by Dr. Abed Ayoub, Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies
“O you who believe, fasting was ordained for you like it was ordained for those who were before you” Quran 2-183.
Many people believe that fasting is about deprivation, whether from a specific item during Lent, or for many consecutive days in protest against an injustice. In Islam, however, abstaining from eating, drinking, having marital relations with a spouse, not committing any forbidden acts, keeping one’s temper, or even arguing your point of view with someone else are considered a part of worship. Like prayer, charity, and pilgrimage, fasting helps us as individuals and society as a whole.
For someone who never practiced it, fasting might seem extremely difficult, but once you have fasted a few days, your body adjusts to it with ease. My ten year old son has been fasting since he was seven; first with half days, then the following year with a combination of half days and full days to his best capacity. He has been able to fast completely for two years now. This is the first year without complaining of hunger throughout the day!
The greater impact of fasting though, on Muslims, is its affect on the soul. More time is spent on prayer, supplication, and charity. Muslims spend the most time in the mosques and give the most in charity during Ramadan. Charity goes hand in hand with fasting because what little we experience of hunger and thirst reminds us that there are those who are always hungry and do without constantly. This increased empathy is an integral part of the process.
Those who fast the entire month of Ramadan experience feelings of peace, mental and spiritual clarity, and a significantly reduced tendency towards anger. Ramadan displays why fasting is a pillar of Islam, as it coalesces the essence of what the religion is all about: purifying the soul, getting closer to our Maker, and giving in charity.
Dr. Abed Ayoub is Visiting Professor of Islamic Studies at the Graduate Theological Foundation. He has twice served on the U.S. Agency for International Development’s (USAID) Advisory Committee on Voluntary Foreign Aid and has served multiple terms with the U.S. State Department’s Religion and Foreign Policy Working Group (with one term currently being served). Dr. Ayoub is President and CEO of United Muslim Relief. (Read more on his GTF faculty profile.)