Friday, July 20, 2012

Inner Dimensions of Fasting:From Imam Ghazali's Ihya Ul Uloom

Three grades of fasting

It should be known that there are three grades of fasting: ordinary, special and extra-special.

Ordinary fasting means abstaining from food, drink and sexual satisfaction.

Special fasting means keeping one's ears, eyes,tongue, hands and feet-and all other organs-free from sin.

Extra-special fasting means fasting of the heart from unworthy concerns and worldly thoughts, in total disregard of everything but Allah. This kind of  Fast is considered to be broken by thinking of anything other than God, Great and Glorious is He, and the Hereafter; it is broken by thinking of  worldly matters,  except for those conducive to religious ends, since these constitute provision for the Hereafter  and are not of this lower world. Those versed in the spiritual life of  the heart have even said that a sin is recorded against one who concerns himself all day with arrangements for breaking his Fast.  Such anxiety stems from lack of  trust in the bounty of  God, Great and Glorious is He, and from lack of certain faith in His promised sustenance. 
To this third degree belong the Prophets, the true saints and 
the intimates of God. It does not lend itself to detailed exami- 
nation in words, as its true nature is better revealed in action. 
It  consists in utmost dedication to God, Great and Glorious is 
He, to the neglect of  everything other than God, Exalted is 
He. It is bound up with the significance of His words: 

'Say: "Allah!"  then leave them  to their idle prattling.' 
[al-An'am, 6: 91] 

Inward Requirements of Fasting:
As for Special Fasting, this is  the  kind  practised  by  the righteous. It means keeping all one's organs free from sin and six things are required for its accomplishment: 

1. See not what displeases Allah
A chaste regard, restrained from viewing anything that is blameworthy or reprehensible, or which distracts the heart and diverts it from the remembrance of God. The Prophet, said: the furtive glance is one of the poisoned arrows of Satan, on him be God's curse. Whoever forsakes it for fear of God, will receive from Him, great and gracious is He, a faith the sweetness of which he will find within his heart. (Hakim- sahih)
Jabir relates from Anas that God's Messenger, on him be peace,said: 'Five things break a man's fast: lying, backbiting, scandalmongering, perjury and a lustful gaze.'

2. Speak no evil
Guarding one's tongue from twaddle, lying, backbiting, scandalmongering, obscenity, rudeness, wrangling and controversy; making it observe silence and occupying it with remembrance of Allah and with recitation of the Quran.
This is the fasting of the tongue. Sufyan said: "backbiting vitiates the fast." Layth quotes Mujahid as saying : "Two habits vitiate fasting: backbiting and telling lies."
The Prophet said: ' Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is fasting he should not use foul or foolish talk. If someone attacks him or insults him, let him say:"I am fasting, I am fasting!" (Bukhari and Muslim)

3. Hear no evil
Closing one's ears to everything reprehensible; for everything unlawful to utter is likewise unlawful to listen to. That is why Allah equated the eavesdropper with the profiteer " (They like to) listen to falsehood, to devour anything forbidden" (part of Quran 5: 42).

Silence in the face of backbiting is therefore unlawful. God, 
Exalted is He, said: 'You are then just like them.' [al-Nisa', 
4: 140] That is why the Prophet, on him be peace, said: 'The 
backbiter and his listener are copartners in sin.' [Tabarani] 

4. Do no evil
Keeping all other limbs and organs away from sin: the hands and feet from reprehensible deeds, and the stomach from questionable food at the time for breaking fast.
It is meaningless to fast, to abstain from lawful food, only to break one's Fast on what is unlawful. A man who Fasts like 
this  may  be compared to the one  who  builds  a castle  but 
demolishes a city. Lawful food is injurious in quantity not in 
quality, so Fasting is to reduce the former. A  person might 
well give up excessive use of medicine, from fear of ill effects, 
but he would be a fool to switch to taking poison. The unlawful 
is a poison deadly to religion, while the lawful is a medicine, 
beneficial in small doses but harmful in excess.
The object of Fasting is to induce moderation. 

The Prophet said 'How many of those who Fast, get nothing from it but hunger and thirst!' (Nasai & Ibn Majah). This has been taken to mean those who break their Fast on unlawful food. Some say it refers to those who abstain from lawful food, but break their Fast on human flesh through backbiting, which is unlawful. Others consider it an allusion to those who do not guard their organs from sin. 

5. Avoid overeating
Of what use is the fast as a means of conquering God's enemy and abating appetite, if at the time of breaking it not only makes up for all one has missed during the daytime, but perhaps also indulges in a variety of extra foods?
It has even become the custom to stock up for Ramadan with all kinds of foodstuffs, so that more is consumed during that time  than in the course of several other months put together.
It is well known that the object of fasting is to experience hunger and to check desire, in order to reinforce the soul in piety.
If the stomach is starved from early morning till evening, so that it's appetite is aroused and it's craving intensified, and it is then offered delicacies and allowed to eat its fill, its taste for pleasure is increased and its force exaggerated; passions are activated which would have lain dormant under normal conditions.

The spirit  and secret nature  of  Fasting is  to weaken  the 
forces which are Satan's means of leading us back to evil. It is 
therefore  essential to cut  down  one's intake  to what  one 
would consume  on a  normal night, when  not  Fasting.  No 

benefit is derived from the Fast if  one consumes as much as 
one would usually take during the day and night combined. 
Moreover, one of the proprieties consists in taking little sleep 
during the daytime, so that one feels the hunger and thirst and 
becomes conscious of the weakening of one's powers, with the 
consequent purification of the heart. 
One should let a certain degree of weakness carry over into 
the  night, making  it  easier  to  perform the  night  Prayers 
(tahajjud) and to recite the litanies (awraad). It may then be 
that Satan will not hover around one's heart, and that one will 
behold  the Kingdom  of Heaven.  The Night of  Destiny re- 
presents  the night  on which something of  this Kingdom is 
revealed. This is what is meant by the words of God, Exalted 
is He: 
'We surely revealed it on the Night of Power.' [al-Qadr, 97: 1] 
(Inna anzalnahu fi laylati-lqadr.) 
Anyone who puts a bag of food between his heart and his 
breast becomes blind to this revelation. Nor is keeping the 
stomach empty sufficient to remove the veil, unless one also 
empties the mind of everything but God, Great and Glorious 
is He. That is the entire matter, and the starting point of it all is 
cutting down on food.

6. Look to Allah with fear and hope
After the fast has been broken, the heart should swing like a pendulum between fear and hope. For one does not know if one's fast will be accepted, so that one will find favor with God, or whether it will be rejected, leaving one among those He abhors. This is how one should be at the end of any act of worship one performs.

It is related of al-Hasan ibn Abil Hasan  al-Basri  that he once 
passed by  a group of people who were laughing merrily. He 
said: 'God, Great and Glorious is He, has made the month of 
Ramadhan a racecourse, on which His creatures compete in 
His worship. Some have come in first and won, while others 
have lagged behind and lost. It is absolutely amazing to find 
anybody laughing and playing about on the day when succsess attends thevictors, and failure the wastrels. By God, if the veil 
were lifted off, the doer of good would surely be preoccupied 
with his good works and the evildoer with his evil deeds.' In 
other words, the man whose Fast has been accepted will be 
too full of joy  to indulge in idle sport, while for one who has 
suffered rejection laughter will be precluded by remorse. 
Of al-Ahnaf ibn Qays it is reported that he was once told: 
'You are an aged elder; Fasting would enfeeble you.' But he 
replied:  'By  this  I  am  making ready  for  a  long  journey. 
Obedience to God, Glorified is He, is easier to endure than 
His punishment.
Such are the inwardly significant meanings of Fasting. 

Excerpts from Imam Ghazali's 'Ihya Ul Uloom'

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