The objective behind fasting is to restrain the soul from (its) desires and to prevent it from those things, which are beloved to it. And its purpose is to control the soul’s strength, so that it can be prepared to attain what is found in it (the fast) from success and joy for the soul. Through the fast, one curbs his hunger and thirst and is reminded of the condition of the hungry stomachs of needy people.
Through fasting, one narrows the passages the Devil has inside the servant (of Allaah) by narrowing the passages of food and drink. Also, it prevents the forces of the limbs from getting too accustomed to things that are harmful to it in this world and the hereafter. And each of the soul’s body limbs and energies can cease their rebelliousness (to Allaah) and be harnessed by its bridle.
So therefore, the fast is the bridle of those who fear and obey Allaah and the shield of those wage war (against desires). And it is a garden for the righteous and devoted servants of Allaah. And it is for the Lord of the worlds, over all other actions (done to please Allaah). This is since the person who fasts, in fact does nothing. He only abandons his desire and his food for the sake of the One whom he worships.
So fasting is an abandonment of those things that the soul loves and desires, preferring instead Allaah’s love and contentment. And it is a secret kept between the servant and his Lord – no one else is aware of it.
Fasting has an amazing effect in preserving one’s outer limbs and inner capacities as well as protecting the soul from being overtaken by destructive components, which can ruin and destroy it. And it has a remarkable effect in causing all the harmful things that prevent the soul from being healthy to be emptied out. So fasting guards and protects the health of the person’s heart and body limbs. And it returns the soul all that the hands of the desires has taken from it. So it is from the greatest ways of improving one’s Taqwaa, as Allaah says: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you in order that you attain Taqwaa.” [Surah Al-Baqarah: 185]
The Prophet (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallaam) said: “Fasting is a shield.” And he commanded those who had intense desires for marriage but were not able to marry, to observe fasting, making it a shield against those desires (of marriage).
When the benefits of fasting are born witness to by sensible minds and upright intuitions, one will come to realize that Allaah prescribed it as a mercy for mankind, goodness to them and a protection and shield for them. The Prophet’s (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallaam) guidance concerning it was the most perfect of guidance, and the best for reaching the desired objective and the easiest on the soul.
Since restraining the soul from what it loves and desires is from the most difficult and hardest of things, its obligation was delayed until the middle of Islaam, after the Hijrah. This was at the point when the Tawheed and the Prayer had become firmly established in the souls of the Muslims and when they loved the commands of Allaah. So their souls were lead to its obligation in gradual steps. It became obligatory in the second year of Hijrah.
When the Messenger of Allaah (sallallaahu `alayhi wa sallaam) died, he had fasted nine Ramadaans in total. Originally, it was obligated as an option left to the people to choose whether they wanted to fast or to feed needy people for every day. Then that option was transferred into the final obligatory fasting. And the matter of feeding people was left only for the old men and women who did not have the ability to fast.
Fasting had three stages. The first stage was its being obligated with the option of fasting or feeding a needy person. In the second stage, only the fasting was allowed, but if the person fasting slept before breaking his fast, he was forbidden from eating and drinking until the following night. This was abrogated in the third stage. And this is the stage at which the Religion has settled with until the Day of Judgement.