The Significance of Fasting in Achieving Taqwa

The Significance of Fasting in Achieving Taqwa
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Question: The Quranic verse on fasting emphasizes taqwa (God-consciousness and righteousness), highlighting the deep connection between fasting and the cultivation of taqwa. What makes fasting a key pathway to achieving greater God-consciousness and righteousness?

Answer: The injunction relating to fasting in Surah al-Baqara (2:183) is as follows:

 يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous.

This verse establishes fasting as a mandatory act of worship for believers, akin to its prescription for predecessors. It implies that fasting transcends mere physical or ritual observance, intimately tied to the spiritual virtue of taqwa, which encompasses God-consciousness, piety, and moral integrity.

Taqwa, a cornerstone concept in the Quran, epitomizes one of the fundamental qualities expected of believers. Various Quranic passages emphasize taqwa, enjoining it and setting it as a goal for believers to strive toward. Naturally, there exist diverse avenues and methods to attain taqwa and to join the ranks of the righteous. Verses concerning taqwa allude to these pathways.

Fulfilling the obligations of servitude to Allah, performing daily prayers (salat), reciting the Divine verses revealed by Him, and adhering to His commands stand among these means. This noble verse specifically underscores fasting as a principal means to cultivate taqwa.

The verse commences with the phrase, يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا  “O you who have believed,” directly addressing believers. This is profound as faith is a prerequisite for one’s acts of worship to be accepted by Allah, much like how faith is indispensable for attaining taqwa. The utilization of this phrase in a verbal form is also significant as it denotes ‘renewal and revitalization’. For one’s faith to reach its zenith, continuous examination of both cosmic and legislative commands is imperative. Based on these, individuals must reach new combinations and analyses, awakening each day with renewed faith.

The verse “O you who have believed, believe in Allah and His Messenger and the Book that He sent down upon His Messenger and the Scripture which He sent down before[1], reinforces this notion by urging believers to maintain faith. From this standpoint, a believer’s duty encompasses perpetual review of their faith, exploring new dimensions through contemplation, remembrance, and reflection. It involves reaffirming, adhering to, and deepening one’s faith with each passing day.

Following the address to the believers, the phrase that informs them of the obligation of fasting, كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ, comes next. In Arabic, the verb كَتَبَ means “to write”. When used in the passive form كُتِبَ, it means “was written“. When the verb “kataba” is used with the preposition “alâ“, it means “to be made obligatory” and denotes obligation (fard-compulsory). If we take the word in its literal sense, this part of the verse would be understood as, “The obligation (fard) of fasting has been written, determined in the Preserved Tablet or the Clear Book.” This means that the decree of fasting was preordained in Divine knowledge, decided upon, and then enacted as a commandment through revelation, presented to us as an obligation.

The verse continues as follows: كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ  “Just as it was made obligatory for those before you.” This verse, employing a comparative conjunction, informs us that fasting was also mandated for previous communities. This is achieved through a simile, stating that fasting was obligatory for them, just as it is now obligatory for you. This pertains to the obligation of fasting.

The comparison does not necessitate exact similarity in every aspect between the compared entities. Hence, the fasting enjoined upon them might have differed in nature and duration. For instance, the fasting period could have been half a month or two months, with certain allowances such as drinking water during fasting. However, the specifics remain undisclosed. Similar situations apply to other acts of worship like salat and zakat. Even if analogous acts of worship were obligatory for earlier nations, theirs might not have precisely mirrored the ones we observe today.

The verse ends with the phrase لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ. The term لَعَلَّكُمْ suggests ‘hope or expectation’. This could be interpreted to mean: We hope and expect from Allah that He will make us attain taqwa through fasting. Therefore, it would not be correct for a person to assume, “I have entered the realm of taqwa simply because I fasted.” Acts of worship like fasting, prayer, zakat, and hajj are doors of hope towards taqwa for us. They instill the hope of entering through those doors. This expression also indicates that our attainment of piety and righteousness should be linked to the expansiveness of Allah’s mercy, the vastness of His grace, and the inclusiveness of His generosity.

Religion, as it is understood, is fundamentally grounded in a balance between fear (hawf) and hope (raja). Fear, along with hope, constitutes one of the most crucial dynamics that sustain an individual’s religious life. It is noteworthy that taqwa, signifying fear, is mentioned in conjunction with a term expressing hope. Entering the door of taqwa is no simple task. It demands effort and endurance through the trials encountered on this journey. Yet, with perseverance amid hardships, one can attain elevated ranks.

The principle dictates that the greater the hardship endured for a cause, the greater the reward received. The more challenges faced and patience maintained, the nearer one approaches success and salvation. Thus, for the sake of Allah, enduring hunger, thirst, and abstaining from certain desires by observing fasting, though arduous and accompanied by discomfort, presents the opportunity to attain the noble rank of taqwa.

The linguistic roots of taqwa lie in the Arabic word “wiqaya”, denoting protection, caution, self-defense, and avoidance. Therefore, taqwa means seeking protection in God’s shelter and care by fulfilling the commands of religion, in response to concerns about the Hereafter and fear of the afterlife. Moreover, entering the realm of taqwa is essential for properly benefiting from the Divine truths that are the source of virtue and goodness for us. As mentioned at the beginning of Surah al-Baqara, the Quran is a guide for the righteous. From this perspective, being able to discern guidance from misguidance, and perceiving guidance as true guidance, depends on being within the realm of taqwa. Indeed, the Quran is an absolute source of guidance for those determined to seek refuge in God’s protection and who stand firm on this path.

In conclusion, the verse’s emphasis on linking fasting’s obligation and wisdom to attaining taqwa is highly significant. It suggests that fasting offers believers the chance to deepen their relationship with God, enhance spiritual awareness and discipline, and foster moral integrity. Seen as a means to elevate the soul and purify the heart, fasting is pivotal for achieving taqwa and aligning life with Divine will. Thus, fasting, alongside prayer, supplication, and other worship acts, serves as a crucial bridge to taqwa. Proper observance of fasting, including its external and internal aspects, is essential. Recognizing that patience in maintaining worship and obedience is a form of perseverance, believers must fully commit to fasting, navigate challenges without faltering, and advance towards God’s guardianship.

[1] Surah an-Nisa, 4:136.