What does it mean that fasting is a protective shield? How does fasting protect us?

Details of the Question
What does it mean that fasting is a protective shield? How does fasting protect us?
The Answer

Dear Brother / Sister,

The protective feature of fasting is emphasized both in the Qur’an and in the hadiths.

In the verse from the Qur’an: “O you who believe! Prescribed for you is the Fast, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may deserve God's protection (against the temptations of your carnal soul) and attain piety.” (the Qur’an, al-Baqarah, 2:183), the protection of fasting is indicated as the main aim and the following is stated in the hadith :“Fasting is a shield” (Bukhari, Fasting, 2; Muslim, Fasting, 162).

It is understood that fasting is not a way of worshipping that only consists of hunger and thirst but has a feature of protective shield.

Principally, we can talk about there aspects as regards to the protection of fasting.

a. Biological aspect

We can explain the biological protection of fasting in this way: The source of “power of animal appetite and power of passion”, which exist in human by nature, is the carnal soul. Both of these forces, which arise bestially and vegetally, always have the potential to become excessive and behave harshly. In order to hinder them to use excessive, unbalanced and disproportionate bestial force against spiritual life, they need to be tamed and to be made to behave in a balanced way. And this is possible through consolidation of spiritual life, which represents the heart, mind and divine sentiments and through weakening material life, which represents the carnal soul, senses and servile emotions. In other words, -in order to make spiritual life predominate over material life – we should reduce the food and logistic support, which are the source of energy for the biological – material body and on the other hand, we should take in spiritual nutrition which feeds the spirit and support divine sentiments like worshipping, invocation and consideration.

In some of the narrations of hadiths, it is stated that devils are chained in the month of Ramadan. ( Bukhari, Fasting, 5). This can be understood that rampant devils are chained and it can also be understood figuratively. In this case, the statement “devils are chained in the month of Ramadan” means a lack of conditions which set the ground for devils to spread their delusions. Devils can deceive people in every way they can.  The first way is repletion, which indulges the carnal soul. By removing this repletion in Ramadan, ways for devils to spread their misgivings are closed and their movement area becomes narrower. This means they are chained. Likewise, in a hadith, the following is stated “Devils wander where the blood of human circulates” (Tirmidhi, Rada, 17:1772). And this shows that lustful emotions of human increase in paralel with the food they take in and cause a way for devils to open; if these vessels are narrowed with hunger, this will hinder devils’ mobility and they will be chained in a sense.

To sum up the matter with a clearer expression, since devils are from the jinn tribe, they can enter any place like air and in the blood vessels as well.

Once the delusions of devil and the desires of the carnal soul merge, it becomes difficult for a person to struggle against them. The desires of carnal soul are mostly about eating and drinking. As it enjoys the taste, it asks for more. It gains resistance with repletion and it insistently tries to do what devils suggest it – since they serve it good. However, when it is exposed to hunger and thirst, it loses its resistance and becomes too powerless to even listen to the delusions of devil.

As stated in an erudite anecdote, after Allah punished the carnal soul and asked it “who am I and who are you?”, it replied as a rampant rebel “ I am who I am and you are who you are”. When He kept it hungry for a while, then, it admitted “you are my Merciful Lord and I am a poor servant of you”.

And this proves fasting to be a protective shield which chains the devils in this sense and tames the carnal soul, which is the companion of the devil and which thus restrains people from inhumane and non-Islamic attitudes.

b. Psychological Aspect              

According to the data of science today, the effect of psychology on the attitudes and behavior of people is unquestionable. It is a proven fact with thousands of experience that there is difference between the condition of hunger and thirst of a person when he does not fast and the condition of hunger and thirst when he intends and fasts. A person who intends to fast, instills himself with a determination and resistance not to eat or drink anything during fasting as a result of the pledge he made to Allah and the agreement he made to himself. Allah grants this psychological resistance which occurs as a result of intention and determination as a manifestation of His dominant name.

A person who restrains from some kind of attitudes and behavior which are forbidden for the time being while fasting even though they are not forbidden in normal times, begins to understand the obligation of staying away from the things that are always on the list of prohibitions and tries to restrain more from the evil deeds as a result of this psychology. One of the aspect of protective shield of fasting is the formation of this psychological awareness.

c. Sociological Aspect

As is known, man is a civilized and social being due to its inborn nature; he can maintain his life only in a social life. Deeds of people who are structurally both active and passive, do not only remain on the basis of individuality but they also affect social structure. For this reason, the conditions of the environment and the status of the community play an important role on the personalities of people. All of the expressions like “he that lies down with dogs will rise up with fleas”, “if everybody swept the front of their houses, there would be no need for municipal services”, “social influence, neighborhood pressure”, are for diagnosing a sociological case.

It is certain by experience that the month of Ramadan makes Muslims well-disciplined thanks to fasting; it increases their sense of compassion and mercy and revivifies the spirit of helping and solidarity. It keeps them away from evilness to the utmost. It makes them breathe the air of the Age of Bliss, when the Qur’an was sent. People beat their wings to become a kind of angel thanks to fasting.  Thanks to the atmosphere in which the heart is predominant over the soul, the mind over the wishes and desires of the soul and divine sentiments over rascal ones, spiritual over material, the brain over the mouth, and the spirit over the stomach, the humane virtues are spread in the community. The community converts from material life into spirituality in this month. In a society in which people are fasting, the mind speaks and devils stop speaking, and the heart speaks and the soul becomes silent… From then on, just like an individual, the society is also protected by the shield of fasting. And this is the social protection of fasting…

Let us end this issue with a hadith which warns us about fasting:

Narrated Abu Hurayra: The Prophet (pbuh) said:

Let him/her crawl on his/her nose whoever does not say “Salawat” (sending peace and blessings to the Prophet) though my name is mentioned in his/her presence. Let him/her crawl on his/her nose whoever is not forgiven though the Month of Ramadan comes and leaves. Let him/her crawl on his/her nose whoever cannot go to Paradise though both his/her old parents or one of them is alive and with him/her (and s/he cannot take good care of them and thus cannot enter Paradise).” (Tirmidhi, Daawat, 101)

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