My Dear Companions on the Path to Truth,
As salamu alaykum wa rahmatullah wa barakatuhu.
If we were asked, or better still if we would ask ourselves: "Why do we fast during the month of Ramadan?", I think our simplest and the sincerest answer would be: because Allah has asked us to fast. There are a thousand things which Allah asks us to do and a thousand things which He asked us not to do. Yet of all the things which we know we should do, fasting is the most difficult. While we don't spend much effort to be just, truthful, kind, generous, and even to do the obligatory prayers correctly and on time, or to pay zekat, many Muslims seem to obey the order to fast during Ramadan. Why?
Is it because Allah clearly declared in His Book that it is an obligation for us, as it was ordained to all men before us? Is it because he says, "You fast for Me and I am the One who is going to give its reward"? Is it because our Master, the Beloved of Allah, (saws) said, "Fasting is the light which enlightens the heart"? and "The one who fasts assumes the truth of his humanity." Or because he (saws) himself fasted more than just the month of Ramadan? Or do we fast because we realize that it is an incredibly complete form of worship and an intense exercise for spiritual advancement, if done consciously, and conscientiously, not automatically and heedlessly, with only hunger as the result.
Fasting is not just curbing our appetite for food and sex, but it is controlling all of our physical parts. The fast of the tongue is to protect our tongue from lying, gossiping, saying things which may hurt peoples' feelings, or just making nonsensical noise, as much of our speech is. The fast of the eyes is to avoid looking without really seeing, to try to be heedful in order to observe true reality. The fast of the ears is to censor falsity, and to listen only to truth. The fast of the ego is to throw off the mask of hypocrisy, to curb pride and arrogance, and to resist the outrageous demands of lust, luxury, and gluttony.
Then there is the inner fasting of the mind and of the heart. If only we could direct the mind from its taught habit of seeking causes and effects to understand existence. If only we could convince the mind to have Faith that all and everything was created from nothing, by the sole order of the Creator, who said, Kun, "Be", and caused everything to become. If only we could raise the heart, which Allah makes His home, from being attached to the love of this life on earth, and lift it to protect it, to make it safe from the attacks of the tyrannical forces of our limitless ambitions, desires of the flesh, and superficial worldly amusements.
If only we could experience that, through fasting, we can transform that which is base and coarse in us into fine matter and bring forth to our consciousness the divine attributes which Allah taught to our father Adam (as). When Allah says that "He loves the smell of the breath of His servant who fasts" it is because the one who truly fasts exhales rahmat, compassion, at each breath.
And, perhaps the most important aspect of fasting is service to the ones who are in need, to feel for them, to share their pain, and to feed those who are not hungry by their own choice.
These potential benefits of fasting, although more numerous, still resemble the benefits of dieting. Is that why we fast? I don't think so. Many are told by their doctors to diet or to stop smoking because they are endangering their lives, and they do not do it. We would not be likely to fast out of fear for our lives, or out of fear of punishment in the hereafter.
Then perhaps the answer to why we fast is: out of love. We would not necessarily do what a tyrant ordered out of fear, but we would do anything which a truly loved one would ask. Love necessitates selflessness, sacrifice, consideration, obedience to the wishes of the beloved, and preference of the beloved over oneself. All these are also conditions of fasting. Love is at the center of faith and of the concept of God. Allah has created the Creation out of love. One the ninety-nine Beautiful Names of Allah is al-Wadud, the All-Loving One, whose love unlimited, endless, without any return required or conditions attached. And He says in the Qur'an, "He loves them and then they love Him," indicating that His Love is the source of all love, and that we can not love Him unless He loves us.
Allah indeed cares for all His creation. His care for the needs of a tiny black ant on a black stone in a dark night is no less than His care for one of His saints about to be crucified by His enemies. But His love is unique, and has to be won. When the Lord looks upon His servants to chose whom to love, He first looks upon our sifat, our attributes: our appearance, our character, our behavior, our intelligence, our sensitivity and our faith. If He likes what He sees we will know it, for when He likes us, everyone will like us too.
Then He will consider our Fiil, our actions: our deeds, our errors, our sincerity, and the purpose of our actions, as well as our reactions to the actions of others. And if He approves of our actions we will know. The signs of His pleasure will be that many who are in need will profit from our deeds; our efforts will be easily crowned by success; we will be humble and not attribute our successes to our own efforts, and be thankful to our Lord, in whose hands we have left our affairs after we have done our best.
Then the Lord will look into our essence, our Dzat, to our entirety, our whole, and deeper still, to our secrets, our very center, our soul. Is our soul free or a prisoner of our Nafsi Ammara, our lowly commanding ego? And His beautiful names which He taught our father Adam (as), are they still within us? If He likes what He sees, He will love us. And we will certainly know when He loves us, for it is only then that we will truly be able to love Him, to begin loving Him!
When a beloved servant of Allah begins to love his Lord, he first becomes aware and heedful of things around him, and sees them all as Allah's creation, His manifestation. He may begin the struggle in the battle with his Nafsi Ammara to reach the level of Nafsi Lawamah, the self-reproaching self; Allah may help him through his struggle by bringing him to the stage of Nafsi Mulhimah, the inspired self.
When he is able to find all creation as wonderful, he is in awe; in comparison to the magnitude of Allah's creation, he realizes his minuteness. At this stage of loving Allah's attributes, the servant submits; he becomes a true Muslim and is content. He reaches the level of Nafsi Mutmainna, "a state of complete acceptance and satisfaction with ones state." The fourth step in the development of man, after the selfish animal state, is the state of starting to see himself in that animal state. When he will be receptive to Allah's words, and enter into His religion, there is serious danger contained in the feeling of love awakened by the beauty and marvel in Allah's creation. That is the danger of thinking that the creation is self-existent, and God itself. Haven't the stars, the moon, and the sun been taken for gods; hasn't man been deified for the divine wisdom which he contained? Indeed, Allah is invisible and inconceivable, and can only be known through His attributes or His actions; what is visible is not Him, but is from Him.
When the loving servant becomes aware that not a leaf moves but for Allah's will, and watches Allah's actions in him and around him, from the breath he takes to the movement of galaxies, then he trusts his Lord, and leaves his affairs in his Lord's hand, and he is pleased with Him, and Allah is pleased with him. Next are the fifth and sixth steps in the development of man, where the servant is pleased with the Lord, the level of Nafsi Radhiyah, and where the Lord is pleased with His servant, the level of Nafsi Mardhiyyah.
The apex of the love of Allah is the love of Dzatullah: the Essence of Allah Most High, when by Allah's grace one is given vision of the heart, with which one sees that nothing really exists but Allah. The eye of the heart sees only an Eye in a mirror, looking at the eye, looking back at it. That is the goal: for the soul to return home and for the lover to become nothing. The lover becomes the Beloved, or, better still, he realizes that he never did really exist, that neither the lover nor the Beloved existed, that there is only Love.
Allah Knows Best,