Is fasting exclusive to Muslims? Or has it been part of the previous civilizations? And if so, how different is it from Mulsims‘ fasting?
In an era in which water diets exists, one stumbles over the confusion that is brought on when the act of fasting during the Holy month of Ramadan is questioned. Throughout my educational life, there would be some form of debate that would ensue between my peers about the effects of fasting and the benefits of Ramadan, and despite popular understandings, it does more good than harm. The act of fasting has been around for decades and can be founded in multiple religions, such as Orthodox Christianity and Theravāda Buddhism, as it is a universal belief that fasting rejuvenates the self mentally, physically, and spiritually.
With the inclusion of Islam, these beliefs adhere to the fact that through the act of fasting, one becomes more spiritual, as St. Symeon states “fasting is the beginning and foundation of every spiritual activity” (Symeon, 1980, p. 169). In Orthodox Christianity, one must fast for forty days during the Great Lent, for the sake of repentance, which can be achieved through prayer and fasting. Also, in a normal day in the life of a Theravāda monk, one must eat one meal a day before noon and not eat for the rest of the day so they are capable of focusing their time on their meditation. For a Theravadin, abstaining from eating aids in achieving nirvāṇa, which is a state of being free from all forms of materialistic attachments, such as cravings and ignorance. Similarly to the two, in the Islamic tradition, it should be noted that one of the reasons Muslims fast is so that they abstain from all acts that push them away from fully connecting themselves to Allah, and through this act, one becomes more aware of the positive in their life and is more willing to get rid of the negative.
Aside from the spiritual benefits, fasting can help a person both physically and mentally. According to Livestrong, fasting can help a person in terms of weight loss and lowering their blood sugar level (Dray, 2015). The Huffington Post states that in addition to the two previously mentioned, fasting also helps lower the cholesterol level in the body and helps our metabolism better pace itself (Melnikova, 2014). Also, in an article written by Arjun Walia, it is noted that through the act of fasting, the body kills off “old and damaged […] cells” and uses stem cells in order to create new and healthy cells (2015). Finally, endorphins – which are hormones that have a multitude of functions, one of which is to allow the body to feel relief when it is in pain – are released in the first 48 hours of fasting, depression symptoms are alleviated, and people who suffer from chronic pain due to anxiety are known to have up to an 80% improvement (“Fasting for Mental Health: Does it Work?”, 2013).
Fasting is an act that promotes health and brings good to those that practice it, which benefits the mind, body, and soul. In an age in which we are more consumed by the acts of others, to take a break from it all and find peace within yourself is a blessing that everybody must experience.
- Dray, T. (2015). What are the health benefits of ramadan?. Livestrong. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/547712-what-are-the-health-benefits-of-ramadan/
- Fasting for mental health: Does it work?. (2013). Mind the Science Gap. Retrieved from http://www.mindthesciencegap.org/2013/04/10/fasting-for-mental-health-does-it-work/
- Melnikova, E. (July 07, 2014). Why fasting during ramadan is good for every one of us. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/evgeniya-melnikova/why-fasting-during-ramada_b_5564387.html
- Symeon. (1980). Symeon the New Theologian: The discourses. New York: Paulist Press.
- Walia, A. (2015). Neuroscientist shows what fasting does to your brain and why big pharma won’t study it. Collective Evolution. Retrieved from http://www.collective-evolution.com/2015/12/11/neuroscientist-shows-what-fasting-does-to-your-brain-why-big-pharma-wont-study-it/