Religions and philosophies that practise fasting include Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Jainism, just to mention but a few. All utilise fasting in one form or another, whether for purification, spiritual vision, penance, mourning or sacrifice. Ramadan, also known as Ramadhan or Ramazan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.  The word [...]


Ramadan: Self-discipline and empathy for those less fortunate


Religions and philosophies that practise fasting include Christianity, Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Taoism and Jainism, just to mention but a few. All utilise fasting in one form or another, whether for purification, spiritual vision, penance, mourning or sacrifice.

Ramadan, also known as Ramadhan or Ramazan is the ninth month in the Islamic calendar.  The word “Ramadan” is derived from an Arabic word for intense heat, scorched ground or dryness. Muslims the world over fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Fasting was made obligatory (Waajib) for every Muslim who is mentally and physically fit and healthy. This obligation was decreed on the eighth Islamic month of Shaban, in the second year of Hijra after the Muslims migrated from Mecca to Medina.

The month of Ramadan traditionally begins with the sighting of a new moon denoting the start of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. The Sun rises and sets at different times around the world, hence many people use applications, including time calculators, electronic reminders and printed calendars, to remind them of when the Ramadan fast starts (when the Sun rises) and pauses (when the Sun sets) in their respective time zones.

The first day of Ramadan is observed according to the local visibility of the new crescent moon. The fast is from dawn to sunset, with a pre-dawn meal known as suhur and sunset meal called iftar.

Muslims the world over have already begun fasting for 2024. Fasting during Ramadan is one of the five pillars of Islam, along with the Muslim declaration of faith in Oneness of God Almighty and his last Prophet Muhammad, the five daily prayers, giving alms to the needy or charity and performing Hajj pilgrimage to sacred Mecca. The month of Ramadan is seen as a time of spiritual reflection, improvement and increased devotion and worship. This holy month has been referred to as the “best of times”. The act of fasting is said to cleanse the soul by freeing it from worldly activities, in addition to the abolition of past sins. Muslims are expected to put more effort into following the teachings of Islam and this includes fasting – which teaches people how to be more self-disciplined and have empathy for those less fortunate.

The month of Ramadan also becomes a period of sacrifice, giving, piousness, self-training and purification with the hope that these qualities will extend beyond this month and stay with us throughout the year. Indeed, the essence of fasting in Ramadan is spiritual.  The fast is intended to bring Muslims closer to Almighty God and to remind them of the suffering of those less fortunate.

Muslims abstain from food, drink, smoking, sex and certain other activities during fasting. Fasting is obligatory for adult Muslims, except for those who are suffering from an illness, travelling, elderly, pregnant, breastfeeding, chronically ill or for menstruating women. Muslims will also refrain from sinful acts such as false speech (insulting, backbiting, cursing, lying, etc.). Fghting is also prohibited as these sinful behaviours may negate and nullify the merits of fasting.

Muslims mainly focus on reading the Koran (Qu’ran), donating to charities (zakaat), and certain other meritorious activities such as engaging in special prayers etc. Congregational prayers and meals are held at mosques and in private homes in the evenings of Ramadan. The prayers
and meals are usually well attended.

Some Muslims try to complete the recital of the entire holy Koran by the end of Ramadan. The last third period of Ramadan is particularly a holy period, as it commemorates the first revelation of Holy Koran (Qu’ran) sent down through the messenger of God, Angel Gabriel to the Holy Prophet Muhammad. Some Muslims spend the entire night praying or reading the Koran and engaging in religious observances in mosques, particularly on the “night of power” or “Laylat-al-Qadr” commemorating the first day of revelation of Koran. More than 1400 years ago, Holy Quran verses were revealed piecemeal to Holy
Prophet Muhammad during this month of Ramadan.

Many businesses and organizations run by Muslims change their business timings during the Ramadan month to make way for their religious observances. Special provisions are made in certain countries for the state sector Muslim employees to engage in prayers by amending their office hours. In Muslim-majority countries, offices are required by law to reduce working hours, and many restaurants are closed during daylight hours.

The spiritual benefits of fasting during the month of Ramadan are numerous and what about the health benefits? Even before the appearance of great ancient civilizations, hunter-gatherers across the globe reaped the benefits of intermittent fasting. But it appears that ancient civilizations were much more advanced in many aspects. In many areas, ancient civilizations like the ancient Egyptians or the Ancient Greeks possessed knowledge that modern-day scholars struggle to understand. Ancient evidence shows that humans have used ‘starvation’ in order to help their body recover and reap the health benefits it offered. It is said that regardless of territory or religion, different ancient civilizations had used intermittent fasting and were fully aware of its effectiveness. In ancient India, Greece, and Egypt, the people used intermittent ‘fasting’ to treat certain diseases, but also as prevention.

The great philosophers, thinkers, and healers of the yesteryear used fasting for health and as a healing therapy. Hippocrates, Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Galen all praised the benefits of fasting. Paracelsus, one of the three fathers of Western medicine, is quoted as saying, “Fasting is the greatest remedy – the physician within.” Early healing arts recognized the revitalizing and rejuvenating power of fasting. Yet, one might argue and ponder upon the health effects of depriving the organs of nutrition. Many studies on fasting have revealed more beneficial health aspects. Among other things, fasting enhances tranquillity of the heart and mind, drops the blood sugar and cholesterol levels, may assist to overcome addictions and helps in losing weight by the  breaking down of fatty tissues in our body.

Healers and physicians with a spiritual and or holistic orientation are recommending fasting for good health and wellbeing. Conventional Western medicine has yet to embrace this aspect in full. As medicine evolves in the direction of the body’s own healing mechanism, it will undoubtedly “rediscover” fasting as the invaluable method of self-healing.

Undoubtedly, fasting during the month of Ramadan, brings about a multitude of spiritual, mental and physical benefits to mankind. The end of Ramadan, marks the culmination of fasting and Muslims celebrate the Ramadan festival or Eid-ul-Fitr. Eid-ul-Fitr in Arabic literally means “festival of breaking the fast”. It is incumbent on all Muslims to uphold and sustain the hard-earned spiritual, mental and physical attainment gained during this holy month to lead an exemplary and pious life.

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