Why do you fast? Is it because everyone around you does? Is it because it’s one of the five pillars?
Have you ever wondered why it is one of the five pillars? Although we strive to learn about the legal rulings of fasting, we often miss out on reflecting upon and attaining the spiritual elements of fasting. Fasting is a deeply spiritual act of worship. It is meant to transform us, both internally and externally.
The greatest purpose of fasting has been given to us in the Qur’ān. Allah says,
يا أيُّها الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيامُ كَما كُتِبَ عَلى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
“…Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may attain taqwā (piety and mindfulness of Allah)” (2:183).
Thus, the purpose of fasting is to attain taqwā. Taqwā is to protect yourself from the punishment of Allah by avoiding His prohibitions and implementing His commands.
Taqwa is the believer’s provision in his journey to Allah al-Aḥad (The One). All the Prophets of Allah called their people to worship Allah and to live a life of taqwā. Taqwā is the path to attaining the love, mercy and help of Allah. Taqwā allows us to distinguish between truth and falsehood, to overpower shayṭān and gain victory over our enemies. Through taqwā, our sins are forgiven, great rewards are amassed, and our deeds are accepted. Through taqwā, our difficulties are eased, and Allah al-Razzāq (The Ultimate Provider) provides for us from where we could not even imagine! Taqwā is the ultimate ingredient for success, as it is a shield from the Hell-fire and the path to Paradise.
How does fasting lead to taqwā?
The purpose of fasting is to train the nafs to restrain itself from its desires. Ibn al-Qayyim (raḥimahullāh) described fasting as the ‘rein of the muttaqīn (the pious)’.
When we fast, we temporarily make ḥarām on ourselves what is usually ḥalāl (eating, drinking etc). Fasting teaches us to say ‘NO!’ to our nafs and inner desires. This helps us to develop taqwā, making it easier to restrain ourselves from ḥarām throughout the year.
Fasting is, therefore, a means of training ourselves to obey Allah.
When we become used to eating and drinking at the same time every day, our bodies start to crave food and drink when we pass that time (and often before!). By fasting, we wean our nafs off from what it is accustomed to, refusing to give in to its desires. Instead of allowing our nafs to control us, we control our nafs.
Shayṭān has access to us through two primary means:
(1) Shahawāt: these are the desires and worldly attractions we experience, especially the desires of the private parts (lust) and the stomach (gluttony). Shahawāt are related to behaviour and actions.
(2) Shubuhāt: these are doubts which we may experience, about the commandments of Allah, and perhaps even Allah Himself. Shubuhāt are related to īmān (belief) and knowledge.
When we fast, we reduce our intake of food and drink and have a tighter reign over our desires (shahawāt). This reduces Shayṭān’s ability to attack us, and so we are less susceptible to falling prey to his whispers.
In this manner, we sin less, our hearts are purified, and we are able to clearly see the truth and submit to it more willingly. We become closer to our Creator, attaining genuine happiness and contentment, and advancing towards our eternal home. Allah says, “And as for those who feared standing before their Lord and restrained themselves from (evil) desires, Paradise will certainly be (their) home” (79:40-1).