Asalam wa alikum
The objective behind fasting is to restrain the soul from (its) desires and to prevent it from those things, which are beloved to it. And its purpose is to control the soul's strength, so that it can be prepared to attain what is found in it (the fast) from success and joy for the soul. Through the fast, one curbs his hunger and thirst and is reminded of the condition of the hungry stomachs of needy people.
Through fasting, one narrows the passages the Devil has inside the servant (of Allaah) by narrowing the passages of food and drink. Also, it prevents the forces of the limbs from getting too accustomed to things that are harmful to it in this world and the hereafter. And each of the soul's body limbs and energies can cease their rebelliousness (to Allaah) and be harnessed by its bridle.
So therefore, the fast is the bridle of those who fear and obey Allaah and the shield of those wage war (against desires). And it is a garden for the righteous and devoted servants of Allaah. And it is for the Lord of the worlds, over all other actions (done to please Allaah). This is since the person who fasts, in fact does nothing. He only abandons his desire and his food for the sake of the One whom he worships.
So fasting is an abandonment of those things that the soul loves and desires, preferring instead Allaah's love and contentment. And it is a secret kept between the servant and his Lord – no one else is aware of it.
Fasting has an amazing effect in preserving one's outer limbs and inner capacities as well as protecting the soul from being overtaken by destructive components, which can ruin and destroy it. And it has a remarkable effect in causing all the harmful things that prevent the soul from being healthy to be emptied out. So fasting guards and protects the health of the person's heart and body limbs. And it returns the soul all that the hands of the desires has taken from it. So it is from the greatest ways of improving one's Taqwaa, as Allaah says: "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you in order that you attain Taqwaa." [Surah Al-Baqarah: 185]
The Prophet (saws) said: "Fasting is a shield." And he commanded those who had intense desires for marriage but were not able to marry, to observe fasting, making it a shield against those desires (of marriage).
Volume 3, Book 31, Number 118: Bukhari
Narrated Abu Huraira:
Allah's Apostle said, "Fasting is a shield (or a screen or a shelter). So, the person observing fasting should avoid sexual relation with his wife and should not behave foolishly and impudently, and if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should tell him twice, 'I am fasting." The Prophet added, "By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allah than the smell of musk. (Allah says about the fasting person), 'He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times."
When the benefits of fasting are born witness to by sensible minds and upright intuitions, one will come to realize that Allaah prescribed it as a mercy for mankind, goodness to them and a protection and shield for them. The Prophet's (saws) guidance concerning it was the most perfect of guidance, and the best for reaching the desired objective and the easiest on the soul.
Since restraining the soul from what it loves and desires is from the most difficult and hardest of things, its obligation was delayed until the middle of Islaam, after the Hijrah. This was at the point when the Tawheed and the Prayer had become firmly established in the souls of the Muslims and when they loved the commands of Allaah. So their souls were lead to its obligation in gradual steps. It became obligatory in the second year of Hijrah.
When the Messenger of Allaah (saws) died, he had fasted nine Ramadaans in total. Originally, it was obligated as an option left to the people to choose whether they wanted to fast or to feed needy people for every day. Then that option was transferred into the final obligatory fasting. And the matter of feeding people was left only for the old men and women who did not have the ability to fast.
Fasting had three stages. The first stage was its being obligated with the option of fasting or feeding a needy person. In the second stage, only the fasting was allowed, but if the person fasting slept before breaking his fast, he was forbidden from eating and drinking until the following night. This was abrogated in the third stage. And this is the stage at which the Religion has settled with until the Day of Judgement.
Volume 3, Book 31, Number 120: Bukhari
The Prophet said, "There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Raiyan, and those who observe fasts will enter through it on the Day of Resurrection and none except them will enter through it. It will be said, 'Where are those who used to observe fasts?' They will get up, and none except them will enter through it. After their entry the gate will be closed and nobody will enter through it."
Virtues of Fasting as Mentioned in the Qur'an and Sunnah
The Reward for Fasting is Immense
"Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed receiving then times its 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." [Al-Bukhari]
Also, Sahl ibn Sa'ad reported that the Prophet, upon whom be peace, said:
"Indeed there is a gate of Paradise called ar-Rayyan. On the day of Resurrection those who fast will enter through it; no one enters it except for them, and when they have entered, it is closed so that no one enters it, so when the last of them enters it, it is closed, and whoever enters it drinks, and whoever drinks never becomes thirsty." [Ibn Khuzaymah. Sahih]
Fasting is a Shield Against the Fire
"Fasting is a shield with which a servant protects himself from the Fire." [Ahmad. Sahih]
"On the Day of Judgement, fasting will say: 'O My Lord I prevented him from food an desires so accept my intercession for him.' " [Ahmad, al-Hakim and Abu Nu'aym. Hasan]
Fasting is a Means for One's Sins to be Forgiven
"He who fasts Ramadhan, due to iman and hoping for reward (from Allah) then his past sins are forgiven." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
The Supplication of the Fasting Person is Answered
"There are in the month of Ramadhan in every day and night those to whom Allah grants freedom from the Fire, and there is for every Muslim an supplication which he can make and will be granted." [Al-Bazzar and Ahmad. Sahih]
Fasting is an Expiation for Various Sins
"Perform the Pilgrimage and the Lesser Pilgrimage for Allah ... but whoever among you is ill or has an ailment of the head must pay a ransom, either by fasting or by charity ... " [Al-Qur'an 2:196]
"Never may a believer kill a believer unless by mistake ... and those who find this beyond their means must fast two consecutive months. Such is the penance imposed by Allah; and Allah is Knowing, Wise." [Al-Qur'an 4:92]
And more (5:89, 5:95 and 58:3-4).
The Fasting Person Will Be Among the True Followers of the Prophets and the Martyrs
A man came to the Prophet, peace be upon him, and asked, "O Messenger of Allah, what if I testify that none has the right to worshipped but Allah and that you are the Messenger of Allah, and I observe the five daily prayers, and I pay the zakah, and I fast and stand in prayer in Ramadhan, then amongst whom shall I be?" He said:
"Amongst the true followers of the prophets and the martyrs." [Ibn Hibban. Sahih]
Fasting is a Shield Against One's Base Desires
"O youths, whoever amongst you is able to marry then let him do so, since it restrains the eyes and protects the private parts, and he who is unable, then let him fast because it is a shield for him." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
Once we realise the greatness of fasting and what achievement it leads to, we must put all our efforts in performing fasting in the best manner possible. And since fasting is worship, it must be done solely for Allah's sake, and no intention is accepted, other than pleasing Allah and seeking His Face with all one's sincerity. Without a correct intention, no deed is of any value in the Hereafter. We Muslims must constantly verify our intentions and consider why we perform fasting. Do we do so merely because it is the practice of our parents and friends, or do we do so because it is part of our tradition, or perhaps because we simply want to conform to our environment in order to avoid any problems? A Muslim who realises that only that which is with Allah remains, and that He is the only One who grants and withholds, would not be of those to which the Prophet, upon whom be peace, alluded to in the hadith:
"On the Day of Judgement, a caller will cry out, 'Whoever performed a deed for someone other than Allah may seek his reward from that for which he performed the deed.' " [Sahih al-Jami']
Certain Aspects and Rulings Related to Fasting
- For the obligatory fast in the month of Ramadhan, it is incumbent on everyone to have intention before the appearance of Fajr.
- Fast is performed between the time of true Fajr (that which makes food forbidden for the fasting person, and makes Fajr prayer lawful, as explained by Ibn 'Abbas) and the time as soon it is seen that the sun has set.
- The interval between the end of suhur (the pre-dawn meal) and the start of the obligatory prayer is the interval sufficient to recite fifty ayat, as indicated by the Prophet and related by al-Bukhari and Muslim.
- Eating suhur contains many blessings and the Prophet, peace be upon him, ordered us to do take it, forbade us from leaving it and told us to take suhur to make a distinction between our fast and the fast of the People of the Book. In spite of this, Ibn Hajr reports in Fath al-Bari that there is consensus that it is recommended. Allah knows best.
- Falsehood, ignorant and indecent speech are to be avoided as they may render one's fasting futile.
- A fasting person can begin fasting while in the state of janabah (major state of impurity that requires bath due to a sexual intercourse).
- Use of siwak (tooth-stick) is permitted. Likewise, washing the mouth and nose is permitted, but it should not be done strongly.
- The Prophet forbade a youth to kiss while fasting, while he allowed an old man since he is able to control himself.
- Giving blood and injections which do not provide nourishment does not break the fast. Also, there is no harm in tasting food, provided it does not reach the throat.
- Pouring cold water over one's head and taking a bath contain no harm to a fasting person.
- It is from the Sunnah of the Prophet and the practice of his companions to break the fast as soon as the Sun sets even if some bright redness remains upon the horizon. Muslims are strongly encouraged to hasten breaking the fast. The Prophet, upon whom be peace, said: "The din will not cease to be uppermost as long as the people hasten to break the fast, since the Jews and the Christians delay it." [Abu Dawud and Ibn Hibban. Hasan]
- The Prophet, peace be upon him, used to break his fast before praying and he used to break it with fresh dates, if not then with older dates. And if not with dates, than with some mouthfuls of water.
- The supplication of the fasting person when he breaks his fast is not rejected. The best du'a (supplication) is that reported from Allah's Messenger, peace be upon him. He used to say when breaking the fast, "The thirst has gone, the veins are moistened and the reward is certain, if Allah wills." [Abu Dawud, al-Bayhaqi, al-Hakim and others. Hasan]
- The Prophet said, "He who gives food for a fasting person to break his fast, he will receive the same reward as him, except that nothing will be reduced from the fasting persons reward." [Ahmad, at-Tirmidhi, Ibn Majah, Ibn Hibban. Sahih]. Also, a fasting Muslim should not reject invitation of another Muslim to break fast.
- Deliberate eating and drinking, making oneself vomit, menstruation, after-birth bleeding, injection containing nourishment and sexual intercourse all nullify the fast.
- As for Laylatul-Qadr, the Night of Decree, it is better than a thousand months. The Prophet, peace be upon him, told us, "Seek it in the last ten, and if one of you is too weak or unable then let him not allow that to make him miss the final seven." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]. That which is the most specific states, " ... seek it on the (twenty) ninth and the (twenty) seventh and the (twenty) fifth." [Al-Bukhari]
- The Prophet, peace be upon him, used to exert himself greatly during Laylatul-Qadr. He would spend the nights in worship, detaching himself from women and ordering his family with this. So every Muslim should be eager to stand in prayer during Laylatul-Qadr out of iman and hoping for the great reward.
- The Prophet, upon whom be peace, said, "Whoever stands (in prayer) in Laylatul-Qadr out of iman and seeking reward then his previous sins are forgiven." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
- The supplication that the Messenger of Allah, peace be upon him, taught 'Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, to say when seeking the Night of Decree is, "O Allah you are the one who pardons greatly, and loves to pardon, so pardon me." [At-Tirmidhi and Ibn Majah. Sahih]
- It is Sunnah to pray Tarawih in congregation and the one who knew the best the practice of the Prophet at night, 'A'ishah said, "Allah's Messenger did not increase upon eleven raka'at in Ramadhan, or outside it." [Al-Bukhari and Muslim]
- All who are capable should take advantage of the month of Ramadhan and perform i'tikaf, i.e. fully attach oneself to worshipping in the mosque. One should inquire how the Prophet performed i'tikaf.
- Zakat ul-Fitr is prescribed by Allah as a purification for those who fasted from loose and indecent talk, and to feed the poor Muslims as a provision for 'Eid ul-Fitr. One should inquire further about rulings related to it, especially upon whom it is obligatory and what is its quantity.