Soldier of Allah 

4. Fasting in a Comparative Perspective


We do know that the institution of fasting is as old as history itself, and that it was prescribed by Allah for the people before Islam as it has been prescribed by Him for the Muslims. But we do not know - and we do not believe that many people know - the exact form or the proper manners in which Allah prescribed those other types of fasting. However, we may , for the sake of the truth and enlightened curiosity, substantiate our contentions by comparing this institution of Islam with the other types of fasting:

1. In other religions and dogmas, in other philosophies and doctrines, the observer of fast abstains from certain kinds of food or drinks or material substances, but he is free to substitute for that and fill his stomach to the top with the substituting stuff, which is also of material nature. In Islam one abstains from the things of material nature - food, drink, smoking, etceteras, in order to have spiritual joys and moral nourishment. The Muslim empties his stomach of all the material things: to fill his soul with peace and blessings, to fill his heart with love and sympathy, to fill his spirit with piety and faith, to fill his mind with wisdom and resolution.

2. The purpose of fasting in other religions and philosophies is invariably partial. It is either for spiritual aims, Or for physical needs, Or for intellectual cultivation; never for all combined. But in Islam it is for all these gains and many other purposes, social and economic, moral and humanitarian, private and public, personal and common, inner and outer, local and national - all combined together as mentioned above.
3. The non-Islamic fasting does not demand more than partial abstinence from certain material things. But the Islamic type is accompanied by extra devotion and worship, extra charity and study of the Qur'an, extra sociability and liveliness, extra self-discipline and conscience - awakening. Thus the fasting Muslim feels a different person altogether. He is so pure and clean inside as well as outside, and his soul is so transparent that he feels close to perfection because he is so near to Allah.

4. To the best of our knowledge and on the authority of daily experience, other moral philosophies and religions teach man that he cannot attain his moral aims or enter the kingdom of Allah unless and until he uproots himself from the stem of worldly affairs. Accordingly, it becomes necessary for such a man to divorce his mundane interests, neglect his human responsibilities and resort to some kind of self-torture or severe asceticism of which fasting is an essential element. fasting of this kind with people of this type may be used and it has been used - as a pretext to cover the humiliating retreat from the normal course of life. But fasting in Islam is not a divorce from life but a happy marriage with it, not a retreat but penetration with spiritual armaments, not negligence but a moral enrichment. The Islamic fasting does not divorce religion from daily life or separate the soul from the body. It does not break but harmonizes. It does not dissolve but transfuses. It does not disintegrate but bridges and redeems.
Even the time table of the Islamic fasting is a striking phenomenon. In other cases the time of fasting is fixed at a certain time of the year in a most inflexible way. But in Islam the time comes with the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the year. The Islamic calendar is a lunar one, and months rotate according to the various positions of the moon. This means that over a period of a limited number of years the Islamic fasting covers the four major seasons of the year and circulates back and forth between the summer and the winter through the fall and the spring in a rotating manner. The nature of the lunar calendar is such that the month of Ramadan falls in January, for example, in one year and in December in another year, and at any time in between during the succeeding years. In a spiritual sense this means that the Muslim enjoys the moral experience of fasting on various levels, and tastes its spiritual flavors at variant seasons of variant climates, sometimes in the winter of short and cold days, sometimes in the summer of long and hot days, sometimes in between. But this variety of experience remains at all times an impressive feature of the liveliness of the Islamic institution. It also stands as an unfailing expression of readiness, dynamism and adaptability on the part of to the Muslim believer. This is certainly a healthy, remarkable component of the teaching of Islam.



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