Ramadan, the most important and holiest month of the year in the Muslim calendar, starts today, May 6. It is a time for faith, family, and forgiveness and commemorates Allah, the Arabic name for God, and the act of giving the first verse of the Quran to the Prophet Muhammad in the year 610 A.D.
For the next 30 days, our Muslim brothers and sisters will abstain from eating or drinking during daylight hours—an observance obligatory for every Muslim. Smoking and chewing gum are also prohibited during this time.
But what does fasting mean and how is it beneficial to those who observe the practice?
For Islam, the month of Ramadan is for spiritual dedication and strengthening a Muslim’s relationship with God. It is also a time to recharge spiritual energies by enriching one’s prayer life and shifting the focus on those who are hungry and less fortunate. Besides fasting, people do charity works and dedicate extra prayers to Allah.
Aside from these religious meanings, fasting is also proven to have physical and mental benefits. Pythagoras, the great mathematician, reportedly fasted for 40 days believing that it increases mental perception and creativity. Experts say that fasting can prevent health problems such as high cholesterol and heart diseases, and can improve mental health and wellbeing.
The Christians practice fasting as well. The Bible mentions how Moses, Elijah, and even Jesus have done fasting for 40 days. The apostle Paul also mentioned the 40-day fast in keeping with the Passover. Just recently, the Christian world celebrated Easter Sunday wherein all Christian faiths rejoiced the Resurrection of Jesus Christ. But before this glorious celebration, the Church has called for the faithful to observe fasting and abstinence for the 40 days of Lent, starting Ash Wednesday, in preparation for the coming of Christ. This observance goes beyond food intake—some Catholics abstain from using social media or any other form of indulgence for 40 days.
A medieval saint, St. Hildegard von Bingen, also advocates fasting and said that healthy people should not eat very early and should fast for 13-17 hours between dinner and lunch the next day.