THE UNCOVERING OF THE SEVENTH VEIL: ON FASTING (al-sawm)
God hath said: "O believers, fasting is prescribed unto you" (Qur.ii,179) And the Apostle said that he was informed by Gabriel that God said: "Fasting is mine, and I have the best right to give recompense for it" (al-sawm li wa-ana ajza bihi),x bccause the religious practice of fasting is a mystery unconnected with any external thing, a mystery in which none other than God participates: hence its recompense is infinite. It has been said that mankind enter Paradise through God's mercy, and that their rank therein depends on their religious devotion, and that their abiding therein for ever is the recompense of their fasting, because God said: "I have the best right to give recompense for it." Junayd said: "Fasting is half of the Way." I have seen Shaykhs who fasted without intermission, and others who fasted only during the month of Ramadan: the former were seeking recompense, and the latter were renouncing self will and ostentation. Again, I have seen others who fasted and were not conscious of anyone and ate only when food was set before them.
This is more in accordance
with the Sunnah. It is related that the Apostle came to A'isha and Hafsa, who
said to him: "Wc have kept some dates and butter (hays) for thee." "Bring it,"
said he; "I was intending to fast, but I will fast another day instead." I have
seen others who fasted on the "white days" (from the 13th to the 15th of every
month), and on the ten (last nights) of the blessed month (Ramadan), and also
during Rajab, Sha'ban, and Ramadan. Others I have seen who observed the fast of
David, which the Apostle called the best of fasts, i.e. they fasted one day and
broke their fast the next day. Once I
came into the presence of Shaykh Ahmad Bukhari. He had a dish of sweetmeat (halwa) before him, from which he was eating, and he made a sign to me that 1 should do the same.As is the way of young men, I answered (without consideration) that 1 was fasting. He asked why. I said: "In conformity with such and such a one" He said: "It is not right for human beings to conform with human beings." 1 was about to break my fast, but he said: "Since you wish to be quit of conformity with him, do not conform with me, for I too am a human being." Fasting is really abstinence, and this includes the whole method of Sufi'ism (tariqat). The least degree in fasting is hunger, which is God's food on earth, and is universally commended in the eye of the law and of reason. One month's continual fasting is incumbent on every reasonable Muslim who has attained to manhood.
The fast begins on the appearance of the moon of Ramadan, and continues until the appearance of the moon of Shawwal, and for every day a sincere intention and firm obligation are necessary. Abstinence involves many obligations, e.g. keeping the belly without food and drink, and guarding the eye from lustful looks, and the ear from listening to evil speech about anyone in his absence, and the tongue from vain or foul words, and the body from following after worldly things and disobedience to God. One who acts in this manner is truly keeping his fast, for the Apostle said to a certain man, "When you fast, let your ear fast and your eye and your tongue and your hand and every limb;" and he also said, "Many a one has no good of his fasting except hunger and thirst."
I dreamed that I saw the Apostle and asked him to give me a word of counsel, and that he replied: "Imprison thy tongue and they senses." To imprison the senses is complete self-mortification, because all kinds of knowledge are acquired through the five senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, and touch. Four of the senses have a particular locus, but the Fifth, namely touch, is spread over the whole body. Everything that becomes known to human beings passes through these Five doors, except intuitive knowledge and Divine inspiration, and in each sense there is a purity and an impurity; for, just as they are open to knowledge, reason, and spirit, so they are open to imagination and passion, being organs which partake of piety and sin and of felicity and misery. Therefore it behaves him who is keeping a fast to imprison all the senses in order that they may return from disobedience to obedience. To abstain only from food and drink is child's play. One must abstain from idle pleasures and unlawful acts, not from eating lawful food. I marvel at those who say that they are keeping a voluntary fast and yet fail to perform an obligatory duty. Not to commit sin is obligatory, whereas continual fasting is an apostolic custom (which maybe observed or neglccted). When a man is divinely protected from sin all his circumstances are a fast. It is related by Abu Talha al-Maliki that Sahl b. 'Abdullah of Tustar was fasting on the day of his birth and also on the day of his death, because he was born in the forenoon and tasted no milk until the evening prayer, and on the day of his decease he was keeping a fast.
But continual fasting (ntza-i wisal) has been forbidden by the Apostle, for when he fasted continually, and his Companions conformed with him in that respect, he forbade them, saying: "I am not as one of you: I pass the night with my Lord, who gives me food and drink." The votaries of self-mortification assert that this prohibition was an act of indulgence, not a veto declaring such fasts to be unlawful, and others regard them as being contrary to the Sunnah, but the fact is that continuance (wisal) is impossible, because the day's fast is interrupted by night or, at any rate, does not continue beyond a certain period. It is related that Sahl b. 'Abdullah of Tustar used to eat only once in Fifteen days, and when the month of Ramadan arrived he ate nothing until the Feast, and performed four hundred bowings in prayer every night. This excecds the limit of human endurance, and cannot be accomplished by anyone without Divine aid, which itself becomes his nourishment. It is well known that Shaykh Abu Nasr Sarraj," the author of the Luma,'1 who was surnamed the Peacock of the Poor (Ta'us al-fuqara), came to Baghdad in the month of Ramadan, and was given a private chamber in the Shuniziyya mosque, and was appointed to preside over the dervishes until the Feast. During the nightly prayers of Ramdan (tarawih) he recited the whole Quran five times. Every night a servant brought a loaf of bread to his room. When he departed, on the day of the Feast, the servant found all the thirty loaves untouched. Ali b. Bakkar relates that Hafs Missisi ate nothing in Ramadan except on the fifteenth day of that month. We are told that Ibrahim Adham fasted from the beginning to the end of Ramadan, and, although it was the month of Tammuz (July), worked every day as a harvester and gave his wages to the dervishes, and prayed from nightfall to daybreak; they watched him closely and saw that he neither ate nor slept. It is said that Shaykh Abu 'Abdullah Khafif during his life kept forty uninterrupted fasts of forty days, and I have met with an old man who used to keep annually two fasts of forty days in the desert. I was present at the death-bed of Danishmand Abu Muhammad Banghari; he had tasted no food for eighty days and had not missed a single occasion of public worship. At Merv there were two spiritual directors; one was called Masud and the other was Shaykh Abu Ali Siyah. Masud sent a message to Abu Ali, saying: "How long shall we make emtpy pretensions? Come, let us sit fasting for forty days." Abu 'Ali replied: "No; let us eat three times a day and nevertheless require only one purification during these forty days." The difficulties of this question are not yet removed. Ignorant persons conclude that continuance in fasting is possible, while physicians allege that such a theory is entirely baseless. I will now explain the matter in full. To fast continuously, without infringing the Divine command, is a miracle (karamat). Miracles have a special, not a general, application: if they were vouchsafed to all, faith would be an act of necessity (jabr) and gnostics would not be recompensed on account of gnosis. The Apostle wrought evidentiary miracles fmu'jizat) and therefore divulged his continuance in fasting; but he forbade the saints (ahl-i karamat) to divulge it, because a karamat involves concealment, whereas a mu'jizaj involves revelation. This is a clear distinction between the miracles performed by Apostles and those performed by saints, and will be sufficient for anyone who is divinely guided. The forty days' fasts (chillah) of the saints are derived from the fast of Moses (Qur.vii,138). When the saints desire to hear the word of God spiritually, they remain fasting for forty days. After thirty days have passed they rub their teeth; then they fast ten days more, and God speaks to their hearts, because whatever the prophets enjoy openly the saints may enjoy secretly. Now, hearing the word of God is not compatible with the subsistence of the natural temperament: therefore the four humours must be deprived of food and drink for forty days in order that they maybe utterly subdued, and that the purity of love and the subtlety of the spirit may hold absolute sway.
Chapter on Hunger and matters connected with it Hunger sharpens the intelligence and improves the mind and health. The Apostle said: "Make your bellies hungry and your livers thirsty and your bodies naked, that perchance your hearts may see God in this world." Although hunger is an affliction to the body, it illumines the heart and purifies the soul, and leads the spirit into the presence of God. To eat one's fill is an act worthy of a beast. One who cultivates his spiritual nature by means of hunger, in order to devote himself entirely to God and detach himself from worldly ties, is not on the same level with one who cultivates his body by means of gluttony, and serves his lusts. "The men of old ate to live, but ye live to eat." For the sake of a morsel of food Adam fell from Paradise, and was banished far from the neighbourhood of God.
He whose hunger is compulsory is not really hungry, because one who desires to eat after God has decreed the contrary is virtually eating; the merit of hunger belongs to him who abstains from eating, not to him who is debarred from eating. Kattani4 says: "The novice shall sleep only when he is overpowered by slumber, and speak only when he must, and eat only when he is starving." According to some, starvation (faqa) involves abstention from food for two days and nights; others say three days and nigbts, or a week, or forty days, because true mystics believe that a sincere man (sadiq) is only once hungry in forty days; his hunger merely serves to keep him alive, and all hunger besides is natural appetite and vanity. You must know that all the veins in the bodies of gnostics are evidences of the Divine mysteries, and that their hearts are tenanted by visions of the Most High. Their hearts are doors opened in their breasts, and at these doors are stationed reason and passion: reason is reinforced by the spirit, and passion by the lower soul. The more the natural humours arc nourished by food, the stronger does the lower soul become, and the more impetuously is passion diffused through the members of the body; and in every vein a different kind of veil (hijabi) is produced. But when food is withheld from the lower soul it grows weak, and the reason gains strength, and the mysteries and evidences of God become more visible, until, when the lower soul is unable to work and passion is annihilated, every vain desire is effaced in the manifestation of the Truth, and the seeker of God attains to the whole of his desire. It is related that Abu '1-Abbas Qassab said: "My obedience and disobedience depend on two cakes of bread: when I eat I find in myself the stuff of every sin, but when I abstain from eating I find in myself the foundation of every act of piety." The fruit of hunger is contemplation of God (mushahadah), of which the forerunner is mortification (mujahadah). Repletion combined with contemplation is better than hunger combined with mortification, because contemplation is the battlefield of men, whereas mortification is the playground of children.
1 The usual reading is ajzi, "I give recompense," but the Persian
translation, ba- jaza-yi an man awlataram, is equivalent to ana ajza bibi.
2 Nafahat, No.353.
3 "Brilliancies." Naf. Entitles it.
4 Nafahat, No.2I5.