Time and again, Divine Apostleship has come to the rescue of mankind against the onslaughts of crude materialism and sensuality. It has freed the heart from the mournful domination of animalism and removed from it the impurities that had reduced it to a mere lump of flesh. By putting morality and spiritualism in their proper perspective and imparting to man a healthier, nobler and broader outlook of life it has prepared him afresh for the fulfillment of the underlying purpose of his creation which can be summed up in the three words of Ibaadat (worship), Wilaayat (Devoutness) and Khilaafat (Vicegerency). This was a task which could not be achieved solely through the spirituality of the angles or the corporeity of the animals. For it, the annual routine of fasting was prescribed which could, to some extent, relax the hold of sensuality and introduce, in its place, as much of faith and spiritualism as could be effective in the maintenance of moderation, poise and equilibrium in life. This spiritual discipline is designed to enable man to exercise self-restraint when the evil propensities threaten to overwhelm him, to overcome the harmful effects of over eating and to cultivate within him, as far as possible, a likeness of Divine Morals.
Shedding light on the objects of fasting, Imaam Ghazzaali writes:
‘The object of fasting is that man should produce within him a semblance of the Divine Attribute of Samadiyyat (i.e. Freedom from want), that he should, as far as possible, take after the angles and cast off the beastly propensities because the angles are free from desire and the place of man, too, is above the animals and he has, further, been given the power of discrimination to resist the pressure of inordinate appetites. He is, of course, inferior to angles in the sense that desire often overpowers him and he has to strive hard to subdue it. When he succumbs to sensual propensities he degenerates into the ‘lowliest of lowly’ and joins the herds of cattle while when he conquers them he attains the dizzy heights of the heavenly host and begins to dwell on the place of the angles.’ (Ihya-ul-Uloom vol.1 pg.212)
Similarly, Allaamah ibn-i-Qayyim says:
‘The purpose of fasting is that the spirit of man was released from the clutches of desires and moderations prevailed in his carnal self, and through it, he realized the goal of purification and everlasting felicity. It is aimed at curtailing the intensity of desire and lust by means of hunger and thirst, at inducing man to realize how many were there in the world like him who had to go even without a small quantity of food, at making it difficult for the Devil to deceive him, and at restraining his organs from turning towards things in which there was the loss of both the worlds. Fasting, thus, is the bridle of the God-Fearing, the shield of the crusaders and the disciple of the virtuous.’
Proceeding further, the Allaamah remarks:
Fasting is most efficacious in the protection of the external limbs and internal organs. It guards against disorders resulting from the accumulation of the effete matter. It expels the toxins that are injurious to health and cures the ailments which develop in the body due to over-indulgence. It is beneficial for health and most helpful in leading a life of piety and good-doing.
Says the Qur’aan: O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before ye, that ye may ward off evil.’ (Baqarah 183)
And the Holy Prophet (Sallallaahu Alayhi Wasallam) has said, ‘Fasting is a shield’.
‘Hence, a person who wishes to marry but does not have the means to support a family is advised to observe fasting. It has been prescribed as a sovereign remedy for him, the object being to demonstrate that since the advantages of fasting were evident from the point of view of commonsense God had enjoined it as an act of mercy for the protection of His slaves.’ (Zaad-al-Ma’aad)
‘For the reason that’, Allamah ibn-i-Qayyim goes to say, ‘the correction of the heart and steadfastness are dependent upon the pursuit of the path of Allah and upon inner peace, repentance and single-minded devotion, distraction is extremely harmful for it. Overeating, too much of mixing with people and unnecessary conversation and volubility are the things that upset one’s composure and serenity and make a man drift from the straight path. God, therefore, in His Divine Mercy, thought fit to prescribe fasting for his bondmen so that they could be purged of the evil effects of intemperance and overeating which prevented mankind from attaining the cherished goal of God realization and it might prove useful to them in both the worlds and none of their interests, temporary or permanent, were harmed.’