1 – Fasting teaches compassion
2 – Fasting as a form of penance
Fasting on Yom Kippur serves as a form of penance for Jews just as it does for Muslims in Ramadan. Narrated Abu Huraira: Allah’s Apostle (Allah’s blessings and peace be upon him) said, “Whoever observes fasts during the month of Ramadan out of sincere faith, hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven.” [Sahih Al-Bukhari Vol 1]
Though self-inflicted pain may alleviate some guilt, it is much better to reduce one’s guilt by offsetting acts of righteousness to others. This is why contributing to charity is an important part of Yom Kippur and Ramadan. Indeed, Judaism teaches that fasting that doesn’t increase compassion is ignored by God.
The concept of fasting as penance also helps us understand that our hunger pains can be beneficial. Contemporary culture desires happiness above all else. Any pain or suffering is seen as unnecessary and indeed evil. Though we occasionally hear people echo values from the past that suffering can help one grow, or that an existence unalloyed with pain would lack certain qualities of greatness, many today seem to think that the primary goal in life is “to always be happy and free of all discomfort.” The satisfaction one derives from the self-induced pain of fasting provides insight into a better way of reacting to the externally caused suffering we have to experience throughout life. Taking a pill is not always the best way to alleviate pain, especially if by doing so we allay the symptoms without reaching the root cause.
3 – Improved physical health
Naturally, one twenty-four hour fast will not have any more effect than one day of exercise; only prolonged and regular fasting promotes better health. The annual fast on Yom Kippur can, however, awaken us to the importance of acknowledging how much and how often we eat.
For many years research has shown that when animals are somewhat underfed, receiving a balanced diet at below the normal quantity for maximum physical health, their life spans were prolonged from 50% to 100%. With all the additives placed in food these days, a reduction of total food intake has to be healthful. More important, since our society has problems with overabundance, fasting provides a good lesson in the virtue of denial. Health problems caused by overeating are the most rapidly growing health problems in affluent Western countries. America’s consumer culture urges us to constantly over-indulge ourselves, and now even our children suffer from our bad models.
Thus going without all food and drink, even water, during Yom Kippur and Ramadan challenges us to think about the benefits of the very important religious teaching: less is more.
4 – A positive struggle against our dependencies
We live in a consumer society and without realising it, we are constantly bombarded by advertisements telling us that we must have to be healthy, happy, popular or wise. By fasting, we assert that we need not be totally dependent on external things, even such essentials as food. If our most basic need for food and drink can be suspended for twenty-four hours, how much more our needs for all the nonessentials.
Judaism and Islam do not advocate asceticism as an end in itself. In fact, it’s against Muslim and Jewish law to deny ourselves normal physical pleasures. But in our overheated consumer society, it is necessary periodically to turn off the constant pressure to consume, and to remind ourselves forcibly that “Man does not live by bread alone.” [Deuteronomy 8:3]
5 – Exercising willpower
Most people think they can’t fast because it’s too hard but in reality, the discomfort of hunger pangs is relatively minor. A headache, muscle pains from too much exercise, and most certainly a toothache, are all more severe than the pains hunger produces. The reason it is so hard to fast is because it so easy to break your fast since food is almost always in easy reach, all you have do is take a bite.
Thus the key to fasting is the will power to decide again and again not to eat or drink. Our society has increasingly become one of self-indulgence and we lack self-discipline. Fasting goes in direct opposition to our increasing “softness” in life. When people exercise their will-power and fast, they are affirming their self-control and celebrating mastery over themselves. We need continually to prove that we can do it because we are aware of our frequent failures to be self-disciplined.
6 – Performing religious duties
The sixth outcome of fasting is the performance of a mitzvah (religious duty), which is, after all, the one fundamental reason for fasting on Yom Kippur. We do not do mitzvot (religious duties) in order to benefit ourselves, but because our duty as Jews requires that we do them. Fasting is a very personal mitzvah, with primarily personal consequences. Fasting on Yom Kippur is a personal offering to God, from each and every Jew who fasts. For over 100 generations Jews have fasted on this day and it is seen as a personal covenant with God. The outcome of your fast can be any of a half dozen forms of self-fulfillment, but simply knowing that I have done one of my duties as a faithful Jew is the most basic and primary outcome of all.
As Tariq Ramadan says; “The philosophy of fasting calls upon us to know ourselves, to master ourselves, and to discipline ourselves; the better to free ourselves. To fast is to identify our dependencies, and free ourselves from them.”
May our fasting become a first step toward the removal of the chains of self- oppression and narrow-mindedness that enslave us, our neighbours, and our world! May future years of shared fasting by Muslims and Jews lead to a greater amount of understanding and respect through increased acceptance of religious pluralism.
Individual conductors and composers are different, but the source of musical creativity is one. According to a Hadith narrated by Abu Huraira, Prophet Muhammad said, “The prophets are paternal brothers; their mothers are different, yet their religion is one (because they all have the same father).” [Bukhari, Book #55, Hadith 652]
First posted on themuslimvibe.com