Displaying items by tag: Fasting
Ramadhan al-Kareem! As we enter one of the most important months in the Islamic calendar, Muslims all over the world begin their annual religious obligation of abstaining from food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn to dusk for a whole month.
Fasting is viewed as a method to control one's desires so as to have a greater focus on devoting oneself to God. The Quran reads: "Fasting is prescribed on you as it was prescribed on those before you, that you may learn piety and righteousness." (2:183).
In Islam, fasting is a gateway to the spiritual world and a means to gain closeness to God. Fasting allows us the opportunity to glorify Allah SWT, and to thank Him for His countless favours. As we go along with our modern lives, it is often the case that we take His many favours for granted.
Fasting is an important ritual because while performing it, Muslims simultaneously attempt to perfect their manners according to the Islamic code as well as keeping their behaviour and ego in check.
Interestingly, fasting is a universal religious practice, and not limited to the Islamic tradition. Almost all major religions prescribe some form of fasting for their adherent.
For instance, in Christianity, both the Old and New Testament teach the value of fasting in the form of abstaining from food and drink in order to increase focus in prayer and seek God's approval. The Bible provides many examples of pious people who fasted, and received wisdom or revelation from God through it.
In Judaism, another Abrahamic faith, one form of fasting spans two full days beginning from the sunset a day before, to sunset the following day. Tisha B'Av, which means 'the ninth of Av', is an annual fasting day that commemorates a number of disasters that happened in Jewish history.
This includes the destruction of both the Solomon's Temple by the Neo-Babylonian Empire, and the second temple by the Roman Empire in Jerusalem.
The day is often regarded as the worst day in the Jewish calendar and is believed to be a day that is destined for tragedy. Tisha B'Av falls in the month of July or August in the Gregorian calendar.
Yom Kippur is another day of fasting mentioned in the Torah (Leviticus 23:26-32). Known as the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur is considered the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. The central themes for this special day are atonement and repentance.
Jewish people traditionally observe this holy day by fasting and praying at the synagogue. At the end of Yom Kippur, Jews are encouraged to be in a spiritual position of hope that they have been forgiven by YHWH.
In Buddhism, there are several forms of fasting. The Buddha is known to have practised extreme forms of fasting which led to his emaciation before experiencing his great awakening. Different forms of fasting are practised in accordance with numerous Buddhist traditions.
Buddhist monastics, for instance, often follow the Pratimoksa codes, which follows specific rules outlined in the various Vinayas (text outlining the monastic discipline), in which one must not eat after the noon meal.
In Hinduism, fasting is not obligatory. However, it is a supererogatory act that aims to purify the body and mind, and acquire divine grace.
There are different forms of fasting, ranging from more or less strict, and varies depending on personal, familial and community beliefs.
In some cases, fasting involves the abstention of only one meal of the day. In this tradition, it is said that fasting does not necessarily mean that the body has to suffer.
Sometimes, it is sufficient to eliminate certain types of food and replace them with more nutritious meals. Meat eaters, for example, may settle for a strictly vegetarian dish.
Vegetarians, on the other hand, often eliminate rice, wheat, barley, and lentils by replacing them with potatoes. Hence, these restrictions or fasting can be a way of varying the daily diet as well as trying out new food. In turn, a day of fasting can even offer the expectation of enjoying newfound treats.
The primary reason for fasting in Islam is to achieve piety. Piety is one of the most emphasised virtues in the Quran and Sunnah. Taqwa (piety) occurs in more than 158 verses in the Quran, and even hundreds more in hadiths.
In fact, piety is the total sum of all Islamic values and virtues. If one has piety, one has achieved a great deal. Piety here means being in a state of consciousness toward God. Being pious means to live by His commands and to avoid His prohibitions.
Hence, fasting teaches us sincerity and helps us learn to live by the principles of our faith for the sake of God and Him alone, especially when such practice can be performed unnoticed by other human beings. This is the very purpose and essence of piety.
Additionally, throughout the fasting period, we learn to say 'no' to things that are otherwise permissible or even good. When one learns to say 'no' to that which is generally permissible, then it follows that one can be stronger to avoid the prohibitions. This is the spirit of piety.
Fasting also teaches empathy and sympathy. Fasting provides us with a small taste — to some extent — of the pain and suffering of the poor and destitute. It removes selfishness from us.
When Muslims fast together during the month of Ramadan, a sense of unity can be felt. This sense of unity ultimately emanates from the spiritual proximity with God that one achieves while fasting, just as it also cultivates a sense of togetherness among them.
Unity, peace, harmony, brotherhood, and sisterhood are among the fruits of piety and fasting.
Dr Mohamed Azam Mohamed Adil is Deputy CEO, International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia;
Published in: New Straits Times on Saturday, 17 April 2021
The human body is considered to begin fasting when it has completed the digestion and absorption of a meal, which takes place three to five hours after a person stops taking food or water.
Some might think that fasting is unnecessary starvation and has negative health implications.
But research shows that mild nutrient starvation causes no harm, but instead provides health benefits as long as it is under control. Autophagy is a recycling process that can be initiated only from mild starvation, where the cell "repairs" itself by reusing dysfunctional components to sustain a new healthy cell. But overstarvation could lead to cognitive deficiency.
There are several ways to avoid starvation, such as breaking fast at a proper time when needed; providing the body with sufficient nutrients before stopping food intake for prolonged fasting or regulating physical activities to endure longer fasting time.
These will require a person to gain the right knowledge regarding fasting; familiarise with his body's capabilities and limits and adapt to different situations if needed. There are also guidelines for those who are interested in practising intermittent fasting for health benefits.
Research has proven that intermittent fasting could alter the body's endurance and individual behaviour patterns up to the neural level that controls brain functionality. The increase in focus and self-control ultimately leads to better learning and stronger memory.
Scientifically, there is a correlation between the increased memory and cell (chemical) changes in the body and brain. Research has found that intermittent fasting can reduce oxidative stress, a known factor contributing to brain ageing, and can induce cell injury and impairment of learning and memory.
It improves brain structures by the increase in dendritic protein expression and CA1 pyramidal cell layer thickness. Intermittent fasting has proven to improve performance in hippocampus-dependent learning and memory in the fear conditioning test.
Besides, it could reduce the risk of neurodegenerative disorders like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. More people are interested in practising intermittent fasting for better body durability, life longevity, improved immune system and maintaining brain functionality.
In Islam, the primary reason for fasting is to adhere to Allah's command, while the health benefits gained are a reward granted at Allah's pleasure. The role of intention (niat) is, therefore, key to fasting in Islam. In this sense, all Muslims inculcate sincerity (ikhlas) and trust (tawakkul) in this form of worship (ibadah).
The main purpose of fasting in Islam is to attain taqwa (piety), as in the Quran (al-Baqarah 2:183): "O you, who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous." Fasting also inculcates moral values.
Muslims start fasting from an early age. Children and those who have not reached puberty often start training by fasting half a day. They normally begin by having the recommended pre-dawn meal (sahur) together with their adult (mukallaf) parents or guardians. After around six to eight hours, they break their fast and are free to consume food.
Such practice reduces effects of starvation for children while they train and familiarise with fasting.
Some children might continue fasting for the second cycle after the mid-day meal until dusk, together with adults who fast for a full day.
Muslims are to break their fast (iftar) as soon as the sun sets (maghrib) with no further delay.
In the context of self-control, fasting is meant to be a protective shield for every Muslim.
Fasting dampens rebellious tendencies of the carnal self through physical effort and submission, which involves abstention from lust, as in the saying of Prophet Muhammad (PBUH):
"O youth! Whosoever amongst you can afford to get married, let them get married. And, whoever cannot afford to do so, then they should fast because it will help him control his desires." (Narrated by al-Bukhari and Muslim.)
In a nutshell, fasting is not limited to improve health and brain intelligence in learning and memory, but it also strengthens spiritual intelligence in the journey to be a pious believer (mukmin) with a strong belief and commitment in seeking Allah's blessing.
The writer is a Research Fellow at the International Institute of Advanced Islamic Studies (IAIS) Malaysia
Published in: The New Straits Times, Tuesday 5 May 2020
In the past, fasting was attributed to human spiritual belief in worshiping God for meditation reasons. It has been practised for thousands of years in serving various purposes of life. It is still a practice today. Generally, the practitioners are subjected to certain dietary procedure which trains them to be better disciplined to gain better self-control. Fasting to Muslims is a practice of abstaining from food and drinks, sexual contact, arguments and unkind language or acts from dawn to sunset. It is the fourth pillar of Islam. It is an obligation for every able-bodied Muslim during the month of Ramadan...........................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)
On June 18, more than 1.5 billion Muslims around the world will begin to observe Ramadhan. For Muslims fasting is a religious obligation (al-Qur’an 2:183), it being the fourth pillar of Islam. Yet fasting is also an excellent “weight control” strategy. The key point is not “weight loss” but rather “weight control”. While those who fast admit they lose some weight during Ramadhan, few have actually considered its real medical merits, nor its significance as a “weight control” mechanism, nor its value as a “behavior modifier”, nor even its virtues to “fine tune and tone” the human body and its various systems. All these benefits, as well its spiritual advantages, were understood by the bygone Prophets...................Download the full article in pdf attachment (below)