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How Do We Fast?

ImageIt is clear that the body and soul are interconnected and affect each other. Having a good physical regimen also helps the spirit, and having a good spiritual routine also helps the body.


Sayyid Baqir Imrani

Fasting is obligatory for healthy Muslims during the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar, meaning the holy month of Ramadan. When fasting is mentioned, many people usually think that it means not to eat and drink. However, it is much deeper than that. In one sense, we can divide fasting into two parts: physical fasting and spiritual fasting.

It is clear that the body and soul are interconnected and affect each other. Having a good physical regimen also helps the spirit, and having a good spiritual routine also helps the body. Islam has encouraged us to recognize this close relationship and not to neglect either one, but to take care of both.

Physical Fasting

Fasting means to refrain from the nine things that invalidate the fast from dawn to night in order to carryout the command of God. These nine things are:

  1. Eating or drinking.
  2. Sexual intercourse.
  3. Masturbation, which means to do any act to oneself that leads to ejaculation. Not only does it invalidate the fast, it is also forbidden.
  4. Attributing a lie to God, the Holy Prophet, the Twelve Imams, and based on precaution, to Lady Fatima (peace be upon them all).
  5. Allowing thick dust to reach the throat.
  6. Putting one's entire head under water. The head means the head, face and neck.
  7. Remaining in the state of sexual impurity (Jinabah), menstruation and post-birth bleeding (Nifas) until the dawn.
  8. Having a liquid enema.
  9. Intentionally vomiting.

If a person refrains from these nine things from dawn to dusk during the month of Ramadan with the intention of fasting, his physical fast is in order. However, there is much more to fasting than just these matters. Fasting must be carried out in a way that it benefits both body and soul. In other words, the objective of fasting must be attained, meaning self-control and piety. As the Holy Qur'an states, "O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you just as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may develop self-control and become pious." (2:183)

Spiritual Fasting

In this phase of fasting, a believer must strive to purify his soul by refraining from committing sins with his body. There are many people who fast who imagine that if they carry out the outer etiquettes of the fast, their act will be accepted and they will reap the benefits of it. There is a narration in Wasa'il al-Shia (vol. 1, p. 72) which states: "How many fasting people are there who do not gain anything from their fasting except thirst and hunger." When Grand Ayatollah Sayyid Sadiq Shirazi was asked about the intent of this narration, he replied, "The intent is that the fasting person must distance himself from sins, and his eyes, ears, tongue and other body parts must also be fasting so that his fast is accepted."

Bihar al-Anwar (vol. 94, p. 351) relates another narration from Imam as-Sadiq (peace be upon him) which states: "Fasting is not only to refrain from eating and drinking…when you fast, you should safeguard your tongues, lower your gaze, and you should not dispute with or envy one another."

In reality, the greatest philosophy of fasting is its spiritual and esoteric effect. A person who has various types of food and drinks available to him and can use them at any moment of hunger or thirst is like a tree that grows behind the protection of a wall near a stream. These newly fostered trees are very weak and un-lasting. If water was cut from them for some days, they would become withered and eventually dry up. But those trees that grow in between rocks, in the heart of mountains and deserts, and the caregivers of their branches from the very beginning are harsh storms, the burning sun, and the winter cold and are constantly faced with deprivation are firm, lasting, resilient, hardworking, and strongly built.

Fasting also has the same impact on the human being's spirit and soul. With temporary limitations, it gives him firmness, power of determination, and the strength to combat difficult events. And because it controls the wild instincts, it gives his heart light and purity.

In short, fasting raises the human being from the world of animals into the realm of the angels. The sentence "maybe you will be of the pious" is a signal to all these realities. Also, another indicator of this matter is the famous tradition which says, "Fasting is a shield against the fire of hell." (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 96, p. 256)

Sayyid Baqir Imrani is a popular speaker among North American Shia communities. Further articles and lectures by him can be found on http://www.mzk4.org.

About Sayyid Baqir Imrani

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  • Brother

    Thank you for sharing this knowledge and insight with us Maulana.

  • Sayyid Baqir

    Thank you for your kind words “Brother.” Just a friendly reminder, if anyone has any questions in particular about the way we fast, feel free to post up here on the comments sections. I will be available until eed to address them, God willing.

  • Abdullah

    Salam Sayyid. Does that mean if I backbite someone or lustfully look at a woman or something else like these that my fast becomes invalid and I have to pay the kafara? If i do such a thing during the day, does it mean that I can break my fast and eat?

  • Sayyid Baqir

    Such acts do not invalidate the fast in a legal term, therefore one does not have to pay its expiation and cannot use it as an excuse to break the fast prior to iftar. However, such acts do take away from the spirit of the fast and make it unacceptable in God’s presence.

    Surely, the doors of repentance are always open and if we repent, it may happen that God will accept our fast.

  • Hassan B

    Salaam un Alaykum Sayyid,

    Thank you for the article, I have a few questions,

    With regards to cursing, as it has become mainstream in conversation, is there kafaraa or sin to use this language if my day to day interactions require it?

    If I wake up to eat something in the morning and it is only 10 minutes before the time of Fajr, am I still allowed to eat? what if I accidentally eat thinking that I still have time and I’m not allowed to eat? What if I do it on purpose? I mean technically it is still not time namaaz.

  • Bilal Habash

    Salaam Sayyid,

    is it permissible to perform or have your marriage performed while fasting? Are there any specific actions which should be avoided while fasting aside from anything that is considered a sin?

  • salam

    There are no day to day interactions that “require” cursing. It is a bad habit, now is a good time to break it and use better words.

  • gigi

    If a person cannot fast for legitimate reasons, is it haram to eat in front of others? I am sure it should be avoided, but what if, for example, if he/she does not eat in front of someone it means he/she will not be able to eat at all? Like say the person is in a meeting all day and cannot leave the meeting, can the person eat or drink a bit then? What if the person is around non-Muslims who don’t care or know about the fast and are not fasting themselves, does that make it better or worse?

  • Sayyid Baqir

    Salamun alaikum,

    By cursing I assume you mean profane language. If not, and your intent is to invoke the curse of Allah on someone, please clarify. As for using profanity, Islam considers it a major sin. [i]Al-Kafi[/i] has narrated a tradition from Imam Sadiq (AS) that says: ““Profanity and abusing is from cruelty and cruelty is punishable by hell.” Using abusive language in any circumstance is not permitted, whether addressing a believer or an infidel, and it is more severe in the case of a believer.

    However, it does not invalidate the fast in the legal sense but does ruin it. In other words, the physical fast is in order but the spiritual fast suffers a blow.

    As for the time for fasting, it is from the time for the [i]adhaan[/i] of fajr until maghrib. If you eat intentionally after the time of its start, then the fast is invalid. But if it is accidental, then the fast is valid. If any act that invalidates the fast is done accidentally, the fast will be valid.

  • Sayyid Baqir

    Salamun alaikum,

    There is no harm in performing a marraige contract while fasting. Certainly, there are days during the year in which it is better not to perform a marraige contract or get married, such as Ashura. During the holy month of Ramadhan, the days and nights when Imam Ali (AS) was attacked and martyred fall into that category. Of course, there are narrations about which times are recommended and which times are disliked.

    As for actions that must be avoided while fasting: 1. all things that invalidate the fast, 2, all sins, big or small, (which must be avoided all year round), 3. makrooh and doubtful matters which can lead one into sin, although it does not invalidate the fast.

  • Sayyid Baqir

    It is not haram to eat if one cannot fast due to a legitimate reason such as travelling or illness. Also, it is not forbidden for him/her to eat in front of others who are fasting, however it is better not to do so. And there is no harm if he/she eats in front of anyone who is not fasting, believer or nonbeliever.

  • Brother

    Salaam Sayyid, what is the reason that we stop eating at the time of imsaak? And is it haraam to continue to eat after imsaak but to stop eating before the time of the adhaan for fajr? Thank you in advance.

  • Sayyid Baqir

    Salaam, the time of adhan for fajr is the beginning of the time for fajr prayer. Fasting starts at that time, but to make sure that our fast is in order, we stop eating a little before the time of adhan for fajr/beginning of time for fajr prayer. We call that time imsaak. we must be careful to stop eating a little before the time of adhan for fajr so that we can be certain that our fast is in order.