Part 1: The Virtues and Benefits of Fasting
The Literal meaning of Sawm is to restrain oneself from something. For example, Allaah tells us in the Qur’an that Maryam said, “…Verily! I have vowed a fast unto ar – Rahmaan [the Most Beneficent (Allaah)]….” 
The fast here means to be silent, that is, to abstain from speaking. Islamically, Sawm means to abstain from food, drink and sexual relations between dawn and sunset.
2. Classification of Sawm
Sawm is wajib (compulsory) on Muslims, according to the Qur’aan and Sunnah (tradition of the Prophet), during the night month of the Hijri calendar, called Ramadaan, every year. Allaah, the Most High, said in the Quraan, “The month of Ramadaan in which was revealed the Qur’ân, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs for the guidance and the criterion (between right and wrong). So whoever of you sights (the crescent on the first night of) the month (of Ramadaan i.e. is present at his home), he must observe Sawm (fasts) that month,…”
Narrated Ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him): Allaah‘s Apostle said: Islam is based on (the following) five (principles) :
1. To testify that none has the right to be worshipped but Allaah and Muhammad is Allaah’s Apostle.
2. To offer the (compulsory congregational) prayers dutifully and perfectly.
3. To pay Zakat (i.e. obligatory charity) .
4. To perform Hajj. (i.e. Pilgrimage to Mecca)
5. To observe fast during the month of Ramadan.
Narrated Talha bin ‘Ubaid-Ullah (may Allaah be pleased with him): A bedouin with unkempt hair came to Allaah’s Apostle and said, “O Allaah’s Apostle! Inform me what Allaah has made compulsory for me as regards the prayers.” He replied: “You have to offer perfectly the five compulsory prayers in a day and night (24 hours), unless you want to pray Nawafil.” The bedouin further asked, “Inform me what Allaah has made compulsory for me as regards fasting.” He replied, “You have to fast during the whole month of Ramadan, unless you want to fast more as Nawafil.” The Bedouin further asked, “Tell me how much Zakat Allaah has enjoined on me.” Thus, Allaah’s Apostle informed him about all the rules (i.e. fundamentals) of Islam. The bedouin then said, “By Him Who has honoured you, I will neither perform any Nawafil nor will I decrease what Allaah has enjoined on me. Allaah‘s Apostle said, “If he is saying the truth, he will succeed (or he will be granted Paradise).”
3. The Purpose of Fasting
The ultimate goal of the fast is to develop taqwaa (consciousness of God) in people, as Allaah said in Soorah al – Baqarah of the Qur’aan, Verse 183, “…[so] it may produce Taqwa in you.” Taqwaa is amongst the highest moral qualities that a Muslim can attain. It is achieved by placing a shield between one’s self and Allaah’s wrath, as the root meaning of the word implies (i.e. taqwaa comes from the verb waqaa, which means “to safeguard”). This is achieved by being conscious of Allaah and all His commandments at all times, which means avoid the Haraam (prohibited) as well as the Makrooh (undesirable) and even some of the Halaal (permissible) , wherever doubt arises.
4. Virtues and Benefits of Fasting
4.1 Fasting is a Shield
Fasting provides protection from evil for those who sincerely fast. Aboo Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him) reported Allaah’s Messenger (may peace be upon him) as saying: “Fasting is a shield.”
Narrated Uthamn ibn Abil – ‘Aas and Jaabir (may Allaah be pleased with them): The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Fasting is a shield with which a servant protects himself from Fire.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Fasting is a protection and a strong fortress that keeps a person safe from the Fire.”
Narrated ‘Abdullah ibn Masood (may Allaah be pleased with him): We were with the Prophet while we were young and had no wealth whatever. So Allaah’s Apostle said, “O young people! Whoever among you can marry, should marry, because it helps him lower his gaze and guard his modesty (i.e. his private parts from committing illegal sexual intercourse etc.), and whoever is not able to marry, should fast, as fasting diminishes his sexual power.”
4.2 Fasting Causes one to enter Paradise
Narrated Aboo Umaamah (may Allaah be pleased with him): I said. “O Messenger of Allaah, tell me of an action by which I may enter paradise.” He said, “Take to Fasting, there is nothing like it.”
Narrated Aboo Sa’eed (may Allaah be pleased with him): I heard the Prophet saying, “Indeed, anyone who fasts for one day for Allaah’s Pleasure, Allaah will keep his face away from the (Hell) fire for (a distance covered by a journey of) seventy years.”
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever fasts one day seeking the pleasure of Allaah, if that is the last day of his life, he will enter Paradise.”
4.3 The People who fast are rewarded with immense reward
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Fasting has no equal.”
Narrated Aboo Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him): Allaah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said, “Allaah said, ‘All the deeds of Adam’s sons (people) are for them, except fasting which is for Me, and I will give the reward for it.’ Fasting is a shield or protection from the fire and from committing sins. If one of you is fasting, he should avoid sexual relation with his wife and quarrelling, and if somebody should fight or quarrel with him, he should say, ‘I am fasting.’ By Him in Whose Hands my soul is’ The unpleasant smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allaah than the smell of musk. There are two pleasures for the fasting person, one at the time of breaking his fast, and the other at the time when he will meet his Lord; then he will be pleased because of his fasting.”
Narrated Aboo Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him): Allaah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said, “…By Him in Whose Hands my soul is, the smell coming out from the mouth of a fasting person is better in the sight of Allaah than the smell of musk. (Allaah says about the fasting person), ‘He has left his food, drink and desires for My sake. The fast is for Me. So I will reward (the fasting person) for it and the reward of good deeds is multiplied ten times.”
4.4 Fasting and the Qur’an intercede for a person
Narrated ‘Abdullah ibn ‘Umar (may Allaah be pleased with him): The Messenger of Allaah (peace be upon him) said, “Fasting and the Qur’an intercede for the servant on the Day of Resurrection. Fasting will say, ‘O my Lord I prevented him from food and desires so accept my intercession for him,’ and the Qur’an will say: ‘I prevented him from sleep a night, so accept my intercession for him,’ so their intercession will be accepted.”
4.5 Fasting is an expiation for various sins
Narrated Hudhayfah (may Allaah be pleased with him): Allaah’s Apostle (peace be upon him) said, “A man’s afflictions (i.e. wrong deeds) concerning his relation to his family, his property and his neighbours are expiated by his prayers, giving in charity and enjoining what is good and forbidding what is evil.”
4.6 Ar – Rayyaan is for those who fast
Narrated Sahl (may Allaah be pleased with him): The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “There is a gate in Paradise called Ar-Raiyan, and those who observe fasts will enter through it on the Day of Resurrection and none except them will enter through it. It will be said, ‘Where are those who used to observe fasts?’ They will get up, and none except them will enter through it. After their entry the gate will be closed and nobody will enter through it.”
4.7 Makes us appreciate the provision of food (from Allaah)
Fasting gives the individual a real taste of hunger and thirst which helps him to realize the experience of the poor. This experience should instill a desire to want to help those who are less fortunate by sharing food and wealth with them.
When the fasting person feels the pangs of hunger, he experiences how the poor feel, so he has compassion towards them and gives them something to ward off their hunger. Hearing about them is not the same as sharing their suffering, just as a rider does not understand the hardship of walking unless he gets down and walks.
4.8 Helps improve Moral character
It is required that the individual gives up not only food, drink and sexual relations, but also all forms of lying (e.g. backbiting, slander, etc). This is confirmed by the Prophet (peace be upon him)’s statement: Narrated Aboo Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him): The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allaah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allaah will not accept his fasting.)”
He (peace be upon him) also said, Narrated Aboo Hurayrah (may Allaah be pleased with him): Allaah‘s Apostle (peace be upon him) said, “Allaah said, … If one of you is fasting, he should avoid sexual relation with his wife and quarrelling, and if somebody should fight or quarrel with him, he should say, ‘I am fasting.’ ….”
So, if one observes the fast according to the above principles, it should improve his morale character, making him more truthful and more careful about what he says and does.
If a person’s stomach is hungry, this will keep many of his other faculties from feeling hunger or desires; but if his stomach is satisfied, his tongue, eye, hand and private parts will start to feel hungry. Fasting leads to the defeat of Shaytaan; it controls desires and protects one’s faculties.
4.9 Health benefits
It has also been noted by medical experts that fasting improves the physical health in numerous ways. For example, during the fast, the body uses up stored cholesterol (fats) which are often deposited in the blood system, as well as other fatty areas of the body. Thus, it helps to keep the body firm and minimizes the danger of heart attacks.
4.10 Training for Jihaad
Fasting trains the will to avoid desires and keep away from sin; it helps a person to overcome his own nature and to wean himself away from his habits. It also trains a person to get used to being organized and punctual, which will solve the problem that many people have of being disorganized, if only they realized.
Fasting trains the individual for Jihaad (fighting in the way of Allaah) by giving him a good course in self – control. During war, the desires of the stomach and the private parts often lead soldiers of war to either commit excesses or to unnecessarily expose themselves to danger.
4.11 Duaa will be answered
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said, “The du’aa’ of the fasting person will not be refused.”
And It is Only Allaah Who grants success. May Allaah Exalt the mention of His slave and Messenger Muhammad (peace be upon him), and render him, his household and companion safe from Evil.
By Dr. Aboo Ameenah Bilal Philips
Edited by Imran Ayub