by Shaykh Muhammad al-Hassan Walid Dido al-Shanqiti | Translated by Suhaib Webb
All praise is to Allah [alone] the Lord of everything that exists. Peace and prayers upon the one sent as a mercy to everything ﷺ, his family members, companions and whoever seeks guidance with his guidance and strives to follow his Sunnah (actions of the Prophet ﷺ) until the Last Day: Allah [the Exalted] made fasting [the month of Ramadan] an obligation upon His servants making clear the wisdom behind it. Allah says, “Oh you who profess faith, fasting has been prescribed for you as it was those who preceded you that you may attain taqwa” (Qur’an, 2:183).
The Wisdoms of Fasting
Facilitation and Ease in Da`wah
One of the wisdoms we take from this verse is that when Allah (swt) made fasting an obligation He mentioned first that it would be for a few days. He did this in order to facilitate things for those who observe it and to lighten this order [the acceptance of it] upon those who fast. However, after He made clear the order to fast and encouraged them to do so, He said “The month of Ramadan” thereby making the duration of the fast compulsory for an entire month. The wisdom taken from this is that Allah(swt) did not mention the duration of the fast as one month in the beginning, but He did so in the end in order to grab the people’s attention and encourage them.
Avoiding the Prohibited
Another wisdom associated with fasting is found in the statement of The Most Exalted, “…As it was prescribed upon those who preceded you that you will attain taqwa.” Thus, fasting is specifically geared towards the achievement of taqwa (not just ‘fasting’ food) and a training that disciplines a person to leave his desires and passions, which will help him to stay strong to his faith outside of the month of Ramadan. Thus, if a person is able to restrain his soul from the permissible enjoyments in the month of Ramadan, then he will find it easier to restrain it from the forbidden pleasures outside of the month itself.
Sincerity and Reflection
Fasting is an act related to abstaining from something. Thus it is a commanded act by Allah, which is specific to a certain time period.
If abstaining from a certain act is conditioned to a particular time period, then that act requires an intention. However, if an intention is not conditioned, then the intention is not a stipulation for how sound that act is.
Thus, for example, if someone refrains from drinking alcohol, fornication or usury, than that type of refrain’s soundness [which is not regulated to a specific time period] is not conditioned by an intention and it is possible that one could observe such actions without it. However, if one does make an intention in such situations, then his reward will be increased. As for acts of abstinence specified by certain time limits, like the whole month of Ramadan which involves leaving food, drink and sexual relations (with one’s spouse) from the time of dawn until sunset, then the intention is a must for the fasting to be acceptable. Thus, the first obligatory act related to fasting is the intention.
The Meaning of Intention
The meaning of intention is to direct one’s heart towards something, making it the underlying reason behind a given action. It is related from ‘Umar bin al-Khatab that the Prophet ﷺ said, “Indeed, (righteous) actions are only according to their intentions. And every person will have what he intended for.” The Prophet ﷺ said, as related by Abdullah bin ‘Umar [may Allah be pleased with him] that, “Whoever does not make his intention for the fast during the night, then there is no fast for him.” This intention is the foundation of all actions.
If a person makes his intention to fast the whole month of Ramadan, the scholars [of Fiqh] differed concerning the fast itself: is a fast equal to one act of worship or does each day of fasting represent a separate act within itself thereby equaling to 29 or 30 days of worship?
Understanding Imam Malik’s Contention
If the fast of Ramadan is equal to one act of worship, then it is sufficient for a person to make his intention once for the entire month. This was the opinion of Imam Malik [may Allah have mercy upon him] who considered the act of fasting as one continual act which required one intention.
This is similar to salah which starts with one intention in the beginning, even though it consists of a number of obligatory acts independent of each other (like Ruku’, Sujud and reciting al-Fatiha). There are highly encouraged acts in salah and encouraged ones, which, if combined with an intention, bring about great rewards, but it is sufficient to make only one intention in the beginning of salah for it to be acceptable. Thus, one is not obligated to make an intention for each and every action of prayer, but one intention at its commencement is sufficient. Likewise, if one makes his intention at the beginning of Ramadan to fast the entire month, then it is sufficient for him. And if he neglects making his intention during one of the nights of Ramadan, according the to the opinion of Malik, when this person wakes up his fast is intact based on the intention he made at the beginning of the month; this intention will suffice him as long as he does nothing to break it.
However, if he does something that breaks the continuity of his intention, then is he required to renew his intention? An example of this would be one who, after making his intention at the commencement of Ramadan, needs to travel. It does not matter if he breaks his fast while traveling or not. He must renew his intention because traveling is a means by which one is allowed to break his intention from fasting. If he travels and decides to break his fast, then this act of worship has come to a close. This is similar to one who makes salams in prayer, if one does so and the prayer is not complete, then he must make an new intention for a new prayer and pray again. This renewal of the intention, for the traveler, must be done every night and if he forgets to do so he will be considered as one who invalidly broke his fast. This is due, as was mentioned earlier, to the fact that the mere act of travel allows for one to break his intention. Therefore, if he decides to fast while traveling, he must make his intention every evening.
Another example of this are acts that obligate one to break the fast, such as a women who starts the month of Ramadan fasting with intention, encounters her menstrual cycle and then, during the same month, becomes free of her menses again. Such a woman is not allowed to begin her fast relying on her previous intention. After she has purified herself, she must make a new intention for fasting and it is not allowed for her to rely on the intention that she made at the beginning of the month. This is because the continuity of her earlier intention was broken by an act that obligates one to break the fast – menstruation.
Make Your Intention
This intention is done by a person with the aim of obeying the order of Allah (swt). Thus, if one increases making his intention, he becomes similar to the noble angels by cutting himself off from his passions and pleasures and, Allah willing, a means for increasing the reward of fasting. However, this increase in observing the intention is not a condition of the act itself. For, without it, the act will be properly achieved – if made at the beginning of the month.
When to Make the Intention?
The time allotted for making this intention is vast: from sunset until dawn. If one does not make his intention right until dawn then his fasting is correct. And if he makes his intention at the beginning of the night (sunset), it is acceptable.
However, the scholars have differed on the issue of if the intention is confirmed and one determines to observe the fast, but then that person becomes undecided and decides that he is not going to wake in the morning fasting, and then he decides the opposite and makes a new intention to fast. The majority holds that this person’s last intention to act is what counts due to the fact that he canceled it with his intention not to fast. He must still complete his fast for that day based on his intention to do so.
Another Beautiful Wisdom
Fasting is an act of worship that is attained while one is awake, sleeping and while one is busy with his daily affairs. Therefore, fasting is similar to the worship of the angels because their worship continues non-stop. When you fast, you keep it in every place and in every situation: work, school, while one is traveling and while one is at home. It is an act of worship that does not stop, but continues through the entire day and for that reason it is comparable the worship of angels.
And so, this intention related to fasting is the ‘first pillar’ from the pillars of fasting.