A blessed month for fasting to enrich our souls

11 Jul

Fasting in general has been used in medicine for medical reasons including weight management, for rest of the digestive tract and for lowering lipids. There are many adverse effects of total fasting as well as so-called crash diets. Islamic fasting is different from such diet plans because in Ramadan fasting, there is no malnutrition or inadequate calorie intake. The caloric intake of Muslims during Ramadan is at or slightly below the national requirement guidelines. In addition, the fasting in Ramadan is voluntarily taken and is not a prescribed imposition from the physician.

Ramadan is a month of self-regulation and self-training, with the hope that this training will last beyond the end of Ramadan. If the lessons learned during Ramadan, whether in terms of dietary intake or righteousness, are carried on after Ramadan, it is beneficial for one’s entire life. Moreover, the type of food taken during Ramadan does not have any selective criteria of crash diets such as those which are protein only or fruit only type diets. Everything that is permissible is taken in moderate quantities.

The only difference between Ramadan and total fasting is the timing of the food; during Ramadan, we basically miss lunch and take an early breakfast and do not eat until dusk. Abstinence from water during this period is not bad at all and in fact, it 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.

The physiological effect of fasting includes lower of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. In fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity and essential hypertension. In 1994 the first International Congress on “Health and Ramadan,” held in Casablanca, entered 50 research papers from all over the world, from Muslim and non-Muslim researchers who have done extensive studies on the medical ethics of fasting. While improvement in many medical conditions was noted; however, in no way did fasting worsen any patients’ health or baseline medical condition. On the other hand, patients who are suffering from severe diseases, whether diabetes or coronary artery disease, kidney stones, etc., are exempt from fasting and should not try to fast.

There are psychological effects of fasting as well. 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. … This psychological improvement could be related to better stabilization of blood glucose during fasting as hypoglycemia after eating, aggravates behavior changes. … Similarly, recitation of the Quran not only produces a tranquility of heart and mind, but improves the memory.

[2:185] Ramadan is the month during which the Quran was revealed, providing guidance for the people, clear teachings, and the statute book. Those of you who witness this month shall fast therein. Those who are ill or traveling may substitute the same number of other days. GOD wishes for you convenience, not hardship, that you may fulfill your obligations, and to glorify GOD for guiding you, and to express your appreciation.

Ramadan is the month during which the Quran was revealed, providing guidance for the people, clear teachings, and the statute book. Those of you who witness this month shall fast therein. Those who are ill or traveling may substitute the same number of other days. God wishes for you convenience, not hardship, that you may fulfill your obligations, and to glorify God for guiding you, and to express your appreciation. (2:185)

Ramadan is the ninth lunar month in the Islamic calendar. Muslims all over the world fast every day of this month from dawn to the sunset. During fasting, they abstain from eating, drinking and sexual encounter as ordained by God in the Quran:

…You may eat and drink until the white thread of light becomes distinguishable from the dark thread of night at dawn. Then, you shall fast until sunset. Sexual intercourse is prohibited if you decide to retreat to the masjid (during the last ten days of Ramadan). These are God’s laws; you shall not transgress them. God thus clarifies His revelations for the people, that they may attain salvation. (2:187)

Fasting: Thirst and Hunger only?
Fasting is known to be beneficial to the health and provides a break in the cycle of rigid habits or overindulgence. However, in our emphasis on refraining from food, drink, and marital relations during
the daylight hours, we should not forget many other important as-pects of this sacred time. Perhaps, it would help us to remember not only the outward act of fasting, but also its underlying purpose:

O you who believe, fasting is de-creed for you, as it was decreed for those before you, that you may attain salvation. (2:183)

Specific days (are designated for fasting); if one is ill or travel-ing, an equal number of other days may be substituted. Those who can fast, but with great difficulty, may substitute feed-ing one poor person for each day of breaking the fast. If one volunteers (more righteous works), it is better. But fasting is the best for you, if you only knew. (2:184)

I have extracted the subject of this article mainly from a book by the famous Psychologist, Dr. Scott Peck, MD entitled, The Road Less Traveled. This was on the best sellers’ list of books about ten years ago. I enjoyed reading it at that time, but as is usually the case, many of its salient features were forgotten or never registered in my mind. Recently I noticed my daughter was reading this book, and so I browsed through it and it had a very profound effect on me.

Most of Dr. Peck’s observations are already mentioned in the Holy Koran (Quran). I will try to point them out to the best of my knowledge and ability. According to Dr. Peck, life is difficult and this is a great truth. Life is a series of problems that most of us moan about, instead of trying to solve.

Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. Without discipline, we can solve nothing; but with some discipline, we can solve many problems with God’s help. For example, as a submitter (Muslim), we discipline ourselves by trying to observe God’s commandments in our daily lives.

What makes life difficult is that the process of confronting and solving

problems is a painful one. Yet it is in this whole process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning. Problems create our courage and our wisdom. It is only because of problems that we grow mentally and spiritually. When we desire to encourage the growth of the human spirit, we challenge and encourage the human capacity to solve problems. Just as in school we deliberately set problems for our children to solve.

It is through the pain of confronting and resolving problems that we learn. As Benjamin Franklin said, “Those things that hurt, instruct. It is for this reason that wise people learn not to fear problems, but to actually welcome the pain of problems.” As it is said, no pain, no gain.

Did we not show him the two paths? He should choose the difficult path. (90:10-11)

Most of us are not so wise. Because of the pain involved in confronting problems, almost all of us to a greater or lesser degree attempt to avoid problems. We procrastinate, hoping they will go away. We ignore them, forget them and pretend they do not exist.

Discipline is the basic set of tools we require to solve life’s problems. These tools are techniques by which we experience the pain of problems in such a way as to work through them and solve them successfully, learning and growing in the process.

There are four tools of discipline:

delaying of gratification and pleasure
acceptance of responsibility
dedication to truth and reality
These are simple tools and almost all

children are adept in the use of them by the age of ten. Yet presidents and kings will often forget to use them to their own downfall. The problem lies not in the complexity of these tools, but in the will to use them. For they are tools with which pain is confronted rather that avoided.

Delaying of Gratification
The first of the tools of discipline is delaying gratification. This is a process of scheduling the pain and pleasure of life in such a way as to enhance the pleasure by experiencing the pain first and getting it over with. This means we should always do our difficult task first and then do the easy or the pleasant task next. We always want our children to do their homework first, before they are allowed to watch TV. Another example of delaying gratification is a student who takes the time and effort to finish school and college first, before he or she can get a good job and reap the fruits of his or her labor.

Good discipline requires time—time to pay attention to our children and loved ones; time to learn and time to solve problems. It is said that if we take the time to concentrate, we can solve many of the problems that seem difficult to us at first.

The second tool of discipline is responsibility. We cannot solve life’s problems except by solving them. This statement may seem self evident, yet it is beyond the understanding of much of the human race. This is because we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by saying it is not a problem. But many seek to avoid the pain of the problem by saying

to themselves, “this problem was caused by other people, or by social circumstances beyond my control and therefore it is up to other people or society to solve this problem for me. It is not really my personal problem.” The extent to which people will go psychologically to avoid assuming responsibility for personal problems, while always sad, is sometime ludicrous.

God mentions in the Holy Koran that we are responsible for our deeds and actions in this world and that we should not expect any intercession in the hereafter. This means that God wants us to be responsible for our problems in this world, and wants us to solve them by seeking His guidance and help.

Dedication to Truth and Reality
The third tool of discipline is dedication to truth and reality. This needs to be employed continuously if we wish to keep our lives healthy and our spirits growing. Truth is reality. The more clearly we see the reality of the world, the better equipped we are to deal with the world. Our view of reality is like a map with which we negotiate the terrain of life. If the map is true and accurate, we will know where we are and if we have decided where we want to go, we will know how to get there. If the map is false and inaccurate, we will be lost.

This is the truth from your Lord; do not harbor any doubt (2:147, 3:60)

They said, “O our people, we have heard a book that was revealed after Moses, and confirms the previous scriptures. It guides to the truth; to the right path. (46:30)

While this is obvious, most people choose to ignore it. They ignore it because our route to reality is not easy. First of all we have to make an effort. The more effort we make to appreciate and perceive reality, the larger and more accurate our map will be.

But many do not want to make this effort. Some stop making it by the end of adolescence. Their maps are small and sketchy, their view of the world narrow and misleading. By the end of the middle age, most people have given up the effort. They feel certain that their maps are complete and correct. Only a relatively fortunate few continue until the moment of death expanding the mystery of reality, ever enlarging and refining and redefining their understanding of the world and what is true.

We have given you the truth, but most of you hate the truth. (43:78)

The world itself is constantly changing. Our vantage point from which we view the world is rapidly changing. When we have children to care for, the world looks different from when we had none. When we are poor, the world looks different from when we are rich. We are daily bombarded with new information as to the nature of reality.

O people, God’s promise is the truth; therefore, do not be distracted by this lowly life. Do not be diverted from God by mere illusions. (35:5)

In the Holy Koran, God wants us to seek His guidance to the right path or map.

Guide us in the right path; the path of those whom You have blessed, not of those who have deserved wrath, nor the strayers. (1:7)

A practicing Muslim invokes God’s guidance many times daily. Our problem in the morning may not be the same as in the afternoon or evening or night. Accordingly God in His wisdom has asked us to seek His guidance to the right path through the Salat prayers—five times daily.


The fourth and final discipline is balancing. By this time it seems that the exercise of discipline is not only a demanding, but also a complex task requiring both flexibility and judgment. We should try to be completely honest. We must assume total responsibility for ourselves. We must be organized and efficient. To live wisely, we must daily delay gratification and keep an eye on the future.

Yet to live joyously, discipline itself, must be disciplined. The type of discipline required to discipline is what Dr. Peck calls balancing. For example, God mentions in the Holy Koran that we should not be excessive and extravagant while giving the due alms to the people (17:26). Thus God cautions us against extremism. Balancing is the discipline that gives us flexibility. Extraordinary flexibility and judgment is required for successful living in all spheres of our daily life.

…The best enlightment indeed is what God recommends for you… (4:58)

This article has been sent to me by
Kalam Kader
by mail


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