Know, that in the fast (Sawm) is a special quality that is not found in anything else. And that is its close connection to Allah, such that He says:

‘‘The Fast (Sawm) is for Me and I will reward for it.’’

This connection is enough to show the high status of fasting. Similarly, the Ka’bah is highly dignified due to its close connection to Him, as occurs in His statement:

‘‘And sanctify My House.’’

Indeed, the fast is an excellent act of worship due to two significant reasons:

· It is a secret and hidden action, thus, no one from the creation is able to see it; therefore riya‘ (showing off) cannot enter it.

· It is a means of subjugating the enemies of Allah. This is because the road that the enemies (of Allah) embark upon (in order to misguide the son of Adam) is that of desires. And eating and drinking strengthens the desires. There are many Prophetic traditions that indicate the merits of fasting, and they are well-known

Recommended acts of fasting
The pre-dawn meal (suhoor) and delaying in taking it are preferable, as well as hastening to break the fast and doing so with dates. Generosity in giving in charity is also recommended during Ramadan, as well as doing good deeds and giving more and more in charity. This is in accordance with the Sunnah of the Messenger of Allah (peace be upon him).

It is also recommended to study the Qur‘an and perform I‘tikaf (seclusion for worship) during Ramadan, especially in its last 10 days, as well as exerting in doing good deeds in it. In the two Saheehs, ’Aa‘isha said: ‘‘When the last 10 days (of Ramadan) would come, the Prophet would grid up his loins’’

The scholars have mentioned two views concerning the meaning of ‘girding up his lions.’ The first is that it means the turning away from women.

The second is that it is an expression denoting his eagerness and diligence in doing good deed. They also say that the reason for his making an extra effort the last 10 days of Ramadan was due to his seeking of the Night of al-Qadr (Laylatul-Qadr).

Inner secrets of fasting
There are three levels of fasting, the general fast, the specific fast and the more specific fast. As for the general fast, it is the restraining of one’s stomach and private parts from fulfilling their desires.

The specific fast is the refraining of ones gaze, tongue, hands, feet, hearing and eyes, as well as the rest of one’s body parts from committing sinful acts. As for the more specific fast, it is the heart’s abstention from its yearning for the worldly objects and the thoughts which distance one away from Allah, as well as its (the heart’s) abstention from all the things that Allah has placed at the same level.

Among the characteristics of the specific fast is that one lowers his gaze and safeguards his tongue from the repulsive speech that is forbidden, disliked, or which has no benefit, as well as controlling the rest of his body parts. As is mentioned in a Hadith by Al-Bukhari: ‘‘Whosoever does not abandon false speech and acting upon it, Allah is not in need of his giving up food and drink.’’

Another characteristic of the specific fast is that one does not overfill oneself with food during the night. Instead, he eats in due measure, for indeed, the son of Adam does not fill a vessel more evil than his stomach. If he were to eat his fill during the first part of the night, he would not make good use of the remainder of the night.

In the same way, if he eats to his fill for suhoor, he does make good use of himself until the afternoon. This is because excessive eating breeds laziness and lethargy.

Therefore, the objective of fasting is lost due to one’s excessive in eating, for what is indeed intended by the fast, is that one savours the taste of hunger and readily shuns his carnal desires.

Recommended fasts
As for the recommended fasts, the merit of fasting is established on certain meritorious days. Some of these special days come every year, such as fasting the first six days of Shawwal after Ramadan, fasting the day of ’Arafah, the day of ’Ashura, and the 10 days of Dhul-Hijjah and Muharram.

Some of them occur every month, such as the first part of the month, the middle part of it, and the last part. So whoever fasts the first part, the middle part and the last part of it, then he has done well. Some fasts occur every week, and they are observed on Mondays and Thursdays.

The most virtuous of the recommended fasts is the fast of Prophet Dawood. He, would fast one day and break his fast the next day. This achieves the following three objectives, the soul is given its share on the day the fast is broken.

And on the day of fasting, it has its share in full. The day of eating is the day of giving thanks and the day of fasting is the day of observing patience. And Faith (Iman) is divided into two halves- that of thankfulness and that of patience.

It is the most difficult struggle for the soul. This is because every time the soul gets accustomed to a certain condition, it conditions itself to that. As for fasting every day, it has been reported by Muslim, from the Hadith of Abu Qatadah that ’Umar (may Allah be pleased with him) asked the Prophet (peace be upon him): What is the case if one were to fast everyday? The Prophet (peace be upon him) said: ‘‘He did not fast nor did he break his fast or he did not fast and he did not break his fast.’’

This is concerning the one who fasts continuously, even during the days in which fasting is forbidden.

Characteristics of the more specific fasts
So a good believer knows the objective behind fasting. Therefore, he burdens himself to the extent that he will not be unable to do that which is more beneficial than that. Ibn Mas’ood would not fast optional ones and it is reported that he used to say: ‘‘When I fast, I grow weak in my prayer. And I prefer the prayer over the (optional) fast.’’

Some of the Companions would grow lax in their recitation of the Qur’an when fasting. Thus, they would break their fast (i.e.. by observing less optional fasts), until they were able to balance their recitation. Every persons knows his condition and of what will rectify it.

– This article is taken from the book Mukhtasar Minhajul-Qasidin (p. 38-41) of the illustrious scholar and Imam, Ibn Qudamah Al-Maqdisi (d.529H).

This article was translated by Isma’eel Ibn al-Arkan and edited by Abu Khaliyl. There were also slight modifications made to it, such as the exclusion of a couple of statements.