Ramadan: Beyond mere abstention from food and drink

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As Believers we have been commanded to fast the month of Ramadaan, the ninth month of Islamic lunar calendar; a month mentioned by name in the Qur’an [2:185] in relation to the Qur’an; a month containing “a night greater in value than a thousand months.” [Q 97:3]. Siyaam/fasting in Islam basically involves abstinence from three primal physical needs of human beings (food, drink, and intimate relationships) from dawn to dusk during the entire month of Ramadaan.
Fasting, however, is far more than mere abstention from physical wants. Imaam Abu Hamid al-Ghazali made reference to three levels of fasting; ordinary fasting/sawm-ul-‘umuum, special fasting/sawm-ul-khusuus and extra-special fasting/sawm-ul-khusuus al-khusuus. Let us relfect on each these levels of fasting:

A. Ordinary Fasting/sawm-ul-‘umuum ~ means abstaining from food, drink and sexual satisfaction. 

B. Special Fasting/sawm-ul-khusuus ~ means keeping one’s ears, eyes, tongue, hands, feet and all organs away from sin.  This includes …

  • restrain from viewing anything that is blameworthy or reprehensible; 
  • guarding one’s tongue from idle chatter, lying, gossiping, obscenity, rudeness and argumentation 
  • closing one’s ears to everything reprehensible, for everything unlawful to utter is likewise unlawful to listen to. That is why Allah has equated the eavesdropper with the profiteer, “listeners to falsehood, consumers of illicit gain.” [Q 104:1-2] Silence in the face of backbiting is therefore distasteful. Allah states “you are then just like them.” [Q 4:140] That is why the Prophet (pbuh) said: “The backbiter and his listener are partners in sin.”
  • keeping all other limbs and organs away from sin: the hands from being utilized for anything improper. the feet from stepping towards what is reprehensible and the stomach from questionable food and gluttony.
  • guarding one’s chastity with due vigilance

C. Extra-special Fasting/sawm-ul-khusuus al-khusuus ~ means fasting of the heart, which implies abstaining completely from unworthy concerns and improper considerations; focusing rather on one’s relationship with the Creator and one’s duties to the creation of the Creator. This should engender sincerity, honesty, compassion, justice and love.

Islam emphasized the institution of fasting as highly spiritual and moral discipline; both in motive and form …

  • In motive it demands purity of intention and honesty of purpose
  • In form it demands abstention from engaging in any form of unlawful and improper conduct. One is required to control one’s urges, conquer one’s desires and thus to discipline one’s self. With discipline comes true control and the possibility of unleashing one’s real inner power; the power to free one’s self from the shackles of the base animal tendencies within our selves

The person who fasts is also referred to in the Qur’an [Q 9:112 & 66:5] as saa’ih / spiritual wayfarer. Fasting is indeed an exercise in pursuit of divine blessing, divine approval, and an attempt at manifesting the best of ethical values and moral practices. As Ramadaan moves on, we need to perpetuate the positive spirit we have imbibed and continue on the spiritual journey towards fulfillment and excellence. 


Shaykh Sadullah Khan is the Director of Impower Development International www.impowerinternational.com