When Ramadan ended last year, I wanted to keep up the spiritual momentum I felt during Ramadan. Fasting is relatively easy for me, all thanks and praise be to Allah, and I feel good when I fast, so that seemed like a good place to start. According to Aishah, may Allah be pleased with her, the Prophet used to fast on Mondays and Thursdays, so I could pick up a Sunnah, plus, as reported by Abu Huraira, the Prophet, peace be upon him, said:
تُعْرَضُ الأَعْمَالُ يَوْمَ الاِثْنَيْنِ وَالْخَمِيسِ فَأُحِبُّ أَنْ يُعْرَضَ عَمَلِي وَأَنَا صَائِمٌ
Deeds are presented on Monday and Thursday, and I love that my deeds be presented while I am fasting.
So after Eid al Fitr, I fasted the 6 days of Shawwal straight away, and then started up Monday/Thursday fasting. I missed a handful of days due to travelling or some other obligation, but I mostly kept it up. My intention from the start was to seek Allah’s pleasure by following the sunnah (tradition) of the Prophet, peace be upon him. Now, I’m fairly certain that my intention hasn’t changed, but some things happened that got me to wondering…During Ramadan last year, I lost about 10 lbs. This is not unusual, if you’re doing Ramadan correctly, and as soon as you stop fasting, it usually comes back, as it’s mostly water. Since I continued fasting, though, I continued to lose weight, and am now down to about where I was when I was 19 or 20. In recent months, at least 5 brothers have asked me what I’ve done to lose so much weight, and I jokingly told them “the Monday/Thursday diet!” or “just following the Sunnah, brother!”*
Now, if I’m going to fast for worship, I want my reward from Allah on the last Day. I don’t want the reward here. Sure, maybe I can get both, but I’m not looking for a reward here: I fast for Allah, and not for my waistline or appearance. Second, we’re instructed to be modest, to not show off or advertise, and I started to worry that maybe some other intention had crept in. In short, I began to have some doubts about my fast. It’s illogical, I know, and I refocused and kept going, but I started looking more closely at my fasting.
So here’s my fasting ritual: wake up a bit early, travel to work, drink a cup of tea and 12oz of water, and eat a bowl of instant grits, a piece of fruit, and a piece or two of candy from the candy dish up front before opening my fast. I would then pray the pre-dawn prayer, work, take a break for prayer and maybe a short nap at 1 or 1:30, work a bit more, go home, maybe nap some, pray the afternoon prayer, play on the computer, then break fast quickly at sunset with some dates and tortilla, pray the early evening prayer, have a nice dinner, watch some television, pray the night prayer, and off to bed.
It was easy, and I only had a tiny bit of difficulty a couple of times, usually when I had too much candy from the dish up front…
I started looking at my fasting schedule and began wondering if I was really doing it right. As Allah tells us in Surah Baqarah, 183
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن 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
As a quick aside, تَتَّقُونَ (Tat-taqoon) translates as “those who have Taqwa,” and ‘taqwa’ is more than “righteousness.” Other translations offer “piety,” “self-restraint,” “guard (against evil),” and probably others, but ‘Taqwa’ is, more properly, “God-consciousness.”
So was my easy fasting increasing me in consciousness of God? I honestly don’t know. I struggle to remember God most of the time, and while fasting makes that a bit easier,** it’s not a magic pill. Worship, in general, isn’t supposed to be hard, but fasting should be and do something. It could, for example, serve to remind me of the hunger and thirst that some people throughout the world experience and/or remind me of the blessings I enjoy as a modestly employed, middle class white male in the United States. But given the plenty that I have, I rarely even thought about the fast, much less about those less fortunate than I, and by mid-February, I wasn’t sure habitual fasting was doing anything for me, beyond keeping my water-weight down.
And so, two Mondays ago, I broke my fast a 9am and made intention to not fast for awhile, until I could fast for the sake of Allah alone, seeking His pleasure, and working to avoid His prohibitions and displeasure, remembering Him, and being conscious of Him, to the best of my ability, and always working to increase my ability to remember Him. And for 10 days, my mood was much more volatile, my stomach and digestion went off track, and my sleep quality decreased dramatically… Alhamdulillah.
So I’m fasting again today, all praise and thanks be to God, and may He accept it from me. I had to rush some this morning to get my suhoor in, and didn’t really drink enough water. There are many people who woke up today without any water at all, without any food at all, without any job to go to. They all have it much worse than I do: I chose this headache and dry mouth, I willingly took on the task in hopes of earning some forgiveness from Allah, in an attempt to remember Him and give thanks to Him, and to worship Him to the best of my ability.
May He accept it from me.
* They didn’t understand and I had to explain further, so 1) I guess it wasn’t that good a joke and 2) it seems that intermittent fasting isn’t that popular after all.
** It’s not that satiety makes God consciousness harder. I’ve found that junk food can make it harder to remember God, but as long as I stick as close as possible to God-made sustenance, food and drink don’t much influence my worship.