As the month of Ramadan fast approaches, and as Muslims the world over await its arrival in joyous anticipation, here is a short piece by Ibn al-Qayyim to help prepare its welcome. He says, while commenting on the following hadith:
‘God enjoins upon you the fast. Indeed, the likeness of that is as a man carrying a sack-full of musk in a crowd of people, all of them revelling in its fragrance. For the breath of someone fasting is more fragrant to God, exalted is He, than the smell of musk.’1
The Prophet uses the imagery of a person carrying a sack-full of musk hidden from view, under his clothes, after the habit of those who carry musk. Likewise, fasting is hidden from the eyes of people and unperceived by their senses. The fasting person’s limbs fast (abstain) from sins; his tongue fasts from lies, foul speech and false witness; his stomach fasts from food and drink; and his genitals fast from sexual union. If he speaks, he says nothing to violate his fast; and if he acts, he does nothing to spoil his fast. All his speech is salutary and wholesome, as are his deeds – just like fragrance one smells while sitting next to the bearer of musk. Anyone who sits with a fasting person benefits from his presence and is safe from false witness, lies, foul language and wrongdoing. This is the fast prescribed by the Sacred Law; it is not simply abstinence from eating or drinking.
Hence, one sound hadith has it: ‘Whoever does not refrain from speaking and acting falsely, or acting ignorantly, God does not need him to refrain from food and drink.’2 In another hadith: ‘Perhaps a fasting person gains nothing from his fast except hunger and thirst.’3
True fasting, then, is when the limbs abstain from sin and the stomach from food and drink. As food and drink can break the fast or spoil it, so sins can cut off its rewards and spoil its fruits; as if one had not fasted at all.4
1. Al-Tirmidhi, no.2867; Ibn Hibban, no.1222. The hadith is sahih.
2. Al-Bukhari, no.1903.
3. Ibn Majah, no.1690; al-Bayhaqi, Shu‘ab al-Iman, no.3642.
4. Al-Wabil al-Sayyib (Beirut & Damascus: Maktabah Dar al-Bayan, 2006), 59-60.