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The Philosophy of Fasting

Philosophy of Fasting

SHAFAQNA- The general rule in Islam is that its commands and prohibitions are based on the advantages and disadvantages of the affairs, in other words, from the Islamic point of view, the good and the evil are hidden in every order or prohibition of any act or forbearance, and as God is the most merciful, God’s great mercy demands that God shows the complete path of salvation to man and prevents him from any factor that perverts man from this path, and for this purpose, God finally sent a perfect religion to guide man so that the legal book is in the hands of a leader, who is free from any errors and mistakes, so that people do not plea the absence of the prophets and the comprehensive law as a proof of their errors: “Messengers who gave good news as well as warning, that mankind, after (the coming) of the messengers, should have no plea against Allah (SWT)” the Quran (4: 165).

It is for this reason that God has established the rule of “non-bearable obligation” as one of the key jurisprudential and legal rules, meaning that in religious rulings, the power and strength of each person is subject to the opinion of the holy Shariah and in addition, according to the “ reluctance rule“, in case of any necessity beyond the individual’s will, the religious rules are flexible, provided that their principle is not affected. All these topics are under the divine “rule of grace”, both the principle of religious rules and its exceptions, which are based on the ability and conditions of each person.

One of these religious rules is fasting, which is based on religious necessity on one hand and its material and especially spiritual effects on the other hand. Fasting is one of the common rulings of heavenly and especially Abrahamic religions, and its continuation in the current form in Islam is itself a proof of Islam’s claim of the religious evolution of other religions.

The Philosophy of fasting in religions

In the Holy Quran, Lady Maryam (SA) (19:26) and Zakaria, the Prophet (PBUH) (19:10) were invited to silence fasting, which shows the existence of fasting in Judaism. In addition, the Torah emphasizes the necessity of fasting on Kippur day (the day of repentance and forgiveness of sinners): “It shall be an eternal law for you that on the tenth day of the seventh (Hebrew) month you suffer your souls (fast).” … because on this day you will be asked for forgiveness… (and in the case of repentance) you will be forgiven of all the wrongs you have committed against God” (Torah, Book of Leviticus, Chapter 16) – verses 29-31).

In Christianity, they also fast for forty days leading up to “Easter” (the day of the ascension of Jesus Christ from the point of view of Christians), but this fasting is completely different from Jewish and Islamic fasting. Likewise, according to the text of the Bible, Jesus Christ (AS) fasted for 40 days after the Holy Spirit descended upon him at the age of thirty (Matthew 2:4, Luke 2:4). In the Buddhist and Hindu religions, there are traditions about fasting on some days.

Philosophy of Fasting
The Philosophy of Fasting in Islam ©Shafaqna

In this way, the Holy Quran’s emphasis on the invariability of the divine tradition in the passage of time and space (33:62), in the obligation of fasting in all other religions, can be proven, and the differences in the quality of fasting in different religions are due to the natural difference in Sharia with the goal of perfection (5:48). To confirm this, we can also refer to verse 183 of Surah Al-Baqarah: “O’ you who believe, fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may learn self-restraint”.

​In a Hadith of the Holy Prophet (PBUH), he considered fasting to belong to God, who is the only one who can reward it:  

Allah (SWT) said: Fasting is for Me and I will reward it.”

On this basis, according to a hadith of Imam Baqir (AS), basically, Islam is based on several foundations, one of which is fasting: “Islam is based on five things, offering prayers and Zakat, Hajj, fasting and the guardianship of the innocent.”

However, the question that can be raised here is what is the philosophy of fasting in Islam that has been emphasized to such an extent? To answer this question, it should be stated that the philosophy of fasting has both spiritual and material aspects and its most important effects are:

1. Fasting and Divine piety

According to the Holy Quran, the peak of human salvation is attaining divine piety, that is, the highest level of servitude before God Almighty. Therefore, there is a special emphasis on piety in the whole of this divine book, and for example, in verse 197 of Surah Al-Baqarah, piety is introduced as the man’s best provision for the hereafter, and it is considered as a way of the wise: And take provisions, but indeed, the best provision is fear of Allah (SWT). And fear Me, O’ you of understanding”. 

By accepting such a principle, God in the above-mentioned verse (2:183) introduces one of the means of attaining piety: full observance of religious rules, especially prayer, fasting, and zakat: And it became obligatory for you and for others to practice divine piety.

2. Fasting as a reminder of the hereafter

This effect of fasting is emphasized in a hadith of Imam Ridha (AS). In response to the question regarding the philosophy of fasting, he said: “We were commanded to fast so that they would know the pain of hunger and thirst, so they should consider the poverty of the hereafter”.

3. The test of man’s humility before God

In verse 45 of Surah Al-Baqarah, it is stated:

“And seek help through patience (fasting) and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humble submissive to [Allah (SWT)].”

The Quran (2:45)

In this verse, in addition to introducing fasting as a factor to increase human patience and using this word instead of “fasting”, it is introduced only to those who humble themselves before the divine command. In the fact that this verse is talking about fasting, it is possible to refer to a hadith of Imam Sadiq (AS): In the saying of Allah (SWT), the glorious, “And seek help through patience and prayer”, patience is the same as fasting here.

4. Testing human patience

As you can see, in the above verse that God commanded you to get help from fasting and prayer in your affairs, the word “patience” is used, because refusing water and food, which are considered among the most delicious human pleasures needs patience and tolerance and overcoming the attractions of the material world, which is basically not an easy task. Therefore, God tests the patience of man through fasting so that man can learn to use this heavenly tool in different levels of his life. It is narrated in a tradition of the innocent that they said: “When the Prophet (PBUH) was saddened by something, he would seek help from prayer and fasting.”

5. Testing the sincerity of people

In the words of the Ahlul-Bayt (AS), fasting has been introduced as one of the tools to test the “sincerity” of a person. Imam Ali (AS) said in this regard: God made fasting obligatory in order to test the sincerity of people through it. Lady Fatimah Zahra (SA) also said in this regard: “God made fasting obligatory to establish sincerity”. In relation to the position of “sincerity” one of which tools in the words of the Ahlul-Bayt (AS) is fasting, it is noteworthy that God mentions in the Holy Quran with Satan’s confession that He considers the sincere as the only group that Satan will not be able to seduce and dominate them: “(Satan) said: Lord! Because you led me astray, I will adorn (material blessings) on earth in their viewpoints, and I will lead them all astray, except your sincere servants” the Quran (15:39-40).

6. Distance from taboos

Since Islam has set conditions for fasting, including avoiding some halal acts, such as eating and drinking, etc., and emphasizing the greater sanctity of lying, which invalidates the fast, giving up these things during fasting helps people get the experience of avoiding sins for other months of the year as well, and in fact, it is possible for him to become a queen by staying away from the sins. Imam Ali (AS) has said in this regard: “Fasting is abstaining from forbidden things, just as a man refrains from eating and drinking.” It is the reason why Holy Prophet (PBUH) in a hadith considered those who fast as deserving of a special place in heaven:  “There is a door to heaven called “Ryan” through which only fasting people are allowed to enter.”

7. Strengthening the sense of humanitarianism

Of course, suffering from hunger and thirst by fasting leads to human sympathy towards their fellows who lack the financial power to eat well, healthy and enough food. This will definitely be a factor in spreading the command of charity to the poor and needy, which according to some people, it is better during holy days such as the holy Month of Ramadhan and days (days of martyrdom or the birth of the innocent) and other blessed months (Rajab, Sha’ban, Muharram and Safar).

Feeding the poor, especially in the holy month of Ramadan, is highly recommended by the Ahlul-Bayt (AS). Imam Sadiq (AS) has said in a Hadith: “One who feeds a fasting person will be rewarded the same as that person“. The Holy Prophet (PBUH) also said on the necessity of feeding the needy:

“I swear by the one that Muhammad’s life is in his hands, no slave Oh, he did not believe in me, while he sleeps full at night and his Muslim brother or his neighbor is hungry”.

If a person can spread this feeling of altruism that he created in the holy month of Ramadan throughout the whole year, he will definitely achieve salvation, because God has introduced kindness as the key to happiness in the Holy Quran: “You will never reach (the truth of) good deeds unless you spend (in the way of God) from what you love; And what you spend, God is aware of it” the Quran (3: 92).

8. Punishment for certain sins

In several verses of the Holy Quran, God has made fasting their worldly punishment in order to reduce the burden of some sins or to compensate for some human mistakes, so that by God’s mercy and forgiveness, God can reduce the burden of God’s servants by turning the hereafter into a worldly punishment.

For example, in verse 89 of Surah Ma’idah, God has considered the worldly punishment of swearing falsely by feeding ten poor people or three days of fasting for those who do not have the financial possibility to feed the poor: But it is impeached against the oaths that you have taken (out of will). Atonement for such oaths (intentional ones) is to feed ten needy people from the usual food that you give to your family; or preparing those ten people with clothes; or freeing a slave; And whoever does not find any of these, fasts for three days.

In verse 92 of Surah Al-Nisa, God has made the punishment of unintentional killing due to human violation of God’s rights, if it is not possible to free the servants (which is obsolete today) and pay the blood money to the victim’s family, two months of continuous fasting. Therefore, in some cases, fasting is considered as a punishment for some sins or unintentional mistakes. For this reason, fasting in the holy Month of Ramadhan is the best opportunity for humans to ask for repentance from God Almighty, who will be very merciful to humans in this month.

9. Physical effects of fasting

Scientifically, it has been proven that avoiding food and drinks in the holy Month of Ramadhan is a way of giving rest to the organs and internal parts of the body in order to cleanse and possibly restore some of their possible problems. This has also been considered in the hadiths of the Ahlul-Bayt (AS). In this regard, the Holy Prophet (PBUH) has said in some hadiths: “Fast to stay healthy. Or he has said: “The stomach is the home of all diseases and the head of all medicine is fasting.

10. Social effects of fasting

Fasting, especially in the holy Month of Ramadhan, when families visit each other and spread food for each other and for family members, relatives, neighbors or the needy with the aim of “family reunion“, strengthens family and social relationships and prevents social breakdown. Although family reunion may be considered as a moral and spiritual matter but without any doubts, it has extensive temporal effects as well.

Also, those who are unable to fast for any reasons develop respect for the rights of fasting people and others, and in general, it will be much easier to move to the ideal society with such a social bond. It has been proven in the field research that during the holy days of Ramadhan and some other months, the statistics of crime and other social offenses have decreased and it seems that people become closer to God and distance themselves from offending each other during these months.

These are part of the social effects of fasting, especially in the holy Month of Ramadhan. Therefore, by spreading fasting and finding the best ways to encourage young people to fast in this month, it is possible to provide more effective ways to prevent and fight against social anomalies in societies. This path definitely starts from the family, therefore, the means of forming an ideal Islamic family should be provided in a way that respects the Quranic and narrational indicators and provides better grounds for children’s religious education.

This text is written by Mohammad Saeid Taheri Moosavi & translated by Fatemeh Aghaei for Shafaqna English. All rights reserved for Shafaqna. 

Part of a series: Philosophy of Islamic Laws

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