Imam ‘Abd al-Wahhab al-Sha’rani (b. 898/1493) was one of the scholarly saints and revivers of Islam in the sixteenth century. His greatest contributions to Islamic spirituality and scholarship are his over three hundred books, one of which is al-Uhud al-Muhammadiyya (The Muhammadan Covenants), samples of which shall be reproduced here in a series of translations by Abdul Aziz Suraqah. Described as a spiritual hadith commentary, in each chapter Imam al-Sha’rani opens with saying “A general covenant has been taken from us from Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) that we... ,” and proceeds to mention divine commands and prohibitions given by Allah and His Messenger, as well as the spiritual benefits obtained by doing them (in the case of obligations) and the spiritual harms of violating them (in the case of prohibitions). He explains in his introduction the Covenants that the commands encompass the recommended (mustahabb) and the obligatory (wajib), and the prohibitions encompass the offensive (makruh) and the unlawful (haram).
Encouragement to Love Fasting
A general covenant has been taken from us by Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and grant him peace) that the greatest portion of our love for fasting be because Allah Most High has said “Fasting is Mine,” and not for any other reason, such as the pursuit of reward or the expiation of sins and the like. For whosoever does an act for Allah Most High, Allah will suffice him in this world and the Next, and will give him what no eye has ever seen, what no ear has ever heard, and what has never occurred to the heart of man—not to mention divine rewards and expiation of sins and other personal desires in this world and the Next. It has not reached us that Allah Most High has said regarding any act of worship that it “is His” in particular save the act of fasting, so were it not for the fact that it contains extra uniqueness He would not have ascribed it to Himself.
I heard my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas (may Allah have mercy upon him) say, “The meaning of Allah’s words ‘Fasting is Mine’ is that it is His insomuch as it is an attribute of infinite plenitude [sifa samadaniyya], hence He is not described with eating or drinking. That is why the fasting person is commanded to abstain from sexual intercourse, sinfulness, and impolite speech—namely out of propriety [adab] with the attribute of infinite plenitude, whose name he has taken on [when fasting].”
Interpreting the meaning of Allah’s words “Every good deed of the son of Adam is for himself, except fasting, for fasting is Mine and it is I who give reward for it,” Sufyan b. ‘Uyayna said, “On the Day of Resurrection, Allah Most Exalted will subject His servant to divine reckoning and will take from his good deeds to redress the rights [of those he wronged], until nothing more remains except his act of fasting, whereupon Allah Most Exalted will redress the remaining rights he owed [to others] and enter him into Paradise by virtue of his fasting.” This interpretation is astounding!
One of the benefits of fasting is that it restricts the pathways of Satan within the fasting person’s body and becomes for him as a shield; and thus Satan has no entry-point by which he can enter his heart. This is from one year to the next, or from Monday to Thursday or from Thursday to Monday, or from the White Days [Ayyam al-Bid: the 13th, 14th, and 15th] of one [lunar] month to the next, or from the sacred months [of one year] to the sacred months of the next, or from one ‘Ashura’ [10th of Muharram] to the next, or from one Day of Arafat to the Day of Arafat in the following year—every fast done on a particular day will serve as a shield that protects the fasting person until the next time that day comes around, each in its own way. For instance, the fast on Monday has its own perimeter; the fast on Thursday has its own perimeter; the fasts on the White Days have their own perimeter; the fasts in the sacred months have their own perimeter; the fast on the Day of Arafat has its own perimeter; and the fast on the day of ‘Ashura’ has its own perimeter. Each perimeter guarantees protection against specific things; therefore, Satan has no way of breaching these perimeters and whispering to the servant in them as he does with other pious works like prayer, Zakat, Hajj, ablution [wudu’], bowing, and prostration. All of these deeds expiate sins, but each in their own way. What we say here is supported by the raised [marfu’] narration of [Imam] Muslim that says, “The five daily prayers, one Friday prayer to the next, and one Ramadan to the next Ramadan—all of these expiate the sins committed in between them so long as the enormities are avoided.”
I heard my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas (may Allah have mercy upon him) say, “The reason why the fast in Ramadan is for an entire month—either twenty-nine or thirty days—is because it was primarily legislated as an expiation for the morsel that Adam (peace be upon him) ate from the Tree; Allah Most Exalted ordered him to fast as an expiation for his act.” It is narrated that the morsel he ate remained within his stomach for an entire month, after which it was excreted. It is also narrated that “A month is either thirty or twenty-nine days.” Understand this.
Know that the benefit of fasting cannot be gained except with extra hunger that goes above and beyond the hunger that is typically felt outside of Ramadan. Whosoever fails to increase his hunger in Ramadan is indistinguishable from the non-fasting person, since he has not restricted the pathways through which Satan moves—and this is especially the case when he consumes an assortment of food and drink and enjoys varieties of fruits and overeats at night and enjoys kanafeh and other desserts, or eats fried cheese, and then eats a similar amount in the early morning pre-fast mean [suhur]. Indeed, this person’s body opens up extra pathways for Satan, more in fact than on non-fasting days, and as a result the pathways of Satan by which Satan leads him to destruction are increased in this magnificent month that contains Laylat al-Qadr [the Night of Destiny], which is better than one thousand months (one thousand months being the typical life span of most people: eight-three years). Were a servant’s lifetime of good deeds weighted against his good deeds on Laylat al-Qadr, the good deeds performed on Laylat al-Qadr would outweigh all of his other good deeds that were done sincerely and consistently and not marred by lassitude—so how much more, then, would they outweigh acts that were tainted with ostentation and marred by disobedience, sins, moments of heedlessness, and sordid passions!
Whoever looks with the eye of spiritual insight [‘ayn al-basira] will realize that all of the days of fasting leading up to Laylat al-Qadr are like a preparation and purification of the heart so it can be suited to behold its Lord (Exalted and Sublime is He!) during that Night. It is my contention that most of the distinguished personalities of this age, not to mention others, are drowning in what we mentioned earlier: the entire month of Ramadan passes them by and their hearts are increased in darkness due to excessive food and sleep! In the days of old a believer would come out after fasting the month of Ramadan, and due to the intensity of purity that he would gain through the successive acts of obedience and abstinence from sin he know people’s thoughts through spiritual unveiling.
I heard Shaykh Ibrahim ‘Usfur the Majdhub [pulled by divine attraction and given to exuberant utterances] (may Allah Most High be pleased with him) say, “By Allah, the fasts of these Muslims are invalid because they break their fasts with meat and sweets and other delights. As far as I am concerned, there is no fast save that of the Folk who break their fasts with oil or vinegar or the like.” Because the Shaykh was majdhub, people were unable to understand the meanings of his allusions, but I understood the meanings of his words and allusions and condemnations. It was as if he was saying Muslims should only experience Ramadan in a state of intense hunger.
I heard my brother Afdal al-Din (may Allah Most High have mercy upon him) say, “It is from the propriety [adab] of the believer that when fasting people break their fast in his company that he should not sate them [with food] as is customary, but should rather sate them according to the Sunna, as the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, ‘It is enough for the son of Adam to eat a small number of morsels [luqaymat] to keep his back upright.’ The philologists [ahl al-lugha] say that luqaymat is the plural of luqma [morsel], and that it equals three to nine morsels. Therefore, whenever a person brings out more than nine morsels to someone breaking the fast in his company, he has treated him badly and no reward remains for his act of feeding his guest, because he has transgressed the limits of the Sunna.”
This can only be practiced by one who has discarded the habits of human nature and given up ingratiating behavior with others and entered the vast expanse of the Shariah and sincere works done for Allah alone—such that his concern for his fellow Muslim is stronger than his concern for his own self. From the signs that you have forsaken the habits of human nature is that if you refuse to feed someone till he is sated, you do not become perturbed by him speaking ill of you in the presence your enemies. For the ruling on one who transgresses the Sunna in the presence of a knower [of Allah] is that of a child, and child should not be given everything it wants.
My master Ibrahim al-Matbuli (may Allah be pleased with him) would give those breaking their fast less than what they were accustomed to eating, so one day some of them issued a complaint against him to the Naqib [in charge of affairs pertaining to the descendants of the Prophet (Allah bless him and give him peace)] . The Naqib responded, “Though you may complain about him in this life, you will thank him in the Next!”
One of the counsels of my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas (may Allah have mercy upon him) was the following: “Beware of giving a guest in Ramadan more than a single flat-bread—as the tribal elders and others do—out of fear that he will be offended if you do not give him his fill, for if the reality of your action was to be unveiled to him he would kiss your feet and say ‘May Allah reward you with goodness on my behalf, for you did not give my soiled ego its share of desire, and you instead strove to perfect its fast!’”
See to it, dear brother, that you tread the path under the guidance of a spiritual master so he can extract you from the habits of human nature, and so you can interact with creation with the qualities of mercy and concern. If you fail to do this, then it is inevitable that you will fear the rebuke of creation.
I heard my master ‘Ali al-Khawwas (may Allah have mercy upon him) say, “The Friends of Allah [Awliya’ Allah] are more concerned for the servants than the servants are for themselves. That is because the Friends of Allah prevent them from base desires that would diminish their spiritual station….
Know this and act upon it, and Allah will see to your guidance. “And Allah turns to the righteous!” [Quran 7:196]
Al-Bukhari, Muslim, and others narrated that Allah’s Messenger (Allah bless him and give him peace) said, “Allah—the Exalted and Sublime—says, ‘Every good deed of the son of Adam is for himself, except fasting, for fasting is Mine and it is I who give reward for it.’ Fasting is a shield, so if one of you fasts, let him abstain from sexual intercourse and impudent acts. And if someone insults him or fights him, let him say, ‘I am fasting.’ By the One in Whose Hand is Muhammad’s soul, the odor of the fasting person’s mouth is finer in the sight of Allah than the fragrance of musk. The fasting person has two delights to joy him: when he breaks his fast he is joyful with his meal, and when he meets his Lord he is joyful with his fast.”
In Muslim’s narration it says, “Every good deed of the son of Adam is multiplied in reward ten times its like, up to seven hundred times. Allah Most High says, ‘Except for fasting, for it is Mine and it is I who give reward for it. He gives up his desires and food for My sake. . .’”
In the narration of Malik, Abu Dawud, and al-Tirmidhi it says, “And he will rejoice when he meets Allah—the Exalted and Sublime—and He rewards him. . .”
I say: The reason why the fasting person experiences joy in these two things is because man is composed of body and soul, and so the nourishment of the body is food and the nourishment of the soul is in meeting Allah. Allah knows best.
Al-Hafiz al-Mundhiri said:
Concerning the meaning of [the Prophet’s] statement “Fasting is a shield”: the word shield [junna] is that by which a servant shields and covers himself, protecting him from what he fears. . . . The meaning of this hadith, therefore, is that fasting shields and protects one from falling into disobedience. When used unrestrictedly, the word for “sexual intercourse” [rafath] can mean carnal relations or vile deeds. [Here] it means a man speaking to a woman about sexual matters. Many scholars say that [rafath] in this hadith refers to vile and ugly speech. . .
Al-Tabarani and al-Bayhaqi narrated in a raised [marfu’] tradition: “Fasting is for Allah, the Exalted and Sublime. None know the reward in store for the one who fasts save Allah, the Exalted and Sublime.”
Al-Tabarani narrated in a raised report (and the narrators in his transmission are affirmed for their probity and exactitude), “Fast and you will be healthy.”
Imam Ahmad narrated with a good chain of transmission, as did al-Bayhaqi in a raised report, “Fasting is a shield and an impregnable fortress that protects from the Hellfire.”
And in the narration of Ibn Khuzayma in his rigorously authenticated collection, “Fasting is a shield from the Hellfire, like the shield one of you employs during fighting.”
Imam Ahmad, al-Tabarani, and al-Hakim narrated in a raised report (and all of their narrators are used approvingly in the rigorously authenticated collection of al-Bukhari), “Fasting and the Quran shall intercede for the servant on the Day of Resurrection. Fasting shall say, ‘O Lord! I prevented him from food and drink and desires, so allow me to intercede for him!’ And the Quran shall say, ‘I prevented him from sleep during the night, so allow me to intercede for him!’ and so they shall both intercede.”
Ibn Majah narrated in a raised report, “Everything has a zakat, and the zakat of the body is fasting.”
Al-Bayhaqi narrated in a raised report, “At the time of breaking the fast, the fasting person has a supplication that will not be rejected.”
Imam Ahmad, al-Tirmidhi (who declared it good), Ibn Majah, Ibn Khuzayma, and Ibn Hibban (in his rigorously authenticated collection) narrated a raised report, “There are three people whose prayers will not be rejected: [among them] … the fasting person until he breaks his fast …”
Al-Bukhari and Muslim and others narrated a raised report, “There is no servant who fasts for a day in the path of Allah Most High save that Allah will, by that day, put seventy year’s distance between the servant and the Hellfire.”
Al-Hafiz al-Mundhiri said:
A group of scholars opined that this hadith pertains to the virtue of fasting while in jihad, and indeed that is how al-Tirmidhi and others classified it in their chapter headings. But another group of scholars maintained that every fast is “in the path of Allah” if it is sincerely for Allah’s sake. Allah Most High knows best.
By Abdul Aziz Suraqah , 07 Jul 2014