Chapter XXI (b)
Hunger and Matters Connected with it
Allah hath said:
وَلَنَبْلُوَنَّكُمْ بِشَيْءٍ مِّنَ الْخَوفْ وَالْجُوعِ وَنَقْصٍ مِّنَ الأَمَوَالِ وَالأنفُسِ وَالثَّمَرَاتِ
“Be sure we shall test you with something of fear and hunger, some loss in goods or lives or the fruits (of your toil),” (Q 2:155)
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said:
بطن جاءع احب الي الله من سبعين عابدًا غافلًا
“Man with empty belly is more preferred before Allah than the seventy heedless worshipers.”
It’s a noble act to remain with hunger and it has the approval among all the religions and nations. Outwardly hunger sharpens the intelligence and improves the mind and health, particularly of that person who by reducing his food has adorned himself. Hunger produces humility in the heart and humbleness in the nafs (lower soul) and diminishes its power.
The Prophet (peace be upon him) said,
اجيعو بطونكم واظماوا اكباد كم واعروا اجساد كم لعل قلوبكم يرون الله غيانا في الدنيا
“make your bellies hungry and your livers thirsty and do not put your bodies in adornment of dress, that perchance your hearts may have the vision of Allah in this world.”
Although hunger causes pain to the body, but it illuminates the heart, purifies the soul, and leads the spirit unto the presence of the Truth. The body afflictions are neglected when spiritually one is blessed with vision, spirit is purified and heart is illuminated. To eat one's fill is not a good act, for were it an accepted act, the beasts would not have been filled to their bellies. It is the act of beasts to fill their bellies and to be hungry is the act of brave. Hunger cultivates the spiritual nature whereas filling of belly cultivates the body.
One who cultivates his spiritual nature by means of hunger, in order to devote himself entirely to Allah and detach himself from worldly ties, is not on the same level with one who cultivates his body by means of greed, and serves his lusts. One need the whole universe to eat and another only eat to gain strength to meet his devotional obligations. The men of the old time used to eat to live but you live to eat. There is a clear difference between both.
الجوع طعام الصديقين ومسلك المريدين
“Hunger is the food of the truthful and a way of novices.”
The predestination is determined, but still it was for the sake of morsel of food that Adam fell from Paradise, and was banished far from the neighborhood of Allah. One whose hunger is compulsory is not really hungry, for one who desires to eat is like the one who eats and he is also not who has renounced the food but the food has been stopped from him. The one who while food is in front of him renounces it and bear pain of hunger is really a hungry man. To subdue the lusts of nafs (lower soul) and imprison the devil is not possible without hunger. Katani says:
من حكم المريدان يكون فيه ثلثة اشياء نومه غلبة وكلامه ضرورة واكلاه فاقة
“Three things are must for the novice: his sleep when he is overpowered by slumber, and his speech only when needed, and eat when he is starving.”
According to some, starvation involves abstention from food for two days and nights, but others prefer for three days and nights, or a week. Some others opine that to eat once in forty days or to eat after forty days is starvation. The true mystics believe that a sincere man feel hunger is only once in forty days and his hunger merely serves to keep him alive, and all hunger besides is natural appetite and vanity, may Allah save from such hunger.
All praises to Allah, all the veins in the bodies of Gnostics are evidences of the Divine mysteries, and that their hearts are tenanted by vision of the Most Exalted. The doors of the hearts are opened in their breasts, and the reason and passion get stationed there. The spirit helps the intellect and nafs (lower soul) is helpful to passions. The more the natural humors are nourished by food, the stronger does the lower soul becomes. The desires are increased and the whole body is subdued by the nafs (lower soul), and in every vein a different kind of veil is produced. But when the desirer of food abstains from it, the nafs (lower soul) grows weak, and the reason gains strength. The sensual power vanishes from the veins. The mysteries and evidences of Allah become more visible. When the lower soul is unable to work and passion is annihilated, every vain desire is effaced in the manifestation of the Truth, and then the seeker attains his desire.
Abu al-Abbas Qassab said:
“My obedience and disobedience depend on two cakes of bread:
- when I eat I find in myself the stuff of every sin,
- but when I abstain from eating I find in myself the foundation of every act of piety.”
The fruit of hunger is contemplation of Allah, of which the forerunner is mortification.
If contemplation is achieved through fill of belly, it is better than that hunger which is limited to mortification, for contemplation is the battlefield of brave men, whereas mortification is the playground of children. The satiety in contemplation of Allah is better than that hunger which leads to contemplation of created.