Biological, Neuropsychological, Social, and Spiritual Dimensions
By Wasim Kakroo
ALLAH says in Qur’an:
“Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may develop taqwa” (Qur’ān 2:183).
Ramazan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar, is a period of intense spiritual reflection, self-discipline, and self-purification for Muslims around the world. Fasting from dawn until sunset, abstaining from food, drink, and other worldly desires, is the primary aspect of Ramazan. However, the essence of Ramazan extends far beyond just abstaining from food and drink. It encompasses the biological, neuropsychological, and social aspects of human life and aims to improve them holistically.
In this article, I will explore the essence of Ramazan, focusing on the biological benefits of intermittent fasting, the neuropsychological effects of Ramadan, the social dimension of Ramadan, and the spiritual essence of Ramadan in the context of taqwa.
Biological Benefits of Fasting
Intermittent fasting, the practice of alternating periods of fasting with periods of eating, has been shown to have various health benefits, including weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and improved cognitive function. Ramazan, which involves abstaining from food and drink for 12-16 hours a day, is a form of intermittent fasting that can have similar benefits.
Several studies have shown that fasting during Ramazan can lead to weight loss, reduced body fat, and improved lipid profile. A study conducted in Iran found that fasting during Ramazan led to a significant reduction in body weight, body mass index, and waist circumference (Seyedian et al., 2014). Another study conducted in Saudi Arabia found that fasting during Ramazan led to a significant decrease in body fat percentage and an increase in lean body mass (Bahammam et al., 2010).
Intermittent fasting has also been shown to improve insulin sensitivity, which can reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes. A study conducted in Turkey found that fasting during Ramadan led to a significant improvement in insulin sensitivity and glucose tolerance (Aksoy et al., 2016).
Ramazan fasting has also been shown to have anti-inflammatory effects. A study conducted in Egypt found that fasting during Ramazan led to a significant reduction in levels of pro-inflammatory cytokines (Ghanem et al., 2018). Another study conducted in Saudi Arabia found that fasting during Ramazan led to a significant decrease in levels of C-reactive protein, a marker of inflammation (Alkahtani et al., 2014).
Finally, Ramazan fasting has been shown to improve cognitive function. A study conducted in Malaysia found that fasting during Ramazan led to significant improvements in attention and working memory (Haque et al., 2015). Another study conducted in Iran found that fasting during Ramazan led to a significant improvement in executive function (Golbidi et al., 2014).
Neuropsychological Effects of Ramazan:
Ramazan also has significant neuropsychological effects. Fasting has been shown to improve mood, increase alertness, and improve sleep quality. A study conducted in Turkey found that fasting during Ramazan led to a significant improvement in mood and a decrease in negative affect (Kul et al., 2014). Another study conducted in Iran found that fasting during Ramazan led to a significant improvement in sleep quality (Khazaie et al., 2013).
Ramazan also involves an increase in spiritual activity, such as prayer, Quranic recitation, and charitable acts. These spiritual practices have been shown to have positive psychological effects, such as reducing anxiety and depression and increasing well-being. A study conducted in Jordan found that Ramazan was associated with a significant reduction in anxiety and depression (Abdel et al., 2019). Another study conducted in Iran found that Ramadan was associated with a significant increase in well-being (Akrami et al., 2013).
The Quranic verse mentioned in the beginning of this article talks about one important essence of Ramazan and that is attainment of Taqwa. Taqwa is an Arabic term that refers to a state of consciousness where a person is aware of their actions and strives to improve their character, seeking to please God in their daily life.
From a neuropsychological perspective, the act of fasting can have significant effects on a person’s brain function and behavior. The process of fasting requires self-control that is possible only when a person becomes conscious of their actions. This practicing of consciousness can activate the prefrontal cortex of the brain. The prefrontal cortex is responsible for executive functions such as self-awareness, self-reflection, and decision-making. Fasting during Ramazan can therefore strengthen these cognitive functions, as well as increase one’s awareness of their thoughts and actions.
Furthermore, fasting can also have a positive impact on the limbic system, which is responsible for processing emotions. By fasting and practicing self-control, individuals can strengthen the executive function of their prefrontal cortex to regulate their emotions and better handle stressors that can otherwise trigger the limbic system.
Overall, the neuropsychological essence of taqwa can be seen as the cultivation of self-awareness and self-reflection through the act of fasting. By practicing self-control and regulating emotions, individuals can strive towards a higher state of consciousness and become more mindful of their actions in their daily lives.
The social dimension
Ramazan is not just an individual act of worship but also a communal one. It is a time for families and communities to come together and share meals, break their fasts, and engage in acts of charity. Ramazan creates a sense of community and fosters social connections, which can have significant benefits for mental health and well-being.
Studies have shown that social support is a strong predictor of mental health and well-being (Cohen & Wills, 1985). Ramazan provides an opportunity for individuals to strengthen their social connections and increase social support. A study conducted in Saudi Arabia found that Ramazan was associated with a significant increase in social support (Al-Qahtani & Mahmoud, 2016).
Charitable acts are also a significant part of Ramazan. Muslims are encouraged to give to the poor and needy during Ramazan. This act of giving can have significant benefits for mental health and well-being. Studies have shown that giving to others is associated with increased happiness and well-being (Dunn et al., 2008). A study conducted in Malaysia found that Ramadan was associated with a significant increase in charitable giving (Rahman et al., 2016).
Socially, taqwa refers to developing a deep sense of empathy and compassion for others, respecting human dignity, and being fair and just in all dealings. Muslims who observe Ramazan strive to cultivate these values throughout the month by engaging in acts of charity, community service, and refraining from negative behaviors such as gossip, lying, and backbiting.
The social effects of Ramazan are numerous, including a sense of unity and community spirit. Muslims worldwide come together to break their fast during iftar (the evening meal) and engage in communal prayer, creating a sense of togetherness that strengthens social bonds. Additionally, the emphasis on charity during Ramazan leads to increased philanthropic efforts, as Muslims are encouraged to give generously to those in need.
Overall, Ramazan provides an opportunity for Muslims to reflect on their individual and collective actions, develop a deeper sense of social responsibility, and strive towards the ultimate goal of taqwa, which is to achieve a state of God-consciousness in all aspects of life.
The spiritual essence
The primary aim of Ramazan is not just to improve physical health or social connections but to attain taqwa, a state of mindfulness and God-consciousness. The Quranic verse, “O you who believe, fasting has been prescribed for you as it has been prescribed for those before you, so that you may attain taqwa” (2:183), highlights the spiritual essence of Ramazan.
Taqwa is a complex concept that encompasses mindfulness, God-consciousness, and obedience to God’s commands. Ramazan provides an opportunity for Muslims to develop taqwa through increased acts of worship, such as prayer and Quranic recitation. It also involves self-reflection and self-discipline, which are necessary for developing taqwa.
The spiritual essence of Ramazan has also been shown to have benefits for mental health and well-being. Studies have shown that spirituality and religiosity are associated with increased well-being and decreased anxiety and depression (Koenig et al., 2012). Ramazan provides an opportunity for Muslims to increase their spirituality and religiosity, which can have significant benefits for mental health and well-being.
In conclusion, Ramazan is a month of intense spiritual reflection, self-discipline, and self-purification. It encompasses the biological, neuropsychological, social and spiritual dimensions of human life and aims to improve them holistically. Intermittent fasting during Ramadan has been shown to have various health benefits, including weight loss, improved insulin sensitivity, reduced inflammation, and improved cognitive function. Ramazan also has significant neuropsychological effects, including improved mood, increased alertness, and improved sleep quality. The social dimension of Ramazan creates a sense of community and fosters social connections, which can have significant benefits for mental health and well-being. The spiritual essence of Ramazan is to attain taqwa, a state of mindfulness and God-consciousness, through increased acts of worship.
The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar) and works as a consultant clinical psychologist at Centre for Mental Health Services (CMHS) at Rambagh Srinagar. He can be reached at 8825067196
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