Spiritual goals of prescribed fasting.

Praise be to The Creator who has shown great favor unto His servants by delivering them from the satanic temptations that the ‘ego’ imprints on their hearts and minds. Well, The Creator has always successfully opposed the hopes of the satanic forces by one or other way and here, I am concerned with ‘prescribed fasting’ in the month of Ramadhan which is a ‘shield’ for His servants. In this article, we shall try to understand the ‘spiritual aspects of prescribed fasting’ and I hope, if the Creator wills, within few days, we shall discuss the ‘physiological benefits’ of fasting as well. Verily, The reason behind this piece is ‘we’, ourselves asking a lot of ‘whys’…Since, with the arising of human consciousness, we tend to question more—whether it be religion or science. We have a compelling need to ask, “Why?” This is true today of believers and non-believers alike. In some cases, the motive is a rational one, but in other cases, the motive is clearly adverse. Although, It has benefits because if Creator wanted us not to question then He could create us intellect-less; at the same time it’s harmful as well (this seems to be more in proportion than the benefits ). The human being seeks religion to serve him or her and not the reverse. What is religion and what human needs do its practices fulfill? It clearly does not serve the passions (anger and lust), individual, ego-centric desires which compete with the common good, but rather serves that which is noble, fruitful and dignified within human creation. The worship of the One God fosters unity, morality and the common good—human perfection and completion whereas self-worship simply fosters completion—living and dying at the horizontal level of life never having experienced the vertical ascent beyond individual ego to the All- encompassing Spirit. It, Itself being primordial and eternal.

Coming back to our topic, well, among religious practices scrutinized by human egos is that of prescribed fasting. Perhaps putting the practice in a historic context will vouch for us universal validity as a means, and one of the best, to overcome the satanic ego. Fasting as a practice of maintaining through abstaining from food, drink and/or sexual contact for a period of time arises out of an instinctive consciousness of subduing and controlling desires. Through experience or inspired by Divine Grace, the human being has throughout history realized the benefits of fasting. He has made known unto them that only through subduing inappropriate lust and anger can the soul at rest assert its superiority. In accordance with the words of Rasoolallah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family), “The prescribed fast comprises half of patience,” and “patience forms half of belief,” thus the prescribed fast equals one-fourth of belief. Okay! Someone may argue that it is not necessary to have a prescribed fast for a whole month to maintain well-being, right? right!. But, this argument, however, assumes that the human being is solely a physical form. Please, this is only a part of the total person and should be kept in a sound state. In the traditional perspective, it is the spirit manifested as reason/intuition only which can act as a positive control agent in controlling the passions which are constantly on the verge of rebellion. The prescribed fast strengthens the spirit to withstand the pressures of the passions and thereby the body. In other words, it works from inside out and not outside in. The controlling forces are inward and are other than just physical. The prescribed fast strengthens will-power by denying that which is available, for a period of time and which, other than for the prescribed fast, would be lawful. This then reinforces the ability to deny wrongdoing at other times when one is not fasting. It is one of the only forms of worship which is completely based on one’s conscience and Creator. No one else need ever know. It is because of this that performing the prescribed fast during Ramadan enhances the feeling of nearness to Creator for the believer. It is not a question of killing desires of the passions, but of disciplining and controlling them leading to mastery over them rather than the reverse.

The most difficult aspect of the fasting is the edge of the sword of abstention directed toward the carnal soul, al-nafs al-ammarah and the human ego itself. The latter is rather dependent on the former and regarding the same (human ego) Rasoolallah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) said, “Verily the untamed ego affects the son of Adam by pervading his/her blood. Let him/her therefore make this difficult for the untamed ego by means of hunger.” For the same reason, he told Ayisha (may the Creator be pleased with her), “Persist in knocking the door of Paradise.” When she asked, “With what shall I knock on the door of Paradise?” , He replied. “With hunger.”Whereas, the prescribed fast is primarily a method of subduing temptations of the ego, blocking its path, and placing obstacles in its way, it deserves a special place in relation to Creator, since subduing the enemy of Creator is to help Him (this is a different form of help, shouldn’t be confused with the humans helping each other), and His help is not forthcoming unless people first help Him. Thus, He said, “If you help Creator, He will help you, and will strengthen you” (47:8). The servant of Creator should take the initiative. Creator will crown him/her with success by further guiding him/her to His ways. For this reason, Creator said, “And whoso make efforts for Us in Our ways will We guide them. ”(29:69). He also said, “Verily Creator changes not what a people have until they change it for themselves. ”(13:12). Change increases temptation and strengthens the desires of lust and anger, which are the grazing grounds of the satanic forces and their pasturing land. As long as the ground is fertile, these forces will continue to frequent them. As long as they frequent them, the majesty of Creator will not be revealed to the servant. His glory will remain concealed from a person.

Last, but not the least, in fasting, the rebellious tendencies of the carnal soul are gradually dampened and pacified through a systematic submission of these tendencies to the Divine Will, for at every moment of hunger the soul of the Muslim is reminded that it is in order to obey a Divine Command that the passions of the carnal soul go unheeded. That is also why the fast does not include only food but also ‘abstention’ from every form of lust and carnal passion. As a result of this systematic restraint, the human soul becomes aware that it is independent of its immediate natural environment and conscious that it is in this world but not of it. A person who fasts with complete faith becomes aware very rapidly that he is a pilgrim in this world and that he is created as a creature destined for a goal beyond this material existence. The world about him loses somewhat its materiality and gains an aspect of ‘vacuity’ and transparency which in the case of the contemplative Muslim leads directly to a contemplation of Creator in His creation. The ephemeral and ‘empty’ nature of things is, moreover, compensated by the appearance of those very things as Divine gifts. Food and drink which are taken for granted throughout the year reveal themselves during the period of fasting more than ever as gifts of heaven and gain a spiritual significance of a sacramental nature. To fast is also to wear the armor of purity against the passions of the world. It is to incorporate even ‘physically’ in one’s body the purity of death which is of course coupled with spiritual birth. In fasting, man is reminded that he has chosen the side of Creator over the world of passions. That is why, Rasoolallah (peace and blessings be upon him and his family) loved fasting so much. It was a basic element of that ‘Muhammadan spiritual poverty’, about which he said, ‘spiritual poverty is my glory’. This death of the passions cleanses the human soul and empties it of the putrid water of it’s negative psychic residues.

May we all achieve the true state of purified intrinsic self by the end of this Holy Month, Amen.