Fasting is considered to be a special act of worship because of the greater likelihood of sincerity. A person’s fast cannot be seen by other people. Therefore, it reduces the possibility of ostentation (showing off, Riyaa).
عَنْ أَبِي هُرَيْرَةَ، عَنِ النَّبِيِّ صَلَّى اللهُ عَلَيْهِ وَسَلَّمَ، قَالَ: يَقُولُ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ: الصَّوْمُ لِي وَأَنَا أَجْزِي بِهِ، يَدَعُ شَهْوَتَهُ وَأَكْلَهُ وَشُرْبَهُ مِنْ أَجْلِي، وَالصَّوْمُ جُنَّةٌ، وَلِلصَّائِمِ فَرْحَتَانِ: فَرْحَةٌ حِينَ يُفْطِرُ، وَفَرْحَةٌ حِينَ يَلْقَى رَبَّهُ، وَلَخُلُوفُ فَمِ الصَّائِمِ أَطْيَبُ عِنْدَ اللَّهِ مِنْ رِيحِ المِسْكِ
Abu Huraira (May Allah be pleased with him) said that the Prophet ﷺ said, ‘Allah Mighty and Majestic said, Fasting is for Me and I will reward it. A fasting person leaves his desire, his food and his drink for My Sake. Fasting is a shield. There are two delights for a fasting person, a delight at the time of breaking his fast, and a delight when he meets his Lord.’ (Sahih al-Bukhari, 7492).
As we see in the Sahih Hadith above fasting is special. It is a unique act of worship, to the extend Allah Most High has said, ‘Fasting is for Me and I will reward it.’ There are many special qualities related to fasting. However, the scholars tend to focus on the aspect of sincerity (Ikhlaas) when commenting on this Hadith.
وَقد أَكْثرُوا فِي معنى قَوْله: (الصَّوْم لي وَأَنا أجزي بِهِ)، وَمُلَخَّصه: أَن الصَّوْم لَا يَقع فِيهِ الرِّيَاء كَمَا يَقع فِي غَيره، لِأَنَّهُ لَا يظْهر من ابْن آدم بِفِعْلِهِ، وَإِنَّمَا هُوَ شَيْء فِي الْقلب
Many have spoken about the meaning of ‘Fasting is for Me and I will reward it.’ A summary of what they (the scholars) said is: Ostentation (showing off, Riyaa) does not occur when fasting in the same way as it can occur for other acts of worship. This is due to the fact that when a person performs it, it is not visible and apparent to others. Rather it is something in the heart (concealed). (Imam Badr al-Deen al-Ayni, Umdatu al-Qari).
In the Nass above Imam al-Ayni clarifies that fasting is unique or special because it does not have a visible or apparent manifestation. Unlike other acts of worship, where it is apparent that one is engaged in them. For example the prayer (Salah), if a person is engaged in Salah then it is visible to those who are present. However, with the fast, a person could potentially be stood next to a fasting individual and remain completely unaware of his state.
Since fasting, by its nature, facilitates sincerity one should not do anything to jeopardise this. With regards to Sunnah and Nafl fasting, in particular, one should avoid informing other people of one’s fasting unnecessarily. Doing so will eliminate the intrinsic advantage fasting carries with regards to sincerity.
And Allah Most High Knows Best.
-Answered by Shaykh Noorud-deen Rashid (11.04.2022)
What does the Hadith fasting is a shield mean?
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