The Objectives of Fasting (Maqāŝid as-awm)

The obligation of fasting

Allāh, Exalted is He says,

"O you who have faith! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you so that hopefully you will have taqwā."
[al-Baqarah (2): 183]

Meaning that hopefully you can safeguard yourselves from the Fire through fasting; fasting is a means to the forgiveness of sins, and sins lead one to the Fire.

The Two aĥīĥs record the ĥadīth in which the Prophet (sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said, "Islām is built upon five: that you worship Allāh and reject the worship of anything else, to establish the prayer, the giving of zakāt, performing pilgrimage to the House and fasting the month of Ramadān."
[This is a wording of Muslim, Bukhārī has the first sentence as 'That you testify that none has the right to be worshipped save Allāh']

The virtues of fasting

Fasting carries with it a number of benefits, amongst which are: the elevation of ones rank, the expiation of sins, the breaking of ones desires and lusts, the increase of charity, the multiplication of actions of obedience to Allāh, giving thanks to the One who knows the hidden matters, and preventing oneself from even contemplating the committing of sin.

The elevation of rank

With regards the elevation of rank, the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said,

"When Ramadān comes, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hellfire are locked and the devils are chained."

He (sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) also said, relating from His Lord, Mighty and Magnificent:

"All of the actions of the son of Ādam are for him except the fast for that is for Me and I will reward it. Fasting is protecting shield, so when it is the day when one of you are fasting, let him not behave or speak indecently; if someone tries to abuse or fight him, let him say, 'I am fasting'. By the One in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, the smell emanating from the mouth of the one fasting is better with Allāh then the smell of musk. The one fasting has two time of joy, when he breaks his fast he is happy and when He meets his Lord he will rejoice at his fasting."
[Bukhārī and Muslim]

He (sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) also said:

"Every action that the son of Ādam does, [its reward] will be multiplied: a good deed will be increased tenfold up to seven-hundred fold. Allāh, Mighty and Magnificent, says, 'Except for the fast, for that is for Me and I will reward it for he left his desires and food for My sake.' "

He (sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:

"In paradise there is a gate which is called ar-Rayyān through which the people who fasted will enter on the Day of Judgment, and no one else shall enter alongside them. It will be asked, 'Where are those who fasted?' and they will walk through it, and upon the entry of the last of them, it will be locked, and no one else will walk through it."
[Bukhārī and Muslim]

In another version the wording is:

"There is in Paradise a gate that is called ar-Rayyān, those who fasted will be summoned to it and whoever fasted will enter through it, and whoever enters it will never again experience thirst."
[at-Tirmidhī and an-Nasā'ī]

He (sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:

"When people eat in the presence of a fasting person, the Angels invoke blessings upon him, until they finish."
[Aĥmad and at-Tirmidhī]

With regards the 'opening of the gates of Paradise', this is a phrase that points to the increase of actions of obedience that in turn lead to the opening of the gates of Paradise.

'Locking the gates of the Fire' is a phrase that points to the decrease, and lack of therewith, of sins which in turn leads to the locking of the gates of the Fire.

'The chaining of the devils' is a phrase that points to the termination of their whisperings, and temptations, to those who are fasting because they give up hope of receiving a favorable response.

His saying:

"all of the actions of the son of Ādam are for him except the fast for that is for Me and I will reward it,"

fasting has been specifically adjoined to Him in order to honour it because the hidden nature of fasting prevents ostentation entering it, and moreover, hunger and thirst are not used as means to draw closer to any king of this world nor any idol.

His saying, "and I will reward it," even though He rewards all actions of obedience, this phrase points to the greatness of the reward of fasting.
His saying, "fasting is a protecting shield" means that fasting serves as barrier erected between the person and the punishment of Allāh.
His saying, "let him say, 'I am fasting,' " means let him remind himself that he is fasting so that this would serve to prevent him from repaying like with like.

His saying, "the smell emanating from the mouth of the one fasting is better with Allāh then the smell of musk," meaning that the reward for the smell emanating from the mouth of the fasting person is better with Allāh than the smell of musk."

[This explanation is a point of some difference and was the cause of a famous debate between ibn as-Salāh and the author, may Allāh have mercy on both.]
As for the two times of joy, the first is because the one fasting has been granted the divine accord to complete this act of worship and the second is because of the reward he will attain when Allāh rewards him.

His saying, "he left his desires and food for My sake" meaning that he chose the obedience of his Lord over the obedience of the call of his soul; whoever chooses Allāh, Allāh chooses him. This is why when someone desires to commit a sin, then leaves committing it for fear of Allāh, He says to the recording Angels, 'Record it as a good deed, for he only left giving in to his lusts for My sake.'

With regards their being specified to enter Paradise through the gate of ar-Rayyān, this specification is because of the greatness of this act of fasting and its unique character.

With regards the Angels invoking blessings upon the one fasting, in whose presence food is eaten, this is because on such an occasion he has to exert himself more in fighting his desire to eat. Their invoking blessings upon him is a phrase denoting their asking for his forgiveness and mercy to be bestowed him.

The expiation of sins

With regards the expiation of sins, the Messenger of Allāh (sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:

"One Ramadān to the next serves as an expiation for what is done between them, so long as the major sins are avoided."

He (sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) also said:

"Whoever fast the month of Ramadān, out of faith and expectant of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven him."
[Bukhārī and Muslim]

The breaking of ones desires and lusts

Hunger and thirst break the desire to commit sin, it is authentically reported from him (sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) that he said:

"O gathering of youth! Whoever can afford it, let him marry for this is better in aiding one to lower his gaze and preserving the private parts. Whoever is not able, let him fast for this will diminish his desire."
[Bukhārī and Muslim]

It is mentioned in a hadīth, "Satan flows through the son of Ādam as does his blood," so constrain the passages of Satan through hunger.
[Bukhārī and Muslim. The last sentence is the statement of one of the narrators of the hadīth mistakenly added into the main text.]

Increase of charity

When the one fasting feels the pangs of hunger, he takes this as a reminder to feed others who are hungry, 'for the only one who feels compassion towards the lovers is one who has loved.' It has reached us that Sulaymān, or Yūsuf ('alayhis-salām) would not eat until all his dependants had first eaten and when asked why this was so, he said, 'I fear that I would become full and so forget the hungry.'

Increase of actions of obedience

The one fasting will be reminded of the hunger and thirst that the denizens of Hell will experience and this will encourage him to obey Allāh so as to be saved from that fate.

Giving thanks to the One who knows the hidden matters

The one fasting comes to truly appreciate the favours of Allāh, it is only through knowing hunger and thirst that one truly appreciates satiation and the quenching of that thirst; it is only when blessings are absent that one appreciates them more.

Preventing oneself from contemplating sin

When one is full, the soul craves sin and looks longingly at all sorts of transgression, but when one is hungry, the soul craves food and drink, and this is the better of the two without doubt. If is for this reason that one of the Salaf thought fasting to be the best of all actions of worship and when asked why he replied, 'That Allāh look at me in a state where my soul is fighting me for food and drink is more beloved to me than Allāh looking at me in a state where my soul is full and fighting me for sin.'

Fasting has many more benefits, such as refining the mind and strengthening the body, it is mentioned in a hadīth, "Fast for you will become healthy.",/i>
[at-Ťabarānī and its isnād is da'īf]

From the greatness of fasting is that the whoever causes a fasting person to open fast, has the same reward as the one who fasted. He (sallAllāhu 'alayhi wa sallam) said:

"Whoever provides food for a person to open the fast, he will have the likes of his reward, without the reward of the fasting person decreasing in the slightest."
[Aĥmad and at-Tirmidhī]

So whoever provides food for thirty six fasting people in one year, it will be as if he fasted for the whole year. And whoever provides food for many fasting people with this intention, Allāh will record for him the fasting of many years.
[Because a good deed is multiplied ten-fold]

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