FASTING - A UNIVERSAL CONCEPT
It’s here again, very quickly it returned like a long lost friend that you were eager to meet again. Curious to see what gifts and rewards it will bring and the what challenges will I face this time, with longer and hotter days, to fast without a break, whilst working in a demanding job that requires your brain capacity and intellectual contributions.
Challenges at home are no less difficult either whilst making Iftar and juggling with a baby leaving trails of mess around every corner of the house. This is a challenge I aim to take on the chin. No, I am not complaining. I actually look forward to Ramadan. Not because it will serves the purpose of losing a few pounds from the waistline but there’s a deeper satisfaction from fasting.
For me it’s about devoting that one month to our creator. Its about coming close to the Almighty and leaving behind all the self-obsessed rituals we are so accustomed to. This month isn’t about me anymore. It’s about the millions of people in the world who need our sincere thought, our kindness and our help. It isn’t about the material world, it’s about the spiritual world that plays such a significant role in our lives.
Fasting is one of the most powerful spiritual discipline. Although fasting is a revered practice in Islam, It isn’t just Muslim concept. The Abrahamic and non Abrahamic religions practice the notion of fasting in different forms. The purpose of fasting for all religions have a universal meaning, to attain closeness to the Almighty and disconnecting from the worldly pleasures.
The bible for example, (Luke 2:37) mentions fasting as something spiritual, beneficial and profitable. The traditional time for Christians to fast is during Lent, a period of forty days before Easter. Some Christians fast during that time every Friday. The Bible has examples of one-day, three-day, seven-day and forty-day fasts (Judges 20:26, Esther 4:16, 1 Samuel 31:13 and Matthew 4 respectively).
There are various types of fasts as well. Some Christians fast with only water for short periods, while others maintain multi-week fasts with juice and broth maintaining a strict liquid diet. And some just abstain from certain types of food such as sweet and rich diets. The Jewish calendar contains several fast days, most of them commemorating various landmark events that revolve around the destruction of the Holy Temples. Yom Kippur and Tisha B’av are the main fasting periods. All food and drink are forbidden from dawn till dusk.
FASTING IN HINDUISM AND BUDDHISM
In the Buddhist practices of the Newars in the Kathmandu Valley, one finds observances, vrata, similar to those of the Hindus, in which fasting takes a prominent role, for example, in the observances connected with full and new moon, but also in those directed to a specific deity; for example, on the eighth day after full moon the fasting is held to honor the bodhisattva Avalokiteśvara-Lokeśvara, the embodiment of compassion. During public or private ritual performances fasting is observed to maintain purity. And, similar to the Hindu custom, an observance is also a way to achieve a specific spiritual or material goal. Some examples include the fasting for Lokeśvara, which is supposed to cause the birth of a son; a fast for Tārā, which frees one from illness, dangers, pain, and untimely death; a fast for Hārītī protects against smallpox; and other deities are invoked by following rules of purity, including abstaining from intercourse and fasting for good jobs, before an exam, or before going on a journey. SPIRITUALITY OF FASTING
Fasting isn’t just about abstaining from food. Fasting encourages people to abstain from all things that are considered bad. Such as abstaining from too much sleep, too much indulgence, arguing, backbiting, slandering and all things that create negativity in the soul.
Fasting during the month of Ramadan is about disconnecting from the material endeavours and focusing completely on spirituality and the cleanliness of the soul.
Fasting is a way to demonstrate to God, and to ourselves, that we are serious about our relationship with Him. Fasting helps us gain a new perspective and a renewed reliance upon God.
With so many similarities between the world religions, fasting and the concept of prayer, wouldn’t it be great if we all celebrated our similarities and worked harder on our differences.