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Religion
Concept of Islam Fasting
What is Fasting?
Fasting is primarily the act of willingly abstaining from some or all food, drink, or both, for a period of time. An absolute fast is normally defined as abstinence from all food and liquid for a defined period, usually a single day (24 hours), or several daytime periods. Other fasts may be only partially restrictive, limiting particular foods or substance. The fast may also be intermittent in nature. Fasting practices may preclude sexual and other activities as well as food.
Month of Ramadan

Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic Calendar, is considered as one of the holiest months of the year. It was in 610 A.D. when the prophet Muhammad was said to have received revelations from God that later became Islam’s holy book, the Quran (Koran). The Quran (2:185) states that it was in the month of Ramadan that the Quran was revealed. In fact, Ramadan commemorates that part, of the Muslim year, when "the Qur'an was sent down as a guidance for the people" and also for the " judgment between the right and wrong". Another verse of the Quran (97:1) states that it was revealed "on the night of determination," which Muslims generally observe on the night of 26-27 Ramadan. The holy season begins with the sighting of the crescent moon on the evening following the new moon and lasts for 29 or 30 days depending on the lunar cycle. According to the Quran, Muslims must see the New Moon with the naked eye before they can begin their fast. The practice has arisen that two witnesses should testify to this before a qadi (judge), who, if satisfied, communicates the news to the mufti (the interpreter of Muslim law), who orders the beginning of the fast. It has become usual for Middle Eastern Arab countries to accept, with reservations, the verdict of Cairo. Should the New Moon prove to be invisible, then the month Sha'ban, immediately preceding Ramadan, will be reckoned as 30 days in length, and the fast will begin on the day following the last day of this month. Ramadan, the ninth month, is observed throughout the Muslim world as a month of fasting. The end of the fast follows the same procedure. By fasting, Muslims believe they can learn the discipline and self-restraint that Mohammed preached. Thus fasting is taken as a form of worship and a time of empowerment. Even though from dawn to sunset, Muslims abstain from food, drink and all sensual pleasures, that doesn’t mean food is entirely out of the picture. Two main meals are taken each day during Ramadan. The souhoor begins each day before dawn and the aftar breaks the fast after sunset. At the sundown each day the fast is broken with the dates and water or the apricot drink. Mostly this is followed by a traditional soup like lentil and a salad like 'fattoushi'. However, the main meal can be anything. There are no restrictions, olives, cheeses, meats, everything just goes. Every family has its traditional dishes to enjoy. Also sweets are also an important part of Ramadan food. Usually ladies at home prepare the special Ramadan dishes for the evening meal. Many go out to give the women a break. Visits are exchanged for a community get together and feasts within their own faith. But it is not prudent to indulge in eating too much while after the fast. Because the stomach shrinks during this fast. In fact, the fast loses its meaning with an indulgence. There are evident reasons for choosing a lunar month. The advantages and disadvantages of the particular season in which it falls are shared by the whole world. A solar month would have given the advantages of shorter days and cooler weather to one part of the world, and burdened the other with the disadvantages of longer days of hotter weather. The lunar month is more in consonance with the universal nature of teachings of Islam, and all people have the advantages and disadvantages equally distributed. On the other hand, if a particular time had not been specified the discipline would have lost all its value. It is due to the choice of a particular month, that with its advent the whole Muslim world is, as it were, moved by one current from one end to the other. The movement effected by the advent of Ramadan in the Muslim world is the greatest mass movement on the face of the earth. The rich and the poor, the high and the low, the master and the servant, the ruler and the ruled, the black and the white, the Eastern and the Western, from one end of the earth to the other, suddenly change the course of their lives when they witness the tiny crescent of Ramadan making its appearance on the western horizon. There is no other example of a mass movement on this scale on the face of the earth, and this is due to the specification of a particular month.
Islam Fasting
In Islam, fasting for a month is an obligatory practice during this holy month , from fajr (dawn), until the maghrib (dusk). They are also encouraged to temper negative emotions such as anger and addiction. By fasting, whether during Ramadan or other times, a Muslim draws closer to God by abandoning body pleasures, this makes the sincerity of their faith and their devotion to God (Arabic: Allah) 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 in one word as 'God-consciousness' or 'God-wariness'. Fasting is believed to help promote chastity and humility and prevent sin, the outburst of uncontrolled lusts and desires and far-fetched hopes. To Muslims, fasting acts as a shield with which the Muslim protects him/herself from jahannam (hell). Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. Fasting also includes abstaining from any falsehood in speech and action, abstaining from any ignorant and indecent speech, and from arguing, fighting, and having lustful thoughts. Therefore, fasting strengthens control of impulses and helps develop good behavior. During the sacred month of Ramadan, believers strive to purify body and soul and increase their taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness). This purification of body and soul harmonizes the inner and outer spheres of an individual. Muslims aim to improve their body by reducing food intake and maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Overindulgence in food is discouraged and eating only enough to silence the pain of hunger is encouraged. Muslims believe they should be active, tending to all their commitments and never falling short of any duty. On a moral level, believers strive to attain the most virtuous characteristics and apply them to their daily situations. They try to show compassion, generosity and mercy to others, exercise patience, and control their anger. In essence, Muslims are trying to improve what they believe to be good moral character and habits.[1]
For Muslims, fasting also inculcates a sense of fraternity and solidarity, as Muslims believe they are feeling and experiencing what their needy and hungry brothers and sisters are feeling. Those who are already poor and hungry are often considered exempt from fasting, as their condition renders them effectively fasting all the time; however, many still refrain from eating during the day. Moreover, Ramadan is a month of giving charity and sharing meals to break the fast together.
The Siyam(the is intended to teach Muslims patience and self-control, and to remind them of the less fortunate in the world. The fast is also seen as a debt owed by the Muslim to God. Faithful observance of the Siyam is believed to atone for personal faults and misdeeds, at least in part, and to help earn a place in paradise. It is also believed to be beneficial for personal conduct, that is, to help control impulses, passions and temper. The fast is also meant to provide time for meditation and to strengthen one's faith.
A Fasting Day
Muslims have to change their whole physical and emotional selves during the 30 long days of fasting. A typical day of fasting begins with getting up early, around 4:30 a.m. and sharing a meal called Sahur together before the fast begins at dawn, about 5:10 a.m. As dawn breaks, the first of five daily prayers, Fajr, is offered. As the day proceeds, fasting Muslims are constantly bombarded with messages from their stomachs that it is time for breakfast, snack, lunch, and so on. And each time, Muslims remind themselves that they are fasting for the sole purpose of pleasing Allah and seeking his mercy. They offer the second and third prayers during early and late afternoon, respectively. Fasting helps one to experience how a hungry person feels and what it is like to have an empty stomach. It teaches one to share the sufferings of the less fortunate. Muslims believe that fasting leads one to appreciate the bounties of Allah, which are usually taken for granted—until they are missed! Throughout the day, Muslims are encouraged to go out of their way to help the needy, both financially and emotionally. Some believe that a reward earned during this month is multiplied 70 times and more. For this reason, Ramadan is also known as the month of charity and generosity. To a Muslim, fasting not only means abstaining from food, but also refraining from all vice and evils committed consciously or unconsciously. It is believed that if one volunteers to refrain from lawful foods and sex, they will be in a better position to avoid unlawful things and acts during the rest of the year. The fast is broken at sunset. The prophet Muhammed recommended breaking the fast with dates. Muslims are urged to invite others to break the fast with them. These gatherings are called Iftar parties. Just after breaking the fast, and before dinner, Muslims offer the fourth of the five daily prayers, which is called the Maghrib prayer. After dinner, Muslims go to their houses of worship, called Mosques, to offer the Isha prayer, which is the last of the five daily prayers. The day ends with a special voluntary prayer, the Taraweeh, offered by the congregation reciting the Qur’an, the holy book of Islam.
While fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered Fard (obligatory), Islam also prescribes certain days for non-obligatory, voluntary fasting, such as: • the 13th, 14th, and 15th of every lunar month • each Monday and Thursday of a week • six days in the month of Shawwal (the month following Ramadan) • every other day, also known as the fast of the prophet David
Fasting is forbidden on these days: • Eid Fitr (1st Shawwal) and Eid Adha (10th Dhulhijjah) - According to all Muslims. • Tashriq (11th, 12th, 13th Dhulhijjah) - According to the Sunnis only. • the Day of Arafat (9th of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Hijri(Islamic calendar)). (Again, according to Sunnis only - Only pilgrims to Mecca are forbidden to fast.) • The Day of Ashura, which is the tenth day of Muharram (first month in Islamic Calendar.)) (Shia only)
Exceptions are made for persons in particular circumstances: • Prepubescent children; though some parents will encourage their children to fast earlier for shorter periods, so the children get used to fasting. • Unconditional vomiting because the food leaves through an unintentional part of the gut. • Serious illness; the days lost to illness will have to be made up after recovery. • If one is traveling but one must make up any days missed upon arriving at one's destination. • A pregnant woman • 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 person's diet for each day missed if they are financially capable. • A mentally ill person. • 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 an adult who is sane, man or woman, breaks his/her fast intentionally and without any excuse, he or she must fast (60) consecutive days for each Ramadan in which he or she broke the fast, as well as make up the missing day(s).

Comparison to Islam fasting

Christianity

The "acceptable fast" is discussed in the biblical Book of Isaiah, chapter 58:3-7. In essence, it means afflict the soul through abstaining from fulfilling the needs or wants of the flesh. The opening chapter of the Book of Daniel, vv. 8-16, describes a partial fast and its effects on the health of its observers. Fasting is a practice in several Christian denominations or other churches. Some denominations do not practice it, considering it an external observance, but many individual believers choose to observe fasts at various times at their own behest.[20] The Lenten fast observed in the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church is a forty-day partial fast to commemorate the fast observed by Christ during his temptation in the desert. This is similar to the partial fasting within the Ethiopian Orthodox Church (abstaining from meat and milk) which takes place during certain times of the year and lasts for weeks. The Bible sets aside one whole day a year for fasting, The Day of Atonement. Leviticus 23:27, 32 (CEV) says "Everyone must go without eating from the evening of the ninth to the evening of the tenth on the seventh month which is the Day of Atonement."

Biblical accounts

• Moses fasted for forty days and forty nights, twice back-to-back, without food or water; the first, immediately before he received the tablets on the mountain with God. And the second, after coming down, seeing the Israelites practicing idolatry, and breaking the tablets in anger. Meaning of Islamic Fasting
When Islam introduced this matchless institution, it planted an ever-growing tree of infinite virtue and invaluable products. Here is an explanation of the spiritual meaning of the Islamic Fasting: 1. It teaches man the principle of sincere Love: because when he observes Fasting he does it out of deep love for God. And the man who loves God truly is a man who really knows what love is. 2. It equips man with a creative sense of hope and an optimistic outlook on life; because when he fasts he is hoping to please God and is seeking His Grace. 3. It imbues in man the genuine virtue of effective devotion, honest dedication and closeness to God; because when he fasts he does so for God and for His sake alone. 4. It cultivates in man a vigilant and sound conscience; because the fasting person keeps his fast in secret as well as in public. In fasting, especially, there is no mundane authority to check man's behavior or compel him to observe fasting. He keeps it to please God and satisfy his own conscience by being faithful in secret and in public. There is no better way to cultivate a sound conscience in man. 5. It indoctrinates man in patience and selflessness, as through fasting, he feels the pains of deprivation but he endures them patiently. 6. It is an effective lesson in applied moderation and willpower. 7. Fasting also provides man with a transparent soul, a clear mind and a light body. 8. It shows man a new way of wise savings and sound budgeting. 9. It enables man to master the art of Mature Adaptability. We can easily understand the point once we realize that fasting makes man change the entire course of his daily life. 10. It grounds man in discipline and healthy survival. 11. It originates in man the real spirit of social belonging, unity and brotherhood, of equality before God as well as before the law. 12. It is a Godly prescription for self-reassurance and self-control.
Now, someone may be tempted to raise the objection: If this is the case with the Islamic institution of fasting, and if this is the picture of Islam in this aspect, why are the Muslims not living in a utopia? To such an objection we can only say that Muslims have lived in and enjoyed a utopia in a certain epoch of their history. The realization of that utopia was a phenomenon of a unique achievement in the history of man. We say unique, because no religion or social system other than Islam has ever been able to realize its ideals in reality.
The reason why the Islamic utopia is not being established nowadays is manifold and easily explicable. But to restrict our discussion to the institution of fasting we may say that some Muslims, unfortunately for them, do not observe the fast or, at best, adopt the attitude of indifference. On the other hand, some of those who observe it do not realize its true meaning and, as a result, derive very little benefit out of it or, in fact, no benefit at all. That is why some Muslims today, do not enjoy the real privileges of fasting.
It has already been indicated that the period of obligatory fasting is the month of Ramadan. The daily period of observance starts before the break of the dawn and ends immediately after sunset. Normally there are accurate calendars to toll the exact time, but in the absence of such facilities one should consult one's watch and the sun's positions, together with the local newspapers, weather bureau, etc.
WHO MUST FAST?
The fasting of Ramadan is compulsory upon every Muslim male and female who has the following qualification.
1. To be mentally and physically fit.
2. To be of full age, the age of puberty and discretion, which is normally about fourteen (14) years? Children under this age should be encouraged to start this good practice so that when they reach the age of puberty, they will be mentally and physically prepared to observe the fasting.
Allah has said in the Holy Quran; “The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Quran, a guidance for mankind and clear proofs of the guidance and the criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present let him fast the month and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey (let him fast the same) and (he desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that per-adventure, ye may be thankful.” (Quran 2:185).
GENERAL RECOMMENDATION
It is strongly recommended by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace and blessings of Allah be upon Him) to observe the following practices especially during Ramadan: -
1. To have a light meal before the break of dawn.
2. To observe the supererogatory prayer known as “Taraweeh”
3. To exchange social visits and intensify humanitarian services.
4. To increase study and recitation of the Holy Quran.
5. To exert the utmost in patience and humbleness.
6. To be extra-ordinary cautious in using the senses, the mind and especially the tongue to abstain from careless and gossip chats and avoid uttering profane statements.
It should be noted that Allah has promised to reward the fasting Muslim manifold without measure. In this regard the thirty days fasting period during Ramadan has been divided into three parts for blessings as follows:
For the first ten days, Allah has promised to grant mercy to all Muslims.
The second ten days for forgiveness and the last ten days stands for salvation from the torment of fire – hell.
May Allah grant us the courage and will power to be able to perform his obligations bestowed upon us without much difficulties. It is my fervent hope and prayer that the spirit of Ramadan will usher in the much needed peace in all conflict areas in Ghana and the world at large.
May the Peace and Love of Allah be upon all Believers – Amen.

Muslims are called upon to use this month to re-evaluate their lives in light of Islamic guidance. We are to make peace with those who have wronged us, strengthen ties with family and friends, do away with bad habits -- essentially to clean up our lives, our thoughts, and our feelings. The Arabic word for "fasting" (sawm) literally means "to refrain" - and it means not only refraining from food and drink, but from evil actions, thoughts, and words. During Ramadan, every part of the body must be restrained. The tongue must be restrained from backbiting and gossip. The eyes must restrain themselves from looking at unlawful things. The hand must not touch or take anything that does not belong to it. The ears must refrain from listening to idle talk or obscene words. The feet must refrain from going to sinful places. In such a way, every part of the body observes the fast. Therefore, fasting is not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person's body and soul to the spirit of the fast. Ramadan is a time to practice self-restraint; a time to cleanse the body and soul from impurities and re-focus one's self on the worship of God.

References

http://aaiil.org/text/books/mali/rlgnislm/fasting.shtml http://www.theholidayspot.com/ramadan/ramadan.htm http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting#cite_note-36…...

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