We have been reflecting on hadiths from Mizan al-Hikmah on fasting, and alhamdulillah, we have read some hadiths regarding the compulsion of fasting (wujub al-sawm) and the merits of fasting (fadl al-sawm).
We will now begin this talk with some hadiths regarding the wisdom and reasoning behind the legislation and compulsion of fasting (hikmah wujub al-sawm), i.e. why Allah (swt) has made fasting obligatory.
Imam Sadiq (a) says:
أما العلة في الصيام ليستوي به الغني والفقير، وذلك لأن الغني لم يكن ليجد مس الجوع، فيرحم الفقير لأن الغني كلما أراد شيئا قدر عليه، فأراد الله عز وجل أن يسوي بين خلقه وأن يذيق الغني مس الجوع والألم، ليرق على الضعيف ويرحم الجائع
‘The reason [behind the legislation] of fasting is to bring parity between the rich and the poor, and this is because the rich have not experienced the pain of hunger in order for them to have mercy upon the poor. The rich have power to acquire whatever they desire, and so Allah the Sublime and Majestic desires to bring a parity between His creation, and to make the rich taste the pain and difficulty of hunger, so that they develop a tenderness towards the weak and have mercy on the hungry.’
From this hadith we realise that fasting is of course not going to eliminate poverty from society, and perhaps poverty will remain until the advent of Imam Mahdi (a). However, it can help to reduce poverty, and can make rich people understand the suffering and pain of the poor. If the rich understand the pain of the poor, they will hopefully try to help them and it will make them more careful when they deal with other people. At the least it should ensure that the rich do not add to the number of poor people.
A rich person who always has the ability to eat what he wants and can order the best and most delicious food from all over the world, will not understand the pain of hunger, and therefore it is unlikely that he will have mercy on the poor and hungry. Allah (swt) desired that everyone should experience the difficulty of being hungry.
This is one of the reasons why Allah (swt) has made us fast. Indeed, one must be really very vicious if after fasting he does not feel any difference in this regard. If someone is rich and fasts and still does not have any concern for poor people, then it means his fast has not been working and has not changed him for the better. We must ensure that we help and support the poor people.
We have another similar report from Imam Rida (a), with the additional mention of fasting helping us to remember our hunger and thirst on the Day of Judgement. Imam Rida (a) says regarding the reason behind the compulsion of fasting:
لكي يعرفوا الم الجوع والعطش، فليستدلوا علي فقر الآخرة، وليكون الصائم خاشعا ذليلاً مستكينا مأجورا محتسبا عارفا
‘So that people would understand the pain of hunger and thirst, and [they should benefit from fasting] to understand the difficulties and poverty of the Day of Judgement. And the one who fasts should become humble, with no trace of arrogance, with the maximum feeling of poverty, rewarded, [he is one] who does everything for the pleasure of Allah (muhtasiban), and is an arif.’
The first thing Imam Rida (a) mentions is that people should understand the pain of hunger and thirst.
Secondly, he mentions the Day of Judgement. On the Day of Judgement, depending on how much you have sent for yourself in advance, you will be able to gain for yourself whatever you want. But, you will require a kind of currency on the Day of Judgement, which is very different to the currency of this world. If someone has done something good for his akhirah then it means he has changed and transformed the currency of the dunya to a currency that would be acceptable in that world. Otherwise, if you take billions of dollars with you it is not going to help you. You have to change it to a currency which works there.
Therefore, by fasting we realise there is a day for which we have to prepare ourselves. We cannot take it for granted that we will have food or drink or anything over there; rather, we have to send everything we need in advance of ourselves. It can be compared to when we travel for hajj: we have to make sure that everything we need must either be packed along with us, or it must be sent in advance, otherwise no one will prepare these things for us once we get there.
The third thing that Imam Rida (a) mentions – and this is very important and shows how much we can gain from fasting – is khushu. Khushu is humbleness, not only in the body but also in the heart – khushu is the maximum amount of humbleness that appears in the heart of a person. This means that no trace of arrogance should remain. A person who fasts will realise how needy we all are! When we do not eat or drink for a few hours then we feel the whole world has changed, and our life has changed! This shows how weak we are.
Finally, we have to remember there is a difference between fasting and merely not eating and drinking. When Allah (swt) tells us to do something then He puts into that thing a spiritual effect. For example, you can wash your face and hands ten times, use the best soap, etc., but this will not have any impact upon your soul. You can go swimming for an hour, or two, or ten, but this will not have any impact on your soul. These things are merely water touching the skin, and the effect does not go to the soul. But when Allah (swt) commands us to perform wudu with this same water then this is no longer just water washing the face and skin, it is now a spiritual tool and weapon. Allah (swt) transforms this into something that can touch our heart.
The same applies to fasting; if someone reduces food or is on hunger strike or is not able to eat or drink for any reason, then it may have some impact on the body, but fasting for the sake of Allah (swt) and in the way that Allah (swt) has asked us to fast, not only affects our body but also our soul. And the more we appreciate fasting and the more we understand it and the more we try to get into the spirit of fasting then the more blessings we can derive from it. If we manage to fast for one month in Ramadan properly then we will be changed; and if we do not fast properly then thirty years of fasting may not change us for the better.
Hence, please remember that fasting is not just to not eat and drink, but that it is a great spiritual tool that Allah (swt) has provided us with, but the key for using this tool is the awareness of the soul, pure intention, and care – we must be very careful that when we are fasting we must understand that we are doing something very, very important. We should not let anything damage or harm our fast, especially anger. Indeed, one of the tests of those who fast is they may become angry or nervous quickly; but this is a test and we must be very careful. We must try and be as kind as possible with those we interact with, be they family, colleagues, classmates, or customers. The people around us should say: ‘This Muslim man or woman has become much more merciful now. What is it in this month that makes them become more merciful?’ This should be a common saying and feeling among people.
May Allah (swt) enable us to fast properly, and may He enable us to get ready for the nights of qadr which are the highlights of this month.
And all praise is for Allah, Lord of the worlds.
Daily Talks are delivered Monday to Thursday during the holy month of Ramadan