With Ramadan just around the corner, Muslims all over the world are preparing themselves and their homes for the month of fasting. I know what you nonMuslims may be thinking, but don’t worry! We don’t go an entire month without eating or drinking, but rather, every day for a month we fast between sunrise to sunset. Once the sun sets, while food and water are allowed to be consumed, we are still supposed to act in kindness and goodwill.
During this month, we are encouraged to read the Quran daily, and complete our five daily prayers along with additional voluntary prayers known as Taraweeh. Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, and the level of self-restraint that is required to get us through this month is supposed to make us better people and bring us closer to God, not only for that month, but for the rest of the year (and hopefully for years to come!).
Another purpose of these self-sacrifices is to make us closer to those who are always without by experiencing what it is like not to have food or water all day, so that we appreciate what God has given us even more. This empathic effort inspires charitable donations to help those in need as pantries and shelters usually receive the abundance of these blessings.
According to Dr. Shahid Athar, a Clinical Associate Professor of Internal Medicine and Endocrinology, “There is a peace and tranquility for those who fast during the month of Ramadan. Personal hostility is at a minimum, and the crime rate decreases. Ramadan is a month of self-regulation and self-training with the hope that this training will last beyond the end of Ramadan.”
Fasting is the act of restraining ourselves from something or things that we desire the most, and from negative habits, speech, and behaviors as well, which is meant to strengthen our spirits and goodness. As Prophet Muhammad (SAW) said, “When anyone of you is observing fast, he should neither indulge in obscene language nor should he raise his voice; and if anyone reviles him or tries to quarrel with him, he should say: ‘I am fasting’…”If one does not give up falsehoods in words and actions, God has no need of him giving up food and drink.”
Learning self-restraint in a variety of aspects, not limited to just food and water, enhances our mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual well-being. And while connecting to our spiritual side is the main point of fasting, the physical benefits are never really focused on. However, it is important to know what fasting does to you physically, as well as mentally.
Many nonMuslims question how going the whole day without eating, and not having “even water?!” can be good for us. However, fasting, even from water, has many health benefits; it is a way of giving our bodies a well-deserved break, and our spirits a much-needed boost. There is no danger of malnutrition or inadequate calorie intake when fasting for Ramadan.
In his article, “The Spiritual and Health Benefits of Ramadan Fasting,” Dr. Shahid Athar explains how not having water for 8 to 10 hours a day is not necessarily bad for our health. He explains, “[Abstinence of water] causes concentration of all fluids within the body, producing slight dehydration. The body has its own water conservation mechanism; in fact, it has been shown that slight dehydration and water conservation, at least in plant life, improve their longevity.” He therefore, suggests that this process may also have the same positive effects on our bodies, and helps us live longer as well.
We are exposed to harmful chemicals and ingredients more than ever before. It only makes sense that one of the best methods to help our minds and bodies take a vacay from the everyday cycle of consumption is to fast. Starting with the body, fasting can lower the blood sugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. “In fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for the treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity, and essential hypertension,” Dr. Shahid Athar also says.
Don’t be alarmed if it feels like you are starving yourself because in reality your body goes into “starvation mode” when fasting. While improving your physical health, fasting also fights depression, Alzheimer’s and many other psychological issues. It is a simple method of sacrifice that provides so many benefits for yourself as well as those around you. If you feel better, you act better, and you treat others better–a win-win for all.
Fasting also aids in weight loss, reduces inflammation, and helps prevent cancer. It detoxes the body from all the harmful waste and toxins that linger when we don’t take care of ourselves properly year after year. So, by fasting you can go from carrying those extra 5 lbs to swimsuit-ready by summer (we’re talking modestly of course)!
Fasting for Ramadan is similar to intermittent fasting, which advises fasting for 16 hours and eating the meals necessary within the 8 hour window left in a 24 hour day according to an article on Healthline.com, called “10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Intermittent Fasting.”
“When practiced long-term, intermittent fasting may have anti-aging effects and actually increase our lifespan, as fasting can switch on ‘repair’ genes and encourage the body to break down old cells and create new ones. It may even help keep our brain healthy,” explains nutritionist, Cassandra Barns, in the article. “As with any other change in your lifestyle please consult a physician if you have any questions.”
Additional research shows that Barns’ statements are correct. In the documentary, “Eat, Fast and Live Longer,” numerous studies were done by Dr. Michael Mosley to show how fasting can help you stay younger and live longer. One study in particular was done on mice that proved how fasting can help prevent age-related diseases. The brain scan results of hunger in mice showed that new brain cells were created by fasting, which shows that this “exercise for the brain” also increases one’s cognitive ability.
Dr. Michael Mosley also tried the 5:2 diet, where he ate for five days, and then fasted for two, and he tried this for a few months. He found that it not only helped reduce his body fat, but the IGF-1 (insulin-like growth hormone) was reduced by 50%, his glucose and bad cholesterol dropped to good levels, followed by an increase in his good cholesterol, and he believed that if he continued, he would be able to prevent getting diseases without the need for prescription medicines.
Fasting is a wonderful gift to our bodies and souls to give them a break to heal from life’s every day junk, while also looking and feeling great in the process. It blesses the body, helps the brain, and feeds the soul.
It also does not only have to be done solely during Ramadan, as many Muslims continue fasting every Monday and Thursday. This fasting is called Sunnah fasting because Prophet Muhammad (SAW) used to fast voluntarily on these days, as he said our deeds are shown to Allah on these days, so he preferred to be fasting during that time.
When you fast, you learn so much more about your body, and have more control over it as well as over your mind and thoughts. As theblessedhub.co.uk also suggests in their article, “Science Shows Fasting is a Secret to A Healthier, Longer Life,” you become “a master of the self instead of the slave of the self, i.e. your desires/ego.” Being able to resist your temptations and have more self-control is a powerful and highly-beneficial thing in the long run. As we mentioned before, it’s a means of protection from illnesses and disease, and has proven to improve memory and help people live longer as it encompasses both internal and external well-being.
So while fasting in the way of Islam makes us more pious and aware of God, it also leads to a better YOU.
Let us know how fasting before, during or after Ramadan has helped you by sharing your experiences with us! Happy fasting and Ramadan Kareem!