Allah ﷻ has made fasting in Ramadhan an obligation for all Muslims.
Fasting in Islam is such a beautiful action and it is very beloved to Allah ﷻ. So beloved to Him that He says:
قَالَ النَّبِيُّ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِنَّ اللَّهَ تَبَارَكَ وَتَعَالَى يَقُولُ الصَّوْمُ لِي وَأَنَا أَجْزِي بِهِ
The Prophet ﷺ said: Allah says: Fasting is for me I shall reward for it. (Muslim)
When we fast in the month of Ramadhan or even outside of this month, Allah ﷻ becomes extremely pleased with us.
One of the reasons for this is that fasting, amongst all other religious actions that a Muslim can do, is the one action that can be done in a way where there is no possibility of doing it for any other reason besides gaining the pleasure of Allah.
How A Difference in Intention Can Remove All Rewards from Our Good Actions
Every action we do, it can be done for someone else. This happens when we corrupt our intentions.
Of course, there are some among us who always do good actions solely for the sake of Allah. They do good actions because they love Allah and they want Allah to be pleased with them.
But there are many of us who have the wrong intentions when doing our actions, whether intentionally or unintentionally.
We may even start with a good intention, but as we get to the end of that action, our intention can be completely changed.
Intention in Salat (Prayer)
Take a look, for example, at Salat. When we pray Salat, there is a chance that Shaytaan can get into our minds and change our intentions. Instead of praying for the creator, we could end up praying for the creation.
How does this happen? This happens when a person starts to have an element of showing off in his prayers.
We may go to the masjid and may even start our prayer with the intention of praying to Allah. But slowly, as people gather, our intention changes to if I pray my rakaa’ats longer, this person next to me may think I’m pious. They may think I’m a good worshipper.
If I pray my Sunnah before and after prayer, people will think of me as a good person. If I do some extra voluntary prayers, I will have a good look in the community.
Sometimes children pray because they are forced by their parents. Sometimes we pray because our friends are praying.
These are just some of the ways we corrupt our intentions when praying.
When our intentions become like this, we are no longer praying for our creator but rather, we are praying for the creation.
Intention in Sadaqah (Charity)
When we look at charity, again, of course, there are many who give charity for the sake of Allah.
But there are also many who have the intention of showing off, to show how generous they are, how caring they are to the poor and needy.
Our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ tells us:
إِنَّ أَخْوَفَ مَا أَخَافُ عَلَيْكُمْ الشِّرْكُ الْأَصْغَرُ قَالُوا وَمَا الشِّرْكُ الْأَصْغَرُ يَا رَسُولَ اللَّهِ قَالَ الرِّيَاءُ يَقُولُ اللَّهُ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ لَهُمْ يَوْمَ الْقِيَامَةِ إِذَا جُزِيَ النَّاسُ بِأَعْمَالِهِمْ اذْهَبُوا إِلَى الَّذِينَ كُنْتُمْ تُرَاءُونَ فِي الدُّنْيَا فَانْظُرُوا هَلْ تَجِدُونَ عِنْدَهُمْ جَزَاءً
“Verily, my greatest fear for you is the lesser idolatry.” They said, “What is the lesser idolatry, O Messenger of Allah?” The Prophet ﷺ said, “It is showing off”. Allah Almighty will say to them on the Day of Resurrection, when people are being recompensed for their deeds: “Go to those for whom you made a show in the world and look, do you find any reward with them?” (Ahmad)
Intention in Sawm (Fasting)
However, when we look at fasting, it is the one action which we can do without the slightest bit of showing off and without corrupting our intentions, if we so wish.
If you’re fasting, there is no way another person would know unless you tell them. And therein lies the beauty of fasting.
You could go through your entire day without eating or drinking and no one would notice.
Why is Fasting so Beloved to Allah?
One reason why fasting is so beloved to Allah is that it would be very easy for us to take a quick sip of water during our fast when no one is watching. It would also be very easy for us to sneak in a quick bite of food especially when we are alone.
But why don’t we do so? The reason for this is because we know that even if no one is watching us, Allah is surely watching us. Allah will know that we have taken that sip of water or bite of food.
And this is how we become aware of the presence of Allah in our daily lives. We fast almost the entire day and throughout the day. The only reason we don’t eat or drink is because we are aware that Allah is watching us at all times even when we are alone.
This is why fasting, although it is a physical action, it has a spiritual effect on us.
Because when we fast, we fast solely for the sake of Allah and for him to be pleased with us.
And this is why, Allah ﷻ says in a Hadith Qudsi:
قَالَ رَسُولُ اللَّهِ صلى الله عليه وسلم إِنَّ اللَّهَ عَزَّ وَجَلَّ يَقُولُ إِنَّ الصَّوْمَ لِي وَأَنَا أَجْزِي بِهِ إِنَّ لِلصَّائِمِ فَرْحَتَيْنِ إِذَا أَفْطَرَ فَرِحَ وَإِذَا لَقِيَ اللَّهَ فَرِحَ
The Prophet ﷺ said: Allah says: Fasting is for me I shall reward for it. And the fasting person has two moments of joy: When he breaks his fast and when he meets his Lord. (Muslim)
What this hadith means is that all our good actions are rewarded by Allah and multiplied by him anywhere from 10 to 700 times. Except for Sawm (fasting). This is because fasting is rewarded only by Allah and how much reward we receive for every fast is known only to Him.
Our Intentions Must Always Be Right
One thing that needs to be clear is that if our intentions are mixed with the slightest bit of wrong, it renders our good actions useless.
Our Prophet Muhammad ﷺ tells us:
إِنَّمَا الْأَعْمَالُ بِالنِّيَّاتِ
The reward of deeds depends upon the intentions. (Bukhari)