Take a fresh look at your lifestyle.

Exploring the Personal and Social Benefits of Fasting

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Intro

Human beings are dynamic and educable entities whose perfection and development are achieved in the light of adhering to religious teachings. Therefore, the life-giving school of Islam has designated a series of devotional commands and moral duties to lead one towards deserving perfection, so that by observing these commands and duties, one might attain true perfection. Among these devotional instructions is the significant obligation of fasting, which implicitly teaches the fasting individual’s resilience and spiritual readiness for inner purification and soul refinement.

Purity of Heart and Elevation of the Soul

The purity of the heart and the elevation of the soul are among the greatest obstacles to spiritual advancement in humans, occupied with eating, drinking, and bodily pleasures. The best catalyst for spiritual growth is integrity and abstaining from these matters. When a person turns away from material matters and carnal desires, inclinations towards piety and righteousness are strengthened in such a way that one becomes more prepared to grasp the realities of the universe.

Fasting; it prevents humans from being preoccupied with material issues and provides more leisure to ponder the mystery of creation and prepare the way forward.

Moderation and eating less are among the best ways to pursue perfection, just as overeating is considered one of the greatest barriers to it. It is impossible for a person to attain the illumination of knowledge, which is an abstract matter, merely through studying and engaging with a series of words and written symbols; because the material cannot give rise to the abstract.

The true teacher is neither an author nor a speaker. Books, teachers, and lessons are all good means and preliminaries for acquiring knowledge. It is moderation and abstaining from overeating and unhealthy eating that leads the spiritual seeker to higher spiritual levels. On this basis, some of the great scholars of jurisprudence have stated:

“The virtue of fasting is enough to make the fasting person resemble angels, and their sustenance, like that of angels, is the glorification and praise of the Almighty.” [1]

Taming the surge of desire

A satiated person does not possess the necessary humility before God. Hence, the Almighty Lord has said: Fast so that you may become pious. The source of wickedness (the opposite of piety) is desire and anger, with the faculty of anger serving the desires. Lustful people employ the faculty of anger to defend their carnal desires and fulfill their instincts.

The nature of a healthy human is not predatory. Some humans, having lost their natural health, are wolf-like and take pleasure in tearing apart. The eighth luminary of Imamat, Imam Reza (peace be upon him), states: “Fasting becomes a factor in breaking down desire, and it moderates all kinds of desires, including frivolity, play, boasting, and accumulation.”[2]

 Thus, the fasting individual can easily overcome the difficult obstacles of gluttony and lust by practicing and gain mastery over their desires.

Today, physicians believe that many diseases are caused by excessive consumption of various foods. Because the excess substances are not absorbed by the body and remain as bothersome fats or deposits in human organs or blood, the best way to eliminate these waste materials is through fasting.

A person educated in the school of fasting controls their self and never surrenders to carnal desires, nor do they lose themselves in the face of life’s difficulties and hardships; because fasting diminishes the intensity of desires. Many of human slips in life stem from sexual desires, especially since young people face this problem during their bachelorhood; hence, traditions have mentioned the role of fasting in controlling the surge of this force. The Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) has said: “Fast, for it diminishes lust and eliminates drunkenness.”[3]

Fostering Patience and Resilience

Individuals must grapple with challenges and problems to overcome them. Patience and perseverance are the sole strategies for surmounting difficulties. Fasting, especially during the long and hot days of summer, endows one with patience and resilience, easing the endurance of hardship and suffering. The Quran alludes to this effect of fasting by describing it as “patience”: “And seek assistance through patience and prayer.”[4] The Prophet of Islam has named Ramadan the “month of patience” and stated: “Ramadan is the month of patience, and the reward for patience is Paradise.”[5]

A person who has access to various foods and drinks at any moment of hunger or thirst quickly satisfies these needs, akin to trees that grow along riverbanks. These pampered trees have little resistance and wither away if water is ever withheld. In contrast, the fasting individual resembles trees growing among rocks in mountains and deserts, caressed from the very beginning by harsh storms, scorching sun, and severe winter cold, constantly battling various deprivations. Fasting similarly strengthens the soul and spirit of a person, imparting resilience and steadfastness in life.[6]

In addition to enhancing spiritual resilience, fasting also bolsters physical endurance. Research conducted on the physical system of those who fast has concluded that the body acquires a special resistance after a month of fasting, enabling it to withstand diseases and stress factors more robustly. Fasting individuals endure pain more easily, and their recovery period is shorter. Their wounds heal faster, and the secretion of growth hormones and other essential bodily hormones is more efficient, leading to quicker attainment of mental and physical health.[7]

Strengthening Willpower

Strengthening willpower is one of the significant moral benefits and effects of fasting. A person who easily indulges in eating, drinking, listening, and speaking in other months must be extra cautious during this time. Such control frees the spirit from the shackles of desires and strengthens human will, potentially the beginning of even greater and more ironclad wills.

Religious studies indicate that the foundation of humanity is based on self-purification, which in turn is based on strengthening willpower. All philosophers, mystics, literati, and even ordinary social strata believe that strengthening willpower is the key to success. However, cultivating this noble character requires moral exercise and training. The fasting person performs this training well, and today, psychology experts recognize the importance of abstention in strengthening willpower as a scientific principle, advising those who need strong will in their endeavors to refrain from usual activities and amenities and not to immediately succumb to carnal desires.

Humans are inherently weak against natural environments and quickly succumb to prevalent customs and traditions. The weaker the will, the more swiftly a person is influenced by their surroundings, progressing towards a state of willpower so feeble that they ignore the truth even when it’s right before their eyes. A strong resolve, whether in material matters or cultural and spiritual issues, is as essential to a society as blood is to life. In societies where individuals lack willpower or are plagued by decision-making weaknesses, no movement, development, or progression is observed. Fasting can remedy this significant flaw, cultivating willpowers capable of saving a society from certain decline and fall; because the fasting person battles their desires and endures hardships, thereby liberating their soul from the tyranny of base instincts and desires.[8]

During Ramadan, a structured eating schedule provides an excellent opportunity for the digestive system to rest and rejuvenate, enabling the body to proceed with greater vitality in the following months.

Adherence to Discipline

One of the key components of success and progress is punctuality and discipline in actions. While some may believe attention to such matters is characteristic of Western life, discipline and time management are core teachings of Islam. The first luminary of Imamat, Imam Ali, in his will to his children, advises them on the importance of orderliness in their affairs.[9]

Essentially, the timely performance of Islamic rituals signifies Islam’s emphasis on order and discipline. Each of the five daily prayers must be performed at its designated time. The Hajj rituals must occur at specific times and places, and fasting must begin with the sighting of the crescent moon of Ramadan and end with the sighting of the crescent moon of Shawwal. Moreover, since Ramadan is a lunar month, naturally cycling through the four seasons of the year and sometimes falling in the long days of summer or the short days of winter, it necessitates mindfulness of every moment from dawn till dusk, without deviation from this regimen. This lesson encourages Muslims to organize their life affairs accordingly.[10]

Appreciating the Value of Blessings

Enduring hunger and thirst during Ramadan is a true test of faith. Fasting teaches the real taste of hunger, prompting the fasting individual to honor and appreciate the value of available blessings. The infallible Imams emphasized enduring hunger and thirst and warned against overeating and wastefulness, believing that facing food and water scarcity makes one appreciate the value of food and drink more and reminds them of the hunger and thirst of the Day of Judgment. The Prophet Muhammad, in his Sha’ban sermon, states: “Remember through your hunger and thirst in it (Ramadan), the hunger and thirst of the Day of Resurrection.”[11]

A person who experiences hunger and thirst through fasting becomes enlightened and pure-hearted, deriving pleasure from their devotions and acts of worship, and showing compassion towards the needy.

Creating Opportunity

Some people mistakenly believe that the blessed month of Ramadan is a time that restricts certain activities, such as traveling or engaging in other tasks. However, this perspective is entirely incorrect. Far from being restrictive, Ramadan is a time that creates opportunities. Fasting enables individuals to practice self-improvement and to revive and flourish the distinct qualities of humanity within themselves. During this blessed month, the storm-tossed ship of the human soul reaches the shores of peace, presenting a precious chance for individuals to connect their hearts to the divine and transform the raw material within themselves into more productive and beneficial outcomes.[12]

The Awaited Savior Course

Physical Health

Today, physicians agree that many diseases are caused by excessive consumption of various foods. Excess substances not absorbed by the body remain as bothersome fats or deposit in human organs or blood, and fasting is the best method to eliminate these wastes.

In the blessed month of Ramadan, the detoxification and purification process removes wastes and irritants surrounding body tissues. One of the most dangerous of these is the fats that accumulate around the liver and in the walls of blood vessels. These fats can replace liver cells, causing swelling of this vital organ and leading to severe liver diseases. They can also harden the walls of blood vessels through deposits, leading to atherosclerosis. If this occurs in the blood vessels that nourish the heart, it can cause a heart attack. Fasting, by abstaining from eating and drinking during the day, eliminates toxins and waste produced through metabolism from the body.

Conversations with several physicians have shown that each year in Ramadan, the number of patients visiting their clinics decreases by 20 to 60 percent, all of which are nothing but the individual and social benefits of fasting.

In Ramadan, a structured eating schedule provides an excellent opportunity for the digestive system to rest and rejuvenate, allowing the body to proceed with greater vitality in the following months.[13] The Prophet Muhammad has stated in this regard: “Fast, and you will be healthy.”[14]

Fostering Empathy

One of the stress factors in social systems is the class gap between the wealthy and the poor, with social disorders and moral corruption increasing as this gap widens. The life-giving school of Islam, with a focus on social justice, has made utmost efforts to establish healthy relationships among individuals by defining a set of laws and regulations to minimize this disparity. Among these laws is fasting, which makes the wealthy aware of the situation of the deprived, reducing their economic pressures and social sufferings. This action saves society from turmoil and dissatisfaction and fosters a spirit of brotherhood and convergence among all people. Hence, when Hisham bin Hakam asked Imam Sadiq about the philosophy behind fasting, the Imam replied: “God mandated fasting to create equality between the rich and the poor, so that the wealthy might taste hunger and thus fulfill the rights of the poor.”[15] Indeed, enduring hunger and thirst reminds one of the destitute, reviving a spirit of kindness and assistance towards fellow beings.

Promoting Social Security

A fasting person, to not nullify the effects of their hunger and thirst, strives to abstain from some sins, especially those that may affect social life, at least during the month of Ramadan. Statistics and reports published by law enforcement authorities regarding the decrease in crime rates during Ramadan are the best evidence for this claim. Every year with the arrival of the blessed month of Ramadan, disputes, conflicts, and divorces significantly decrease. Data from a recent year shows that crimes and offenses across Iran decrease by 20 to 40 percent during Ramadan. The number of people visiting courts sometimes halves, and even traffic accidents in major cities decrease. Additionally, the number of patients visiting doctors and hospitals significantly drops during this month.

Conversations with several physicians have shown that each year in Ramadan, the number of patients visiting their clinics decreases by 20 to 60 percent [16], all of which are nothing but the individual and social benefits of fasting.

Footnotes:

[1] Tafsir Tasnim, Ayatollah Javadi Amoli, Vol 9, pp. 296-297.

[2] Uyun Akhbar Al-Reza, Ibn Babawayh, Vol 2, p. 73.

[3] Mizan al-Hikma, Rayshahri, Vol 7, p. 3209.

[4] Al-Baqarah: 45.

[5] Furu’ al-Kafi, Kulayni, Vol 4, p. 63.

[6] Tafsir Nemooneh, A Group of Authors, Vol 1, p. 629.

[7] A Study on the Resistance of Fasters, Kayhan Newspaper, Azar 4, 1380, No. 17244.

[8] “Pasdar-e-Islam” Monthly, No. 310, Mehr 1386, p. 40.

[9] Nahjul Balagha, translated by Mohammad Dashti, Letter 47, p. 558.

[10] Rahaavard-e-Rahian-e-Noor, Office of Islamic Propagations of the Qom Seminary, Special for the Holy Month of Ramadan, 1379 (1421), p. 33.

[11] Bihar al-Anwar, Majlisi, Vol 96, p. 356.

[12] “Pasdar-e-Islam” Monthly, No. 310, Mehr 1386, p. 38.

[13] Ibid, p. 43.

[14] Bihar al-Anwar, Vol 96, p. 255.

[15] Wasa’il al-Shia, Horr Ameli, Vol 7, p. 3.

[16] Sima-ye Farzanan, Ayatollah Jafar Subhani, p. 307.

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