Fasting: A Shield Against Evils

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Ramadan fasting acts as a protective shield against evils and obscenities

Imam Malik relates the following Hadith which has been related by others in different forms:  “Every action a human being does shall be multiplied; a good action by ten times its value, up to 700 times, and even more as Allah may wish. Allah says: “With the exception of fasting, which belongs to Me, and I reward it accordingly.”

It is well known that fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the main duties Islam lays down for its followers. Some scholars consider these duties as pillars on which the structure of Islam is built. It is needless to say that fasting in Ramadan ranks on a par with prayers and zakah in its importance as a main Islamic duty. Indeed, it enjoys a special status, since it can only be fulfilled through abstention, rather than through a direct or a positive action. For this reason, Allah is quoted by the Prophet as saying in a Qudsi Hadith: “Everything a human being does is his with the exception of fasting, which belongs to me and I reward it accordingly.” This is due to the fact that there are no apparent signs which indicate that a person is fasting.

Weakens Sinful Desires
The Prophet says: “Fasting is a shield. Let no one who is fasting commit any obscenity or foolishness. Should anyone engage himself in a fight or a slanging match, let him answer him by saying: I am fasting: I am fasting.” The Prophet gives fasting a very apt description when he considers it a shield, protecting the person who fasts from the fire of hell. The Arabic term used here also connotes a fence, and a means of protection. Indeed, fasting provides protection in more ways than one. Since fasting weakens the body, it also weakens sinful desires. This makes the fasting person more able to resist any temptation to commit any sin. Since man always feels the temptation to fulfill his desires through any available means, whether legitimate or not, the fact that these desires are weakened through fasting proves the protective aspect of this unique act of worship.
The other protective effect of fasting is seen in the fact that Allah rewards fasting very generously. It is well known that Allah rewards any good action by at least ten times its value. He multiplies his reward even more, to the extent that He rewards some good actions by 700 times their value. This figure, however, is not a ceiling for Allah’s reward. He may reward good actions much more generously. Fasting, however, is made an exception. Imam Malik relates the following Hadith which has been related by others in different forms, with the same import: “Every action a human being does shall be multiplied; a good action by ten times its value, up to 700 times, and even more as Allah may wish. Allah says: “With the exception of fasting, which belongs to Me, and I reward it accordingly.” What is very clear here is that the exception is made in order to stress the greater value of fasting, and the greater reward it earns. Allah makes the exception and attributes it to Himself. He emphasizes that fasting is offered purely to Him. He, therefore, responds by rewarding it more generously than any other action. This is confirmed by a Quranic verse which states: “The steadfast shall be given their reward without reckoning.” The absence of reckoning signifies the fact that the reward is limitless. Most scholars and commentators on the Quran interpret the term “the steadfast” used in this verse as a reference to those who fast. For fasting can only be offered if a person has strong faith. What Allah wants us to understand here is that He accepts this act of worship which is dedicated to Him, since it cannot be done with false intentions, and rewards it, not on the basis of its value, but on the basis of Allah’s generosity which is without limit.

Day of Judgment
Moreover, Allah rewards much more generously any good action done by any human being who is fasting. If Allah normally rewards a good action by 10 times its value, He gives a much bigger reward for the same action when it is done in Ramadan by a fasting person. Such rewards help shield the person who fasts against the fire of hell. Since on the Day of Judgment, our good actions are balanced against bad ones, the multiplied reward gained through fasting appears to be of much greater value. A person whose good actions fall short of what he needs to offset his sins will find that the fact that he has done some of these good actions in Ramadan, benefits him immeasurably, because Allah has attached to them a much greater value than they are actually worth.
During fasting, we are specially required to abstain from any obscenity. In fact, the verb used here by the Prophet refers to obscene conversation, and it also refers to sexual intercourse and its preliminaries as well as talking about intercourse with women or with anyone else. This is due to the fact that fasting means abstention not only from eating and drinking, but also from sex. While conversation about food and drink is not prohibited during the day of fasting, we have this injunction to refrain from talking about sex, because such conversation can hardly be conducted without falling into obscenity.

A Very Decent Way
We are also required not to act in a foolish manner. The Arabic term used here refers particularly to shouting and raising one’s voice in an unbecoming way. In some versions of this Hadith, the term used refers specifically to indulging in any verbal dispute and raising one’s voice. The person who fasts is supposed to behave in a very decent way, even with those who try to quarrel with him.
This is re-emphasized by the rest of the Hadith which addresses itself to the case when a person who is fasting finds himself drawn into verbal fight or a slanging match. He is told not to respond. What he should do is to make it known to the other person that he is fasting. By such a declaration, he actually tells his opponent that he refuses to be drawn into such a verbal quarrel because he has made up his mind to observe the code of manners required of people who are fasting.