And what are those wisdom and power?
Here it goes.. The question “why”!
Theoretically, we fast for the faith, respect, and love for God. He tells us that fasting is good for us, it brings us wisdom and piety, and therefore we must do it. When people, all the philosopher and religious thinkers, even us the common people, think of it, there are lots of wisdom that we can learn from fasting, as well as from Ramadhan, which probably are the reasons why we must do it and will learn from it. I’m sure different cultures and different geography bring different teachings to the meaning. What I have learnt growing up are the following:
- Fasting teaches us about empathy.
By fasting, we feel what is felt daily by people in deep poverty, who don’t have enough money to buy food, who has to “refrain” from eating and drinking as daily way of life, simply because they cannot afford to.
- Fasting guides us to be more in control towards ourselves.
The practices teach us to control our desires, including excessive desires, and learn by ourselves that sometimes our desire is merely wild craving because when we don’t get it, we’re fine. More training of self-control can be easily seen in the way we usually prepare for Ramadhan breaks (iftar in Arabic). One hour before dusk, when stomach’s protesting at its fullest, every food looks tasteful. Every drink looks refreshing! So we often buy lots and lots of food. We want all because we deserve it! But when the dusk falls, after one glass of water and one glass of sweet warm tea (heaven!), and one piece of sweets, you are full. How come? That’s biology talking. Then you see all the tempting food, but they’re not that tempting anymore. When it comes to the worst, a lot of the food will have to be thrown away. The fruits of desire. The next day, you’ll (or should) remember it and remind yourself not to get lost and buy excessive things. It’s an exercise for self-control.
- Ramadhan brings us back on track.
Being the holiest month of the year, Ramadhan is the month when all our good habits, religious activities (such as reading the Quran and learning its meaning), and prayers, are valued even more than usual. The month is rich by “not-obligatory-but-highly recommended” practices such as the night prayer called tarawih. By doing these in the holy month, in particular the fasting, we become more self-conscious, more “religious”, and at least once we ask ourselves a question: “how have I been?” As we do the Ramadhan obligations, we remember again that we haven’t been doing other obligations as well as we actually can. Or we’ve been doing things that we better not do. Reminiscences and awareness come often during Ramadhan, thus the wisdom is that we can start afresh from Ramadhan. Or at least, our better habit that starts during Ramadhan can be continued even after the month ends.
- Ramadhan fasting avoids us from bad behaviors.
It teaches us to control our anger, our prejudices, and excessive emotion, which in most cases brings our remorse towards ourselves. It thus, teaches us about forgiveness and understanding. When Ramadhan month ends, Muslims celebrate it as Id’l Fitr (or Idul Fitri, or Aid-al-Fitr). One of the cultures on this joyful day, at least in Indonesia, is to forgive one another, so that our relationships start afresh.
- Ramadhan leads us to be thankful.
As I mentioned, fasting helps us feel how less fortunate people live. But unlike them, we have the “time limit”. After dusk, after the break, we can consume more or less whatever we want. This opportunity, which is not available for everyone, teaches us to be thankful for everything we have and can have, for all blessings and favors from Him.
- Ramadhan teaches us about patience.
During fasting, we must hold our desires towards certain things. For faith and love in God as a reason, we control ourselves to refrain from our favorite food, from the oh-so-fun lunch breaks, from making love to our adoringly irresistible wife or husband, and from hurting other person’s feelings. Patience is the number one principle during Ramadhan, and it should be our virtue to continue it even after the month ends.
- Ramadhan teaches us about truthfulness and devotion.
Related to point 6, Ramadhan fasting teaches us about truthfulness, which are essentially about being devoted to God Almighty. No matter how deep our local culture about Ramadhan is, nobody knows whether we’re really fasting or we’re only saying so. We can always lock our kitchen door and eat alone inside. We can always pretend we’re suffering from not smoking, when actually we have taken one or two sticks inside the washroom. Nobody knows for sure, apart from ourselves and God. Do we do it for Him and Him only, or merely to show people that we’re somewhat faithful? Thus Ramadhan teaches, and somehow “tests” us, to be faithful, truthful, respectful, to ourselves and moreover, to God.
Ramadhan is identical to fasting, and vice versa. What most people don’t know is that, fasting doesn’t only happen during the holy month. It is a good practice, a fruitful seed for one’s soul and body to become a better human being.
Yes, body. It might seem impossible and illogical, but according to researches, fasting does give benefits to human body and health. For this I must cite from Dr. Shahid Athar, a Moroccan doctor who conducted research on Islamic fasting and health:
“When one fasts (or decreases carbohydrate intake drastically), it lowers his blood glucose and insulin level. This causes breakdown of glycogen from liver to provide glucose for energy need and breakdown of fatfrom adipose tissue to provide for energy needs.” (Medical Aspects Of Islamic Fasting: read here)
Another research featured by Nutrition Journal which, although faced more difficulties due to the complexities and varieties of fasting practices, resulted in interesting conclusion, which is as follows:
“… whether or not Ramadan fasting elicits favorable health outcomes appears to greatly depend on the food choices of the fasters. “
Like any other courses in our life, certainly there are pros and cons on Islamic fasting. Practically, annual debate always arises to “welcome” Ramadhan. One argumentation in contradiction is about its misinterpretation of being a weight-losing practice.
“If you weed through all the controversy, you’ll find that most medical experts agree on one thing: fasting is not a healthy weight loss tool.” – WebMD.com
It can be weight-losing, only if done correctly and carefully, choosing appropriate food in terms of quantity and nutritional quality. If you don’t eat anything all day but after break you eat everything you can chew, then with common sense it won’t be helpful in weight loss, will it?
So, the health benefit is still uncertain?
Yes, there are various sources and researches with different outcomes. If you’re really curious, go google it, don’t forget to type “islamic fasting” and not only “fasting”. One thing for sure, it does not damage the health of the body. Because what matters is what and how much we eat.
Then again, don’t forget that the essence of fasting, particularly Ramadhan fasting, is not about the physical health, but the spiritual health. I can take a lot of people as examples that it doesn’t break physical health. So don’t worry, as long as you keep the water intake, sugar level, calorie and fat maintained, you’ll be fine! 🙂
That’s an insight! Oh well, now I know more than enough about fasting.. All these explanations make me hungry.
Now you do! And now you are!
I hope this (rather long) post gave you a broader idea about fasting. And in particular, answer your question on “why on Earth do you fast?” you ask to your Muslim fellows. What time is it? Is it almost dusk already? Let’s get a glass of tea and a piece of date. 🙂
Ramadhan Kareem! Happy fasting!
(courtesy of dubaiphotostory.blogspot.com)