“Why do Muslims fast, what’s the purpose of being in a state of hunger, for a month?” For a believer of Islam who carries out the practice habitually, it is quite easy to overlook the significance of fasting. All religions are based on principles. Islam is founded on five such principles – from which branch [...]


Ramadhan: Detoxification of our body and renewal of the spiritual self


Community spirit: Breaking fast in Beruwala. Pic by Sarath Siriwardane

“Why do Muslims fast, what’s the purpose of being in a state of hunger, for a month?”

For a believer of Islam who carries out the practice habitually, it is quite easy to overlook the significance of fasting.

All religions are based on principles. Islam is founded on five such principles – from which branch out more detailed aspects of its teachings and practices. Fasting comprises the third tenet of Islam, and requires Muslims to fast during the month of Ramadhan; the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. It is obligatory for all, excluding very young children, the elderly and those who are incapacitated by illness. Essentially, fasting means abstaining from food, drink and sexual relations from sunrise to sunset. This can be a time frame of 14 to even 17+ hours!

To the writer’s rudimentary knowledge, fasting is practised in several religions, including: Buddhism, Christianity and Hinduism. But what is the purpose of such an act in Islam?

The significance of fasting can be explored on different levels.


It is the Almighty’s way of reminding us to appreciate what we have and take for granted on a daily basis: food. Hunger pangs, feeling parched and weak – all occur during fasting. In this context, the first sip of water at the time of breaking the fast, could not give one a greater sense of understanding what it must be like for those who go without fresh, clean drinking water, or food – every day for most part of their lives. It also makes one value having three square meals a day in life.


“Oh you who believe!

Fasting is prescribed for you

As it was prescribed

To those before you

So that you may learn self-restraint.

(Surah Al Baqarah: verse 183)

This verse, taken from the longest chapter in the Holy Quran, informs Muslims that fasting had already been prescribed and followed by the prophets who preceded prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him). These prophets were namely: Musa (Moses) and Isa (Jesus) who had conveyed this commandment to their followers to practice.

No doubt, fasting demands great self-control, for it compels one’s mind and body to abstain from basic human needs which are accessible – whenever desired – during the rest of the year. In a sense, it is like an annual training period, for us to discipline our minds and bodies. Such a month- long commitment, can really motivate one to kick bad habits, such as smoking or procrastination – Ramadhan demands being punctual, disciplined and managing time efficiently. For instance, pre-preparation for suhoor (the pre-dawn meal) and ifthar (the breaking fast meals) is important, so that one attends prayers or goes to the mosque for congregational prayers, on time.

Good time management really benefits a believer to spend more time in worship and reflection on the Holy Quran, which is core to Ramadhan – thereby renewing one’s connection to Allah and enriching one’s spiritual needs.


By no means shall you

Attain righteousness until

You spend from that

Which you love. And whatever

You spend, indeed

Allah is knowing of it.

(Surah Al-Imran: verse 92)

During Ramadhan, all good acts receive greater merit. And it is not surprising then, that the desire to do charity and reach out to others, follows suit. It could be the simple act of sharing food with the less fortunate, or even spending time with elderly relations or using one’s personal skills for the benefit of others.

Children, especially, are spoken to and shown the importance of caring and sharing with people – irrespective of who they are or what faith they follow. Often they will witness their parents give food, clothing or financial aid – to those in their families or community who need assistance. This experience nurtures empathy and compassion in children towards other people.

Giving from what one loves or treasures the most, be it in food or kind, is a selfless and noble act of sharing – which receives much blessings, simply because it is always  hard for people to part with what they love the most!

A narration by Abu Hurairah, a scholar who lived during the time of Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), describes how a man approached the Prophet and said he was extremely hungry. The Prophet sent word to his household, requesting for any food that maybe given to this man. Unfortunately, there was nothing to offer. The Prophet then asked if anyone could host this man to a meal. A man came forward to do so and made haste to his home, in preparation of his guest. This is the conversation that followed between him and his wife:

“Have you got anything?”

She answered: “Nothing, except a little food for the children.”

He said: “Keep them busy with something and when they ask for food – put them to sleep. When the guest enters, extinguish the light and give him the impression that we are also eating.”

So they sat down and the guest ate and they passed the night hungry.

When he, the host, came to the Prophet in the morning, the Prophet informed him, “Allah admired what you did with your guest last night.”

The incident captures the impulse to do charity and share, even with limited and meagre means – to the extent of sacrificing what one is entitled to. Such noble acts are done, only for the sake of pleasing the Almighty and no one else:

“And they feed the poor, the orphan and the captive, saying:  indeed we feed you for the sake of Allah alone, not seeking from you neither reward nor thanks.”

(surah Ad Dahr: verses 8 & 9)

Striking a healthy balance

Detoxification is often thought as the body’s way of clearing impurities and this is something the body is constantly doing. The body uses various systems to expel harmful substances, for instance, through: the skin’s sweat glands, liver, lungs, etc.

Overeating can reduce the body’s ability to benefit from fasting, as it hinders the purpose of reducing the intake of food and allowing the body to remove waste more efficiently. There is a tendency to keep away from additive processed meals and artificially sweetened drinks and foods, and sustain a health diet – to endure the fasting.

So although detoxification is understood as a removal of toxins from the body, one can experience spiritual and emotional cleansing as well.

Ramadhan offers the chance for spiritual renewal, which is challenging to attain in life, generally speaking, given how busy people are. Most people make the effort to expand their acts of worship which translates into a more constant state of remembrance.

Prayer, dhikr (short recitations in remembrance of the Almighty), meditation and pondering over the meaning of the Holy Quran, all benefit the fasting body, as it encourages one to relax.

The detachment from routine tasks, also helps reduce the production of stress hormones that the body would then need to remove.

Consequently, this detoxification of our body and renewal of the spiritual self, does have a positive impact on our emotions. Unconsciously, the brakes are applied on getting too caught up with the day-to-day issues, that are too time consuming as well as energy consuming. One tends to work on an energy saving mode, and deal with matters on a priority basis.

In a sense, Ramadhan is an extremely precious month for a Muslim. It signals devoting more time to renewing one’s connection to Allah, through prayer and remembrance. A time to repent and ask forgiveness for one’s sins, and a time to pour out one’s concerns and needs. Simultaneously, it calls for self-discipline, time management and developing healthy practices. On another level, Ramadhan fosters the need to be proactive in the community: giving more in charity and helping those in need. Essentially, all these measures taken for oneself and for the community, are practices intended to be in continuance for the rest of the year. One may say that, fasting during the month of Ramadhan is a pinnacle sign of a Muslim’s belief and complete surrender to the commandments of Islam… for a lifetime.

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