Kitab Al-Kasb Series (Part 40): Abomination of Starving the Self Except for a Sound Purpose.

Every Wednesday, I will share a part of the translation of the book Kitab Al-Kasb (the book of Earning a Livelihood) written by Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaybani.

Part 40: Abomination of Starving the Self Except for a Sound Purpose.
Imam Muhammad Ibn Al-Hasan Al-Shaybani says, “It is not incumbent on a person to forgo eating to the extent that he becomes incapable of deriving benefit from his self.”

This means that he starves himself to extent of harming himself and destroying his stomach, such that it burns (with extreme hunger), and he thereafter can no longer benefit from eating; for partaking of food when it is needed is his self’s right in the face of hunger. The Prophet said to one of his Companions, “Your soul is your mount, so be gentle with it and do not cause it to starve” [Abu Ghuddah says he has not come across this hadith]. And the Prophet said to another, “Verily, your soul has a right over you, and your family has a right over you, and Allah has a right over you, so give to each owner of right its right” [Abu Ghuddah]. The Prophet said to al-Miqdad ibn Ma’di Kariba, “Eat, drink and dress without conceit.”

The command here (which be gentle to the soul) is in reality compulsory, since resistance from eating to this extent will expose the soul to destruction, which is forbidden, as this is tantamount to doing things that cause the disregard of the worship rituals; for one cannot perform the rituals of worship except by one’s self. Just as disregarding the mandatory worship rituals is forbidden, so doing things that cause such disregard is also forbidden.

But as for starving the self in a manner such that one is not rendered too weak thereby to perform the religious observances, and he benefits from eating thereafter, then that is allowed; for he only desists from eating in order to complete his devotion as in the case when he is fasting, or so that food is more appealing for him when he partakes of it (after a period of hunger), for the hungrier the partaker, the appealing the food partaken. When his action in this regard is due to a sound purpose then it is allowed for him.

This is analogous to what we have explained regarding eating beyond satiety, for it is forbidden for him except if he has a sound purpose for doing that. There is no sound purpose for a person to forgo eating to the extent that afterwards he can no longer derive benefit from eating, but rather in doing so he is ruining his self, whereas the sanctity of his own self which he is duty-bound to preserve is above the sanctity of another person’s self. So when he is duty-bound as far as he is able to preserve the life of another person’s self, and he is not permitted to work the cause of it’s ruin, then more so the case with regard to his own self.

Some of the ascetics have said, “If a person desists from eating until he dies, he will not be sinful, for the self is ever urging toward evil, as Allah has characterised it, and it is a person’s nemesis, as the Prophet has said, “The most adversarial adversary of a person is what lies between his two sides,” [Narrated by Bayhaqi], meaning his self. Since a person should not nurture his adversary, then how can he become sinful for desisting from nurturing it? Whereas the Prophet has said, “The best struggle is struggling against the self” [Abu Ghuddah p.184 n. 2]. Starving the self is struggling against it, hence it is not permitted to render that a sin.

But we say: The struggling against the self is bringing it to religious acts of devotion, while starving it in this regard is tantamount to forgoing worship, not bringing it to perform the religious acts of devotion. We have explained that the self is a bearer of the trusts of Allah, and Allah has created the self inviolate that it may fulfil the trust that it carries, but that objective is not attained except by eating when needed; and that without which a due is not fulfilled is itself a due.

As for the youth who fears for his self lest it give way to licentiousness and succumb to fornication then there is no harm in desisting from eating in order to break its desire, hence starving the self in a manner that does not incapacitate it from observing religious acts of devotion is recommended, for the Prophet has said, “O youth, marriage is incumbent on you, but whosoever is not able to do so then he should fast, for it is for him a shield” [Narrated by al-Bukhari].

Moreover, the youth benefit from forgoing eating in this case, such that by this measure they prevent themselves from committing iniquities, in line with what has been told of Abu Bakr al-Warraq that he said, “In starving the self lies its satiation, and in satiating it lies its starvation.” He then clarified that statement by saying, “When it is starving and yearns for food, it is satiated from all iniquities; but when it is satiated with food, it hungers and yearns for all iniquities.”

And since safeguarding from committing iniquity is obligatory, and such an objective is indeed attained to by this manner of starvation, then that measure is permissible.


22 The Book of Earning-700x700

Author: Abu Tariq Abu Tariq Muhsin is a zakat officer for Zakat Centre of Federal Territory of Malaysia. A writer, researcher and publisher of various writing focusing on Zakat & Islamic studies.

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