“And seek (Allah’s) assistance with Patience and Prayer; and truly it is extremely heavy and hard except for those with full submission. Who are certain that they are going to meet their Lord and that unto Him they are going to return.” 2:45-46
1. Fasting of Al-Shari’ah (Jurisprudential Fasting)
Fasting for many Muslims is mainly to refrain from what they must jurisprudentially refrain from such as eating, drinking, sexual intercourse etc. Although this is the lowest and the least level of religious fasting, once it is offered for the sake of God, the faster is religiously considered fasting. To give you an idea of how low the level of this stage is, let me share some examples with you. A Muslim girl may fast without practicing her Islamic dress code at school and her fasting is valid on this level. A Muslim may observe fasting and yet listens to haraam music and his/her fasting is jurisprudentially valid.
No doubt, the purpose of fasting is not just to avoid food and drink and hence this is the very lowest level of fasting for the very beginners to start their journey towards perfection and promotion. Thus, it is quoted from the Prophet of Islam (S) that: “Many people gain nothing from their fasting save hunger and thirst.”6
The Shari’ah fasting is prescribed for beginners as a form of training to help them become acquainted to waking up at dawn with the excuse of eating and drinking lest they feel hungry and thirsty during the day, in order for them to experience the pleasant breeze at dawn, to be awake at a time when the divine cups of spirituality are served.
The least he is expected, therefore, to gain by the end of Ramadhan is to have gotten used to offering his/her morning prayers on time.
A faster at this level is expected to think why he or she is told to refrain from eating and drinking which are essential nutrition for his or her body? Could it be that by refraining from consuming the essentials I learn to more easily refrain from unnecessary and even harmful inputs to my body and soul? Once he or she successfully finishes a month of Shari’ah fasting by refraining from soft drinks and Halal food and even finds him/herself healthier than before, the faster should find it easier by far to avoid intoxicants or Haram foods which are even harmful for his or her body and does not really require.
Once the faster is aware of such facts, they will be ready to enter the higher level of fasting, which I have called the fasting of Al-Tariqat.
2. Fasting of Al-Tariqat (Ethical Fasting)
This is the fasting of noble people. People in this degree not only fast from what is jurisprudentially mentioned, but they also observe an ethical fasting too. Such noble fasters let their eyes, ears and all other body parts fast against whatever which is regarded in religion as Haram. Gossiping is always Haram, but for them it is more Haram during the fasting period. Non-Islamic dress is always Haram but for them is an essence during Ramadhan. This is called the fasting of Tariqat. Imam Jafer as-Sadiq is quoted from his ancestors from the Prophet of Islam:
“When you fast, let your ears, your eyes, your hair, your skin and all your body fast too. Do not let your fasting day be the same as non-fasting ones.”7
It is quoted that Prophet Jesus said: “Renew yourselves and fast, for I tell you truly, except you fast, you shall never be freed from the power of Satan, and from all disease that come from Satan.”8
A lady whilst fasting was swearing at her maid in the presence of the Prophet of Islam. The Prophet offered her some food to eat. She said: “I’m fasting O Messenger of God!” the Prophet replied: “How are you fasting and you swear at your maid. Fasting is not only from food and drink. Indeed God made it that way so that food and drink are used as a veil against other sins, verbal or action. How few are fasting and how many are just hungry.”9
3. Fasting of Al-Haqiqat (Mystical Fasting)
This is the highest level of fasting, which belongs solely to the special nobles. Fasters- who are not many- at this degree believe you are what you think and hence they fast from all other than God including, Paradise. They make sure that during the month of Ramadhan they detach themselves from whatever which is other than God. This state of absolute detachment (Al-Enqeta’) is the reality of servitude to God. This is why I named this stage the fasting of Al-Haqiqat (Reality).
They believe as physical fasting burns the fat and removes the toxins, such mental fasting also does the same to the mind. The reward of fasting in this degree is none other than God Himself, the Almighty. This is the meaning of the Holy Hadith that Allah the Almighty says: “I will reward all rituals of mankind from ten times to seven hundred times save Patience, for it is for Me and I am its reward, and Patience is fasting.”10
A faster at this stage, since he or she is fasting from other than God, deserves to be His guest in His month. This status is called in Islamic mysticism Assimilation in God, (Al-Fana’ Fil-Lah) which is the ultimate purpose of servitude to God. To this end, Muslim mystics consider fasting even greater than prayers, in that, the devotee during his prayers needs to engage his organs, which in a sense means engagement within the self, whereas fasting is equal to refraining and detachment and requires no engagement. This is the stage where one can gain the Visit of God as described in the Ayah, in the beginning of this article, as the ultimate purpose of servitude to God.
(Extract from Fasting and the Holy month of Ramadan by Shaykh Mansour Leghaei)