It has now been about two weeks of Ramadan. What always strikes me during Islam’s holy month is the solidarity between people in Morocco and how much fasting brings people together. More or less everyone is fasting in the day, so everybody shares the same feelings of thirst, hunger, or sleepiness, along with the same traditions of breaking the fast at night. I usually choose to fast for several days each Ramadan so that I can feel that same sense of unity with those around me. That way, when I walk to work, I know that it is not just me who skipped breakfast, but an entire community.
Fasting is not specific to Islam. During the past few days, quite a few of my students have asked me about whether Christians fast. We do occasionally have days of fasting at my church, sometimes related to important dates, and sometimes just to reflect about a specific topic as a group, but it rarely lasts more than a week. Another local church is currently having a “year of fasting,” where each month the members are encouraged to give up one thing that distracts them, such as television, facebook, or coffee.
I looked up fasting in some other religious groups, and found that Coptic Christians in Egypt fast for the forty days of Lent by giving up all animal products, or basically becoming vegan for that period. Fasting is required at different periods in Judaism, Bahaism, and Catholicism. The purpose of fasting during Ramadan for Muslims is to remove mundane desires to increase spiritual reflection, and for all Muslims to feel what it is like to be poor and to increase charity.
According to the bible, fasting is not necessarily about food. We can read in the book of Isaiah what a fast should be: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of wickedness, to undo the straps of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry and bring the homeless poor into your house?” (Isaiah 58:6-7) This sort of fast requires charity, generosity, and a fight against oppression, but mentions nothing about food other than that it should be shared.
The New York Times recently published this article on the health benefits of fasting, unrelated to religion. Apparently, regular periods of fasting can promote weight loss and longevity.
As you can see, there are a lot of different methods of fasting and reasons to do so. Have you ever fasted? In what way?