Shereen Khaled, a member of QF’s Communication Directorate, explains why fasting is so much more than not eating or drinking
Ahead of Ramadan, most young children ask questions about the ritual of fasting during the Holy Month. These same questions may be repeated every year if a child doesn’t really understand the meaning behind why we fast.
I have always found a whole lot of value in explaining to my children, and to my friends from other religions, what fasting is about from a spiritual and physiological standpoint
When I encounter conversations about this topic between many parents and their children, I constantly notice that these parents don’t clearly explain fasting that goes beyond refraining from eating and drinking, and the benefits one receives from fasting. Lots of times it stops at explaining the tenet that it puts us in the shoes of the poor; teaches us the value of empathy and giving; and to learn how to count our blessings and appreciate our lives.
I agree on the importance of emulating asceticism, as it allows us to experience what the underprivileged feel and struggle with. Besides, it might introduce some merits of living such a lifestyle.
But, I have always found a whole lot of value in explaining to my children, and to my friends from other religions, what fasting is about from a spiritual and physiological standpoint, and try to link it to our daily life practices, because at the end of the day, all messages conveyed through religions aim to show us the ultimate ways to lead our lives.
A Muslim’s fasting would be spoilt by swearing, gossiping, or partaking in any sort of actions that could be described as mean
When I talk to my own children, I explain to them that fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, which obligates Muslims to abstain not only from food and drink from dawn until dusk, but also from smoking and intimacy during this period of the day. I also tell them that a Muslim’s fasting would be spoilt by swearing, gossiping or partaking in any sort of actions that could be described as mean.
I’ve always stressed on this part, as I think that keeping our minds alert and observing our intentions and behaviors train us to be introspective and mindful with others. It also teaches us discipline and how to control our desires which is a strength that can’t be easily possessed amid the infinite distractions in life.
It is believed to be a therapeutic process that boosts the body’s natural healing abilities by emptying the stomach
There is also a huge physiological benefit of fasting to our bodies – if done the right way. It is believed to be a therapeutic process that boosts the body’s natural healing abilities by emptying the stomach; and it is known to be a natural way to lower blood sugar and cholesterol levels.
We are taught to start with eating dates or drinking plain water when we break our fast. Then to start eating slowly and in moderation. Taking into consideration that our stomachs are empty for more than 12 hours, we need to eat as much as our bodies need only, and to avoid overeating.
As Prophet Muhammad (Peace Be Upon Him) said that “a human being fills no vessel worse than his stomach. It is sufficient for him to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one-third of food, one-third for drink and one-third for breath.”
I believe that fasting during the month of Ramadan is a ritual that – if done properly – demonstrates an example of a very healthy lifestyle, as well as a spiritual practice that we should aim to carry on for the rest of the year.
It is also a symbol of self-purification. If we get into the habit of being our own referees, treating others the way we like to be treated and have these tenets to abide by all the time, then we have served the religious purpose of fasting.