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FASTING IN ISLAM AND OTHER RELIGIONS


Fasting is the 4th pillar in Islam. It is an obligatory act of worship for Muslims. Allah says: “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become righteous.” Quran Surah Baqrah 2:183 

 

Table of Contents

 

Fasting In Primitive Societies

Fasting was made part of the fertility rites in primitive ceremonies which were held at the vernal and autumnal equinoxes and survived for centuries.  Some primitive societies fasted to avert catastrophe or to serve as penance for sin.  Native North Americans held tribal fasts to avert threatening disasters.  The Native Americans of Mexico and the Incas of Peru observed penitential fasts to appease their gods. Past nations of the Old World, such as the Assyrians and the Babylonians, observed fasting as a form of penance(Self-Punishment).

 

Fasting In Judaism and Christianity

Jews observe fasting as a form of penitence and purification annually on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur (Bible Leviticus 23:27), which corresponds to the tenth of Muharram (‘Ashura) of the Islamic calendar.  On this day neither food nor drink is permitted.

 

Early Christians associated fasting with penitence and purification (2 Samuel 12:16, Joel 1:14, Isaiah 58:3,5, I king 21:9, Luke 2:37, Mathew 6:16-18 and Book of Acts 14:23 etc). During the first two centuries of its existence, the Christian Church established fasting as a voluntary preparation for receiving the sacraments of sacred Communion and baptism and for the ordination of priests. Later, these fasts were made obligatory, as other days were subsequently added.  In the 6th century the Lenten fast was expanded to 40 days, on each of which only one meal was permitted.  After the Reformation, fasting was retained by most Protestant Churches and was made optional in some cases. Stricter Protestants like the Puritans, however, condemned not only the festivals of the Church, but its traditional fasts as well.

 

In the Roman Catholic Church, fasting may involve partial abstinence from food and drink or total abstinence.  The Roman Catholic days of fasting are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

 

In the United States, fasting is observed mostly by Episcopalians and Lutherans among Protestants, by Orthodox and Conservative Jews, and by Roman Catholics. [1] [2]

 

Fasting in Hinduism

There are different types and methods of fasting in Hinduism. According to Manusmriti Chapter 6 verse 24 Fasting has been prescribed for a month for purification. (Manusmriti edited by Dr. R. N. Sharma)

 

Fasting has also been prescribed in Manusmriti chapter 4 verse 222, Manusmriti chapter 11 verse 204 [3]

 

Secular Fasting: The Hunger Strike

From being an empty ritual, fasting went to another extreme in the West: the hunger strike, a form of fasting, which in modern times has become a political weapon.

 

Fasting In Islam

Islam has prescribed and retained the ritual of fasting throughout centuries as a means for purifying the soul of a man in order to draw near to his Creator by selfish motives and base desires of self.  It has a special status among all the devotional worships because it is difficult to perform.  It puts a bridle on the most uncontrolled, savage human emotions.  The most unruly human emotions are pride, avarice, gluttony, lust, envy, and anger.  These emotions, by their nature are not easy to control, thus a person must strive hard to discipline them.  Fasting helps do that.

 

The Islamic calendar consists of twelve lunar months. Muslims measure their year by the cycles of the moon rather than the sun, so the Muslim lunar year is eleven days shorter than the Christian solar year. Hence, the months of the Muslim year do not relate to the seasons.  Each month lasts 29 or 30 days and occurs during different seasons of the year.  A new month begins when the evening new moon is sighted.  The ninth month is called Ramadan and is dedicated to fasting.  It is pronounced Ramazan in Urdu language.

 

Below we list the virtues and rewards of this month and fasting in general. 

 

Virtues of the Month of Ramadan

To motivate us and to prepare ourselves for the month of Ramadan. The great virtues of Ramadan as described in the Quran and by Prophet Muhammad(S).

  1. Fasting in Ramadan is one of the pillars of Islam like salah.  It is the only Islamic month mentioned by name in the Quran.
     
  2. The Glorious Quran was revealed in Ramadan.
     
  3. A single night falls in the last ten days of Ramadan so virtuous that worship done on it is superior to a thousand months. An entire Surah of the Quran is named after the special night called Layla tul-Qadr.
     
  4. Fasting Ramadan is considered equivalent to fasting ten months. Sahih Muslim 1164 
     
  5. All previous sins are forgiven to whoever fasts Ramadan out of faith and with the hope of reward. Sahih al-Bukhari 1901
     
  6. When Ramadan begins, the gates of Paradise are opened and the gates of Hell are closed, an indication of intensified divine grace. The devil chiefs are chained, so evil is reduced in the month. Sahih al-Bukhari 1899 and 3277

 

Virtues of Fasting

  1. Allah has chosen fasting for Himself and He will reward it in multiples beyond measure. Sahih Muslim 1151
     
  2. The supplications of the fasting person will not be refused. Narrated by al-Bayhaqi, Vol 3:345; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in al-Saheeh 1797
     
  3. The fasting person has two moments of joy: one when he breaks his fast and the other when he meets his Lord and rejoices over his fasting.Sahih Muslim 1151
     
  4. The smell that might come from the mouth of a fasting person due to an empty stomach is more pleasing to Allah than the scent of musk. Sahih Muslim 1151
     
  5. Fasting is a protection and a strong fortress that keeps a person safe from the Fire. Sahih Muslim 1151
     
  6. Allah will distance a person who fasts a single day for the sake of Allah seventy years distance from the Fire.  Sahih Muslim 1153
     
  7. Whoever fasts one day seeking divine pleasure will enter Paradise if it is the last day of his life. Classed as Sahih by Albani in Sahih at Targhib 985
     
  8. One of the Gates of Paradise, al-Rayyan, is dedicated for the fasting people, and no one else will enter through it; it will be locked after them. Sahih al-Bukhari 1896  and Sahih Muslim 1152
     
  9. At the breaking of every fast, Allah, in His boundless grace, chooses people to deliver from Hellfire. Ibn Majah 1643 [4] [5]

 

See also

Ramazaan; Iftar in Islam; Zakath; Fasting; Introduction of Islam;

 

References

[1] [4] http://www.islamreligion.com/articles/47/

[2] [5] http://www.newmuslims.com/lessons/41/

[3] http://www.islamandhinduism.com/ih/Concept%20of%20Worship.html

 

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