Welcoming The Fasting Period

Posted: July 8, 2013 in Uncategorized

Muslim fasting (abstinence from eating, drinking and sexual desires, from dawn to dusk) is prescribed for ‘eligible’ individuals, in order that they may have piety. The significance of fasting in preventing ailments that relate to eating habits as well as the spiritual ailments that relate to self-desires and uncertainties is apparent.
 
Piety makes a Muslim direct his life in accordance with the dictates of Allah (SWT), against the ego and passion and serves as a shield against the the evil dictates of the human mind. This is depicted in the description of fasting as a “shield” by the Holy Prophet (SAW), in one of his
Ahadith. Muhammad bn Abubakar Zar’i states, in ‘Dibbin-nabawi’:
 
“In fasting is a medical treatment for both the soul and natural dispositions (of man). When a person guards what he is supposed to guard while fasting, it will be of an immense help to both his mind and his body, and protects him against foreign entities that may be harmful to his body, as well as the removal accumulated wastes, thus regulating the body’s (normal) functions”.
 
Furthermore, by abstaining from eating, drinking, and sexual desires from dawn to dusk, during fasting period, Muslims are made to taste the miseries and deprivations that the poor have to constantly suffer in their impoverished existence. In this way, fasting helps Muslim to purge themselves of evils by restraining their carnal desires that prevent man from perceiving and attaining reality. He who masters his carnal soul that commands evils can most certainly master other creatures, just as he that is dominated by this soul could be dominated by creatures. Indeed, war against the ‘soul’ is more difficult than that against the ‘force’. In an Islamic society, therefore, fasting could restrict the influence of ego and whims among individuals thereby checking the attendant negative consequences.
 
Fasting and Physical Health 
Maintenance of a good state of physical and mental health in the body is the objective of every health-care programme or healing art.
 
In Islam, Ramadan fasting is decreed only on healthy adults, exempting children, debilitated elderly, the sick (including pregnant women and nursing mothers), and travelers, who are at liberty to fast a similar number of days later. The debilitated elderly is given an alternative of feeding the needy.

The liberty of fasting similar number of days later is also extended to those who are exposed to certain conditions that are detrimental to health if they fast under such situation. For instance, a longer day period of about 21 hours experienced during the summer in Europe, which could be debilitating to a healthy person, just as the normal fasting period could be to an already debilitated elderly one. Similarly, the excessive and unbearable hot weather during the Spring in the Sahara and Sub-Sahara regions of the world, that may lead to shock, or even death from excessive dehydration. This proves the significance of fasting as being designed to maintain and improve the health status of the body system. It further points to the desire of Allah, of making fasting a relief rather than a discomfort to the believers (Q2: 185-6).
 
It is obvious that deficiency of food to a certain extent in the body may precipitate or predispose the body to one ailment or the other, as well as exacerbating an existing one.

However, fasting as a temporary period of abstinence from food serves as a regulatory period within which the body system transforms (metabolizes) various classes of food needed by the body and distributes it in precise and adequate proportions – balanced diet – to all parts of the body. For instance, the usual 6-8 hours fasting that every living person is engaged in while asleep during the night. During this period, food taken into the body is broken down and used for various functions and for the manufacture of other components that are needed by the body. Excess food is converted into a stored form for future use when deprivation occurs.

The waste products of the breaking-down of food (catabolism) and building-up (anabolism) processes are then channeled through appropriate excretory pathway.
 
The tight control between anabolism and catabolism and their regulation ensures normal body functioning by the wisdom and power of Allah (SWT).

For this reason, the Prophet (SAW) taught us to say, after every meal: “
Glory be to Allah who feeds, quenches (hunger and thirst), metabolizes it and places for it an outlet”, and to say, when coming out of the toilet:
“We seek your forgiveness; Glory be to Allah who removed from me waste and made me healthy”.
 
During the 10-12 hour fasting, the stored form of food in the body is converted into utilizable form to supplement the decrease in the food intake into the body. For instance, excess glucose is stored in the form of glycogen in the liver. When glucose is depleted in the blood, glycogen is converted back to glucose and utilized for energy generation. If glycogen is depleted (hypoglyceamia), glucose could be manufactured from other food sources, apart from carbohydrates, in the body (gluconeogenesis). For example, Fat stores could also be converted to glucose, and in the absence of fats, tissue proteins (as a last resort) could also be mobilized for energy required by the body in an instance of starvation. But deprivation during the normal hours of fasting under normal conditions could hardly lead to starvation. When adequate supply of food is restored, at the time of breaking fast, the alternative energy generating pathways are shut down, leaving the normal pathway (glycolysis) to predominate.
 
Fasting could therefore be considered as a dietary regulatory mechanism by which the healthy status of the body is maintained and also prevent starvation. The fasting and breaking cycle for a certain period of time (e.g. 29 / 30 days of Ramadan) ensures just adequate intake, transformation, utilization, excretion and regulation and also control of the disorders that are associated with an imbalance in the proportion of certain nutrients in the body.
 
A Muslim health professional identified the verse “ Eat and drink and do not be extravagant; for he does not like extravagance”, as a summary of all forms of medications revealed in the Holy Quran. This implies that some forms of disorder in the body system evolve from an unregulated food intake. Example, Bronze diabetes is associated with iron overload; Hyperlipidaemia is associated with excess lipid in the blood e.t.c. For this reason, it is recommended for Muslims to fast (apart from the obligatory fasting of Ramadan) at least three days of every month; or up to two days (Mondays and Thursdays) every week; or on alternate days, but never continuously throughout the year. The Prophet (SAW) discourages that by his words: “He has neither fasted; he that fasted the era, nor had he broken the fast”. 

Some group of patients could also tolerate the normal fasting hours without harm. For istance Insulin Dependent Diabetic (IDD) patients that are hitherto exempted from fasting. According to Saudi based researchers from King Fahd Hospital and King Saudi University IDD patients who are reasonably stable can manage their diabetes well during Ramadan, and the control of blood sugar is not significantly different from that which they attain during other months of the year. The study concludes that IDD patients who wish to fast can be allowed to do so as long as they maintain their usual insulin dose and follow-up as in other months of the year.
 
Fasting and Mental Health
 
The ability of an individual to form harmonious relationship with others, and to participate in and contribute constructively to doing things in his social and physical environment defines the mental health of an individual. Mental disorders that relate to the ailments of the mind are of two categories: that of Illusion and Doubts and that of self-desire. In whatever form, ailments of the mind manifest as blameworthy attitudes such as pride, arrogance, deceit, and show-off or even Shirk. In this state a person becomes enslaved by the soul that commands evil, and act according to his ego and whims. This state of ailment is more difficult to treat than the physical ailments. Shaykh Ibn Ata’allah
11 states:

“The persistence of the joy of desire in the heart is a disease so difficult to treat”.     

Fasting, when viewed, as a deliberate restraining of one’s self-desire of food and sex, despite their availability and his accessibility to them, implies a struggle against the soul (Nafs) through which Satan inspires doubts and evil dictates. The Prophet (SAW) describes struggle against the soul as “the greater struggle”. For this reason, following the dictates of one’s soul is identified as the root of all wrong doings, self-desires and heedlessness, in a similar way that resisting the dictates serves as the root of all obedience, awareness and awakening. Sheykh Muhammadul Busiri states, in his book,
Burdatul-Madihi:
 
Oppose the Soul and Satan and disobey them If they offer you counseling, query it!
 
To a Muslim, therefore, fasting serves as a self-training mode towards acquisition of attitudes that bestow unto him tranquility, closeness to God and a good state of mental health. Glory be to the One who made fasting of an immense benefit to both physical and mental health, and as a means of integrating thoughts and actions for the sake of Allah and strengthening the mind in His love and service.
C. faruk sarkinfada

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