What is Ramadan about What role does fasting play in this practice and in other religions?

Updated: Aug 10, 2021

Ramadan is a time for worship and being thankful. During the holy month, all Muslims must abstain from food and drink during the day. The practice of fasting, present in different religions and cultures, is a time intended for human beings to focus on one’s spirit. This is done through a temporary disconnection from our physical needs and material desires.

From dawn to dusk, most Muslims fast to remind themselves of the less fortunate. Traditionally, Muslims eat a pre-fast meal (“suhur”), as well as “iftar,” with which they break their fast after sundown.

By not feeding the physical body, Muslims can focus their energy on the pain of hunger and remember those who endure it all the time. As Imam Shabazz stated: “we are not physical beings exclusively… we are spiritual beings housed in a physical container.” Showing self-restraint, by surrendering to a higher authority, is the path toward a better life in this world and eternal life in the next.

The importance of fasting in refocusing spirituality is common to many religions. Christians (mostly Roman Catholics) observe Lent, which is the preparation for Jesus’ journey to crucifixion and resurrection. In contrast to Islam, fasting takes different (usually “lighter”) forms.

In the Jewish faith, Yom Kippur (also known as the Day of Atonement) is the holiest day of the Jewish calendar. Jews may not eat, drink, work, have sexual relations or bathe, for 25 hours. Mandated in the Torah, people are encouraged to consider their sins during the past year and repent.

Finally, Hinduism also uses fasting to deny the body of its physical needs to achieve spiritual gain. By parting from obsessions with worldly indulgences, Hindus create harmony between body and soul. On the day of Ekadasi, healthy adults are encouraged to fast completely. Combined with prayer and meditation, the goal is eliminating sins, purifying the mind and training oneself to endure future hardships.

Throughout time, many religions have come to consider the voluntary abstinence from food as an important spiritual purification rite. By encouraging penitence and sacrifice, the essence of fasting is preventing physical needs from dominating the narrative.

Author: Elena Yustres Rodriguez

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