Fasting in Comparative Perspective

1.         The purpose of Fasting in other religions and philosophies is invariably partial. It is either for spiritual aims, or for physical needs, or for intellectual cultivations. But in Islam it is for all these gains and many other purposes, social and economic, moral and humanitarian, private and public, personal and common, inner and outer, local and national – all combined together as mentioned above.

2.         In other religions and dogmas, in other philosophies and doctrines, the observer of fasting abstains from certain kinds of food or drinks only, but he is free to substitute for that with other substituting food and drinks. In Islamic Fasting one abstains from all the things of material nature i.e. all kinds of food & drinks, smoking and intimate intercourse.

3.         The non–Islamic fasting does not demand more than a partial abstinence from certain material things. But the Islamic Fasting is accompanied by extra devotion and worship, extra charity and study of the Qur’an, extra sociability and liveliness, In particular Islamic Fasting demands extra self-discipline and conscience-awakening: The Prophet said “Whoever does not give up lying speech and acting on those lies and evil actions [i.e. if one does not eschew lies and false conduct], God is not in need of his leaving his food and drink [i.e. God will not accept his fasting]”; also The Prophet said “When anyone of you is observing Fasting on a day , 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 observing Fast’”.

4.         Other moral philosophies and religions teach man that he cannot attain his moral aims or enter the Kingdom of God unless and until he uproots himself from the stem of worldly affairs. Accordingly, it becomes necessary for such a man to divorce his mundane interest, to retreat from the normal course of life and to resort to some kind of severe asceticism of which fasting is an essential element. But Fasting in Islam is not a divorce from life but a happy marriage with it, not a retreat but a penetration with spiritual armaments, not a negligence but a moral enrichment. The Islamic Fasting does not divorce religion from daily life or separate the soul from body. It does not break but harmonizes. It does not dissolve but transfuses. It does not disintegrate but bridges and redeems.

5.         The timetable of the Islamic Fasting is a striking phenomenon. In other religions and dogmas the time of Fasting is fixed at a certain time of the year. But in Islam the time of Fasting comes with the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the year. The Islamic Calendar is lunar one, and months go according to the various position of the moon. This means that over a period of a limited number of the years the Islamic Fasting covers the four major seasons of the year and circulates back and forth between the summer and the winter through the fall and the spring in a rotating manner. The nature of the lunar calendar is such that the month of Ramadan falls in January, for example, in one year and in December in another year, and at any time in between during the succeeding years. In a spiritual sense this means that the Muslim enjoys the moral experience of Fasting on various levels, and tastes its spiritual flavors at variant seasons of variant climates, sometimes in the winter of short and cold days, sometimes in the summer of long and hot days, sometimes in between. But this variety of experience remains at all times an impressive feature of the liveliness of the Islamic institution. It also stands as an unfailing expression of readiness, dynamism and adaptability on the part of the Muslim believer. This is certainly a healthy, remarkable component of the teachings of Islam.


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