The very purpose of fasting is to acquire taqwa, which is the awareness of the presence of God. Imam Ali (as) said “I do not see anything, unless I see God before it and after it.” The presence of God was on the mind of Imam Ali throughout his life. The Imam did not do anything without being aware of God and, consequently, is referred to as Imam al-Muttaqeen – the Leader of those who have taqwa. Taqwa is what will help each individual elevate their fasting to a higher level of piety.
“Oh you who believe, fasting has been decreed upon you, as it was decreed upon those before. [It has been decreed so] you that you may acquire Taqwa.” (2:183)
Scholars have divided fasting into three aspects: fasting of the stomach, fasting of the tongue, and fasting of the heart. These three categories are straightforward and correspond to a higher spiritual and ethical level. Refraining from food, drink, and sexual desire are the basic requirements of fasting for the first level of fasting.
Being aware of how we behave with people is the fasting of the tongue, the second level of fasting. With regard to this level, Prophet Muhammad (saw) said “A person in the state of sleeping is worshipping, as long as he did not backbite a fellow Muslim.” Even though backbiting does not break one’s fast, it severely weakens the benefits of fasting. Therefore, fasting with our words, our actions, and making efforts to avoid related sins takes fasting to the next level.
Fasting of the heart is the highest level. It is spiritual presence of God. It is Taqwa. It means not only abstaining from sins of the body, or other sins in action, but also removing the very thought of a sin from one’s mind, and vanquishing the desire for sin from one’s heart. People in this state are never spiritually absent from the presence of God. In the holy month of Ramadan, those who attain spiritual fasting are among those invited to be guests of God. These individuals are the ones who God honors during the month of Ramadan.