The Virtues of Fasting
by Musa Bukhari
Ramadan is tough. The lack of sleep. The intense hunger pangs. Fasting in the summer heat. There is a lot of struggle with Ramadan. But, let us examine the struggle. What is it teaching us? How can we navigate through the hardship of Ramadan and understand the virtues of this blessed act of worship?
Controlling our nafs (desires)
One of the many virtues we can derive from fasting, is the opportunity to control our nafs (desires). Ramadan teaches us the truth of our mortality and our desperate need for Allah. When we restrict our food and drink intake, as well as sexual intimacy between spouses, we realise our true dependency is with our Creator. Although we realise food plays an integral role to our survival, often, we find that food can be used as a distraction. It can be a filler for a space in our hearts that was not designed for anything else but Allah. We turn to food to bring us comfort, sometimes overindulging in it. When we restrict this intake, we realise the truth of this attachment.
We realise, the same way we need to sustain our bodies physically, our hearts are also in need of spiritual sustenance, and this can be achieved through the virtues of fasting. Sometimes we have to break away our attachments to realise there is a deeper veiling taking place. A veil keeping us from ourselves. This dunya can often be like a distraction.
Allah says in Quran:
“Know that the life of this world is only play and amusement, pomp and mutual boasting among you, and rivalry in respect of wealth and children, as the likeness of vegetation after rain, thereof the growth is pleasing to the tiller; afterwards it dries up and you see it turning yellow; then it becomes straw. But in the Hereafter (there is) a severe torment (for the disbelievers, evil-doers), and (there is) Forgiveness from Allah and (His) Good Pleasure (for the believers, good-doers), whereas the life of this world is only a deceiving enjoyment“. [57:20]
When we fast, we are not only fasting from food and drink, we are also fasting from all other vices that we become comfortable with. As we fast throughout Ramadan we develop a greater level of self-control by guarding our tongues from ill speech. We guard our eyes from looking at that which is haram. Fasting protects the Muslim from the fire.
In a hadith, the Prophet (saw) said: “Fasting is a shield with which a servant protects himself from the Fire." [Ahmed]
Taking time aside to reflect
You also develop increased empathy through deep self-reflection. This allows you to look deeper into your life and question whether the decisions and life choices you make are pleasing to Allah. You begin to ask yourself if the choices are becoming your liberation from the shackles of the dunya or a prison for your soul.
Be not like the one the Prophet (saw) warned against:
“Many people who fast get nothing from their fast except hunger, and many people who pray at night get nothing from it except wakefulness” [Darimi]
A sense of gratitude
Also, when you are restricted from food, you realise how blessed you are, thus it should inspire you to give more in charity, as there are those from amongst us who fast all year round because they do not have a choice. This gives the believer a deeper sense of gratitude that should manifest in their worship of Allah and servitude to His creation.
The Prophet saw said: “Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed receiving ten times its like, up to seven hundred times. Allah the Most High said, 'Except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will give recompense for it, he leaves off his desires and his food for Me.' For the fasting person there are two times of joy; a time when he breaks his fast and a time of joy when he meets his Lord, and the smell coming from the mouth of the fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of musk." [Bukhari]
This hadith highlights the immense reward for fasting. When a Muslim is able to control their desires and overburden the nafs with dhikr, you will attain true success.
"The most honourable among you in the sight of Allah is he who is the most pious." [Quran 49:13 ]
Even whilst we sleep we can be rewarded for it as an act of worship. The Prophet (Saw) said:
"The sleep of a fasting person is regarded as an act of ibaadah, his remaining silent is regarded as a tasbeeh, the reward for his good deeds is multiplied, his duas are accepted, and his sins are forgiven."
Protection from punishment
Fasting protects the Muslim from the fire. In a hadith, the Prophet (saw) said: “Fasting is a shield with which a servant protects himself from the Fire." [Ahmed]
There are also many health benefits to fasting, we have listed some below.
1. Improves Body Composition and Fitness.
2. Promotes Greater Satiety.
3. Boosts Your Metabolism.
4. Supports Fat Loss and Ketosis.
5. Encourages Better Insulin Sensitivity.
6. Improves Cardiovascular Health.
7. Lowers Blood Pressure.
8. Decreases Blood Sugar.
9. Protects the brain.
Together, these benefits allow us to appreciate the month of Ramadan. Though our stomachs and desires are put into control and restriction, we nourish our souls with dhikr and reap the rewards out of this blessed month.