What Is the Purpose of Fasting?

Answered by Shaykh Dr. Muhammad Fayez Awad


What is the purpose of fasting?


All praise is due to Allah, Lord of the worlds. Blessings and peace be upon the Messenger of Allah, his Family, and his Companions.

Allah (Most High) did not prescribe fasting in the month of Ramadan for us to merely experience hunger, thirst, and fatigue. Rather, there are many purposes, goals, and wisdom behind this act of worship. Our limited minds can only comprehend some of these purposes, goals, and wisdom. Among the most important are:

1. Attaining Taqwa (God-consciousness) of Allah (Most High):

Allah (Most High) says:

“O believers! Fasting is prescribed for you—as it was for those before you—so perhaps you will become mindful (of Allah).” [Quran, 2:183]

The phrase “so perhaps you will become mindful (of Allah)” means that you may achieve Taqwa.

The meaning of Taqwa is to place a shield between yourself and the punishment of Allah (Most High). It has been defined by Ibn Mas‘ud (Allah be pleased with him) as follows:

To obey Allah (Most High) and not disobey Him, to remember Him and not forget Him, and to be thankful to Him and not be ungrateful.

‘Ali Ibn Abi Talib (Allah be pleased with him) defined it as:

Fear of the Majestic, acting upon the revelation, being content with little, and preparing for the day of departure.

Some scholars have explained Taqwa as true fear of Allah (Most High). All these definitions lead to the same conclusion:

خَلِّ الذُنوبَ صَغيرَها     وَكَبيرَها فَهوَ التُقى
كُن فَوقَ ماشٍ فَوقَ أَر     ضِ الشَوكِ يَحذُرُ ما يَرى
لا تَحقِرَنَّ صَغيرَةً     إِنَّ الجِبالَ مِنَ الحَصى

“Avoid all sins, small and big; that is what Taqwa is.
Walk on earth full of thorns as if you see what you step on.
Do not belittle a small sin, for mountains are made of pebbles.”

To ensure that fasting achieves the desired outcome, the fasting person must adhere to the etiquette of fasting and avoid anything that diminishes its effect.

Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

“Fasting is a shield; when one of you is fasting, he should neither indulge in obscene language nor raise his voice. If someone attacks him or fights with him, he should say, ‘I am fasting.’” [Bukhari; Muslim]

The meaning of “shield” here is protection in this world from sins by breaking desires, safeguarding one’s limbs, and in the Hereafter from the Hellfire.

2. Making the Fasting Person Aware of Allah’s (Most High) Blessings upon Him:

When a Muslim fasts, abstaining from food, drink, sexual relations, and all other things that break the fast, he is reminded of the blessings of Allah (Most High) upon him by the presence of these blessings and their facilitation during non-fasting times. He gives thanks to Allah (Most High) for His countless blessings, as Allah (Most High) says:

“If you tried to count Allah’s blessings, you would never be able to number them. Indeed humankind is truly unfair, (totally) ungrateful.” [Quran, 14:34]

3. Reminding the Fasting Person of His Poor and Needy Brethren:

When the fasting person feels the pain of hunger and thirst, he is reminded of his poor and needy brethren. He feels compassion for them and extends his hand in kindness and assistance towards them. Allah (Most High) says:

“Worship Allah (alone) and associate none with Him. And be kind to parents, relatives, orphans, the poor, …” [Quran, 4:36]

Imam Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali (Allah have mercy on him) said: “It was asked of some of the Salaf: Why was fasting ordained? They replied: So that the rich may taste hunger and not forget the hungry.” [Ibn Rajab al-Hanbali, Lata’if al-Ma‘arif]

4. Fasting Restrains Satan:

The means by which Satan leads the sons of Adam astray are desires, which are fueled by eating and drinking. Fasting constricts the pathways of the blood, thus constricting the pathways of Satan, calming his whisperings and thereby defeating him. Safiyya (Allah be pleased with her) reported that the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

“Satan flows through the son of Adam as blood flows.” [Bukhari; Muslim]

Imam Ghazali said regarding the mysteries of Fasting:

“Thus, the reward for the fasting person is given fully and generously, such that it does not enter under any illusion or estimation, and it is rightfully so because fasting is specifically for Him (Most High) and distinguished in relation to Him, even though all acts of worship are for Him, just as the Ka‘ba is honored in relation to itself and the whole Earth is His. There are two reasons for this:

  • Fasting itself is an act of abstaining and leaving off, which is a secret in itself; there is no visible act involved. All other acts of obedience are performed in the presence of creation and are seen, whereas fasting is seen only by Allah (Most High), for it is an internal act of pure patience.
  • It is a means of overpowering the enemy of Allah (Most High). Since the way of Satan (Allah curses him) is through desires, and these desires are strengthened by eating and drinking, fasting specifically suppresses Satan and blocks his pathways, constricting his channels. Therefore, it deserves special distinction in relation to Allah (Most High). In suppressing the enemy of Allah, there is the support of Allah (Most High), and the support of Allah (Most High) depends on standing up for Him. Allah (Most High) says, ‘If you stand up for Allah, He will help you and make your steps firm.’ [Quran, 47:7]. From this aspect, fasting becomes a gate to worship and a fertile shield.” [Ghazali, Ihya’]

5. Fasting Breaks the Intensity of Desires:

Indeed, fasting breaks the intensity of desires, and with persistence in it, a Muslim achieves uprightness, lowers their gaze, stays away from prohibitions, and strives against their soul. Thus, the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) advised the unmarried young man who cannot afford marriage to fast, as Abdullah Ibn Mas‘ud (Allah be pleased with him) said:

“We were with the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) as young men who had nothing. He said to us, ‘O group of young men, whoever among you can afford to get married should do so, for it helps in lowering the gaze and guarding chastity, and whoever cannot, should fast, as it will be a shield for him.’” [Bukhari; Muslim]

6. Fasting is a Moral Academy:

Fasting is a great moral academy where the believer trains in many virtues. It is a struggle against the self, resistance to whims, and the temptations of Satan that may appear to him. The Muslim is trained in the virtue of patience, learns order and discipline, and practices honesty. It teaches him to be conscious of Allah both outwardly and inwardly, since no one watches over the fasting person except Allah. It also fosters feelings of mercy, brotherhood, and a sense of solidarity and cooperation among Muslims.

In addition, fasting endows the Muslim with purity of speech since the fasting person abstains from foul speech and loudness, and refrains from responding to abuse or engaging with the foolish. Abu Hurayra (Allah be pleased with him) reported that the Messenger of Allah (Allah bless him and give him peace) said:

“…and fasting is a shield. When it is the day of fasting for one of you, let there be no obscene speech nor loudness, and if someone insults or fights him, let him say, ‘I am fasting.’” [Bukhari; Muslim; Malik]

7. Fasting Unifies the Feelings of Muslims:

Fasting unifies the feelings of Muslims, as everyone fasts according to a single educational approach, from the farthest ends of the earth to its closest, rich and poor, white and black, Arabs and non-Arabs, all complying with the command of Allah (Most High).

8. Fasting Provides Health and Strength to the Body:

Medical science has proven that fasting has many health benefits. It helps in detoxifying the body, resting the digestive system, and aiding in the treatment of inflammations. Ibn Qayyim al-Jawziyya (Allah have mercy on him) summarized in his book “Zad al-Ma‘ad fi Hady Khayr al-‘Ibad” the great wisdom and purposes of fasting, saying:

“Since the purpose of fasting is to restrain the self from desires, to wean it from the usual indulgences, and to moderate its lustful power so that it may be prepared to seek the ultimate happiness and bliss, and to accept what purifies it for its eternal life. Hunger and thirst break its fierceness and haughtiness and remind it of the hungry stomachs of the poor. The pathways of Satan in the servant are constricted by the narrowing of the channels of food and drink, and the powers of the organs are restrained from following the natural inclinations that harm it in this life and the hereafter. It calms each organ and every power from its impetuosity and is bridled by its restraint. It is the bridle of the God-fearing, the shield of the warriors, the training of the righteous and those drawn near. And it is for the Lord of the worlds among all deeds, for the fasting person does nothing; he merely abstains from his desires, food, and drink for the sake of his God. It is the forsaking of the soul’s beloved and pleasurable things out of preference for the love of Allah and His pleasure, and it is a secret between the servant and his Lord that no one else is privy to. Onlookers may see him abstaining from visible breakers of the fast, but the fact that he abstains from his food, drink, and desires for the sake of his God is something that no human can see, and this is the reality of fasting.”

We ask Allah, by His grace and generosity, to grant us the ability to fast in a manner that pleases Him, for He is All-Hearing and All-Responsive.

[Shaykh] Dr. Muhammad Fayez Awad

Shaykh Dr. Muhammad Fayez Awad, born in Damascus, Syria, in 1965, pursued his Islamic studies in the mosques and institutes of Damascus. A graduate of the Islamic University of Medina in 1985, he holds a Ph.D. in Islamic Studies from Bahauddin Zakariya University in Pakistan.

He has extensive experience developing curricula and enhancing the teaching of various academic courses, including conducting intensive courses. Shaykh Awad has taught Fiqh, Usul al-Fiqh, Quranic sciences, the history of legislation, inheritance laws, and more at several institutes and universities such as Al-Furqan Institute for Islamic Sciences and Majma‘ al-Fath al-Islami in Damascus.

He is a lecturer at the Sultan Muhammad al-Fatih Waqf University in Istanbul, teaching various Arabic and Islamic subjects, and teaches at numerous Islamic institutes in Istanbul. Shaykh Awad is a member of the Association of Syrian Scholars, a founding member of the Zayd bin Thabit Foundation, a member of the Syrian Scholars Association, and a member of the Academic Council at the Iman Center for Teaching the Sunna and Quran.

Among his teachers from whom he received Ijazat are his father, Shaykh Muhammad Muhiyiddin Awad, Shaykh Muhiyiddin al-Kurdi, Shaykh Muhammad Karim Rajih, Shaykh Usama al-Rifai, Shaykh Ayman Suwaid, Shaykh Ahmad al-Qalash, Shaykh Muhammad Awwama, and Shaykh Mamduh Junayd.