Al-Ghazzali’s The Mysteries of Fasting

Al-Ghazzali’s The Mysteries of Fasting

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

“O who believe, fasting is decreed for you as it was decreed for those before you; perchance you will guard yourselves. (2:183)

The Mysteries of Fasting the Month of Ramadan


Imam Ghazzali

There are three degrees of fasting:

1. The fast of the ordinary person.

The fast of the ordinary person as described above consists of  the abstinence of appetite, sexual intercourse, noise, arguing etc …

In addition to the fara’id, obligations of the fast, the seeker may advance in his practice by observation of the traditions (Sunnah) of the Holy Prophet, upon whom be peace.

2. The fast of the select few. 3. The fast of the elite.

The Fast of the Select Few

The fast of the select few is that of keeping the ears, eyes, tongue, hands, feet together with all the other senses free from sin.

These virtuous people free themselves from sin in six ways:

1. Refraining from looking at anything that is blameworthy or disapproved. Jabir, on the authority of Anas related that the Messenger of Allah, praise and peace be upon him, said:

“There are five things that break the fast; telling lies, backbiting, telling tales, perjury, covetousness and lustful eyes.”

2. Keeping the tongue free from ranting and raving, lying, backbiting, tale-telling, obscenity, abusive speech, wrangling, and hypocrisy. Rather, one should busy oneself with the remembrance and exaltation of Allah, as well as the recitation of the Holy Koran – this is the fasting of the tongue.

3. Closing the ears to all that is reprehensible. The Messenger of Allah, praise and peace be upon him, said:

“The backbiter and the listeners are partners in sin.”

4. Constraint of the rest of the senses from sin. Restraining the hand from evil, curbing the foot for the pursuit of wickedness, avoidance of questionable foods at the break of the fast. The Messenger of Allah, praise and peace be upon him, said:

“Many receive nothing from the fast except hunger and thirst.”

This hadith has been explained as referring to the person who breaks the fast on unlawful food and drink. It has also been explained as referring to people who abstain from halal food and break the fast on the flesh of men through illicit backbiting, also, that it refers to the person who does not keep his senses free from sin.

5. Over indulgence when breaking the fast, even when the food is halal. The spirit as well as the secret of fasting is to weaken the flesh which is satan’s tool for turning mankind back to evil.

6. After breaking the fast, the heart should remain in a state of suspense between fear and hope as one does not know whether the fast has been accepted.

“Al Ahnaf, son of Kays was once told: “You are an old man, and fasting will make you weak.” He replied: “This fast is my preparation for a long journey. Indeed, to endure the yoke in the service of Allah is easier than to endure the yoke of His wrath.

The fasting person who is not truly fasting is the one, who while in a state of hunger and thirst allows himself every freedom in sin. But the one who truly understands fasting and its secret knows that whosoever abstains from food, drink, sexual intercourse but commits all manner of sins is like the person who, in performing the ablution runs his hand over one of his limbs thrice, thereby outwardly fulfilling the Law as far as the limb is concerned, but neglecting the truly important thing which is the actual washing. Consequently because of his ignorance, his prayer is rejected.

Whereas, the one who breaks the fast through eating but observes it by keeping himself free from sin is like the person who, in performing the ablution, washes each of the limbs of his body once only. His prayers are, by the will of Allah, accepted because he has fulfilled the principal thing in the ablution although he has failed to fulfill its details. But whosoever does both is like the person who, in performing the ablution, washes each limb of his body thrice, thereby fulfilling both the principal purpose of ablution as well as its elaborate details which constitutes perfection.

The Messenger of Allah, praise and peace be upon him said: “Indeed, fasting is a trust; let each, therefore, take good care of his trust.” When he recited the verse “Allah orders you all to hand back the trusts to their owners …” he raised his hands so that they touched his ears and eyes and said:

“The gift of hearing and sight are each a trust from Allah.” Similarly, the gift of speech is a trust, for if it were not so the Messenger of Allah, praise and peace be upon him, would not have said: “If anyone disputes with another and swears at him, let the latter say ‘I am fasting, I am fasting.”

It is clear, then, that every act of worship possesses an outward form and an internal form – an external husk and internal pith.

The husks are of different grades and each grade has different layers. It is for you to choose whether to be content with the husk or join the company of the wise and learned.

The Fast of the Elite

The fast of the elite is the fast of the heart from bad thoughts, worldly worries and anything else that may divert from anything but thoughts of Allah.

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