Ramadan- finding the Interfaith pillar of Fasting.
In reflecting upon Ramadan over the years and speaking about the philosophy of pain, I tend to give the example that God wants us to realise the ease of fasting by reflecting on the fasting practises of others. The more I see bulimia patients fasting for days, athletes starving, spiritual yogis on hunger fasts and political activists in prisons refusing to eat and drink, I realise there is a bigger picture behind the long hours of summer fasts. The other faith traditions have something unique; they are providing the interfaith network, so the faithful Muslims can continue the tradition of Ramadan happily.
However, that dimension is not always acknowledged. I have asked some faith community leaders to comment on the verse of the Qur’an that reminds us that the people who lived before us fasted. It’s like saying your older brother did it and your folks back in the day did it, so why can’t you?!
Quran 2:183 O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint,-
Moulana Daryabadi, of Modern India, commented aptly:
"By the great number of religions in the lower, middle and higher cultures alike, fasting is largely prescribed. It would be difficult to name any religious system of any description in which it is wholly unrecognized. We have no evidence of any practice of fasting in pre Islamic pagan Arabia, but the institution of fasting was, well of course, well established among both Christians and Jews." (Hitti o.cit. P133)
“Practice of fasting is found among many religious communities, such as Hindus, Aboriginal communities in various parts of the world, Buddhists and host of others like Sikhs and Bahais, which evolved after Islam, but the abstentions may vary. Some can drink water only, while others can eat certain foods. At the time of Jesus’ birth, abstinence was from talking to anyone”, says Dr Imam Abdul Hai Patel, President of the Ontario Multi Faith Council. He added, “Thus it is evident, that Fasting is self denial, i.e. abstinence from some thing or the other in different ages.”
"The Bahá'í fast lasts for an entire Bahá'í month, consisting of 19 days, and takes place from 2 March until 20 March. Bahá’u’lláh said: The material fasting is abstaining from food and drink, that is, from the appetites of the body. But spiritual fasting is this, that man abstains from selfish passions, from negligence and from satanic animal traits. Therefore, material fasting is a token of the spiritual fasting.” Shana Sobhani, Public Information Officer, Bahá'í Community of Canada.
“Fasting has been an important discipline since the beginning of Christianity. For example, in Matthew's Gospel Ch. 4: and following we read Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was very hungry, and the tempter came and said to him, etc. Three temptations follow to which Jesus makes his response. Throughout the annual season of Lent, forty days prior to Easter, Christians are invited to pray, fast and give alms. Such discipline prepares the soul and awakens the spirit to the coming celebration of the Easter Resurrection, the most important feast on the Christian calendar.”
Fr. Damian Macpherson, Interfaith Leader, Catholic Archdiocese, Toronto.
“As for psychological reasons, a great exegete Allamah Tabatabai mentions that to ask the new Muslims to fast in hot climate required some mental incentive. By reminding them that they are not the first followers of scripture who are asked to fast, but people of the past creed also fasted, fasting became easy,” says Shaikh Hasanayn Ali, Professor of Islam Academy, Ahl Bayt, Richmond Hill.
“Fasting in Hinduism is referred to as Upvaas which means to stay near to God or to achieve mental proximity with God while observing a fast. Secondly fasting is referred to as Vrat (making a vow),” says Pundit Dev Doobay, Toronto.
"Most Jewish Fasts are single days (24 hours, not just sunrise to sunset.) The major one is Yom Kippur where the fasting is seen as part of atonement for sin and purification of the spirit by temporary withdrawal from material needs. Other fast days are mourning for past historical misfortunes. The premier on of these Fast of Mourning is Tisha B'Av (which this year is July 29th) that commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem - first by the Babylonians (586 BC) and later by the Romans (70 AD). There are several other more minor fasts as well." Sydney Nestel, Toronto
Altogether, we may not be fasting on the same days nor avoiding the same things during the same months, but fasting we are. The essence of the religious traditions is to establish a sense of Taqwa/ consciousness. The change of seasons, the long duration like an entire month, the thorough abstinence from bodily foods and fluids, the fasting from carnal pleasures and dirty speech, the fixed timings of the beginnings and endings, all contribute to making the spiritual menu healthy and potent. It’s as good as having a holistic prescription capable of providing recovery and healing from the many inner diseases. Like a chef who cooks the same dishes repeatedly but with a different flavor and a new taste each time, so too each Ramadan provides renewed feelings to cherish virtues and cleanse evil, with a fresh flavor to savor!
In the words of the Holy Prophet, on whom be peace, the two joys of a Believer are breaking the fast and meeting God. Cuisine and Prayers - Ramadan best friends! So thank you our interfaith network of historical fasters and thank you to the friends who respect our fasting during these long summer hours! God admires, too! He says: “Fasting is for me and I will personally reward you,’ as reported by the Prophet Muhammad in a sound Hadith Qudsi.
“As I walked out the door toward my freedom I knew that if I did not leave all the anger, hatred and bitterness behind that I would still be in prison,” Nelson Mandela.
*Habeeb Alli is a freelance writer for the Ambition, is on www.allexperts.com and author of fourteen books on Islam and poetry.