I know I may be a little late talking about Ramadan given that we have just a few days left this year before the month ends. However, it is not too late to dispel some myths we have about fasting. This includes Muslims.
Muslims are very aware of all the blessings during this holy month and I hope we, the Muslims, did our best to earn them. It is a month when we are, supposedly, on our best behavior. Charitable work is at its peak during Ramadan, and yes, we all get a gazillion unsolicited emails and snail mail asking for donations.
My focus here is to dispel some myths Muslims and people of other faiths have about fasting. Having said that, I am still going to start with the basics- for those of us who may not be very familiar with fasting.
What is forbidden during Fasting?
- Eating and drinking. Smoking and sexual intimacy. These acts will “break” the fast (prematurely).
- Avoiding sins, major and minor. These include getting angry; hurting anyone-physically or emotionally, back biting, engagement in immoral activities etc.
- Avoiding distractions that move one away from God’s remembrance. I think this prohibition is not too infrequently violated by the believers.
MYTHS ABOUT FASTING:
Myth#1: Fasting is all about abstaining from eating and drinking.
Ramadan is widely considered as the month of fasting, which is true. However, “fasting” is rather an inaccurate translation of Sawm, which means to abstain. This is a month for spiritual cleansing and strengthening, and an opportunity to renew your relationship with God. This is a month to seek, and work towards, nearness to God by submitting to His will and serving His creation.
This is the month to show random acts of kindness to all- humans and animals and other creations of God- to parents, siblings, neighbors, strangers, co-workers and spouses. It is a month to forgive, and seek forgiveness from the Almighty. It is month to show kindness to others, and ask for God’s mercy.
Muslims worldwide, including Muslim Americans, give the most during the month of Ramadan. According to some estimates, up to 70% of the yearly donations to charitable organizations are made during this month.
Myth#2: Fasting is a Muslim thing.
The following verse from the holy Qur’an is often recited during Ramadan sermons.
O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may (learn) self restraint.( or “remain God-conscious”) 2:183
The verse clearly states that fasting was commanded for communities before prophet Muhammad. Many other religions and cultures in history recommended fasting. Moses and Jesus had fasted. Hindus fast. Others fast for secular reasons with the belief that fasting has physical benefits such as improved gut function, emotional well-being, blood sugar and cholesterol control, to name a few benefits.
Fasting in Torah
Moses fasted for forty days and nights while receiving the word of God on Mount Sinai.
This happened when I was on the mountain receiving the tablets of stone inscribed with the words of the covenant that the Lord had made with you. I was there for forty days and forty nights, and all that time I ate no food and drank no water. Deuteronomy 9:9
Fasting in Gospels
Moses was not the only Biblical figure to have fasted. Jesus did too- again for that mystical forty days and nights.
Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted there by the devil. For forty days and forty nights he fasted and became very hungry. Matthew 4:1–2
Just when you think that the ‘non-fasting’ aspects of the ‘fasting’ are part of a ‘high quality Muslim fast’, think again. Prophet Isaiah, a “Hebrew prophet”, lays down the elements of a good fast in the following passage. This may look strikingly similar to what Muslims would consider the essence of fasting. It includes the “Dos” and the “Don’ts”.
“I will tell you why!” I respond. “It’s because you are fasting to please yourselves. Even while you fast, you keep oppressing your workers. What good is fasting when you keep on fighting and quarreling? This kind of fasting will never get you anywhere with me. You humble yourselves by going through the motions of penance, bowing your heads like reeds bending in the wind. You dress in burlap and cover yourselves with ashes. Is this what you call fasting? Do you really think this will please the Lord? No, this is the kind of fasting I want: Free those who are wrongly imprisoned; lighten the burden of those who work for you. Let the oppressed go free, and remove the chains that bind people. Share your food with the hungry, and give shelter to the homeless. Give clothes to those who need them, and do not hide from relatives who need your help. Isaiah 58:3–17
Myth#3: You only need to be on your best behavior while fasting.
Fasting may be considered form of behavioral therapy.
I don’t know about you, but I have observed many devout Muslims following the ‘you may return to normal programming’ mantra after breaking the fast.
It is a month to learn, and practice self-control. By abstaining from some of the acts noted above, one is essentially going through a behavioral change that calls for self-control. Ali, prophet Muhammad’s cousin, famously said “one who controls his inner self (AKA desires and urges), finds God”.
As you learn to control your urge to eat when hungry, or to drink when feeling thirsty, or control your urge to engage in lustful activities, you are learning how to turn away the ‘negative thoughts’ into positive behavior- an essential feature of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy, or CBT, often utilized in the management of Chronic Pain, Anxiety and Depression.
And just like the use of CBT to help manage various ailments, the self-control during the month of Ramadan must be practiced repeatedly for a long time to bring about the positive change. Note that the Quranic verse I quoted above uses the word prescribed and not commanded, when referring to fasting. If done properly, fasting is indeed intended for healing for our physical, mental and spiritual health.
Questions to my readers:
1.For the Muslim readers: Did you do enough to help heal yourself during this holy month?
(No need to post the answer here. This is a Q&A intended for personal consumption)
2. Between the three myths, which one surprised, or inspired, you the most?
You can use the comments section on this post to respond to the questions. Alternatively, you may use my website contact section for any questions and your response by clicking here.