The following is from an old translation I did from a chapter entitled “The Book of Fasting, its secrets, its tasks and what is associated with it” in Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidin.1
Know that fasting contains a distinctive characteristic not found elsewhere. It is being ascribed to Allah Mighty and Majestic, where He (Transcendent is He) says, “Fasting is Mine, and I give reward for it”. This ascription suffices as honor, just as the Kaʿba is ascribed to Allah Most High when He says, “And purify My house” (al-Hajj, 26).
Fasting has superiority because of two concepts. The first is that fasting is a secret and an internal action that no one sees, so showing-off does not enter it.
The second is that fasting subdues the enemies of Allah since the means that the enemies of Allah use is lusts, and lusts are strengthened through eating and drinking. As long as the ground of lusts remains fertile, Devils will frequent its pasture; by abandoning lusts one constricts for them those paths.
There are many reports concerning the merit of fasting, and they are well known.
Recommended Measures Associated With fasting
It is desirable to eat before beginning the fast, and that it be delayed [until close to beginning the fast]; that one hasten to break the fast, and that it be done with ripe date.
During Ramadan, it is desirable to be generous, do good works, and give much charity – out of following the Prophet ﷺ.
It is desirable to study the Quran, to make a [spiritual] retreat during Ramadan – especially during the last ten days – and to increase one’s efforts.
Bukhari and Muslim included narration from ʿAʾishah (Allah be pleased with her) wherein she said, “When the [last] ten [days] entered, the Prophet ﷺ would tighten his waist-wrapper, stay up at night, and wake up family.”
The scholars have mentioned two aspects concerning “tighten his waist-wrapper.” The first is that it means avoiding his wives. The second is that it is an allusion to diligence and preparation for works. They said that the reason for his efforts during the last ten nights was out of seeking the Night of Power (laylat al-qadr).
Clarifying The Secrets Of Fasting And Its Etiquette
There are three ranks to fasting: (1) the fast of the masses, (2) the elect, and (2) the elite of the elect.
- The fast of the masses is restraining one’s stomach and genitals from achieving their lusts.
- The fast of the elect is restraining one’s glance, tongue, hands, legs, hearing, vision, and all other physical faculties from sins.
- The fast of the elite of the elect is the heart fasting from base aspirations, and thoughts that take one away from Allah; and restraining the heart in totality from everything save Allah. (This type of fasting has explanations that come elsewhere.)
The etiquette of the fast of the elect includes lowering the gaze, protecting the tongue from unlawful or offensive speech which is hurtful, or [simply] offers no benefit, and guarding the remaining physical faculties.
One of the hadiths narrated in Bukhari is that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Whoever has not left untruthful talk and acting upon it: Allah has no need of him putting aside his food and drink.”
Its etiquette includes not filling up with food and drink at night, but rather eat portions since mankind fills no container eviler than his stomach – since whenever one eats his fill at the beginning of the night he will not be of use to himself for the rest of the night. It is the same regarding eating one’s fill before beginning the fast: he will be of no use to himself until near noon, since too much food leads to laziness and abatement. And besides: the whole purpose of fasting is missed by eating too much, since the point is that one taste hunger, and forgo what he desires.
As for voluntary fasts: know that the desirability of fasting becomes emphatic during meritorious days.
Some of the meritorious days are once each year, such as fasting six days of Shawwal after Ramadan, the day of ʿArafah, ʿAshuraʾ, the first ten days of Dhi l-Hijja, and the month of Muharram.
Some of the meritorious days repeat each month, like [the first day at] the beginning of the month, the middle, and the end. Whoever fasts the beginning, middle, and end of the month has done right – other than it being best that one make the three days [if one fasts just three days each month] (the “White Days”).
Some of the days repeat each week; they are Monday and Thursday.
The most superior voluntary fast is the fast of Dawud (peace be upon him): he would fast for one day, and break fast for one day.
Fasting thus combines three concepts:
- That the nafs is given its share the day the fast is broken, and fulfils its devotion the day it fasts. By this, it combines between what it is entitled to and what is incumbent upon it; and this is fair.
- That the day one eats is a day of thanks, and the day one fasts is a day of patience. And faith is two halves: thanks, and patience.
- It is more difficult on the nafs regarding one’s [spiritual] efforts [against the self], since every time the nafs begins yearning for one state, it is removed from it.
As for fasting perpetually, one of the reports that Muslim included (but not Bukhari) is narrated from Qatada (Allah be pleased with him) that ʿOmar (Allah be pleased with him) asked the Prophet ﷺ, “What of someone who fasts perpetually, all the time?” He ﷺ replied, “He has no fast, and no breaking fast,” or: “he did not fast, and he did not break the fast.” This hadith is interpreted to apply to someone who consecutively fasts [without breaking fast for] the days which are forbidden to fast. As for someone who breaks fast on the two days of Eid and the days of Tashriq [during Hajj]: there is no harm in this.
It was related from Hisham bin ʿUrwah (Allah grant him mercy) that his father would consecutively fast, and ʿAʾishah (Allah be pleased with her) would consecutively fast.
Anas bin Malik (Allah be pleased with him) said that Abu Talha consecutively fasted after the [death of the] Prophet ﷺ for forty years.
Know that whomever has been granted astuteness knows the purpose of fasting, and induces himself [to fast] to the extent that it does not debilitate him from superior deeds.
Ibn Masʿud (Allah be pleased with him) fasted little. He would say, “If I fast, I become too weak to pray. And I prefer prayer over fasting.”
Some of them would become too weak to recite Quran when they fasted, so they would increase the amount they broke fast in order to be able to recite.
Every person knows his condition and what is best for himself.
- Shams al-Din Ahmad bin ʿAbd al-Rahman bin Qudamah al-Maqdisi and Ibn al-Jawzi, Mukhtasar Minhaj al-Qasidin, (Maktabat Dar al-Bayan: Damascus, 1997/1418), pp 43–6. ↩