of our key goals of fasting should be to train ourselves to stop looking at ḥarām. The Prophet ﷺ prescribed fasting for those who did not have the means to marry. He ﷺ said, “Young men! Whosoever is capable of maintaining a marriage, should do so; for indeed it is more conducive to lowering the gaze and protecting one’s chastity. And whoever is not able, then he should fast, as it restrains desires” (Bukhārī). There is a strong link between fasting and protecting one’s gaze. Fasting properly (by not overeating; controlling one’s eyes, tongue etc.) should lead a person to develop a greater level of self-restraint, and be able to control himself the next time he is tempted to look at ḥarām.
Fasting: A Metaphor For Life
Fasting is a metaphor for life. Throughout the day, we experience hunger, thirst and tiredness. We experience difficulties for the sake of Allah. At the end of the day, we gladly eat and say,
ذَهَبَ الظَّمَأُ ، وَابْتَلَّتِ الْعُرُوْقُ ، وَثَبَتَ الْأَجْرُ إِنْ شَاءَ اللهُ
“The thirst has gone, the veins have been moistened, and the reward has been secured, if Allah wills.”
Likewise, throughout our lives we should undergo struggle and difficulties in seeking knowledge, establishing the dīn of Allah on His earth, and staying away from the ḥarām. And at the time of death, we hope that we will also figuratively say, “The thirst has gone, the veins have been moistened, and the reward has been secured, if Allah wills.” The difficulties have come to an end, and we hope for a great reward from Allah.
We ask Allah al-Qawiyy (The Strong) to grant us the strength to stay away from sins, and the ability to persevere on the truth.