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Fasting: Any Health Benefits?

05 April, 2022
Q Assalamu alaikum. I have a friend who is interested in studying Islam. His current religion is Catholic. He asked me about the fast in Islam, how it effects the human health. I really want to give him a scientific explanation, but I don't know how to explain it. Can you explain to me about the benefits of fasting on our health? And do you have materials about Islam in the Sri Lankan language? If you have some, could you please send them to me? My friend is a Sri Lankan, and his English is not so good, so I want him to understand about Islam easily and clearly. Can you help me?


Salam Dear Sayed,

Thank you for your question and for your concern about your friend.

Firstly, I have to apologize for not being able to provide you with references to Islam in the language of Sri Lanka. So far this service only has access to people whose expertise is in the English language.

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Anyway, here is something which I hope you find useful on the effects of fasting:

How to Fast?

Firstly, I should explain the way fasting is prescribed in Islam. To prepare to fast you should get up before sunrise and eat a meal called suhur. This should be finished before the first bit of light appears in the sky indicating that dawn is coming.

Then from that moment until the sun sets behind the horizon, you should avoid eating anything, drinking anything, having sex, or smoking. Then as soon as the sun sets, you should eat a small snack preferably something sweet and some liquids, then pray the sunset prayer (maghrib) before eating the main meal of the day.

Health Benefits of Fasting

The medical effects are many and important but first I should mention that it can be harmful for some people and for this reason, if you are ill or fasting makes you ill, then you do not have to do it until your health improves:

{O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint. (Fasting) for a fixed number of days; but if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (should be made up for) from days later…} (Al-Baqarah 2:183-184)

The key reason for fasting which is mentioned in these verses is to learn self- restraint. There are many aspects to this. The primary aspect is that we learn to hold back the fulfillment of our material desires until the right time and place.

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This lesson in itself if properly learned has a great transforming effect on all aspects of human life far beyond the effects on health.

There have been a few academic studies on the medical effects of Islamic fasting. The basic conclusions are that when healthy people fast, it does not cause any adverse medical effect and on the contrary, it may have some beneficial effect on weight and lipid metabolism (increasing excess fat destruction).

One of the main health benefits of fasting is that it is the ideal way for people to give up bad eating habits and other bad habits such as smoking. I do not need to tell you about the bad effects of smoking.

Fasting teaches the Muslim to restrain himself from sins more generally. While fasting it may be possible to sneak away and eat in private but any Muslim knows that Allah sees everything he does. So, following the fast properly increases the awareness that Allah sees all your actions both secret and open.

Fasting is known to have specific benefits for certain illnesses including epileptic fits and cancer. You can find much of this information on the internet through simple searches.

Charity & Restraining Desires

Restraining your desires so that they can be fulfilled at the appropriate time is an important metaphor for the whole of the human condition. It reflects the especially human characteristic of being able to plan our future and make those concepts determine our actions instead of our actions being determined by ingrained instincts.

It is at the core of our mental faculties that make us humans; flexible and able to achieve the success we have in our control over our environment.

Ultimately this ability to plan is expressed in our ability to sacrifice things in this life in order to achieve something better in the next life.

Thus, giving of charity in the way of Allah is the definitive teaching of what is a good deed. The very conflict this ability brings between short term gains and long term gains is at the very center of what being human is about. It is why we have to have free will.

Fasting should teach us the importance of these lessons. To illustrate this further, let me relate a study done in the USA. A group of children (about 7 years old as far as I recall) were sat in a room one by one. An adult came in and put in front of each child a single sweet.

Fasting: Any Health Benefits

The adult then said that they were going away for a couple of minutes and that, if when they came back again and the child had not eaten the sweet, then the child would be given a second sweet. So the child had a clear choice to make between eating the sweet in front of them now or to wait for a couple of minutes and then eat 2 sweets. About 40% of the children managed to wait for the adult to return.

These children were then followed while they grew up. It turned out that the children who waited for the second sweet achieved results in academic tests at the age of 17 which were considerably higher than those who couldn’t wait.

The difference was so great that it made the same difference to their results as the difference between having parents who had Masters degrees at university and parents whose education stopped after high school (17/18 years old).

As you can see fasting is an important religious practice which teaches us an important lesson in life.

I hope this answer is helpful and that you are able to convey it to your friend.

Please keep in touch.


(From Ask About Islam archive)