With less than one month left until Ramadan, it's time to start preparing for this blessed month!
Often, when we talk about getting ready for Ramadan, we think of tips for increasing our good deeds, such as reading more Qur'an, and performing more night prayers. Ramadan is all about maximising our efforts after all!
But we rarely think about the main action Ramadan is known for: fasting. Unlike night prayers or reciting Qur'an, we must fast every day in Ramadan, and we might not take the time to appreciate just how beneficial this action is to our souls, minds, bodies and ultimately our relationship with Allah (swt).
In this article, we are going back to basics! We'll start by talking about the benefits of fasting - physical, mental and spiritual - and then we'll discuss how we can build a relationship with fasting over the next month.
The physical benefits of fasting
Our bodies are an amanah (trust) from Allah and fasting helps us take care of that amanah! Here are some of the physical health benefits of regular fasting:
- It protects you from obesity and associated chronic illnesses
- It reduces inflammation
- It boosts cognitive performance and may help in preventing neuro-degenerative disorders
- It promotes blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance
- It enhances heart health
- It could delay aging and promote long life.
It is Sunnah to fast, not only in Ramadan, but also regularly throughout the year and there are clearly many health benefits to it! However, we should always remember to keep our intentions pure:
Ultimately we fast for the pleasure of Allah, not to lose weight, decrease heart disease, or because 'it is good for us'. So make the correct intention every time you fast and remind yourself of this intention throughout the day!
The mental benefits of fasting
One of the ways fasting helps us mentally is by improving our relationship with food.
SubhanAllah, food is one of the most incredible blessings Allah has created for us. It gives us the joy of sharing a meal with our loved ones, the pleasure of inviting aromas and delicious tastes, and the satisfaction of creative expression through cooking and experimenting. The power of food is so potent that many of us even associate Ramadan - the month of fasting! - with delicious dishes like samosas, fruit salad and biryani.
It is wonderful that we take so much delight in food, as Allah is the One Who provides it for us:
'And it is He Who causes gardens to grow, trellised and untrellised, and palm trees and crops of different (kinds of) food, and olives and pomegranates, similar and dissimilar. Eat of (each of) its fruit when it yields and give its due (Zakat) on the day of its harvest. And be not excessive. Indeed, He does not like those who commit excess'. [The Noble Qur’an, 6:141]
However, especially in this day and age, our relationship with food has become imbalanced. A commonly asked question is, 'Do you eat to live, or do you live to eat?' - and unfortunately, many of us 'commit excesses'. We eat because we're bored, socialising, stressed or simply greedy. We casually over-indulge in fried and sugary food, then go on extreme diets to detox, before repeating the cycle all over again!
Fasting is the perfect way to transform our relationship with food. Ramadan in particular allows us to:
1: Stop structuring our days around mealtimes.
Ideally, a Muslim's day should be structured around prayer times, but it's easy to think of our days in terms of breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner! When we fast, we can stop planning our days around how to satisfy our bodies, and instead focus on pleasing Allah.
2: Stop having an indulgent relationship with food.
As mentioned before, it is wonderful that we take so much pleasure in Allah's blessings, but we should not fall into the habit of satisfying our every craving. An Islamic way of living is inherently opposed to 'instant gratification culture' - our ultimate happiness lies in the next life, with Allah!
3: Learn how to listen to our bodies.
Our appetites are actually much smaller than we think they are! At the end of the fasting day, despite being apparently 'starving', we are only able to eat a small plate of food due to our stomachs shrinking - and we are satisfied with that! Fasting is the perfect way to learn how to listen to our bodies again, understand when we are actually full and re-set our portion sizes.
4: Remind ourselves that food is a necessity.
Across the world, people are literally working themselves to the bone for their daily bread and they are all-too-aware that food is a matter of survival, rather than purely a matter of pleasure. Fasting reminds us that, as lovely as a cheeky biscuit or a second helping can be, we all, ultimately, 'eat to live'. It reminds us to be grateful that we have enough to eat, and pushes us to thank Allah, our Provider, for taking care of this basic need.
5: Think of Allah every time we eat.
Because the fasting day is limited to sahur and iftar, both of which emphasise making a pure intention and making du'a, we end up remembering Allah every time we eat. This is how it should always be - but how many of us say 'Bismillah' and 'Alhamdulillah' every time we grab a snack or squeeze a meal in between Zoom meetings? Every bite we take is a blessing from Allah, fuelling our bodies and minds and delighting our senses. Fasting instantly turns the act of eating into an act of worship, as it reminds us to eat in Allah's Name.
The spiritual benefits of fasting
Alhamdulillah, fasting is good for our bodies, minds and our souls! It helps us spiritually in this life and is a special investment in the next life:
1: It increases our Taqwa.
'O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those who came before you, so that you may attain Taqwa (piety)'. [The Noble Qur'an, 2:183]
Having Taqwa has often been translated to being conscious of Allah, fearing Allah or simply being pious. It has the profound meaning of being vigilant over our own lives as if constantly conscious that Allah can see us:
Fasting improves this ability to be conscious of Allah as we walk the thorny paths of this world, avoiding that which displeases Him. It increases our capacity to be vigilant over ourselves, account ourselves and ultimately control ourselves. The end result is that we become better people, less likely to fall into the trap of bad habits, and eager to seek out actions that please Allah!
2: It protects us from the Fire.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, 'A worshipper does not fast a day for the sake of Allah except that that day (of fasting) distances the Fire from his face by seventy autumns'. [Tirmidhi]
SubhanAllah, a single day of fasting takes us far away from Hellfire. Now, imagine the reward of those who fast every week or even every month. How distant they must be from the Fire, and how close to Jannah!
3: It leads us into Paradise.
The Prophet (saw) said, 'Indeed, there is a gate of Paradise called Ar-Rayyan, through which only those who fasted will enter on the day of Resurrection. No one else will enter it along with them. It will be said, "Where are those who fasted, that they may enter?" When the last of them enter, it will be closed and no one else will go through it'. [Bukhari]
SubhanAllah, we can't even imagine what it will feel like to be called to the gate of Ar-Rayyan on the Day of Judgement. We can't imagine what it will feel like to walk through this gate into Allah's Jannah. And every fasting day is what carries us closer to this goal. This hadith alone is motivation enough for us to increase our voluntary fasts as we wait for Ramadan - and hopefully maintain the habit of voluntary fasting for our whole lives!
4: It carries unimaginable reward.
Like many good deeds, fasting will carry us to Jannah and distance us from Hellfire. But what is the specific reward of fasting? What is something we can only gain by fasting for the sake of Allah?
The Prophet (saw) said, 'Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed receiving ten times its like, up to seven hundred times. Allah the Most High said, "Except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will give recompense for it, as he leaves off his desires and his food for Me". For the fasting person there are two times of joy; a time when he breaks his fast and a time of joy when he meets his Lord, and the smell coming from the mouth of the fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of musk'. [Bukhari]
Scholars have commented that the reward of fasting is actually Allah Himself - we are sacrificing our own basic need for food and water for His sake, and He will reward us with Himself in the next life! There is truly no greater 'time of joy' than this - it is the ultimate reward.
As Ramadan approaches, let's take the time to appreciate the action of fasting and how much reward we will be gaining from it every day in Ramadan. Every single hour of fasting is drawing us closer to meeting Allah in the next life, subhanAllah!
What are the recommended days for fasting?
With less than a month to go until Ramadan, it's time to start building a relationship with fasting! We've compiled a list of Sunnah days on which to fast, and you can download our Islamic Calendar for reference.
1: Fast the Three Bright Days.
The Prophet (saw) used to fast the three middle days of every lunar month, when the moon was full. Fasting these three days is equivalent to fasting a whole month! (You can learn more in our article about the Three Bright Days).
If you want to ease into the habit of voluntary fasting, you can start with just three days a month, in sha' Allah.
2: Fast on Mondays and Thursdays.
If you're feeling more ambitious, why not start fasting twice a week?
Fasting Mondays and Thursdays has the added benefit of being conscious of Allah as our deeds are being presented to Him, which helps us feel more connected to Allah and really puts our week into perspective.
3: Fast the whole of Sha'ban.
For the super-ambitious…why not voluntarily fast for a whole month before Ramadan?
The Prophet (saw) used to fast more during Sha'ban. This is because Sha'ban is the month of our yearly accounting. Our deeds are raised to Allah on a daily basis (at Fajr and 'Asr), on a weekly basis (on Mondays and Thursdays), and on a yearly basis in Sha'ban:
SubhanAllah, many of us neglect Sha'ban, because it sits between sacred Rajab and blessed Ramadan, and we forget that it is a special month. Fasting in Sha'ban is for the elite of the Prophet's Ummah, who follow this forgotten Sunnah!
Here is a brief summary of this article:
Fasting (Sawm) carries many rewards, whether we are fasting voluntarily or in Ramadan. It improves our physical health and our relationship with food, helps us to be more grateful and more conscious of Allah, protects us from the Fire and leads us into Jannah. Its ultimate reward is the joy of meeting Allah in the next life! As Ramadan draws closer, let us join together in aiming to increase our voluntary fasts on Sunnah days such as the Three Bright Days, Mondays and Thursdays, and the month of Sha'ban. May Allah accept all our efforts, amin!
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