By Saima Iqbal
As the fourth pillar of Islam fasting is mostly observed during the month of Ramadan. Although technically you can fast at various other times of the year too, the month of Ramadan is the most well known for it. Fasting is a means of abstaining from not only food and drink but also putting in more effort in following the teachings of Islam.
As well as the spiritual benefits of fasting, there are also many other benefits that can be gained from fasting.
- Most people are surprised at how little desire for food they have while fasting. That’s because the body is working on stored energy reserves such as fats. As a result fasting initiates rapid weight loss with little or no hunger. However, fasting should never be used as a primary weight loss strategy. Successful and lasting weight loss can only be achieved through a healthy balanced diet and regular exercise.
- Fasting promotes detoxification. As the body breaks down its fat reserves, it mobilizes and eliminates stored toxins.
- Fasting gives the digestive system a much-needed rest. After fasting, both digestion and immune system are invigorated.
- Fasting promotes the resolution of inflammatory processes, such as in rheumatoid arthritis.
- Fasting eases allergic reactions, including asthma and hay fever.
- Fasting promotes the drying up of abnormal fluid accumulations, such as edema in the ankles and legs and swelling in the abdomen.
- Fasting corrects high blood pressure without drugs. Fasting will normalize blood pressure in the vast majority of cases, the blood pressure will remain low after the fast, provided the person follows a health supporting diet and lifestyle.
- Fasting makes it easy to overcome bad habits and addictions. While fasting cravings for nicotine, alcohol and other drugs rapidly disappear. Many people have overcome tobacco and alcohol addictions by fasting, and even drug addictions.
- Fasting clears the skin and whitens the eyes. It is common to see skin eruptions clear while fasting, and the whites of the eyes never look so clear and bright as they do after fasting.
- Fasting restores taste appreciation for wholesome natural foods. People say that their taste buds come alive after fasting and that food never tasted so good. Even if all they’re eating is chapatti and chips.
We live in the 21st Century where the majority of our food has been highly processed with additives and all sorts of chemicals. Whether it’s drinking coffee, fizzy drinks, chocolate bars or microwave pizza, it’s full of synthetic chemicals. And if that wasn't bad enough we breathe polluted air. All these toxins build up in the body and will start to have a negative affect until they can be eliminated.
Fasting is the perfect gateway to a healthful diet and lifestyle. Fasting gives you the motivation and enthusiasm to make a fresh start. However, fasting must be done within the rules of Islam and not be seen as another binge diet. Although some may see little difference between the two, there is in fact a Great Wall of China with armed sentries posted every twenty feet of a difference between dieting and fasting. The effects on the body are quite different.
Is fasting safe?
Fasting is about as safe as walking down the street. Of course that all depends on what kind of neighbourhood you live in, coupled with what the chances are of you getting run over by a crazy taxi driver. It’s the same with fasting (except without the crazy taxi driver); most people can do it without any ill effects at all.
However as with all things there are exceptions: Pregnant women or nursing mothers for example shouldn't really fast as their growing child needs as much nutrition for normal growth and development as possible. And lets face it, the NHS has seen better days.
Another example is young children who shouldn’t fast for the simple reason... they’re idiots. They have little or no understanding of fasting not to mention they’re still growing and their bodies require a great deal of nutrition. So, it’s best to leave them to their gummy bears, jelly beans and stickers, at least until their in their teens and have a better understanding of fasting. At which point, bribing them to fast works wonders.
The other example is the old and the ill. Although fasting helps with the detoxing of the body it’s generally not recommended for the elderly. Because let’s face it, anyone who has to get up to go the bathroom six times in the night really shouldn’t go all day without food or drink.
When it comes to the sick, fasting does help with eliminating toxins as well as promoting healing, however the aim of anyone who’s sick should be to get better as fast as possible. In such cases it’s recommended that they listen to their doctor and take whatever necessary medicine they are required to take.
Abstaining from water all day may sound like its bad for your health but in fact it causes a concentration of all fluids within the body, producing only slight dehydration. The human 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.
Fasting is the perfect gateway to a healthful diet and lifestyle. Going on a fast gives you the motivation and enthusiasm to make a fresh start. As well as easing certain medical conditions it should also be noted in all medical experiments with fasting carried out it has never damaged or harmed the health of anyone. However fasting must be done within the rules of Islam and not be seen as another binge diet.
In the end it should be remembered that fasting is a form of worship between man and Allah (swt) as an exercise in self-control. Without self-control and awareness we are no different to animals. Within fasting there is nothing but benefits to anyone who practices it. Spiritually, it’s a way to purify and cleanse a person’s soul in an attempt to make them a better person. Scientifically the changes that occur serve to rejuvenate and purify the body ensuring a long and healthy life.
But it must be noted that for Muslims a fast is not merely abstinence from food and drink but an opportunity to better oneself by also abstaining from the sins of the world. It was noted that the Prophet Mohammed (pbuh) once said,
"If one does not give up falsehood in words and actions, God has no need of him giving up food and drink."