Fasting for Spiritual Growth
We cast food as a starring role in our lives. We, as a society, use food to communicate and schedule our days. We use food to comfort when we are stressed. Imagine food to a position where it no longer rules your life. Fasting
As a Muslim, I fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Ramadan is holy for Muslims because we believe it is the month that the prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him), received his first revelations of the Qur’an from the angel Gabriel (pbuh).
We fast by getting up about an hour before sunrise to eat a final meal (suhoor*) and then abstain from any food, drink, smoking, or sexual activity until sundown. We then break our fast with a meal (Iftar*) and prayer.
Fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam.
(The other four are: a proclamation of faith, prayer, giving to the poor, and making a pilgrimage to Mecca.) However, limiting food is not unique to Islam; in fact, many religions integrate this practice into their faiths. Catholics fast during Ash Wednesday and do not eat meat on Fridays during the Lenten season. Jews fast for Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. Hindus fast many times throughout the year to enable a higher focus on God. Mormons fast one Sunday out of the month and also combine it with prayer. Pagans may choose to fast to facilitate other rituals. With so many world religions embracing this act, it’s clear that a large number of people are embracing the spiritual benefits of temporarily restricting the body from nutrients.
Fasting can be a spiritual opening to empathize with those less fortunate than us and understand a small portion of human suffering. Because we are not eating or drinking all day, it causes us to slow things down, be contemplative, and focus on more important topics. It also is an exercise in self –control and restraint. If one can refrain from eating and drinking all day, it increases our strength to resist other temptations throughout the year.
Health Benefits of Fasting
There are also many health benefits to fasting as well. When the body is not focusing on digesting a meal, it can put its energy to better use, such as ridding the body of toxins, regulating hormones and insulin levels, and boosting the immune system.
During Ramadan, people throughout the day unknowingly offer me food or drink, to which I will politely say, “No thank you, I’m fasting for Ramadan.” They then usually ask me about it and I explain the ritual. Many times, people are amazed and fascinated about the whole process. Sometimes, people say that there’s no way they could do it; others will say that they are curious and wonder if they could. It is then when I feel truly grateful that my faith gives me the opportunities to gain so much insight into my habits with food, my inner strengths, and my relationship with my higher power.
Yet I find it interesting why some others don’t take the leap for themselves. All it requires is the decision the night before to fast the following day. I therefore propose a “Secular Fasting Challenge”. I respectfully invite all non-Muslims to make the commitment to try – for at least one day. Since it’s not for a holy reason, feel free to set your own parameters. Maybe you would choose to not have your morning coffee. Perhaps you might be compelled to only drink liquids. Or you may want to stretch your experiences and attempt a traditional Islamic fast.
Journal Your Fasting Experience
All I ask is that you journal during the process to create a deeper sense of awareness, and consider sharing your thoughts here. Some of the points to consider as you record your reactions are:
Why am I choosing to fast?
What type of fast will I do, and for how long of a period?
Do I think I will be able to successfully complete the fast?
What do I hope to gain from the experience?
How did I feel during the fast, both physically and mentally?
What were some of the challenges?
If I was able to complete the fast, what got me through? If I was unsuccessful, what led me to prematurely break the fast?
What did I ultimately learn from fasting?
Will I consider ever fasting again?
No matter what your experiences will be, I applaud and congratulate your attempt and effort to try something new. If you record your reactions — no matter what happens — you will have gained some understanding about yourself and how your mind and body work together. Most importantly, you will create a new conscious of how food plays a certain role in your life. And when you finally do break your fast, please remember to give thanks and acknowledge that many people in the world do not have that advantage.
I look forward to reading your experiences over the next few weeks!