In the following series of brief posts an example of an act that is considered obligatory, sunnah and meritorious respectively for the fasting person will be highlighted and clarified.

All praise be to God and peace and blessings be upon his Messenger.

These will be chosen and expanded on from the brilliant yet underappreciated work, Al-Qawaaneen Al-Fiqhiyya (The Legal Rules), of the 7th century sufi scholar Abul-Qaasem Ibn Juzayy.

Obligatory Acts

However, before commencing this task it is appropriate here to remind readers of a crucial truth pertaining to the wisdom underlying the compulsory imposition of ritual acts, such as fasting in Ramadan, by the Lawgiver on mankind.

As Imam Shatibi discusses in his work Al-Muwaafaqaat the wisdom of the Lawgiver in making certain acts obligatory is to ensure that the legally responsible individual-the moral agent-will be observant and diligent in performing those actions that will ensure the cultivation of that mode of being that ensures his humanity, wellbeing and felicity in this world and next, that is, his flourishing as a worshipper of God.

Shatibi astutely draws attention to a pattern observable within the Divine Law in which acts of a ritualistic nature (such as prayer, fasting and so forth) tend to be legislated as obligatory. This, he notes, contrasts starkly with more materially based acts related to securing a livelihood and other basic amenities that are invariably decreed merely permissible (though, as he caveats, there are exceptions to this where other attending considerations are present).

Following a protracted elaboration of this topic Shatibi determines that this propensity mirrors the inclination within man, when in a state undisciplined by the spiritual exercises of divine law, to be easily motivated and earnest in pursuing his more base material needs on the one hand, whilst exhibiting a tendency to be lethargic and negligent in practicing acts of a more spiritual and ethical nature on the other.

Shatibi surmises, God, all-wise and merciful, in His infinite knowledge of man’s base proclivity to industriously secure his material interests has deemed such activities permissible as He knows full well man will pursue such interests effortlessly and without need for a divine imposition. Alternatively, He has decreed obligatory those ritual acts that, although crucial to his spirituo-ethical growth and well being, He knows man will be more sluggish in addressing due to their antagonism with the base desire-seeking telos of his lower self.

Hence, Shatibi concludes, the imposition of rituals-such as observing fasting in Ramadan that Muslims are now presently engaged in around the world-are acts of God’s infinite knowledge and mercy as they are designed to ensure man will observe those acts that are of infinite benefit for his growth.

It is in this vein that another prominent sufi scholar, ‘Izz ibn ‘Abdus-Salaam (otherwise known to his peers as the Sultan of the scholars), sincerely encourages believers to be mindful of the reality that every instance of a legal ruling in the Qur’aan is in fact a very intimate and compassionate call by God for the faithful to engage in an act that aims to aide man in realizing his well being in this world and the next.

Acts of Fasting

Having highlighted the wisdom in making acts like fasting in Ramadan obligatory it is now my desire, as identified at the outset of this post, to briefly elaborate on dynamics relating to some acts that are a part of the moral fabric from which the ritual of fasting are woven.

Ibn Juzayy states in his sub chapter on the ‘Attributes of Fasting’:

Its Obligatory Acts:

Intention and abstaining from food, drink, sexual intercourse, sexual stimulation and voluntary vomiting

Its Sunnah Acts:

The morning meal, breaking the fast hastily, delaying the morning meal, guarding one’s tongue and limbs, undertaking seclusion at the end of Ramadan.

Its Meritorious Acts:

Filling it with worship, offering donations profusely, breaking the fast with lawful provisions that have no possibility of having been illegitimately gained, commencing one’s break with dates and water, performing night vigils especially on the Night of Qadr.

The Intention to Fast

In the above legal classification of acts that constitute fasting Ibn Juzayy states that the ‘intention’ is obligatory. Obligatory acts denote those acts that are necessary and without which a particular action would be invalid. Chief amongst these-both in fasting and all devotional deeds-is the intention. The sufi scholar Ibn ‘Ataa-illah says in a renowned aphorism in which the meaning of the Prophetic tradition on the centrality of intention-making to praxis is explained:

Deeds are lifeless bodies and their souls are the secret of sincerity that are deposited in them.

The most critical component of any devotional act is the intention or motivation for which it is undertaken. Indeed, if abstinence is the body of the fast, its soul is the intention and sincerity with which such restraint is carried out. Each individual in performing an act has a particular goal that he hopes to achieve, a specific desire she endeavors to realize.

Moreover, an intention is often variegated and consists of more than one internally held aspiration. Our scholars have, at length in their works, highlighted the layered constitution of the psycho-spiritual state that makes up the believer’s intention, encouraging believers to adopt multiple intentions for any single act.

It is not my intention here to re-iterate this fact. Rather, I wish to briefly elucidate something concerning the structure of a multi-layered intention. Although it is true that our scholars have stated that one should be earnest in conjuring within oneself multiple intentions for any particular act, they have also been forthright in declaring that there also exists a hierarchy of intentions within the possible set of intentions any one particular act can contain.

I return to Imam Shatibi, a reliable guide and seasoned instructor as it pertains to the discursive articulation of the internal dynamics of the intention. Shatibi divides intentions into primary and secondary ones. Primary intentions are those that mirror the inner most purpose for which a particular act has been legislated. Secondary ones are those that reflect other subsidiary purposes that inform the legislation of a particular act, as well as benefits that are to be gained by performing it.

In terms of structure, whereas the content of secondary intentions vary from act to act, the primary intention of all acts is one and the same, obeying the order of God (Al-Imtithaal). The goal of submitting to God in the narrow psychic realm of freedom bestowed on man, of making the choice to comply with God’s dictates in harmony with the rest of creation that willingly prostrates before God’s will, is the primary intention and motivation for fasting and all other acts.

However, fasting is an especially momentous instance of obedience as a result of the freedoms one vows to forsake in order to submit to God in this particular act. Firstly, man’s most elementary needs for survival both as an individual and a collective are stripped away and forfeited; food, drink and sex. Furthermore, he determines to restrain all his limbs through a heightened awareness of their movement, as well as ever increasing and intensified forms of both internal and external submission.

It is this primary intention of obedience within which all secondary intentions are based and embedded. Such secondary intentions reflect a believer’s further knowledge and sensitivity to the myriad of other wisdoms underpinning the lawgiver’s legislation of particular acts such as fasting. These secondary intentions, planted in the fertile soil of one’s primary determination to submit to the divine will (embodied in the revealed moral code), operate to further fortify man’s moral will and rejuvenate one’s primary intention through the strong incentive to submit to God that knowledge of the benefits and interests of fasting inspires. Hence, a believer should be ever careful to make sure both the primary and secondary motives for fasting are all always remembered.

In conclusion of this post, it should be clarified that in the Maliki legal school of which Ibn Juzayy was a member one intention willed on the first night of Ramadan is obligatory. A single intention to fast the whole month of Ramadan in compliance with the order of God and dictates of the Sharee’ah suffices a Muslim (unless one should not fast a particular day in which case a new intention will be obligatory upon recommencement of fasting for the remainder of Ramadan).

Praise be to God, peace and blessings be upon his Messenger and may his mercy be bestowed to Ibn Juzayy who spent his early years in Granada seeking knowledge and who was officially charged with the duty of conducting Friday sermon at an early age in the Great Jaama’ (al-Jaama’ Al-‘Adham) of Granada.

* This reflection was written for a social media platform, which is why academic paper conventions have been omitted.

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