Know that fasting is of three [successive] grades, namely, the fasting of the general public (sawm al-‘umum) and the fasting of the elite among the select few {sawm Khusus al-khusus).

The fasting of the general public involves refraining from satisfying the appetite of the stomach and the appetite of the sax, as has already been discussed.

The fasting of the select few is to keep the ears, the eyes, the tongue, and hands, and the feet as well as the other senses free from sin.

The fasting of the elite among the select few is the fast of the heart from mean thoughts and worldly worries and its complete unconcern with anything but Allah. Such a fast is broken by thinking on anything other than Allah and the last day, as well as by concern over this world, except in so far as it promotes religion which belongs to the hereafter. Thus, those whose hearts are sanctified have said, “He who spends his day worrying over what he will have for breaking his fast, sins.” This is because he has little confidence in the bounty of Allah and little faith that the livelihood promised unto him will be received. In this rank stand the Ambiyaa, the Auliyaa and the favourites of Allah the Most High. We shall not dwell very long on the verbal description of the kind of fasting but shall define it through its active operation.

It is to seek Allah with all of one’s strength and to turn away from all, other things besides Him. In short, it is to embody the words of Allah when He said, “Say ‘Allah, then leave them in their pastime of cavillings.” (Surah An’aam, Verse 91)

The fasting of the select few, which is the fasting of the virtuous men, is to keep the senses free from sin and is accomplished through six things:

The first is to refrain from looking at anything blameworthy and disapproved, or anything which occupies the person and diverts him from remembering Allah. Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam said, “The coveting glance is one of the poisoned arrows of the devil. He who for fear of Allah abstains therefrom will receive from Him a belief (Imaan), the sweetness of which will fill his heart .”

Jabir related on the authority of Anas Radiallahu Anhu that Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam once said, “Five things break the fast: the telling of lies, backbiting, tale-bearing, perjury, and the casting of coveting and lustful eyes.”


The second is to keep the tongue free from raving, lying, backbiting, tale-bearing, obscenity, abusive speech, wrangling, and hypocrisy, and to impose silence upon it.

Furthermore, it should be employed in the remembrance and glorification of Allah and engaged in reading of the Qur’an. Of such is the fasting of the tongue. We have it on the authority of Bishr ibn-al-Harith that Sufyan [al-Thawri] once said, “Backbiting renders fasting of no effect” Quoting Mujahid, Layth once said, ‘Two traits render fasting of no effect: backbiting and lying.”

Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam said, “Verily, fasting is like unto a shield; therefore whenever one of you fasteth, let him not speak unseemly or act foolishly. If anyone disputeth with him or sweareth at him, let him say, ‘I am fasting, verily I am fasting’.” (Bukhaari)

In another tradition we read about women who lived during the lifetime of Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam. As they were fasting one day pangs of hunger and the darts of thirst proved too much for them to endure, and they almost collapsed. Consequently, they sent to Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam asking him permission to break their fast. In reply he sent them a cup Saying, “Vomit into this cup what ye have eaten.”

To the amazement of all present the one filled half die cup with pure blood and tender flesh and the other filled up the second half of the cup with the same thing. Hereupon Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam said, “These two women have fasted from that which Allah hath made lawful unto them and have broken their fast by doing that which He hath made unlawful unto them. They sat down and engaged in backbiting. The flesh and blood which they vomited is the flesh and blood of those people whom they have traduced.”

The third to close the ears to every reprehensible thing because everything which is unlawful to utter is also unlawful to hear. For this reason, Allah regarded the listener and the ‘sharks (devourers)’ of unlawful trade alike when He said, “Listeners to falsehood, ‘sharks’ of the unlawful trade.” (Surah 5, V46) And again, “Had not the masters and the ‘divines’ forbidden their uttering wickedness and devouring unlawful trade, bad indeed would have been their deeds .” (Surah 5, V68)

Silence therefore, in the face of backbiting is unlawful. Said Allah, ‘Ye are, then, like unto them .” (Surah 4, V139)

Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam also said, “The backbiter and he who listens unto him are partners in sin .”

The fourth is constraining the rest of the senses from sins, restraining the hand from reaching evil, and curbing the foot from pursuing wickedness, as well as avoiding questionable foods at the break of the fast. Otherwise, if the fast is going to be abstinence from lawful things, it will have no significance at all. Such a fasting man is like one who builds a cabin but destroys a capital (city).

For lawful food is harmful not because of its quality but because of its quantity and fasting is designed to induce moderation. Similarly, the person who, for fear of the bad effect of an excessive dose of medicine, resorts to taking a dose of poison, is indeed foolish. The unlawful is poison detrimental to religion while the lawful is like a medicine a little of which is beneficial but the excess of which is harmful. The purpose of fasting is to induce moderation therein. Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam said, “Many a man gets nothing out of his fast accept hunger and thirst .” (Ibn Majah)

In explanation of this it has been said that he [Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam] meant the person who breaks his fast on unlawful tilings. Others said that he meant the person who abstains from lawful food and breaks his fast on the flesh of men through backbiting which is unlawful. Still others said that Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam meant the person who does not keep his senses free from sin.

The fifth is that when breaking his fast, a person should not overeat of [even) the lawful food, thereby stuffing his belly full. For there is no vessel more abominable unto Allah than a belly stuffed with lawful food. How could anyone expect to overcome the enemy of Allah and subdue his own appetite through fasting if, when he breaks his fast, he compensates himself for what he had missed during the day and even helps himself to more foods and drinks of diverse kinds. It has thus become the custom to store up all the food for the month of Ramadan, wherein more food and drink are devoured than in several months. Yet it is well known that the purpose of fasting is hunger and the suppression of lust so that the soul might be able to attain piety.

If the stomach were not given any food from the early morning until the evening so that its appetite became aroused and its desire increased and then it were fed with delicacies and stuffed to satiety therewith, its pleasure would be enhanced and vitality doubled, consequently giving rise to passions otherwise dormant.

The spirit as well as the secret of fasting is to weaken the flesh (nafs) which is Satan’s tool for turning men back to evil. [Such weakening of the flesh] is never achieved unless a person reduces his food to the amount of food which he would have eaten in the evening if he were not fasting. But if, on breaking his fast, he should eat an amount of food equivalent to what he would have eaten during both the day time and the evening, he would reap no benefit from his fast.

As a matter of fact, among the proprieties of fasting is that the person should not sleep much during the daytime but rather stay up so that he might feel the pangs of hunger and the flames of thirst and become conscious of the weakness of the flesh, with the result that his heart would be cleansed and purified. He should maintain his flesh (nafs) in such a state of weakness during the Night of Power so that he might find his night worship (tahajjud) easier to perform and his [night] portions (sing. wird) easier to read. It is hoped, then, that Satan will not hover around his heart and that he will be able to lift his eyes unto the kingdom of heaven. In this connection, the Night of Power represents the night on which a glimpse of the invisible world is revealed to man. It is also the night which is alluded to by the words of Allah when He said, “Verily We have sent it down on the Night of Power.”

He who buries his head deep into a nose-bag full of food, cannot hope to see the invisible world. Even if he keeps his stomach empty, he will not be able to remove the veil and see the invisible world unless he also empties his mind from everything except Allah. This is the whole matter, the basis of which is to cut down the amount of food one eats. This will be further discussed in the book on the various kinds of food.

The sixth is that, after breaking the fast, his heart should remain in state of suspense between fear and hope, since he does not know whether his fast will be accepted, and consequently he will be one of the favourites of Allah, or rejected, and he will be one of those who have incurred divine disfavour. He should remain in such a state of suspense after every act of worship.

It has been related that al-Hasan ibn-abi al-Hasan [Yasar] al-Basri once passed by a group of men who were rollicking and laughing and said unto them, ‘Verily Allah has made the month of Ramadan a race-course where men compete in His worship. Some have won their race and were crowned with success, while others lagged behind and lost. We are surprised and astonished at the man who wastes his time in indolence and laughter on the day when the earnest finish victorious and the idle meet with failure and disaster. By Allah, if the veil were to be removed, you will find the good man occupies with his good works and the evildoer with his evil deeds.” In other words, the joy of the man whose fast has been accepted will occupy him and keep him from indolence, while the agony and regrets of the man whose fast has been rejected will take all joy from his heart and make laughter impossible.  

It was related on the authority of al-Ahnaf ibn-Qays that he was once told, “Thou are an old and aged man, and fasting would make thee weak.” To which he replied, “This fast is my preparation for a long journey. Verily to endure the yoke of Allah’s service is easier than to endure the yoke of His torture.” Such words depict the inward meaning of fasting.

If you then ask, “How can the jurisprudents (Muftis) approve the fasting of a person who confines himself to restraining the appetite of his stomach and the urge of his sex instinct, but neglects these inward aspects of the fast; how, then, can they say that his fast is valid?” Then know that the jurisprudents of the outward law support its formal requirements by means of proofs far weaker than those with which we established its inward conditions, especially those of backbiting and the like. At any rate, the jurisprudents of the outward law are not expected to concern themselves with any obligations other than those which are within the reach of the ordinary common folk who are occupied with the affairs of this world.

On the other hand, the learned men of the hereafter mean by validity, acceptance and by acceptance, the achievement of the intended purpose. By the purpose intended in fasting they understood the taking over of one of the qualities of Allah, namely, endurance (samadiyah) as well as following in the example of the angels by refraining, as much as possible, from carnal lust while man, by virtue of his ability to overcome lust through the light of reason, stands above the animals [which possess no such light]. On the other hand, because he is subject to carnal lust and is judged by his ability to fight [its temptations]. The more he indulges in lust the lower he descends and the closer he comes to the level of the animals. The more he suppresses his lust the higher he ascends and the closer he comes to the level of the angels. The angels stand in close proximity to Allah, and whoever follows in their footsteps and emulates their example draws like them nigh unto Allah.

But this proximity (qurb) is not one of location but one of qualities and attributes.  

If, among the men of insight and the physicians of the heart, this be the secret of fasting, what good will there be in delaying a meal and combining two at sunset while indulging in the satisfaction of all the other physical desires and lusts throughout the day? And if there were good in such a behaviour what would the words of Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam when he said, “Many a man gets nothing out of his fast except hunger and thirst,” (Ibn Majah) mean? For this reason Abu-al-Darda Radiallahu Anhu once said, “How good is the sleep of the wise men and how excellent is their eating; behold how they put to shame the wakefulness of the foolish and their fasting. Verily the weight of an atom of the worship of the faithful and pious is better than the weight of mountains of the worship of those who are misguided [and those in error].”

Consequently, one of the learned men said, “Many a fasting man is not truly fasting, and many a man not abstaining from food and drink is truly fasting.” The man who is truly fasting while not abstaining from food and drink is he who keeps himself free from sin; and the fasting man who is not truly fasting is he who, while he hungers and thirsts, allows himself every freedom in sin.

But everyone who truly understands fasting and its secret knows that he who abstains from food, drink, and sexual intercourse but commits [all manner of] sins is like the person who, in performing the ablution runs his hand over one of his members thrice, thereby outwardly fulfilling the Law as far as the member is concerned, but neglecting the truly important thing which is the actual washing. Consequently, because of his ignorance, his prayer is rejected.

On the other hand, he 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 members 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 fulfil the details.

But he who does both is like the person who, in performing the ablution, washes each member of his body thrice, thereby fulfilling both the principal purpose of ablution as well as its elaborate details, which constitutes perfection. Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam once said, ‘Verily fasting is a trust; let each, therefore, take good care of .” his trust

Again when he recited, ‘Verily Allah enjoineth you to give back your trusts to their owners,” (Surah 4, V 61) he raised his hands and touching his and eyes said, “(The gift of] hearing and [the gift of] seeing are each a trust [from Allah].” Similarly, [the gift of speech is a trust], for if it were not so Rasulullah Sallallahu Alayhi Wasallam would not have said, “If anyone disputeth with another and sweareth at him let the latter say, ‘I am fasting, verily I am fasting’.” (Bukhari) Or in other words, ”I have been interested with this my tongue in order to keep and hold, not in order to give it free rein in retort and reply to thee.”

It is clear, then, that every act of worship is possessed of an outward form and an inner [secret], 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 the learned.