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How Does Fasting in Islam Compare to Other Religions?

Questioner

Mona

Reply Date

May 18, 2017

Question

In the Quran it says something about fasting has been prescribed for you as it was for those who came before you. This makes me wonder how fasting has remained in other faiths and how does it compare to fasting in Islam. So, how does fasting in Islam compare to other religions? Thank you for your response.

Consultant

Answer


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Salam Sister,
Thank you for your question and for contacting Ask About Islam.

The Quranic command for fasting is as follows:

{O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, in order that you attain piety.} (Quran 2:183)

In all religions known to history, we may see some form of fasting, as fasting is widely recognized as a practice for spiritual purification, repentance, or self-discipline.  

In the Bible, we see that prophets like Moses, Daniel, and Jesus adopted fasting as a form of worship or as a means of communication with God. The Mosaic Law prescribes Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) as a day of obligatory fasting:

[And this shall be a statute forever unto you: that in the seventh month, on the tenth day of the month, ye shall afflict your souls, and do no work at all, whether it be one of your own country, or a stranger that sojourneth among you: For on that day shall the priest make an atonement for you, to cleanse you, that ye may be clean from all your sins before the LORD. It shall be a sabbath of rest unto you, and ye shall afflict your souls, by a statute forever.] (Leviticus 16:29-31)

The Jews observe ten days of repentance starting with Rosh Hashanah (the Jewish New Year) and ending with Yom Kippur, which is believed to be the most solemn day in the Jewish calendar, when believers grieve for sins committed in the past year and pray for forgiveness.

On this day, Jews fast from sundown on the previous evening to sundown the next night. To the Jews, fasting is more than just refraining from drinking and eating: work on fast days is not permitted; and having sexual relations and bathing, as well as using wearing ointments and leather shoes are prohibited.

Jews generally fast on the eve of New Year’s Day also, called Rosh Hashanah. Besides Yom Kippur, there were four regular fast-days established by Jewish tradition to keep the memory of various sad events in Jewish history.

According to some Talmudic scholars, these fasts were obligatory only when the nation was under oppression, but not at other times.

The Jewish fasts begin at sunrise and end with the appearance of the first stars of the evening (except for Yom Kippur). Almsgiving and the distribution of food is strongly recommended on these occasions. (Jewish Encyclopedia).  

As for Christians, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, instructed his earliest disciples to fast:

[When you fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth, they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.] (Matthew 6:6)

It is clear that the kind of fast prescribed by Jesus was already known to the Jewish community, and apparently Jesus didn’t make any change to it. It must have been complete abstinence from food and drink, as the above verses indicate.

That is why he spoke of putting oil on the head and washing the face so that the tiredness of fasting would not be obvious to others.

Today, Christians in general follow Church directives and do not practice this kind of fasting; they avoid eating meat for a few days; or in some cases eat only one meal a day during the fast. And there is no ban on drinks either.

Lent, which is observed by the Roman Catholic, Anglican, and certain other churches, is a forty-day period of fasting and penitence in emulation of Jesus Christ’s example in his fast in the wilderness of Judea.

For Roman Catholics, abstinence means excluding meat from the food. But there is also a concept of “partial abstinence”, meaning eating meat only once per day.

The Bible teaches that fasting is an occasion for strengthening the spirit attained through the deprivation of fleshly comforts and the remembrance of God.

In Islam, fasting is an act of worship, whereby a Muslim draws closer to God by abandoning food, drink, and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset. Because of this, the sincerity of faith and devotion to Allah should become all the more evident.

Fasting in the month of Ramadan is mandatory for every adult Muslim, male or female, who is sane, healthy, and not traveling. We may say: Ramadan fast is a one-month celebration of the Revelation of the Quran, which is Allah’s Guidance for humankind.

No other scripture is honored like this, and no other month is made sacred by its connection to Divine Guidance as the month of Ramadan. So Muslims use this occasion for honoring the Book of Allah, by its reading and study.

Certainly this aspect of Ramadan fasting is unique, compared to fasting in other religions.

In addition, there are other kinds of voluntary fasting.

The chief objective of fasting in Islam is to develop God-consciousness that enables a person to lead a virtuous life in this world, which in turn will lead to an eternal life of happiness in the next.

Islamic fasting creates an awareness in the believers, of an appreciation of the numerous bounties of Allah the All Merciful. Without fasting these are taken for granted; but fasting causes us to feel a sincere and heart-felt thanks to Allah.

In the three Semitic religions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, there are several common features observable in religious practice.

As for fasting, Islam specifically maintains its predominant stand by making its followers fast for a whole month from dawn to dusk. Fasting in Islam provides an opportunity to the Muslims to learn lessons of gratitude to the Creator, of self-restraint, and a readiness for service and sacrifice to the poor and the needy.    

And Allah knows best. I hope this answers your question. Please keep in touch. 

Salam. 

Please continue feeding your curiosity, and find more info in the following links:

Spiritual Aspect of Ramadan and Fasting

Fasting in Different Religions

What Jesus Said about Fasting




About Professor Shahul Hameed

Professor Shahul Hameed is an Islamic consultant. He also held the position of the President of the Kerala Islamic Mission, Calicut, India. He is the author of three books on Islam published in the Malayalam language. His books are on comparative religion, the status of women, and science and human values.


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