The Muslim practice of fasting – Riad Galil

Ladies and gentlemen

It is a pleasure to be here with you tonight. This night would not have been possible if it were not for the tremendous effort of so many people. Thank you all for organising and hosting this event.
Thank you for LBC administration. Thank you Michael Fink, Rabbi Jonathan, Jerry, Rafiq, Albert and all others involved.

I like to share some thoughts about the Muslim practice of fasting.

Fasting is part of all Abrahamic religions. Abstinence from food clears the body and mind to boost the spirit. In Islam, overindulgence in food is considered as a character flow. The Prophet advises that it is ideal to fill â…“ of the stomach with food, â…“ with water and the last â…“ with air. In other words Muslims are not supposed to eat to their fill. It is also highly recommended to eat only when hungry. Bloating dampens the spirit.

For a whole month every year, Muslims fast every day from sunrise to sunset. Food, drink, smoke, and sex are all forbidden during the course of the day. This fasting is ordained on adult Muslims. The young, the frail, pregnant and nursing women, travellers are exempted from fasting.

Ramadan is the one month of the year where Muslims cleanse their inside as they try to clean their outlook. Abstinence from food, drink and sex are the common features of fasting. But Almighty wants us to cleanse our hearts and senses as well. The eyes are cleansed from looking at forbidden things, our ears from spying and listening to Haram, our hearts from carrying grudges against other humans, our mouths from telling lies or abusing other creatures of God and our hands from stealing or abusing the Law of Almighty in any way.

The month of Ramadan is a once-a-year crash course that would set Muslims right on the correct path for the rest of the year. Whoever faces up to his commitments in this month with an honest effort is assured the highest rewards in this life and the Hereafter.

Families train their young to fast. For the toddlers, perhaps an hour’s fasting that is generously rewarded by the parents may be the start. Then the period is increased gradually as the child grows up. For the primary school age children fasting from the morning till lunch time is usual. When children reach the age of puberty they must be able to fast the full day. This is the aim of such training.

Muslims usually break their daily fast in communal gatherings, like the one we’re having tonight. This practice cements relations between individuals and gives them that sense of community.

As you know, Muslims are required to pray five times every day and night. In the month of Ramadan an extra night prayer is shared by Muslims who gather in the mosque for the additional prayers.

There is no doubt that fasting affects the physical ability of people. Life for the Muslim generally slows down in Ramadan as hunger and interrupted sleep affect our bodies. But on the positive side, we find that we reach a high level of spirituality that brings us to attain that feeling of oneness with the whole universe.

At the end of Ramadan, Muslims celebrate Eid-ul-Fitr which simply means the festival of breaking the fast. A morning prayer at about 8 o’clock in the morning at the local mosque starts the day of celebrations for most Muslims. Communal breakfast in the usual morning time follows to be shared by all. The days of Eid-ul-Fitr are time for merriment and enjoyment. Children are usually pampered on these days with new cloths, toys and outings.

The benefits that may be earned from fasting are quite numerous:

  • One would regain command of his/her desires.
  • Patience is practiced rather than preached.
  • Only a hungry person would understand how hunger affects people. Fasting would develop a sense of responsibility towards hungry people in the world.
  • Highly spiritual elevations occur where one experiences real inner peace.

These are some of the benefits of fasting. But fasting in the month of Ramadan is an act of obedience to Almighty, our Creator, Who knows what is best for us.

[This talk was presented at the Leo Baek Centre for Progressive Judaism during the Islamic month of Ramadam and the Jewish month of Tisha B’Avon Sunday the 9th of August 2011. Read more here]