This is a 3rd entry in the series of Things that are good to know about your Muslim friend. Make sure to read the first two entries if you missed them, and which had to do with:
Fasting the month of Ramadan is something that is quite well-known about Muslims, yet there still seems to be a lot of confusion about it.
As is the case with every Islamic teaching, fasting is meant to have spiritual, social, psychological, physical and mental benefits.
- Spiritually, it is a form of temporary abstinence and detachment from worldly things. When a Muslim fasts, the fast must be manifested in every aspect of their being. Simply as a few examples: their eyes must “fast” from looking at anything that is depraved or lustful; their ears must “fast” from listening to back-biting, empty talk, or singing and music; their hands must “fast” from doing anything sinful such as oppressing anyone; and their tongue must “fast” from back-biting, lying, speaking too much, or singing.
- Socially, fasting creates a social cohesion by serving as an experiential reminder that there are many people who are living in poverty, who cannot afford to eat and drink as they wish, so by fasting we get a reminder of what is a daily, regular situation for them, and perhaps feel compelled to help them out in any way we can.
- Psychologically, fasting is a means of strengthening one’s discipline and will, by not being enslaved to external factors, such as hunger and thirst.
- Physically, fasting has been mentioned by Prophet Muhammad as a way to get healthy. This should not come as a surprise to anyone nowadays, since fasting is gaining quite a strong a popularity with large segments of the populations who are concerned with their physical well-being in one way or another. Fasting gives a little break to your digestive system, regulates your hormonal and sugar-insulin cycle, and is now used by athletes (intermittent fasting for weightlifting and bodybuilding for instance) and people who are detoxing their bodies. For instance see Fasting and Eating for Health: A Medical Doctor’s Program for Conquering Disease or Fasting Can Save Your Life.
- Mentally, anyone who has fasted on a regular basis knows that there is a mental and intellectual lightness and agility that is only felt when you fast, as though a fog has been lifted, but one that you only noticed once it is gone because it is always there and you live with it.
From the first to the last day of the month of Ramadan (which is either 29 or three days depending on the lunar cycle), Muslims who are physically capable of doing so must fast from the break of dawn until nightfall.
In addition to the points mentioned above and their different implications, the physical dimension of fasting basically means abstaining from the following:
- eating (including breathing in thick dust)
- sexual acts
in addition to a few more technical details, such as:
- immersing one’s head completely in water, and
- lying against God and His Prophet, which basically means false claims about religion.
So in other words, Muslims who are fasting will be eating and drinking as they please between sunset and dawn every day of their fast. (Muslims who binge and gorge themselves during this time are missing the point of their fast and will miss out on many of its intended benefits. And anyone who has fasted knows that first you may not have that great of an appetite to eat that much, and the last thing you want is to feel indigestion and bloating all morning of the next day.)
During the month of Ramadan, it may be very surprising for a non-Muslim to notice that some Muslims are having something to eat or drink during the day. But this is perfectly normal, because there are exceptions to the obligation of fasting that apply to some people – although Muslims who are not fasting for valid reasons should avoid eating in public out of respect for the sanctity of Ramadan and their fellow Muslims who are fasting. Those who are too old or too sick to fast, pregnant women, children, etc. will obviously not be fasting, as well as people on travel status and menstruating women. People who are do not fast days of Ramadan for whatever reason, and who will later be in a physical state enabling them to fast will have to make up those missed days of fasting after the month of Ramadan.
Finally, although the only obligatory fasting ritual in Islam is the month of Ramadan, fasting is not limited to this month. In fact, it is very recommended for Muslims to fast much more often than the 30 days of Ramadan. Many Muslims will therefore start their consecutive fasting two full months (or about 60 days) before Ramadan, and keep going for the full 90 days every year. Many Muslims also have made it a good habit of theirs to fast 2 days of every week, or 3 days of every month, in addition to fasting a few days of the year that have been identified in the religious narrations as having some specificity and for which a recommendation to fast has been mentioned.
Hopefully these points about fasting will help you better understand your hungry Muslim friends. More to come…