The Highest Aim of Fasting – Shaykh Faraz Rabbani
Shaykh Faraz explains that highest aim of fasting is realizing the closeness of Allah Most High, as it is the highest aim of religious works and religion itself.
The aim of Ramadan is often limited when considered. When you ask someone, why do we fast? People say, we fast in order to inculcate taqwa. And that is true, but not quite. Allah Most High does tell us:
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
(Sura al Baqara 2:183)
Fasting has been ordained for you as it has been ordained – literally written and prescribed – for those before you in order that you may attain taqwa; that you may attain mindfulness.
So the common answer we mentioned in the beginning is the sound understanding, but it is an insufficient understanding of the aims of fasting. Why? Because the verses on fasting continue and highlight for us three other central aims of fasting, which are that we have gratitude to Allah Most High, and to magnify Allah Most High. Allah says:
لِتُكَبِّرُوا اللَّـهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَاكُمْ وَلَعَلَّكُمْ تَشْكُرُونَ
…and magnify God that He has guided you, and haply you will be thankful. (Sura al Baqara 2:185)
So the aims of fasting are
- 1. to inculcate taqwa
- 2. to nurture gratitude within us
- 3. to magnify Allah Most High.
And that last point related to the gratitude. Some ulama say the magnifying and the gratitude are one aim, but they’re distinct. So these are three aims of fasting that we can see in the verses on fasting.
But even that is not quite the whole story. In the verse immediately after the verses on fasting Allah says:
وَإِذَا سَأَلَكَ عِبَادِي عَنِّي فَإِنِّي قَرِيبٌ ۖ أُجِيبُ دَعْوَةَ الدَّاعِ إِذَا دَعَانِ ۖ فَلْيَسْتَجِيبُوا لِي وَلْيُؤْمِنُوا بِي لَعَلَّهُمْ يَرْشُدُونَ
And when My servants ask you regarding Me – I am indeed near. I answer the call of the caller, when he calls to Me; so let them answer Me, and let them believe in Me; so that they may be rightly guided. (Sura al Baqara 2:186)
So that is a fourth aim of fasting, which is realizing the closeness of Allah Most High. What is the relationship between these these higher aims of fasting? Different scholars have explained it differently, but if you look at it as Ibn Ajiba and others would explain: the highest aim of fasting is realizing the closeness of Allah Most High.
Why? Because that is the highest aim of religion. And that is the highest aim of religious works. We know from the hadith of the electhood – the hadith of wilayah. In Sahih Bukhari Allah Most High describes the great status of those who are his elect servants or you can say the Friends of Allah: “Whoever shows enmity to a friend of Mine I declare war upon.”
Friends of Allah
How does one become of the elect servants of Allah? “My servant draws close to Me by nothing more beloved to Me then what I have made obligatory upon him. And my servant continues to draw close to Me through supererogatory works (nawafil) until I love him.”
What is love? Love is the attainment of closeness to the one you love. You can love someone from a distance, but realized love is to be in a state of closeness to the one that one loves. This is the highest aim of the fast. This is a opportunity that is missed in our in our fasting.
When we fast we have an opportunity to realize this meaning of the closeness of Allah. Imam al Ghazali explains that this is because fasting reminds us of the divine quality, the divine attribute, of samadiyya: of Allah’s being Al Samad. The most comprehensive definition of Al Samad is: the One whom all turn to in need, and Who Himself has absolutely no need.
As a background to this, the Arabs knew that someone having sumud was an elusive ideal for the Arabs. The Arabs are very independent people. They’re people of the desert. The Arab had no King. If you look at Meccan, there’s no ruler of Mecca. They didn’t have just one leader over them – they couldn’t agree. They are very independent minded.
This sense of Independence was a very high ideal for them, but it’s elusive because no one’s really independent. And they had a sense of honor, the sense of generosity, of karam, and good Arabs still kind of generally do. But these qualities are very elusive, because even if you know you you build up your herd of sheep or goats or camels, and you can take care of some needy you couldn’t do it completely.
So it was a very elusive concept. Rarely would people be referred to by that even though it’s something they admired. Much is said in pre-Islamic poetry and the like regarding this quality.
Allah Most High, when He affirmed that Allah alone is Samad, is the One Who is really independent; whom all are completely dependent upon – this is reallywhat distinguishes our sense our understanding of tawhid, of divine oneness, is this distinguishing definition of God as being the absolutely independent who all are absolutely dependent upon. (Sura al Ikhlas)
It is called surat al Ikhlas because it presents the purest, clearest, highest possible understanding of Divine Oneness. And presents it with radical simplicity, as this concept was never presented with this much clarity before.
Fasting and Oneness
Fasting is so special because it connects us directly, experientially to the recognition of our neediness. That is why it iss very natural to feel more spiritual in the month of Ramadan, because that hunger, that thirst, that resultant weakness is even physically a tawhidic state. It’s a blessed state even if we don’t actually realize its full potential. If we don’t completely embrace it. Or if we don’t reflect upon it and nurture it and fulfill its true meaning.
In fasting we realizeur aspects of our neediness to Allah. And the extent to which we become conscious of our neediness to Allah, is the extent to which we open the door of consciousness of Allah Most High as He is.
This is the quality that needs to be nurtured. When we feel our hunger, when we feel our thirst, when we feel our weakness, when we feel our neediness, we have to deepen that sense. We have to
deepen that sense because this is the bridge to nurturing consciousness of Allah Most High.
Ibn Ata Illah said: “The coming of times of distress are the festival seasons for the seekers [of Allah Most High].”
This recognition of Allah and of our neediness to Allah is what makes fasting so special. This is the highest aim of the fast.
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