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  • 10/19/2004

On the Secrets of Fasting

Ibn `Arabi
translated by Aisha Bewley

O you who laugh in the form of the weeper!
By us you are the complaint and the complainer.

Is the fast abstention without elevation
or elevation without restraint?

They are both together
for the one who affirmstawhid by association.

Intellects are trapped and prevented
from their freedom of action without nets or snares.

Intellects are impaired from their freedom of action,
severely cut off by the Shari'a.

They surrender to what their proof refutes
and they believe without perception.

The star of guidance carries them along,
swimming between the angels of the spheres.

My self, had it not been for you, I would not have been
as if I were Him, were it not for you! Were it not for you!

Fast from phenomenal being and do not break your fast!
The God of creation will bring you close, taking charge of you by that.

In as much as it is a fast, intend that. By nature it is your nourishment.

If you reflect on it, there is a meaning in the fast
whenever a creature alights at your abode.

"There is nothing like the fast."
The Lawgiver said that to me, so reflect on that!

This is because it is non-action. Where is that
which you have done and where is your claim?

The matter has returned to its root.
My Lord has seized control of you by that.

If you reflect on the principle of the fast
and the basis of its meaning by your meaning,

Someone with news came from Him
about your prescribed fast which will divest you.

The fast belongs to Allah, so do not be ignorant.
You are merely the place of its manifestation.

The fast belongs to Allah,
and yet you are the one dying of hunger, so know that!

Beware of being content with what pleases you
for the sake of what He makes pleasing to you.

Remain with your root in all He desires.
Do not forget so as to be forgotten.

This is the knowledge
which came to me from one who does not lie.

He brought it down at the command of the One who has the most
knowledge of what is between the ascetics and devout.

Praise be to Allah who bestowed on me knowledge of lights and darkness.
He gave me a form whose perfection is only by your shelter.

Fasting is abstention and elevation

May Allah support you! Know that fasting (sawm) is both abstention and elevation. One says "the day has reached its full height (sama)" when it has reached its highest point. (The poet) Imru'l-Qays said:

When the day reached its height (sama) and its heat was intense,
i.e. the day reached its fullest extent. It is because the fast has a higher degree than all other acts of worship that it is called "fast" (sawm). Allah elevated it by denying that it is like any other act of worship as we will discuss. He denied its ownership to His servants although they worship Him by it and ascribed the fast to Himself. Part of its affirmation is that He rewards the one who is described by it by His hand even though He connected it to Himself when He stated that it is not like anything else.

Fasting in reality is non-action, not action

(In reality, fasting is non-action, not action. The negation of likeness is a negative attribute. Therefore the relationship between it and Allah is strengthened. Allah Almighty says about Himself, "There is nothing like Him." (42:11) He denied that there is anything like Him and so there is nothing like Him by logical proofs and by the Shari'a. An-Nasa'i related that Abu Umama said, "I came to the Messenger of Allah, may Allah bless him and grant him peace, and said, 'Give me something that I can take from you.' He said, 'You must fast. There is nothing like it.'" He denied that it was like any of the acts of worship which are prescribed for the servants of Allah.
Anyone who recognises that it is a negative attribute – since it consists of abandoning things which break it – knows absolutely that there is nothing like it since it has no source which is described by understood existence. This is why Allah said, "The fast is Mine." In reality, it is neither worship nor action. It is permissible to apply the name 'action' to it, as the application of the expression 'existent''can be applied to Allah. We understand that it is allowed although the ascription of existence to He whose existence is the same as His Essence is not like the ascription of existence to us. "There is nothing like Him." (42:11)

Every action of the son of Adam is His except fasting. It belongs to Allah.

Quotation of a Divine Prophetic hadith:

Muslim transmitted in theSahih that Abu Hurayra reported from the Messenger of Allah that Allah said, "Every action of the son of Adam belongs to him except the fast. It is Mine, and I repay him for it. Fasting is a protection. When one of you has a day of fasting, he should then speak neither obscenely nor too loudly; and if someone seeks to curse him or fight with him, let him say, 'I am fasting.' By Him in whose hand is the soul of Muhammad, the smell of the mouth of the one who fasts is more delectable to Allah than the scent of musk. The one who fasts has two joys in which to delight: when he breaks his fast, he rejoices; and when he meets his Lord, he rejoices in his fast." (Muslim: 13:163)

The delight of the faster lies in his attachment to the degree of the negation of likeness

Know that since the Prophet denied that there is anything like the fast, as is established in thehadith of an-Nasa'i, and "Allah has nothing like Him," the faster meets his Lord described as "having nothing like him". He sees Him by it, and He is the Seer-Seen. This is why the Prophet said, "he rejoices in his fast" and not "He rejoices in meeting his Lord." Joy does not rejoice in itself; he is made to rejoice by it. Whoever has Allah as his sight when he sees and contemplates Him, only sees himself by seeing Him.
The faster rejoices at having the rank of negation of likeness. He rejoices in breaking the fast in this world since that gives the animal self its due since intrinsically seeks food. When the gnostic sees that his animal self needs food and sees that it exists by the nourishment which he gives it, then he fulfils its due which Allah has made obligatory for him and put in the position of being described as a right. He gives by the hand of Allah as He sees Allah in the encounter by the eye of Allah. This is why he rejoices at breaking the fast as he rejoices in his fast when he meets his Lord.
Fasting is asamadiyya attribute and the Real repays it

Clarification of what this tradition contains:

The slave is described as having a fast and being entitled to the name 'faster' by this attribute. After affirming his fast, then Allah strips it from him and ascribes it to Himself. He said, "Fasting is Mine," meaning the attribute of timeless self-reliance (samadiyya). It is disconnection from food. "It is only Mine, even if I have described you with it. I described you with a certain limited qualification of disconnection, not by the disconnection (tanzih) which My majesty deserves. I said, 'I repay him for it.'" Allah repays the fast of the faster when it is transferred to his Lord and he meets Him with an attribute unlike any other: which is the fast, since "the One who has nothing like Him" is only seen by the one who has nothing like him. This is like the text from Abu Talib al-Makki, one of the masters of the people of tasting. "Whoever finds in his journey, that is his repayment." It is what is obliged by this I in this state.

The difference between negation of likeness from Allah and from fasting

Then He said, "Fasting is a protection," and it is a safeguard as He said,"Fear Allah," (2:194) i.e. take Him as a safeguard and also be a safeguard for Him.Ó He put the fast in His position in acting as a safeguard. "There is nothing like Him," and fasting has no like among the acts of worship. One does not say that there is nothing like the fast. The thing is a matter of permanence or existence. Fasting is non-action. It is a non-existent intelligible and negative attribute. It has no like. It is not that there is nothing like it. This is the difference between the attribute of Allah in the negation of likeness and the way that the fast is described by it.

The faster being forbidden obscenity, shouting and strife

Then the Lawgiver placed prohibitions on the faster. The prohibition is non-action and a negative attribute. He said, "he should then speak neither obscenely nor shout." He did not command him to an action, but forbade that he be described by certain actions. Fasting is non-action, so the relationship between fasting and what he forbade the faster is valid. Then he commanded that he say to the one who curses him or fights with him, "I am fasting," i.e. I am leaving this action which you are doing, fighter or curser, to me. By the command of his Lord, he disconnects himself from this action. He reports that he is not acting, i.e. he does not have the attribute of cursing or fighting for the one who curses and fights him.

The smell of the mouth of the faster with Allah

Then he swore, "By the One who holds the soul of MUhammad in His hand, the changed breath of the faster..." This is the changed smell of the mouth of the faster which only exists by respiration. He respires these good words by which he is commanded. These words are: "I am fasting." These words and every breath of the faster is "more delectable on the Day of Rising," the day when people are resurrected for the Lord of the worlds, "with Allah." He used the name which joins all of their names and he used the name which has no like since only Allah is named by this name. It is in harmony with fasting which has no like.

He said, "more delectable than the scent of musk." The scent of musk is an existential matter which is perceived by smell. The person who has a balanced constitution enjoys it. The scent of changed breath is considered more fragrant with Allah than that, because the ascription of the perception of scents to Allah does not resemble the perception of scents to the smeller. We find it unpleasant, while with Him this breath is more sublime than the scent of musk. It is a described ruh which has no like as He described it. This scent is not like that scent. The scent of the faster comes from respiration. The scent of musk does not come from the respiration of musk.

Ibn 'Arabi with Musa ibn Muhammad al-Qabbab at the minaret in the Haram of Makka

Something like of this happened to me. I was with Musa ibn Muhammad al-Qabbab at the minaret in the Haram of Makka at the Hazawwara door. Theadhan was being given. He had some food which had a very offensive smell to everyone who smelled it. I had heard in Prophetic tradition that the angels take offence at that to which the children of Adam take offence and that it is forbidden to go near the mosques with the smell of garlic, onions and leeks. I spent the night resolved to tell that man to remove that food from the mosque for the sake of the angels. Then I saw Allah Almighty in a dream in which He told me, "Do not tell him about that food. Its smell with Me is not like its smell with you." In the morning, he came to us as he usually did and I told him what had transpired. He wept and prostrated to Allah out of thankfulness. Then he told me, "My master, in spite of this,adab with the Shari'a is better," and he removed it from the mosque, may Allah have mercy on him.

Celestial natures are averse to foul odours

Sound natural constitutions in man and angel flee from foul unpleasant odours due to the offensiveness which they sense arising out of lack of harmony. The aspect of the Truth in foul odours is only perceived by Allah and whoever has the disposition to accept it among animals and men who have the nature of that animal. This is not the case with the angel. This is why he said, "with Allah". Inasmuch as the faster is a human being with sound constitution, he dislikes the bad breath of fasting in himself and others.

Do any creatures with sound constitution realise by their Lord a moment or in witnessing so that they absolutely perceive foul odours as pleasant? We have not heard of this. We said "absolutely" because some constitutions dislike the smell of musk and the rose, especially the hot constitution. That which is found to be offensive is not pleasant for the one with this constitution. This is why we said "absolutely" since most constitutions find musk, rose and the like fragrant. It is a rare constitution, i.e. unusual, which finds these pleasant, smells offensive.
I do not know whether Allah has granted anyone the perception of the equality of scents since nothing has a foul smell with Him. We have not tasted this ourselves and it has not been transmitted to us that anyone else perceived that. Moreover, it is related that perfect men and the angels find these foul smells offensive. Only Allah perceives that as pleasant. This is transmitted. I also do not know what the case is with animals outside of man regarding that because Allah has not established me in the form of an animal other than man as He established me in the forms of His angels at times. Allah knows best.

The Gate of Quenching by which fasters enter the Garden

By way of the meaning, the Shari'a has described fasting with the perfection above which there is no perfection. This is because Allah gave it a special door with a special name which demands perfection. It is called the Door of the Quenched. The fasters enter it. Quenching is a degree of perfection in drinking. After being quenched, the drinker does not accept any more to drink to all. Whenever he accepts, then he was not quenched, whether it is a land or not a land among the lands of the animals.
Muslim related from thehadith of Sahl ibn Sa'd that the Messenger of Allah said, "There is a door in the Garden called the Quenching. The fasters will enter it on the Day of Rising. None except them will enter it. It will be said, 'Where are the fasters?' and they will enter it. When the last of them has gone in it, it will be locked and no one else will enter it." That is not said about any of the commanded or forbidden acts of worship except for the fast. By "the Quenching," He made it clear that they obtain the attribute of perfection in action since they are described by that which has no like as we already said. In reality, the one who has no like is the perfect. The fasters among the gnostics enter it here, and there they will enter it with the knowledge of all creatures.
Selected fromal-Futuhat al-Makkiyya

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