Learning the Five Pillars of Islam part 4 Fasting!

As Salam Alaikum friends!

Its been a while since I’ve posted due to being extremely busy with the kids being off for spring break. But, I’m back! Hope everyone who celebrates Easter had a great holiday. Muslims don’t celebrate it but that’s a whole other post 🙂

So we come to the4TH pillar of Islam…fasting! Many religions fast including Islam, Judaism, Christianity and others as well. Most for the purpose to attain a closer relationship to God. There are a variety of ways people fast and for many reasons. I will only be touching on Islam as that’s what this post is about.

There are an estimated 6 million to 7 million Muslims in America whose unique food practices are guided by religious laws and influenced by cultural differences.

Fasting in Ramadan
Ramadan is the name of the ninth month in the Islamic calendar year, which is based on the lunar cycle and consists of 12 months of 29 or 30 days each. Because the Islamic year is roughly 10 days shorter than the Gregorian one, Ramadan shifts yearly.

Fasting for Muslims means abstaining from all foods and beverages, including gum and water, as well as medication and smoking, from dawn to sunset. The two main meals of the day are suhur (immediately before dawn) and iftar (immediately after sunset). These mealtimes are also related to two of the five main prayers Muslims perform every day. Muslims may consume other meals or snacks at night. Aside from hunger and thirst, Ramadan bestows spiritual peace to Muslims; during Ramadan, acts of worship are highly intensified.

It is impossible to describe typical suhur or iftar meals, considering the high diversity of the Muslim American community. Suhur can be dinner, or iftar, leftovers, typical breakfast foods, or ethnic foods. Social gatherings, many times buffet style, at iftar are frequent, and traditional dishes are often highlighted. A few dates and a cup of water are usually the first foods to break the fast, while fried pastries, salads, nuts, legumes, and breads are common. Traditional desserts are often unavoidable, especially those made only during Ramadan. Water is usually the beverage of choice, but juice and milk are also consumed. Soft drinks and caffeinated beverages are consumed to a lesser extent.

While weight loss is certainly not the driving power behind fasting, it is not uncommon for some to take advantage of it to shed a few pounds. At the same time, many Muslims see no changes in their weight, while others may gain weight. I tend to gain weight, surprisingly due to eating in excess at night…which I do not recommend 🙂 Excess fried foods and desserts, overeating at buffet-style iftar parties, and reduced physical activity can be attributed to weight gain. Many Muslims aim for nutrient-dense foods to optimize nutrition and see fasting as a way to detox and allow the gut to rest.

Fasting and Medical Issues
Fasting does not pose any medical risks to healthy individuals.

Exemptions to fasting are travel, menstruation, illness, older age, pregnancy, and breast-feeding. However, many Muslims with medical conditions insist on fasting to satisfy their spiritual needs, and healthcare professionals must work with their patients to reach common ground. Professionals should closely monitor individuals who decide to persist with fasting.

The main chronic diseases of concern are diabetes, heart disease, hypertension, renal disease, and peptic ulcers. Care plans must be individualized, as many patients with these conditions can fast without adverse events. Compliance with medications may be an issue, especially for those on daily daytime dosages. For patients with diabetes, things to consider are feasibility of adjusting medication and insulin dose, clinical stability, history of hypoglycemia and diabetic ketoacidosis, and the presence of other comorbidities.

It is not just physical hunger and thirst that constitute the Muslim fast, but the nights prior to the beginning of the fast acquire a far more important character and play a central role in the institution of fasting. The Muslims wake up many hours before dawn for individual prayer and the remembrance of God. Also the Holy Quran is recited in every Muslim house much more than in ordinary days. A greater part of the night is thus spent in spiritual exercises which make upso the very essence of fasting.

During the day, apart from restraining from food and water, all is Muslims are particularly exhorted from vain talk, quarrels and fights, or from any such occupation as is below the dignity of a true believer. No indulgence in carnal pleasure is allowed; even husband and wife during the day lead separate lives, except for the formal human relationship common to all people.

In Islam, alms-giving and care for the destitute is so highly emphasized that it becomes part of a Muslim’s daily life. However when it comes to Ramadan, the month of fasting, Muslims are required to redouble their efforts in this field. It is reported of the Holy Prophet that spending in the cause of the poor was a routine daily practice with him which has been likened unto a breeze, never ceasing to bring comfort and solace to the needy. However during Ramadan, the reporters of the Ahadith — the sayings of the Holy Prophet (saw)– remind us that the breeze seemed to pick up speed and began to blow like strong winds. Alms-giving and care for the destitute are so highly emphasized, that in no period during the year do Muslims engage in such philanthropic purposes as they do during the month of Ramadan.

  1. Other obligatory fasting is most often related to the condoning of sins by God. This also includes violation of the obligatory fasts.

The optional fasting is so well promoted that it becomes a part of the righteous Muslim’s way of life. Although a majority of Muslims do not go beyond the month of obligatory fasting, some keep fasts now and then particularly when in trouble. As it is expected that the prayers offered in fasting are more productive, some people keep extra fasts to ward off their problems, but some do it only for the sake of winning Allah’s special favors. There no limit to this, except that the founder of Islam strongly discouraged those who had vowed to fast continuously for their whole life. When the Holy Prophet (saw) came to learn of one such case, he disapproved of the practice and censured the man for attempting to achieve liberation as if by forcing his will upon . He told the person concerned that: ‘Just by putting yourself to trouble or discomfort, not only will you be unable to please God, but you may even earn His displeasure.’ He pointed out that over emphasis on austerity is likely to make one negligent towards one’s wife and children, kith and kin, friends etc.

The Holy Prophet (saw) reminded him specifically of his responsibilities in the area of human relationship: ‘Do your duty to God as well as the creation of God equitably‘ was the advice. To some, after their insistent petulant begging, he permitted optional fasts only in the style of David, peace be upon him. The Holy Founder of Islam told them that it was the practice of David to fast one day and abstain from doing so the next. Throughout his life, after he made this vow, he kept the fast on alternate days. So the Holy Prophet (saw) said ‘I can only permit you that much and no more.’

The institution of fasting is extremely important because it cultivates the believer in almost every area of his spiritual life. Among other things, he learns through personal experience about what hunger, poverty, loneliness and discomforts mean to the less fortunate sections of society. Abstention from even such practices during the month of Ramadan as are permissible in everyday life plays a constructive role in refining the human character.

I hope this post has been beneficial to you and if you have any questions, please feel free to comment 🙂

Salam, Amani

May Allah keep you all happy, healthy and safe. Ameen

p.s. Pillar number 3 will be out of order due to a mistake made and will come shortly insha’Allah.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Trackback: The Five Pillars of Judaism – Fasting | A Jewish Voice

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