Fasting in Islam: an act of faith which allows the Muslim to progress on the path of “piety”

Fasting in Islam: an act of faith which allows the Muslim to progress on the path of “piety”

Fasting, according to the definition of Muslim law, consists of abstaining from eating, drinking and having intimate relations, from dawn to sunset, with a voluntary and clear intention.

Compulsory fasting is prescribed for the entire lunar month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The latter being a lunar calendar, therefore composed of 355 days, and not 365 like the solar calendar, each month lasts twenty-nine or thirty days. It is the vision of the new moon which determines the beginning and end of a lunar month. Because it is based on a lunar calendar, the month of Ramadan shifts eleven days each year compared to the solar calendar. The length of a fasting day varies depending on the period and geographic location. This is how Muslims who live in the northern hemisphere, for example, will only fast eight or nine hours a day in December, but will, on the other hand, have to fast seventeen or eighteen hours in June. Indisposed or pregnant women, those who are sick, those who are incapacitated, or those who are traveling, are not obliged to fast. Depending on the case, they have the possibility of making up for missed days of fasting or compensating for them by feeding the poor.

If fasting requires true asceticism on the part of the faster, it does not simply consist of depriving oneself of food, drink and intimate relationships. The value and fruits of fasting are measured by intention, alertness and spiritual aspiration. The Prophet thus warned: “Some gain from their fast only hunger and thirst; some only get tiredness from their nightly prayers. » Hunger, thirst and fatigue are only superficial effects of fasting, which we risk not being able to overcome if we stop at appearances, if we remain focused on ourselves instead of to focus on the Lord of the fast, or if one acts in contradiction with the wisdom and sacredness of this unique rite. Muslim sages distinguish several levels of fasting and abstention, in terms of depth, requirement and spiritual benefits: fasting from food, fasting from the sensory faculties, tongue, eyes, etc., and fasting of the heart.

Imam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali distinguishes three levels of ritual fasting: the first level corresponds to the fast practiced by ordinary believers, who only abstain from food, drinks and intimate relationships; the second level corresponds to the fasting of the elite of believers, who are not content with common abstention, but also take care to abstain from futile words, backbiting, sins and reprehensible acts; the third level corresponds to the fasting of the elite of the elite, that of the prophets and saints, who integrate the first two levels of fasting into an interior work, a concentration of the heart occupied in the sole memory of God.

The virtues and benefits of Ramadan fasting

Fasting offers many benefits and virtues. Fasting produces purification, an awakening of the heart, a renewal of faith, a profound transformation of characters; it helps the believer to demonstrate more consistency and conformity with the will of God, in his intentions, his actions and his words. Break the fast (iftar) is not a trivial act either. Far from being an enforcement of the satisfaction of desires or a return to secular habits, it actually prolongs the spiritual intimacy of fasting. Breaking the fast also means reconnecting with the fundamental nature of being (fitra), it is a moment of heartfelt rejoicing and gratitude to God, around a blessed meal shared with family, friends, neighbors, Muslim or not. This hospitality is one of the best ways to spread the blessing, deep joy and inner light that fasting brings into the believer's life.

It is important to emphasize that the prescription of fasting is inseparable from the Revelation of the Quran. It was during a month of Ramadan that the Koran was revealed to the Prophet, that the divine Word descended among men. During this month, after daytime fasting, comes Quranic recitation during special night prayers (al-tarâwîh): by emptying himself, the Muslim becomes more sensitive to the divine Presence, he is able to take part in the “feast of God”, to use a prophetic expression, and to taste the flavor of the Koran, food for the heart and light for the mind. The servant prepares and predisposes himself to welcome the revealed divine Word, through fasting and meditation, as an interior retreat, following the example of the Prophet who received the visit of the Angel Jibril, Gabriel, bringing the Revelation of the Koran in the night of Destiny (laylat al-qadr), traditionally celebrated on the night of the 26th to the 27th of the month of Ramadan.

Far from being a simple mortification and constraint, fasting is on the contrary for the believer a unique opportunity for inner liberation and pacification. It trains patience and endurance. By breaking the “two passions”, as Imam al-Ghazali says, linked to the pleasures of the belly and the flesh, it allows one to rise above the gross and animal nature, to get closer to purity and of the perfection of the angels. It educates and purifies the soul, softens the heart, reduces the influence of the external senses and strengthens spiritual sensitivity.

Fasting particularly highlights the practitioner's direct relationship with God. During Ramadan, from the fast of the day to the breaking of the evening, the believer experiences sometimes restriction sometimes liberality, sometimes fear sometimes hope, sometimes patience sometimes gratitude. God manifests Himself to him by His Names of Majesty and Beauty, sometimes as al-Samad And al-Ghanîthe Absolute, the Independent who is Sufficient in Himself, sometimes as al-Razzaq And al-Karim, the Provider and the Generous par excellence, who gives creatures all the means of existence and subsistence. Through fasting, the believer becomes aware of his total dependence on God.

Spiritual masters teach that the deep and real nature of ritual fasting transcends individual effort, self-will and the conscience of the faster. Fasting clearly manifests the impersonal and supra-human character of every sacred rite. It is to this invisible and secret reality that holy tradition alludes (hadith qudsi) in which God affirms through the mouth of the Prophet: “Every action of the son of Adam belongs to him except fasting. This belongs to Me and I pay the price. »

Man will be able to benefit profoundly from the divine alchemy of ritual fasting by abstaining from himself, by making the sacrifice of his individuality, by extinguishing his ego, by renouncing the pretension of autonomous action, by abandoning the subtle claims of personal merit, in this work which belongs, in reality, only to God. It is ultimately in self-effacement and interior silence that he will be able, God willing, to be fully attentive and attentive to His revelation, and to contemplate the manifestations of the Essence, the Qualities and the Acts of God.