In his seminal work Ihya ‘Ulum ad-Din (Revival of the Sciences of Religion), Abu Hamid al-Ghazali (may Allah sanctify his spirit) elucidated on the inner dimensions of fasting. Al-Ghazali said, “Know that fasting has 3 levels: the Fast of the Common Folks, the Fast of the Elect and the Fast of the Elect of the Elect.” As the foundation of rules of fasting after making intention to fast relates to no oral intake, which includes food and drink, and no sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk, the fullness of the purpose of fasting, which is to grow in at-Taqwa (regardfulness), is a reality well beyond abstaining from the carnal appetite of one’s stomach and private parts. Much of the what brings more benefit from fasting is connected to restraining our tongues, ears and eyes, which is of what Al-Ghazali mentions as part of the fasting of the elect.
Restraining the Tongue is Fundamental to Having an Enriching Fast
Prophet Muhammad (prayers and peace be upon him & his family) stated, “Most of the sins of a child of Adam relates to their tongue.” (at-Tabarani)
Of those matters of the tongue that are blameworthy and violate the spirit of fasting are lying, slanderous gossip and backbiting. As telling a lie about one’s self is generally viewed as a sign of bad character, gossiping and backbiting are nasty habits which are common place in our society. As tales about people spread, it is normal that false information gets added or facts get subtracted which makes gossip juicier; however, this ends up turning into defamation of the subjects’ characters. Defamation through writing (known as libel) or in the form of speech (known as slander) are both prohibited anytime of the year and ruins one’s fasting in particular. Backbiting is to disclose private matters which are true that subjects of discussions would not wish to be revealed. It is not sinful, however, to disclose information to law enforcement about persons who committed crimes, to disclose information about unethical business practices if asked or to provide facts if asked about the character of persons regarding suitabality to get married.
One simple remedy for gossiping and backbiting is derived from the Prophetic statement that “From the beauty of a person’s Islam is to leave alone what does not concern them" (at-Tirmidhi). A mindful faster seeks self-improvement, as another Prophetic saying eludes to: “Glad tidings to who is concerned with their own faults instead of the faults of [other] people” (at-Tabarani, al-Bayhaqi & others). Using one’s tongue to perform beneficial acts such as reading the Qur’an, making dhikr and du’a and conveying beneficial knowledge are better uses of time, especially when feeling tempted about gossiping. Though not preferable as the noble acts mentions before, it is better to sleep during fasting hours than be involved in idle discussion which leads to sinning of the tongue.
Removing the Ears from Blameworthy Speech is Connected to Mindfulness
The Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him & his family) said, “What I have prohibited you from, stay away from it.” (al-Bukhari & Muslim)
In terms of blameworthy speech, there are active and passive participants. When people gossip or backbite for instance, such is intended for audiences. Active listening to such, therefore, becomes a form of association with the talk that is spiritually regressive. Protection from being an associate of anti-social speech is to give gentle reminders not to gossip and backbite, and then to retreat from the gathering if the people continue to partake in the flesh-eating of others, according to Imam Yahya bin Hamzah adh-Dhammari (may Allah sanctify his spirit) in his work Tasfiyah al-Qulub. Our suhbah (association) with others is tied to our spiritual states throughout the year and should take on a heightened significance during Shahr Ramadan. As it is better to be in righteous community than to be alone, it is better to be alone than to be in the company of those who are actively engaged in anti-social speech and behaviors.
Being Mindful of Indecent Exposure to the Eyes
Say to the believing men to lower their gazes and to protect their private parts. That is purer for them. Surely Allah is aware of what they do. And tell the believing women to lower their gazes, to protect their private parts and to cover their adornments. (Al-Qur’an Surah 24, Ayatayn 30 to part of 31)
It was narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim that on the Day of the Sacrifice at Hajj that al-Fadl bin Abbas (may Allah be pleased with them both) was with the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him & his family) when a beautiful lady came to ask a religious question. Al-Fadl began to stare at her then the Prophet (prayers and peace be upon him & his family) used his hand to turn al-Fadl’s face away from staring at her.
During all occasions, Muslims should be mindful of lowering gazes not just with those who are in their direct presence but also when in front of televisions and computer screens. The eyes are gateways to souls that can excite passions. In the case of al-Fadl, he was staring at a Muslim woman who was fully clothed during Hajj season. What Muslim men and women are exposed to in American society during the summer months to sports on television in which the ‘awrat (parts of bodies that should be covered for males and females in public) is way more than he saw and can turn into a greater trial while fasting. Looking away at first glance from the opposite gender or for some looking away at first glance if tested with same gender attraction is mandatory, not staring under the guise of admiring the creation of Allah (Mighty & Sublime). Moreover, not viewing certain television programs and staying away from specific locations are also means of protection against staring at the prohibited.
Giving up food and drink and abstaining from sexual relations from dawn to dusk are perhaps the easiest aspects of fasting. Fasting by controlling what comes out of mouths and what enters into the ears and eyes along with giving up food, drink and sex during those hours is a greater form of abstention. The highest level of fasting is not only doing all of those but also the fasting of hearts, meaning to incline the heart away from anything which is not pleasing to Allah (Mighty & Sublime). May Allah (Mighty & Sublime) increase us in at-Taqwa and raise us to the level of performing the fast above the level of the generality.
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