Insights into Fasting

Fasting v. to abstain from all food.

So you don’t eat any food or drink anything? That sounds really intense. Why would you willingly do that? These are some of the questions and reactions I get when people hear that I am fasting. There are many responses to these questions, and here are mine.

Every year I celebrate the month of Ramadan, fulfilling one of the five pillars of Islam. I, along with Muslims from around the world, abstain from all eating and all drinking (including water) from the time the sun rises in the morning until it sets in the evening. In the winter it is about 10 hours and 16 hours in the summer here in Northern California.

At its most basic level I fast because it is an act of worship to God and a way to be in solidarity with those who are less fortunate than I am. I know that when I break my fast at the end of the day, there will be plenty of food to quench my thirst and hunger. I am not forced to fast because there isn’t enough food around. But the fasting becomes much more than that, because when the sun sets and I hear the call to prayer indicating that it is time to break my fast, food is the last thing on my mind. I am filled with gratitude for all the blessings and provisions God has given me. I spend the few minutes before breaking my fast in reflection of all this.

Ramadan is also a restart button for me; a time to purify my soul. For many years I understood this to mean that I had to give something up that was bad. Yes, that is part of it, but I have found that adopting a positive behavior is just as much a part of it and often more powerful. Each morning before the dawn prayer, I take a few minutes to make an intention for the day. Why am I fasting today? What am I going to do today? What am I not going to do today? In Islam, intentions are just as important as the deed itself. These specific intentions help keep my day focused. When I start getting tired, hungry, or cranky, I can think back to the intentions I made in the morning and it helps me refocus my attention to the reason I am fasting and why it matters to me.

Fasting provides a context for me to step back to take account of all that God has bestowed upon me. So often I take these things for granted and fail to recognize how fortunate I am. Fasting during the month of Ramadan is more than just withholding from food and drink, it humbles me and brings me back to God, the source and provider of my existence.