What is fasting? What is the Religious Decree of Fasting?

Fasting means not eating, drinking and not engaging in sexual activity during the time period between the time of fajr sadiq (the second/real fajr; the time of the day when there is light in the horizon before sunrise) and the sunset.  

Fasting is also called imsak. Imsak means keeping the soul/self away from the things it wishes and not doing them. The antonym for imsak is iftar, which means breaking the fast. 

The Religious Decree of Fasting

Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam. At the same time, it is one of the great signs of Islam. It was made fard (obligatory) in Madinah, one and a half year after the Hegira (Migration from Makkah to Madinah) and on the 10th day of the month of Shaban. Its obligation is established by the Book (the Qur'an), the Sunnah (the practice of the Prophet) and by Ijma' (consensus of the ummah/community or the ulama/scholars of Islam).

In the Qur'an, the following is stated:

O you who believe! Prescribed for you is the Fast, as it was prescribed for those before you...(The Qur'an, Al-Baqarah, 2:183) 

Fasting is also a bodily worship like the obligatory prayer. The prominent quality of this worship is that it keeps people away from evils, and that it curbs the excessive wishes and urges of the soul. In the hadith, the following is stated: 

Fasting is a shield (it protects humans from lustful desires and evils). The fasting person should not utter bad words out of ignorance. The fasting person should answer those who want to fight and struggle with him/her only by saying: 'I am fasting.'  

Since fasting protects humans from evil inclinations, Allah's Messenger (PBUH) advised young, single people to fast in order to be relieved from the compression of lustful urges. It is also a scientifically accepted reality that fasting calms down lustful feelings. 

When the month of fasting comes, there occurs an overall decrease in the number of crimes committed in the community. The evils are reduced to the minimum. In return, the good deeds increase. Among individuals a cordial unification and affection form. Mutual help and solidarity increase. Allah's Messenger (PBUH) explains the reason for the social effect that fasting has in the following hadith: 

When Ramadan, the month of fasting, comes, the gates of Paradise are opened; the gates of Hell are shut and all devils are chained

The great worth and value that fasting has in the sight of Allah is explained in a hadith qudsi as follows:

All the good deeds and worships that humans perform are for themselves (there is a worry of pleasure and benefit in them). However, fasting is not like that. Fasting is a worship performed only for My acceptance. And I will give its reward

In another hadith qudsi, the following is stated:

For every good deed, there is a reward of ten to seven hundredfold. However, the reward of fasting is not given by that criterion. For it is for Me. It is only Me Who will give its reward

As is understood from those statements, although for every good deed and worship there is a certain thawab (reward for good deeds that is tallied on qiyamah/judgment day) attached to it from 10 to 700 credits, for the fast the amount of thawab is boundless. And Allah did not leave it to His angels to reckon its reward but kept it for only Himself. For this reason, on the Day of Judgment, the believers may find great amounts of rewards for their fasting that they never expected.  

Allah's Messenger (PBUH) pointed out that issue as follows:

There are two joys for the fasting person: The first one is the joy at the time of iftar (when s/he breaks the fast after sunset); the other is the joy of fasting (its reward) when s/he meets his/her Lord

In some hadiths, the high virtue and honorable status that the fasting people attain is expressed as follows:

There is a gate in Paradise called Rayyan. On the Judgment Day, only those who fasted can enter from that gate (into Paradise). Nobody else can enter through it. (On the Judgment Day), a call is issued: Where are those who fasted? Those who fasted get up and enter. And after they enter, the gate is shut; from then on, nobody can enter from that gate.

I swear to Allah that the smell of hunger of the fasting mouth is more pleasant than the smell of musk, cleaner and more amiable in the presence of Allah.

The prayer of three people is not rejected: 

That of the fasting person until s/he eats iftar (meal eaten after sunset to break one's fast)

That of the equitable/just head of the state

That of the wronged/oppressed.

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