What is fasting? Why do Muslims fast during Ramadan?

“O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may (learn)  self-restraint “-Quran 2:183

Ramadan is the ninth month, an important time in the Islamic calendar when Muslims all over the world perform fasting (also known as Sawn) to commemorate the first revelation of the Quran to Muhammad. Fasting means abstaining from all kind of food and drink from dusk to dawn. During fasting, Muslims must also refrain from engaging in sinful behaviour that may negate the reward of fasting such as false speech (lying, insulting, cursing, spreading rumours, spreading fake news, etc) and fighting (except in self-defence).

This act of fasting itself is regarded as one of the Five Pillars of Islam and it lasted between a period of 29 to 30 days. The dates change annually as they are determined by the sighting of a new moon. As we have learnt in Science classes, it takes about 29.5 days for the moon to complete one cycle of phases (from new Moon to new Moon). Through fasting, Muslims practised self-discipline, self-reflection, self-control, sacrifice and empathy for those who are less fortunate. During the month of Ramadan, Muslims also engage in increased prayer and charity.

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Typically, each day before dawn, Muslims observe a pre-fast meal called suhur (sahur in Indonesia) and stopping a short time before dawn. This is followed by the first prayer of the day. At sunset, families break the fast by a meal called iftar. Dates are usually the first food they ate to break the fast. According to tradition, Muhammad broke fast with three dates. Subsequently, they will generally perform the Maghrib prayer, after which the main meal is served.

Non-Muslims can also join in the fast if they want to. Interestingly, there are many studies that suggest benefits to fasting. One study suggests that fasting can make us feel energetic and focused. This is due to the triggering of the survival instinct of the brain where it needs to figure out how to find food.

Other studies reported that people who fast for 12 hours will enter a state called ketosis, when the body starts to derive energy from fat. The more the body enters this state, the more the body will get used to using fat as fuel. In other words, there is a good chance for weight loss for people who fast regularly.

Entering ketosis not only help you to lose weight but it also triggers the release of a molecule called BDNF, which strengthens neurons and brains connections linked to learning and memory.

Naturally, fasting may also help with diabetes. Some scientific reports suggest that certain forms of fasting can improve the body’s response to sugar.

In closing, Muslims or Non-Muslims alike can benefit a lot from fasting. The benefits of self-restraint, self-control and empathy are universal and make a person a better man. Not forgetting that there are many health benefits that can be derived from fasting such as weight loss that I could really benefit from!

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