“Many people get nothing out of their fasts but hunger and thirst; many people get nothing out of their night prayers but exertions and sleepless nights. Bless be to the sleep and eating of the wise ones!”(1)
In our religion, the acts of worship have a body and a soul, just like human beings. In other words, they have an outer aspect and an inner aspect, or an appearance and a conscience. The appearance of the acts of worship is basically their rituals; however, their conscience is the training purposes which lead to nearness to Allah (SWT). In order to fulfill this purpose, the rituals do not suffice; rather one has to observe its manners. For example, if a person performs the actions and saying of prayer yet his mind is occupied with worldly issues, he will certainly be deprived of the training purposes of praying, namely refraining from sins(2), nearness to Allah (SWT)(3), and cleansing of soul from impurity of sin(4).
Similarly, fasting has rituals (like refraining from eating, drinking, and some other joys) as well as training purposes including strengthening of faith and will power, and fighting against desires as well as Satan. If the training purposes are not fulfilled, their consequence which is piety (5) will not be achieved, and such an act will not save one from the Hell or act as a shield against hellfire (6). Therefore, in the Islamic Hadiths, great emphasis has been put on observing the conscience of the acts of worship such as praying and fasting. By doing so, one will not only fulfill his obligation through observing the rituals, but also his act of worship will reach the level of acceptance.
In addition, inadmissible acts are barriers against the acceptance of deeds. For example, backbiting (7), drinking intoxicants (8), using properties unlawfully (9) and similar acts would prevent the good deeds from being accepted for a certain period of time. One of the major requirements for the acceptance of deeds is submitting to the guardianship of the Ahl al-Bait (PBUT) (10), without which the acts of worship are spiritless.
Amir al-Mu’minin (PBUH) has referred to spiritless, ineffective acts of worship in a statement where he said, “Many people get nothing out of their fasts but hunger and thirst; many people get nothing out of their night prayers but exertions and sleepless nights. Bless be to the sleep and eating of the wise ones!”
This deep statement refers to all the above discussed barriers against acceptance of deeds. There are people who fast, yet they commit several types of sins; they oppress others, take their properties unlawfully, disgrace other Muslims, and hurt innocent people by backbiting or accusing them. Such people will definitely get nothing out of their fasting except hunger and thirst. Similarly, there are people who worship at nights yet gain nothing from their nightly worships.
This statement is apparently taken from the third verse of Chapter 88 of the Holy Quran where Allah (SWT) describes the situation of the sinners by saying,” Laboring (hard), weary (with no gain)”. The reason for it is that they neither had sufficient insight do perform the deeds, nor fulfilled its preconditions. They did not remove the barriers against the acceptance of their needs. Even if they had gained benefits from their previous deeds, they nullified them by committing sins.
When we study the history of the Khawarij, we realize the depth of this valuable statement of Amir al-Mu’minin (PBUH). According to the history, the Khawarij used to slain innocent people, cut the wombs of pregnant women, and even considered killing of Amir al-Mu’minin (PBUH) to be obligatory, even though the voice of their Quran recitation and nightly supplications was continuously heard.
At the end of this statement, Amir al-Mu’minin (PBUH) admires wise people who have understood the reality of worship; they are pious, learned people who observe the spirit of worship and its manners. They gain nearness to Allah (PBUH) even though they do not perform many recommended acts and suffice to the mandatory acts.
(The above is a selection taken from, “The Message of Imam Amir al-Mu’minin (PBUH), a new, comprehensive commentary on Nahj al-Balaghah”, by Ayatullah Makarim Shirazi (with minor changes))
The Roshd Webiste offers congratulations to all Muslims, especially you dear friend, upon the arrival of the month of worship and obedience, the time of forgiveness and mercy, the Holy month of Ramadan.
1. Nahj al-Balaghah, wisdom saying 145
2. “…Surely prayer keeps (one) away from indecency and evil…” (The Holy Quran (29, 45))
3. Imam Reza (PBUH) said,” Prayer is (the cause of) nearness for every pious person” (Usul Kafi, vol. 3, p.265)
4. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH&HP) said,” If there was a river running outside the house of one of you, and he would wash his body in that river five times a day, would there remain any impurity on his body?” We replied,” No”. He (PBUH&HP) then said,” The example of prayer is like a running river. Whenever a person offers prayers, the sins he has committed since the last prayer would be wiped out”. (Tahzib al-Ahkam, vol. 2, p. 237)
5. “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard (against evil)” (The Holy Quran (2, 183))
6. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH&HP) said,” Fasting is a shield against hellfire”. (Usul Kafi, vol. 2, p.19)
7. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH&HP) said,” Whoever backbites a believer man or woman, Allah (SWT) will not accept his prayer and fasting for forty days unless that man or woman forgives him”. (Jami’ al-Akhbar, p. 146)
8. Amir al-Mu’minin (PBUH) said,” …Whoever drinks an intoxicant, his prayer will not be accepted for forty days and nights…” (Khisal, vol. 2, p. 632)
9. The Messenger of Allah (PBUH&HP) said,” Whoever has an unlawful bite of food, his prayer will not be accepted for forty nights and supplication will not be granted for forty days” (Bihar al-Anwar, vol. 63, p. 314)
10. Muhammad ibn Muslim narrates from Imam Sadiq (PBUH) who said,” Whoever offers an act of worship to Allah (SWT) and endeavors for it while he does not have an Imam, his effort will not be accepted”. (Usul Kafi, vol. 1, p.183)