Fasting and the Path of Taqwa:
Rediscovering Ingredients Required for Developing Taqwa through Fasting
By Sh. Ahmed Arafat
Is there a relationship between fasting and developing piety? According to the Quran, fasting during the month of Ramadan is closely tied with taqwa, a term usually translated as ‘piety or righteousness’ and derived, linguistically, from the concept of protection. It is not difficult to connect taqwa with the linguistic sense of protection since taqwa serves as a shield against falling into sin and suffering punishment in the Hereafter.
However, the question is ‘how does fasting lead to taqwa?’ Attempting to answer this seemingly simple question can help us recognize the prime purpose of fasting and create ways for us to evaluate our moral progress during the blessed month of Ramadan. Reflecting over the relationship between fasting and taqwa, we find that fasting provides us with the necessary ingredients for developing taqwa. The following is a brief outline of some main components of taqwa and how fasting helps us develop each. Some action points that can be used as a thermometer for measuring taqwa follow these components.
1- Soul Care
In his Ihya’, Imam al-Ghazali argues that our bodily desires are fueled by food and energy. Therefore, fasting weakens lusts and desires temporarily to give an opportunity for the soul to lead the body and to communicate with Allah. When you break your fast at sunset, you prepare for Taraweeh and more prayers at the Masjid. Therefore, the Ramadan fast is both a defensive spiritual fortress and spiritual nourishment for the soul.
In Ramadan, you are skipping a meal for a spiritual reason. It is unfortunate that some people overeat during the ‘iftar period to make up for the meal they missed, and may end up gaining weight by the end of the month! Preparing healthy food and liquids for ‘iftar and eating with moderation is key to effective fasting.
Action Point: I am committed to avoiding overeating during ‘iftar time since it is both unhealthy and negates the goal of less food consumption during Ramadan in skipping one meal a day.
You may believe that you are unable to achieve great goals or break cycles of sinning, thinking that you are not strong enough to resist the temptations and difficulties facing you. However, during your fast, you are being trained to control and master your bodily desires. When your body asks you for food or water you are able to say: NO! Fasting proves that you can get unstuck from bad habits you have developed—because if you can stay away from halal basic matters, like food and drinks, you can easily stay away from haram destructive habits.
Action Point: I am determined to fast from bad habits permanently. (Specify one or more sins you plan to abandon. Focus on the strength and willpower you developed in Ramadan and ask Allah to redirect your life to be closer to Him.)
3- Forgiveness of Sins
Sometimes people are driven away from taqwa due to the burden of their sin which, they think, is too heavy to allow them to reach Allah. However, Prophet Muhammad (S) informed us that, ‘whomsoever fasts the month of Ramadan with iman (faith) and ihtisab (expectation to be rewarded) will have his sins forgiven.’ Therefore, the fasting season is a great opportunity for repenting and renewing our relationship with Allah (SWT). Allah (SWT) invites all sinners to repent, no matter what they have committed stating, “
Action Point: I choose to turn to Allah and commit myself to Him. (The end results of sinning; such as, regret, shame, depression, damaged relations …etc. should serve as a deterrent and a means to motivate you to turn back to Allah.)
In fasting, we are able to recognize our human weakness and dependence on Allah. This recognition guards us from being deceived by luxury (no matter how little) we are surrounded with as the Quran puts it, “Nay, man does transgress all bounds, when looking upon himself as self-sufficient!” (96:7-8).
Action Point: I am determined to humble myself before Allah and before people. (Have you ever seen a baby? Once you were one, having no power and no knowledge! Never use Allah’s blessings as a justification for arrogance; Allah’s blessings should make you more humble.)
5- Patience and Gratitude
Besides developing patience through a long day of Ramadan fasting, one also develops an attitude of gratitude. For example, to many, the most precious thing at sunset is simply a water bottle and a couple of dates. Fasting teaches us not to take anything for granted. Think of all of the blessings that Allah has bestowed upon you and your family as special gifts for you. Do not allow people’s possessions of basic blessings (like sight, health, shelter …etc.) make you feel that you are not special in sharing those blessings as well. Ramadan reminds us to recognize basic provisions as special. Thank Allah for the ability to drink clean water! This sense of gratitude will lead any sane person to the worship and obedience of Allah Who is the source of our existence and survival.
Action Point: I am determined to develop an attitude of gratitude. (Remember that observing Salah, thanking people, helping others and acknowledging Allah’s blessings are all examples of demonstrating the value gratitude.)
In the Quran, the rights of Allah and the rights of people are usually connected. Notice, for instance, how Salah or ritual prayer (the right of Allah) is frequently associated with Zakah or charity (the right of people). In Ramadan, we feel the hunger and thirst of millions of people in the world, and thereby develop a strong sense of empathy for them. This empathy turns into action in Ramadan. This is a month of fasting, prayer and giving. Giving undoubtedly purifies our hearts from greed and living a self-centered life.
Action Point:I am determined to pay my Zakah and give charity to the poor and the needy.
In Islam, for an action to be moral and accepted by Allah, it is not enough that the action be good. The motive behind the action has to be good and the action has to be intended for seeking the pleasure of Allah. This is called ‘Ikhlas, the opposite of which is Riya’; that is, doing something seeking people’s approval and praise, not Allah’s pleasure and glory. During our fast, we stay away from food and drinks and other invalidators of fasting even if no one is watching us. In doing so, we are trained to live in the presence of Allah and do good deeds to glorify Him alone.
Action Point: Fasting makes one more God-oriented. I am determined to fast Ramadan as a religious obligation to achieve taqwa and seek Allah’s pleasure, not as a cultural practice to impress others or gain their approval.
8- Faith-filled Environment:
Being disconnected from your local mosque, lacking good friends and abandoning benevolent acts may lower your level of faith. Ramadan is like an intensive course in good deeds which include: Taraweeh in the masjid, sadaqah for the needy, annual Zakah, reading and studying the Quran, inviting people for ‘iftar, developing stronger family connections …etc. The creation of this faith-filled environment increases our opportunities to be more connected with Allah.
Action Point: I am determined to disconnect from the bad environment that leads me into sinning and replace it with developing more connections with the Masjid and good people.
It is interesting to note that a Quranic encouragement to offer dua’a comes between two verses, which outline the rules of fasting emphasizing the relationship between fasting and dua’a. Recognizing our human weakness makes our dua’a more effective and sincere. The Quran states, “When My servants ask you about Me, then I am near. I answer the prayer of a supplicant when he calls upon Me. Let them obey Me and believe in Me so that they will be guided.” (2: 186) Usually, the Quran uses the form,’If they ask you about …, say to them …” Yet, here Allah did not say to the Prophet (S), ‘When my servants ask you about Me, say to them …’; Allah provided the answer directly to remove any intermediaries between Him and His servants. We are able to communicate with Allah (SWT) directly.
Action Point: I am determined to prepare some dua’a to be said each day, and I trust the way and the time Allah answers them.
10- Closeness with the Quran
If I asked you to define Ramadan, how would you answer? The month of fasting? That is correct. Yet, Allah described the month of Ramadan as, “the one when the Quran was revealed.” (2:185) The revelation of the Quran is the reason why we celebrate the month of Ramadan, and the way we celebrate it is by fasting to develop a closer relationship with our Creator. Thus, if we do not improve our relationship with the Quran from now on, we will fail to understand what the month of fasting is all about.
Action Point: I am committed to the following duties towards the Quran:
A) Reading: Imam Malik used to leave his Hadith books in Ramadan to focus more on the Quran.
B) Understanding: Failing to understand the Quranic message will leave the reader with nothing to inspire or motivate them. Once, the Prophet (S) spent all of his night prayers reciting one verse (Quran 5:118) due to his deep contemplation.
C) Memorizing: Quran is the ONLY sacred Book in the world that is memorized from cover to cover. Take part in this blessed practice and start, at least, with some selected verses or surahs to memorize in this blessed month.
D) Applying: Make the Quran part of your life by putting its great values in practice.
E) Spreading: Make sure that you teach others what you learned. Teaching your child a surah or more would fulfill this requirement.
Finally, I wish you all a blessed Ramadan full of mercy and forgiveness. May Allah (SWT) keep us all guided on His Straight Path and united in obeying Him (SWT). Ameen.