A hadith that includes the following statement: “They abstain from their food, drink, and sexual desire for My sake. Fasting is undertaken for Me and I will grant its reward.” This is a statement by God as quoted by the Prophet (peace be upon him). What this means is that fasting is rewarded at the highest rates and the greatest value, because it is an act of worship that admits no hypocrisy or showing off. It is an abstention from what people need most to preserve their own lives and their kind, i.e. food, drink, and sex. Normally, a good deed is rewarded by ten times its value, but God may increase this to 700 times and even more. For fasting, however, the rate is not specified. We are left to expect what is greater than all this, because it is a reward by God, the Most Generous, for an act of worship that seeks to gain His pleasure.

To gain such a great reward we need to do more than mere abstention from what we desire most. Scholars agree that the fasting that deserves such a reward is that which remains untainted by any sinful action, whether verbal or physical. They say that the minimum type of fasting is when a person refrains from doing anything that invalidates fasting, i.e. eating, drinking, and sex. A middle grade of fasting is achieved by refraining from doing anything that Islam forbids. The highest type adds banishing any thoughts of indulging in what is prohibited. When one achieves this, one is certainly happy and contented. This is sufficient for a reward in this life, but what God grants us in the life to come is much greater.

The question arises here whether committing a sinful action during the day of fasting invalidates one’s worship. The answer is summed up in the following hadith in which Abu Hurayrah quotes the Prophet as saying: “Whoever does not refrain from saying what is false or acting on it need not abstain from eating and drinking, for God is in no need of that.” (Related by Al-Bukhari). This hadith means that fasting is incompatible with saying what is false. The Arabic term, zoor, which the Prophet uses for ‘false’ is primarily used to express perjury, but in this hadith, it is much wider than this. It includes any false statement a person may say, including lying, backbiting, or telling tales of which one is uncertain.

The Prophet says that if a person does not wish to abstain from such verbal sins, then God has no need for his fasting. Such a person actually does not fast, because he indulges in what God has forbidden. Scholars debate at length whether committing a deliberate sin invalidates fasting or not. Some say that any deliberate sin makes fasting invalid. Others say that backbiting and deliberate lying in particular invalidates fasting. Another group of scholars maintains that fasting remains valid in spite of these sins, but its reward is wasted because these sins incur a greater punishment than the reward of fasting. This is how they explain this statement by the Prophet: “Whoever does not refrain from saying what is false or acting on it need not abstain from eating and drinking, for God is in no need of that.

– Adil Salahi