Siyaam – the Consolidator of Sincerity

In her well-known sermon called “Al-Khuṭbah al-Fadakiyah”, the Blessed Lady Fatimah al-Zahra (sa) also highlights one of the philosophies and wisdoms that lies behindreasons for the divine legislation of Ṣiyām (Islamic ritual fasting). As such, she is narrated to have said, “… and (the Almighty decreed) Ṣiyām as a consolidator of sincerity”.

One of the salient attributes of Ṣiyām, distinguishing it from all other acts of worship, is its inherent hidden nature. If a person were to meet someone fasting, he would not readily recognise that the person was engaging in such a ritual practice. Fasting is an act of abstention founded upon self-restraint and forbearance from start to finish. This forbearance and abstention ensure that the secrecy of worship is not betrayed. When encountering someone not eating, one does not only assume they are fasting, for there may be different reasons for someone not eating. For instance, it may simply be due to a person’s lack of appetite. Therefore, an individual’s avoidance of food or drink does not automatically indicate that he is engaged in ritual fasting. Additionally, it is pretty rare for someone to accompany another person continuously from dawn to dusk, discerning that the latter is intentionally abstaining from all things that nullify a ritual fast. Thus, iyām represents a unique act of worship that is not by itself automatically susceptible to being sullied by ostentatious hypocrisy. It can only be tarnished in this manner if the person himself goes out of his way to deliberately and pretentiously reveal his ritual state to other people.

Other instances of ritual worship do not possess this particular characteristic. Suppose someone begins to perform the alāt (i.e. Islamic ritual prayer); his actions clearly and immediately indicate the nature of the deed he is involved in. Similarly, if a person dispenses Zakāt (i.e. Islamic ritual alms), the beneficiary and recipient of this charity invariably understands what the individual in question is doing. The same is true for Ḥajj, Jihād and all other ritual acts of worship in Islam.

However, Ṣiyām in itself is impervious to such automatic self-expression and self-declaration. As a result, this particular form of devotional servitude towards God is closer and naturally compatible with the spirit of sincerity and authenticity of intention. Indeed, every believer who performs this ritual act for an entire month has experienced a month-long exercise in bona fide sincerity. Moreover, if a certain deed is dutifully repeated every day for a whole month, it turns into an ingrained habit and becomes part of a person’s second nature. This is how Ṣiyām or ritual fasting leads to the consolidation of sincerity within a human being. This effect is significantly more noteworthy and potent than in other forms of ritual worship. For this very reason, the Blessed Lady Fatimah al-Zahra (sa) underscores the strengthening and reinforcement of one’s sincerity of intention as being the more prominent and distinctive characteristic of ritual Islamic fasting.

Obviously, and as indicated earlier, this particular attribute of fasting is not the sole reason or philosophy behind its divine legislation. Lady Fatimah al-Zahra (sa) has chosen to emphasise this specific trait simply because it represents the most critical facet amongst many. This is why other narrations in our hadith corpus highlight different factors behind the divine ordainment of ritual fasting.

Some of the Effects of Ritual Fasting

Islamic narrated traditions speak about numerous advantages related to ritual fasting. These include physical benefits, health-related issues, societal gains, and moral and ethical merits.

Fasting and Bodily Health

A famous narration quotes the Holy Prophet of Islam (s), saying, “Fast, and you will be healthy”[1]. Fasting is one of the best ways of preserving one’s health and physical well-being. Suppose we refrain from overeating or consuming harmful food items during Siḥr and Ifṭār. In that case, the act of fasting will effectively regulate our digestive system, eliminating toxicity from our bodies while also getting rid of excessive fat. Today, many medical centres worldwide consider fasting to be one of the most excellent methods of promoting healthier living. They even recommend fasting as a cure for various diseases and ailments. Some have even claimed to have successfully treated chronic or even malignant illnesses through fasting. Numerous books have been published that document the health benefits of fasting in great detail.

Acquainting the Rich to Hunger

Another crucial advantage of ritual fasting highlighted within narrated traditions is that fasting introduces and familiarises wealthy and affluent people to the challenges and pains of having to go hungry[2]. Through fasting, they can experience for a few hours what it means to be hungry and what it feels like to have no food. Under normal circumstances, these individuals are bathing in wealth and can quickly fulfil their material wants and desires. They always have a range of eatables at their disposal and are accustomed to a lifestyle of constant consumption. Given this situation, such people have never faced hunger or deprivation and therefore have no idea what it truly means to be deprived of food and drink.

It is said that a rich person was once told their neighbour had no bread to eat at night. The person ignorantly replied, “Why does he insist on eating bread at night? If he has no bread, he should eat something else!” In reality, this person was so utterly trapped in the world of luxury and excess that they couldn’t understand what it meant for someone to have no bread. Awash with riches and worldly luxuries, they could not even imagine there existed houses or families around him bereft of even the most basic form of nourishment.

Unless a person experiences hunger first-hand, he cannot comprehend what it truly means to be hungry and has no proper conception of the agony and suffering that poor people face due to deprivation and poverty. Therefore, an essential piece of wisdom behind the divine enactment of ritual fasting in Islam allows the affluent to experience hunger for themselves. In this manner, they may come to understand what it means to be hungry, and in turn, may be able to comprehend and appreciate the plight of the oppressed. Consequently, this may motivate them towards helping and assisting those disadvantaged and deserving.

There are many other compelling reasons and benefits mentioned in the narrations about ritual fasting. However, given the objective of this current text and our methodology of discourse within it, we shall refrain from dwelling on further details.


[1] Nahj al-Faṣāḥah, pg. 547

[2] Muhammad ibn ‘Alī ibn Bābaweh, Man Lā Yaḥḍarahu al-Faqīh, vol. 2, pg. 73

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