Fasting – Spirit and Body

PIERRE Teilhard de Chardin noted that man is not a physical being with spiritual possibilities, instead man is a spiritual being having physical form. This primacy of spirit, which is at the root of all religious traditions of the world forms a referent for understanding the concept of worship. Worship is essentially a phenomenon pertaining to spiritual domain. But for the fact man participates in corporeal existence, almost all acts of worship involve the participation of body. But the participation of body shall not blind us from looking into the spiritual and Transcendental aspects of worship which forms the heart of it. Like other religions, Islam too places primarily emphasis on the spiritual faculties of man and addresses it variously in various contexts. The institution and the concept of worship, as it exists in Islam aims at sacralizing the whole existence of man.

Islam is not content, nor does it approve, the gymnastics of limbs in acts of worship whereas the heart and soul of man remains oblivious of God. In all its acts of worship,

Islam seeks to import in the very existence of man, the notion of God consciousness and imbue in him the spirit of divine presence. This is what Prophet (saw) wanted to emphasise when he said about prayers that if one can’t see God while he is praying, he must remember that God is seeing him. This feeling of living “in presence of divine” lies at the core of entire Islamic tradition and it manifests in all of its manifestations.

The case of fasting is no different. Fasting reinforces our belief in the phenomenon that we are living in presence of divine. Fasting, as Maulana Maudoodi writes “is a form of Ibadah which is entirely private…. The private nature of God ensures that you have strong faith in God as the one who knows everything. Only if your faith is true and strong, you will not dream of eating or drinking secretly”. Now by the very nature of this proposition, anybody who fasts must believe that he is perpetually under divine surveillance. This sense inkoves in man his dormant spiritual possibilities, which are otherwise subjected to latency by our gross engagement in the realm of matter. In fasting, we withdraw from the realm of Manifest matter and start our journey to the Transcendent realm of invisible with a belief and fervor, the impact of which is very much visible in our conduct during the “fasting duration”. But here lies the basic perversion of our thinking that it is only “during fasting” or only during this particular month that the emotions of self and God consciousness touch crests in our lives. For the rest of time, our lives traverse the usual mundane trajectory of forgetfulness and God unconsciousness. We tend to gloss over the fact that Islam does not see worship as part of life, rather it sees life as a worship itself. The month of Ramadan is only a reminder to this end. Jigar Muradabadi beautifully verified it as:

“Mehvi Tasbee toh sab hai magar idraak kaha

Zindagi khud Hi ibadat hai magar hosh nahi”

Presence has often been described as the summit of religious experience. Fasting is the prolongation and permance of this experience. Fasting makes man to feel in presence of divine, in the very bosom of God, in perpetual Transcendence. Every time one feels hungry, tired, thirsty and fatigued, one is reminded of God, one recalls God. This connection building is what all our worshipping is about. Maulana Waheed Ud Din Khan while deliberating on the verse pertaining to fasting notes that “Ramadan is the month of heightened God-consciousness” . It is this God consciousness which holds man from indulging in acts of sin because he always finds himself existentially in presence of divine. In fasting the believer abstains from not only prohibited acts and things, but deeds and things which are very legitimate otherwise. This absistence from otherwise legitimate things during fasting very much enables the believer to abstain from prohibited acts in other times of the year. In fasting does one realise his potential to overcome the forces of body and win over the forces of evil both within and without. Shall this realisation and spirit continue for the entire cycle of year, it is no wonder that one shall find God in his vicinity and one may discover, within his own self, the material and spiritual possibilities of which one has hitherto been unaware of.

Having said so much about the spiritual aspects of fasting, let’s turn to its health and biological aspects (which are of course secondary but important). According to research conducted by neuroscientist Mark Mattson and others, cutting your energy intake by fasting several days a week might help your brain ward off neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s while at the same time improving memory and mood. According to Dr. Michael Mosley – author of The Fast Diet books – this eating plan can not only help people lose weight, but it offers an array of other health benefits. “Studies of intermittent fasting show that not only do people see improvements in blood pressure and their cholesterol levels, but also in their insulin sensitivity”. Prof Sassone Corsi observed that “In other words, fasting is able to essentially reprogram a variety of cellular responses. Therefore, optimal fasting in a timed manner would be strategic to positively affect cellular functions and ultimately benefitting health and protecting against aging-associated diseases”. In their research paper titled ” Intermittent Fasting : The choice for a healthier lifestyle”, the authors, Kavitha Ganesan, Yacob Habboush, and Senan Sultan noted that “The systematic review found that intermittent fasting was effective for short-term weight loss among normal weight, overweight and obese people. Randomized controlled trials with long-term follow-up period are needed to follow the adherence to diet and long-term maintenance of weight loss without regaining the lost weight.

Future studies should also include specific subgroups of the population such as individuals with cardiovascular risk factors and type 2 diabetes mellitus as these patient population benefit more from weight loss which may modify the disease process. In summary, obesity and overweight is an international health crisis, and interventions such as ADF are needed to help people to achieve weight loss“.

With this abundance of spiritual and physical benefits it shall inspire us all the more to hold on to God’s command that “Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many learn piety and righteousness“. Even the Bible, as a former scripture goes on to say “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish“.

Views expressed in the article are the author’s own and do not necessarily represent the editorial stance of Kashmir Observer 

  • The author is a columnist based in Srinagar

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Amir Suhail Wani

The author is a writer and columnist

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