Foundation, NJ U. S. A
the Message Continues ... 3/85
Newsletter for September 2008
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The Philosophy behind Fasting
A month long fasting during Ramadhan acts as a spiritual
cleansing for those
who fast. The fast purges out all sins of the past and purifies the heart,
soul and mind of a Muslim. Through Ramadhan, a Muslim gets much, much closer
to Allah than any other time of the year. Besides that, Ramadhan as a month
of blessing comes as a Madrasah (school) once a year, teaching him
self-discipline( in using his senses) and time-management in carrying-out
his prayers and daily activities.
Furthermore, Ramadhan calls on an individual Muslim to reflect on the poor
and needy, the under-privileged people living under pathetic conditions all
over the world. By contemplating on the conditions of those who are living
and struggling in war- torn countries and of those living under harsh
weather conditions where there is scarcity of food and water resources, a
Muslim learns patience, perseverance, persistence, moderation, contentment
and austerity through his fast.
The ideal fast in Islam is one that transforms an individual from being
selfish and ego-centric to a person who is God-conscious and one who shows
love and care and compassion to his fellow human beings. It makes him an
individual, who is constantly mindful of his duties to his Creator and to
the rest of mankind. Through the process of fasting, an individual in Islam
becomes a good person in the true sense by bringing out all his humanly
potentials that are dormant in him. Moreover, it also brings out of him many
of the innate godly and angelic attributes in him, and at the same time it
subdues all the evil and animalistic nature that is within him.
Ramadhan & Al-Qur'an
There is an inseparable relationship between Ramadhan and the Holy Qur'an.
It was during the month of Ramadhan that the Qur'an was first revealed to
the Prophet s.a.w. At the time of the first revelation, the Prophet s.a.w.
was in a state of seclusion from the rest of the community contemplating on
the conditions of the Arabs. They led a life far, far away from what has
been prescribed by Allah in the Holy Books that came before the Qur'an.
During those days, there was no rule of law in the whole of Arabia. For the
Arabs, might was right. Though they were good in the usage of the Arabic
language, yet they were groping in their spiritual darkness which is known
in the history of the Arabs as `Ayyamul Jahiliyyah' (Days of Ignorance)
At the time when the archangel Jibrail a.s. made his first visitation,
Prophet s.a.w. was sitting in the darkness and stillness of the Cave of
Hira, which is located in Jabal Nur near Makkah. Upon the appearance of
Jibrail a.s. in the cave, there was light and he delivered to Prophet
Muhammad s.a.w. the first five verses from Surah Al-Alaq: "Proclaim! (or
Read!) in the name of your Lord and Cherisher, Who created- Created man, out
of a (mere) clot of congealed blood: Proclaim! And your Lord is Most
Bountiful. He Who taught (the use of Pen). Taught man that he knew not."
Ever since this incident, the Qur'an started to descend in bits and pieces
in according to the need of the time and challenges faced by the Prophet
s.a.w. The whole of the Qur'an was completely revealed in twenty-three years
(13 years in Makkah and 10 years in Madinah)
During his prophet hood, every year during Ramadhan, angel Jibrail a.s will
visit Prophet Muhammad s.a.w. to check on his reading of the Qur'an. As
such, the Prophet's reading of the Qur'an has been refined, and miraculously
he was able to commit the whole Qur'an to memory. This tradition in a way
has made the Qur'an truly authentic compared to the previous Holy Books
which were not preserved in writings. Reading the Qur'an with understanding
during the month of Ramadhan brings a lot of blessings and tranquility to
the hearts of the believers. Those who reads the Qur'an during the fasting
month bring upon themselves additional reward ( thawab) from their Lord.
Fasting is primarily the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food,
drink, or both, for a period of time. A fast may be total or partial
concerning that from which one fasts, and may be prolonged or intermittent
as to the period of fasting. Fasting practices may preclude sexual activity
as well as food, in addition to refraining from eating certain types or
groups of foods; for example, one might refrain from eating meat. A complete
fast in its traditional definition is abstinence of all food and liquids
except for water.
Fasting for religious and spiritual reasons has been a part of human custom
since pre-history. It is mentioned in the Bible, in both the Old Testament
(the Tanach) and New Testament, the Qur'an, the Mahabharata, and the
Upanishads. Fasting is also practiced in many other religious traditions and
Fasting is also used in a medical context to refer to the state achieved
after digestion of a meal. A number of metabolic adjustments occur during
fasting and many medical diagnostic tests are standardized for fasting
conditions. For most medical purposes a person is assumed to be fasting
after 8-12 hours. A diagnostic fast refers to prolonged fasting (from 8-72
hours depending on age) conducted under medical observation for
investigation of a problem, usually hypoglycemia. Fasting has occasionally
been recommended as a therapeutic intervention by physicians of many
cultures, though it is uncommonly resorted to for this purpose by modern
Buddhist monks and nuns following the Vinaya rules commonly do not eat each
day after the noon meal. This is not considered a fast, but rather a
disciplined regimen aiding in meditation. Fasting is not practiced by lay
Buddhists because it is seen as a deviation from the Middle Path. This is
because prior to attaining Buddhahood, prince Siddhartha practiced a regime
of four years of strict austerity during which he consumed very little food.
Later on this practice was abandoned since it achieved nothing. Henceforth,
prince Siddhartha practiced moderation in eating which he later advocated
for his disciples.
The Vajrayana practice of Nyung Ne is based on the tantric practice of
Chenrezig. It is said that Chenrezig appeared to Gelongma Palmo, an Indian
nun who had contracted leprosy and was on the verge of death. Chenrezig
taught her the method of Nyung Ne in which one keeps the eight precepts on
the first day, then refrains from both food and water on the second.
Although seemingly against the Middle Way, this practice is to experience
the negative karma of both oneself and all other sentient beings and, as
such is seen to be of benefit. Other self-inflicted harm is discouraged.
Perhaps due to sectarian differences, some lineages of Buddhism consider
taking the eight precepts even for a limited period of time, to be a fast.In
fact, they are occasionally referred to as "fasting precepts." The eight
precepts closely resemble the ten vinaya precepts for novice monks and nuns.
The novice precepts are the same with the prohibition against handling
money. (For further information, see The Way to Buddhahood: Instructions
from a Modern Chinese Master by Venerable Yin-shun.)
Biblical accounts of fasting
* Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights while he was on the
mountain with God. (Exodus 34:28)
* King David fasted when the son of his adulterous union with
Bathsheba was struck sick by God, in punishment for the adultery and for
David's murder of Bathsheba's husband, Uriah the Hittite. Nevertheless, the
son died, upon which David broke his fast (2 Samuel 12:15-25).
* King Jehosaphat proclaimed a fast throughout Judah for victory over
the Moabites and Ammonites who were attacking them (2 Chronicles 20:3).
* The prophet Isaiah chastised the Israelites in Isaiah 58 for the
unrighteous methods and motives of their fasting. He clarified some of the
best reasons for fasting and listed both physical and spiritual benefits
that would result (Isaiah 58:3-13).
* The prophet Joel called for a fast to avert the judgment of God.
* The people of Nineveh in response to Jonah's prophecy, fasted to
avert the judgment of God (Jonah 3:7).
* The Jews of Persia, following Mordechai's example, fasted due to the
genocidal decree of Haman. Queen Esther declared a three-day fast for all
the Jews prior to risking her life in visiting King Ahasuerus uninvited
* The Pharisees in Jesus' time fasted regularly, and asked Jesus why
his disciples did not. Jesus answered them using a parable (Luke 5:33-39,
Matthew 9:14-15, Mark 2:18-20, see also Mark 2).
* Jesus also warned against fasting to gain favor from men. He warned
his followers that they should fast in private, not letting others know they
were fasting (Matthe6:1618).
* Jesus fasted for forty days and forty nights while in the desert,
prior to the three temptations (Matthew 4:2, Luke 4:2).
* Jesus said: "But this kind (of demon) does not go out except by
prayer and fasting." (Matthew 17:21)
* "And he (Jesus) said unto them (disciples), This kind (of demon) can
come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:29)
* The prophetess Anna, who proclaimed the birth of Jesus in the
Temple, fasted regularly (Luke 2:37).
* There are indications in the New Testament as well as from the
Apocryphal Didache that members of the Early Christian Church fasted
* Hinduism Fasting is a very integral part of the Hindu religion.
Individuals observe different kinds of fasts based on personal beliefs and
local customs. Some are listed below.
* Some Hindus fast on certain days of the month such as Ekadasi or
* Certain days of the week are also set aside for fasting depending on
personal belief and favorite deity. For example, devotees of Shiva tend to
fast on Mondays, while devotees of Vishnu tend to fast on Fridays or
* Thursday fasting is very common among the Hindus of northern India.
On Thursdays devotees listen to a story before breaking their fast. On the
Thursday fasters also worship Vrihaspati Mahadeva. They wear yellow clothes,
and meals with yellow colour are preferred. Women worship the banana tree
and water it. Food items are made with yellow-coloured ghee.
* Fasting during religious festivals is also very common. Common
examples are Maha Shivaratri or the 9 days of Navratri (which occurs twice a
year in the months of April and October/November during Vijayadashami just
before Diwali, as per the Hindu calendar). Karwa Chauth is a form of fasting
unique to the northern part of India where married women undertake a fast
for the well-being, prosperity, and longevity of their husbands. The fast is
broken after the wife views the moon through a sieve after sunset.
* In the state of Andhra Pradesh, the month of Kaarthika, which begins
with the day after Deepavali is often a period of frequent (though not
necessarily continuous) fasting for some people, especially women. Common
occasions for fasting during this month include Mondays (for Lord Shiva),
the full-moon day of Karthika and the occasion of Naagula Chaviti.
Methods of fasting also vary widely and cover a broad spectrum. If followed
strictly, the person fasting does not partake any food or water from the
previous day's sunset until 48 minutes after the following day's sunrise.
Fasting can also mean limiting oneself to one meal during the day and/or
abstaining from eating certain food types and/or eating only certain food
types. In any case, even if the fasting Hindu is non-vegetarian, he/she is
not supposed to eat or even touch any animal products (i.e. meat, eggs) on a
day of fasting. (Milk is an exception for animal products).
In Sri VIdya, One is Forbidden to Fast Him/Her self because the Devi is
within them, and starving would in return starve the god. The only exception
in Srividya for fasting is on the day the persons parents had passed away.
In Islam, fasting for a month is an obligatory practice during the holy
month of Ramadan, from fajr(dawn), until maghrib (sunset). Muslims are
prohibited from eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in sexual
intercourse while fasting. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the
Pillars of Islam, and thus one of the most important acts of Islamic
worship. By fasting, whether during Ramadan or other times, a Muslim draws
closer to their Lord by abandoning the things they enjoy, such as food and
drink. This makes the sincerity of their faith and their devotion to God all
the more evident.
The Qur'an states that fasting was prescribed for those before them (i.e.,
the Jews and Christians) and that by fasting a Muslim gains taqwa, which can
be described as the care taken by a person to do everything God has
commanded and to keep away from everything that He has forbidden. Fasting
helps prevent many sins and is a shield with which the Muslim protects
him/herself from jahannam.
Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It
also includes abstaining from any falsehood in speech and action, from any
ignorant and indecent speech, and from arguing and fighting, and lustful
thoughts. Therefore, fasting helps develop good behavior.
Fasting also inculcates a sense of fraternity and solidarity, as Muslims
feel and experience what their needy and hungry brothers and sisters feel.
However, even the poor, needy, and hungry participate in the fast. Moreover,
Ramadan is a month of giving charity and sharing meals to break the fast
Although fasting is fard (obligatory), exceptions are made for persons in
* Prepubescent children; though some parents will encourage their
children fast earlier for shorter periods, so the children get used to
* Serious illness; the days lost to illness will have to be made up
* If one is traveling, since the fajr and maghrib times will change;
but one must make up any days missed upon arriving at one's destination.
* Women who are pregnant or nursing.
* A woman during her menstrual period; although she must count the
days she missed and make them up at the end of Ramadan.
* An ill person or old person who is not physically able to fast. They
should donate the amount of a normal persons diet for each day missed if
they are financially capable.
Penalty of purposefully breaking fast at Ramadan:
* For elders who will not be able to fast, a lunch meal (or an
equivalent amount of money) is to be donated to the poor or needy for each
day of missed fasting.
* If a person does not keep the promise about which he or she swore,
either three days of fasting or the donation of ten lunch meals (or an
equivalent amount of money) to the poor or needy is mandated for each
* If a person breaks his fast intentionally and without any excuse,
some sayings tell that he cannot ever be excused and/or forgiven; however,
most Islamic opinions say that salvation / redemption can be attainted if
the violator fasts for 60 days successively (two months) without missing a
Courtesy: Hussein Mustafa Parmar
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