Different forms of fasting are not only used in medicine as a means of diet and cure but they are also a significant part of all three major monotheistic religions. Just like in medical terms, also in religious term, fasting is not the ultimate goal, rather a means to achieve a higher purpose.
Fasting is a common religious practice among all three monotheistic faiths such as Judaism, Christianity and Islam. Just as the Prophet Moses (peace be upon him) observed the fast for 40 days (Exodus 34:28) according to the Bible, Jesus (peace be upon him) also observed the fast for 40 days (Matthew 4:2). Hence, fasting was also a noble practice of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) - the founder of Islam. However, Islam has taken a step ahead and has made it obligatory for all Muslims as it is stated in the Holy Quran:
“O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may become righteous.” (2:184)
Therefore, fasting during the month of Ramadan is a fundamental pillar of the Islamic faith.
WHO HAS TO FAST?
Fasting is mandatory upon all healthy and mature Muslim men and women. There is no specific age from which a Muslim has to start fasting but the primary condition to observe a fast is to be healthy and having reached the age of maturity so that the fast will not cause damage to the body and health. Therefore, the recommended age depends on the physical condition and maturity of each individual but in general the physical maturity is obtained between the ages of 15-18.
Travellers, persons with temporary or chronic illnesses, pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, women during their menstruation and children are excluded and should not observe the fast.
WHEN DO MUSLIM FAST?
Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan, which is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The Islamic calendar is based on the lunar system which is 10 days shorter than the solar calendar. Therefore, the month of Ramadan rotates each year for around ten days according to the solar calendar. This year the month of Ramadan started on the 16/17th of May – 10 days earlier than last year - and will last till the 15/16th of June.
HOW DO MUSLIMS FAST?
The timings of the fast depend on the sunrise and sunset. Hence, Muslims abstain from dawn to sunset from food, drink and sexual relations. Furthermore, in this time Muslims are encouraged to refrain not only from sins but also from vain talks and actions. Moreover this time should be utilized for self-reformation and self-reflection as the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) stated that whosoever spends this month in full faith and self-reflection, his previous sins will be forgiven.
Completing at least once the whole recitation of the Holy Quran and offering the voluntary prayers Taraweh in congregation after the evening prayers are Islamic customs specially attached to this month of Ramadan.
WHY DO MUSLIMS FAST?
The purpose of fasting is not to just be hungry and thirsty, rather during this month Muslims shift their attention from the physical nutrition more towards the spiritual nutrition. Fasting is a means to gain and increase in righteousness as the Holy Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) described the fast as a shield to protect yourself from sins, vain actions and talks. Ramadan literally means ´heat´ and signifies that during this period Muslims feel a burning desire and special enthusiasm in their souls to find and experience God. Ramadan is the most blessed time for Muslims during the year in which a Muslim tries to reform himself, reflects deeper upon his morality and spirituality and tightens his bond with His Creator.