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The Different Levels of Fasting

by Musa Bukhari

In a book by Imam Al Ghazali called Ihya Ulum Ad Din, The Revival of Religious Sciences, he discusses the three degrees of fasting: Ordinary, Extraordinary, and Perfect fasting. He elaborates on the different levels of fasting and their significance. The concept is to strive towards achieving the perfect level of fasting.

The levels of fasting are also articulated in the following saying by Ali (RA), “Fasting of the heart is better than fasting of the tongue, and fasting of the tongue is better than fasting of the stomach.”

Ordinary Fasting:

Ordinary fasting is defined as refraining only from food, water, and physical intimacy. This is the foundational level of fasting that everyone is called to observe.

In a hadith by the Prophet (SAW) he said,

رب صائم حظه من صيامه الجوع والعطش، ورب قائم حظه من قيامه السهر

“There may be a fasting person who gains nothing from it but hunger and thirst, and there may be one who prays at night and gains nothing from it but a sleepless night.”

This means that while fasting, individuals may still engage in activities inappropriate for Muslims, such as gossiping, backbiting, or overeating. Every Muslim starts at the basic level of fasting, but the goal is to progress towards a higher level of self-discipline and worship.

Extraordinary Fasting:

Extraordinary fasting is the next level, where one refrains from sinning through all bodily organs, including ears, eyes, tongue, hands, and feet. This entails fasting with one's entire being, not just the physical body. It involves being conscious of one's actions and avoiding displeasing Allah.

For instance, if someone typically listens to music during Ramadan while fasting, continuing to do so would constitute ordinary fasting. However, to achieve the extraordinary level, one would cease listening to music, refraining from activities displeasing to Allah, and replacing them with more beneficial pursuits like listening to lectures or the Quran.

Another example of extraordinary fasting is refraining from engaging in idle talk, gossiping, backbiting, or arguing. In fact, the Prophet (SAW) said: "Fasting is a shield; so when one of you is fasting, he should not engage in foul or foolish talk. If someone attacks or insults him, let him say: 'I am fasting, I am fasting!'" This hadith underscores that fasting encompasses more than abstaining from food and drink.

Perfect Fasting:

Perfect fasting represents the highest level, where fasting emanates from the heart, with one's sole concern being Allah. Earthly matters hold no significance. This level of fasting is practiced by Prophets, the true saints, and the intimates of Allah, and it's the ultimate aspiration for all believers.

Attaining perfect fasting requires dedicated effort to purify the heart. As the Prophet (SAW) emphasized in a hadith, "Verily, in the body, there is a piece of flesh. If it is sound, the entire body is sound, and if it is corrupt, the entire body is corrupt. Truly, it is the heart."

By gaining knowledge about the religion and understanding oneself, it becomes easier to maintain a pure heart. Don't underestimate the power of dua; if perfect fasting is your goal, ask Allah to facilitate its attainment.

To help pursue the goal of the highest level of fasting here are 6 inward requirements to focus on:

Protect Your Gaze

Maintaining modesty in one's gaze involves refraining from looking at anything that is deemed inappropriate, objectionable, or capable of diverting the heart from remembering Allah,

The Prophet (SAW) said: “The furtive glance is one of the poisoned arrows of Satan, on him be Allah’s curse. Whoever forsakes it for fear of Allah will receive from Him, Great and Glorious is He, a faith the sweetness of which he will find within his heart.”

Protect Your Speech

Protecting the tongue from engaging in vain talk, falsehood, gossip, indecency, disrespect, quarrels, and disputes; ensuring it remains silent and occupied with the remembrance of Allah and the recitation of the Qur'an. This encompasses fasting of the tongue.

Protect Your Ears

Closing one's ears to anything objectionable is crucial, as what's wrong to say is also wrong to hear. This is why Allah compared eavesdroppers to wrongdoers, as expressed the following ayah: “Listeners to falsehood, consumers of illicit gain.” (Qur’an 5:42)

Guarding the Limbs

Ensuring that all other limbs and organs refrain from sin: the hands and feet avoiding wrongful actions, and the stomach abstaining from questionable food when breaking the fast. Fasting, which entails abstaining from lawful sustenance, loses its purpose if it's broken with what is forbidden.

Avoid Overeating

Avoiding excessive consumption of food when breaking the fast, to the extent of overfilling one's stomach, is important. There is no container more disliked by Allah than a stomach crammed with food.

The Purpose of Fasting

The purpose of fasting is to diminish the influences that Satan uses to steer us towards wrongdoing. Therefore, it's crucial to limit one's intake of food to what is consumed on an ordinary night when not fasting.

There is no advantage gained from fasting if one consumes as much as they typically would throughout the day and night combined. Additionally, part of fasting involves reducing daytime sleep to experience hunger and thirst, thus heightening awareness of one's weakened state and purifying the heart.

Allowing oneself to feel a certain level of weakness throughout the night can facilitate performing tahajjud prayers and engaging in spiritual recitations. This may prevent Satan from encroaching upon one's heart, opening the possibility of experiencing spiritual elevation.

Laylat al-Qadr

The Night of Power signifies the night when a glimpse of the Divine Kingdom is unveiled. This is what is meant by the words of God, Exalted is He: “We surely revealed it on the Night of Power.” (Qur’an 97:1)

Anyone who puts food first, his heart and his breast become blind to this revelation. Nor is keeping the stomach empty sufficient to remove the veil, unless one also empties the mind of everything but Allah, Great and Glorious is He.

Look To God With Fear And Hope

Following the breaking of the fast, the heart should swing between fear and hope, much like a pendulum. It remains uncertain whether one's fast will be accepted, leading to divine favor, or rejected, aligning with those despised by God. Such should be the state of one's heart at the conclusion of any act of worship.

May Allah bless this Ramadan for us and make it a means of purification for us ameen.

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