The Benefits of Fasting
By Musa Bukhari.
"Through patience and poverty one attains leadership in religion. The seeker of Truth needs the will that will inspire him and push him upward, and (religious) knowledge that will lead him and guide him."” Ibn Qayyim (Ra).
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? 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 that food plays an integral role in our survival, often times food can be used as a distraction. It can be a filler for 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 from our attachments to realise there is a deeper veiling taking place – a veil keeping us from ourselves. This dunya can often be like such 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 also guard our eyes from looking at that which is haram. Fasting protects the Muslim from the fire as, in a hadith, the Prophet (saw) said:
"Fasting is a shield with which a servant protects himself from the Fire." [Ahmed]
Through fasting, you also develop increased empathy through deep self-reflection. It allows you to look further into your life and question whether the decisions and life choices you make are pleasing to Allah; you begin to ask yourself if these choices are becoming your liberation from the shackles of dunya, or a prison for your soul. Be not like the one the Prophet saw and warned against:
"And [God] enjoins upon you the fast. Verily, the similitude of that is a man carrying a sack-full of musk in a crowd of people, all of them marvelling at its fragrance—for the breath of someone lasting is more fragrant to God, Most High, than the scent of musk."(Tirmidhi)
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 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 your worship of Allah, and through your servitude to His creation.
The Prophet said: “Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed receiving then times it’s 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 find and attain true success.
"The fasting person has two moments of joy: one when he breaks his fast and one when he meets his Lord and rejoices over his fasting." (Muslim)
Fasting can also result in a variety of health benefits, including:
· Improving body composition and fitness
· Promoting insulin sensitivity
· Speeding up the metabolism
· Encouraging greater satiety
· Supporting fat loss and ketosis
· Improving cardiovascular health
· Lowering blood pressure
· Decreasing blood sugar
· Improving brain function
· Clearing skin and improving acne
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.