The levels of fasting (DW# 908)

Yesterday we started reflecting on verse 2:183 of the Quran which says: O you who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may attain God consciousness.

Today let us explore the idea that keeping away from food, drink and other prohibitions during this month is simply the entry point to developing this internal energy, this God consciousness.
Imam Ali (as) talked about higher levels of fasting than simply being hungry and thirsty and he said: "Fasting of the heart is better than the fasting of the tongue; and fasting of the tongue is better than the fasting of the stomach."

Scholars explain that this points to the three levels of fasting:
The entry level is the fasting of sharia.

The basic level of fasting is the fasting of the stomach. The stomach here, is symbol for physical desires of all types: food, drink and sexual desires. In order for the fast to be "religiously correct", a person must abstain from things which are forbidden while fasting and which invalidate the fast.

This type of fasting is valuable as a form of training ourselves to develop restraint and self-control at least over our physical needs and passions.

The next higher level of fasting is the fasting of Tariqa, ethical or moral fasting

When we attain this level of fasting, we are able to refrain from misuse the faculties we have been gifted, such as the tongue, the eyes, the hands, the feet, etc. In words of Imam Ali (as), this is the fasting of the tongue and other limbs.

Referring to this level of fasting, Imam Ja‘far as-Sadiq (as) has said:

"Fasting is not only about food and drink that a person refrains from eating or drinking. In reality, when you fast, then your ears, your eyes, your tongue, your stomach and your private parts must also fast. Restrain your hand and your private parts, and mostly maintain silence except for something good, and be lenient towards your servant."

At this level, the believer becomes much more conscious about engaging in things which do not technically invalidate the fast. S/he desires to be in a constant state of worship and reminds himself of the words of the Holy Prophet (saw) who said: "The person who is fasting is in the state of worship (‘ibadah) even when he is sleeping on his bed – as long he has not gossiped about a believer."

Those who desire to reach higher levels of God consciousness and thus achieve the aim of fasting itself are not content at this level either and they aim for the Fasting of Al-Haqiqat (mystical or spiritual Fasting).

Scholars explain that this is the station of the exceptional people (khasul khass). In involves fasting with the heart where one focuses only on Almighty Allah and refrains from focusing on the mundane issues of this world. In other words, nothing dwells in such a heart except the love of the Rahman, Rahim and all actions of such a person are guided by this love.

Those who elevate their fast to this level have been described by the Prophet Muhammad (saw) as "the guests of Allah" and "those who have the honour (karamah) of Allah."

"It is the month in which you have been invited to be guests of Allah, and you have been made in it the people who have the honour of Allah."

So as we feel the hunger pangs and the thirst this Ramadan, let us reflect on what it means to fast with all of our organs including our heart. Can we fast with our tongues so that our speech is nothing but beneficial? Can we purify our hearts to the extent that they contain nothing but the love for the All Merciful?

And help us to fast in it by restraining our limbs from disobeying You and by employing them in that which pleases You so that we lend not our ears to idle talk and we don’t let our eyes easily glance towards diversion, and so that we stretch not our hands towards the forbidden and stride not with our feet towards the prohibited, and so that our bellies hold only what You have made lawful and our tongues speak only what You have exemplified, and so that we undertake nothing but what brings us close to Your reward and pursue nothing but what protects us from Your punishment! (Dua Welcoming Ramadan, from Sahifa Sajjadiya by Imam Zainul Abideen)

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