Intentionally abstaining from the consumption (or even tasting) of food. This can be negotiated down to the consumption of only bread and water, or extended to deprival of total sensory input. Often induces hallucination, mystical experiences, malnutrition and, in a few extreme circumstances, Death.

Fasting is practised by the Muslim population around the world, comprising 20% of the world's population. It is not as harmful as it may initially sound; doctors are now convinced that it gives your digestive system a break, and it's also a good way to stay in shape.

Fasting in the Muslim world is practised from dusk till dawn; typically from 5 am till 5 pm, although variations in time due to different time zones may apply. Performance of fasting is obligatory for people who are able, but the sick and women in menopause are exempt. Of the 5 pillars of Islam, fasting is the 4th pillar.

In the second year of Hijra (exodus from Mecca to Medina), fasting was declared obligatory to Muslims, "O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint."Quran 2:183 During a fast Muslims are not supposed to eat or drink anything. This teaches will power and self control, and also allows people of all social levels to feel how the poor and hungry feel.

Fasting is performed in the holy month of Ramadhan - the 9th month on the lunar calendar. This is the month the Quran was revealed to Mohammed. A fast becomes invalid if any of the listed actions mentioned below are deliberately performed, if a person performs these actions unintentionally or out of absentmindedness, no blame falls on them.

Eating and drinking deliberately invalidates the fast. Smoking tobacco is open to debate, as some strict schools consider it to invalidate the fast and other less strict schools do not. Smoking has no nutritional value, which is why some less strict schools permits it.

Deliberate sexual intercourse during the fast invalidates the fast. Some schools require the freeing of a slave as a means of repentance, and if that is not possible, fasting for 2 months, and if that is not possible, feeding 60 poor persons.

Masturbation that ends with seminal emission invalidates the fast if it is deliberate. Deliberate vomiting invalidates the fast, while unintended vomiting does not. Injecting of vitamins or other nutrients into the bloodstream through needles invalidates the fast according to all schools.

Allah orders Muslims not to have sexual intercourse with spouses during a fast in this passage, "Permitted to you, on the night of the fasts, is the approach to your wives. They are your garments And ye are their garments. Allah knoweth what ye Used to do secretly among yourselves; But He turned to you And forgave you; So now associate with them, And see what Allah Hath ordained for you, And eat and drink, Until the white thread Of dawn appear to you Distinct from its black thread; Then complete your fast Till the night appears; But do not associate With your wives While ye are in retreat In the mosques. Those are Limits (set by) Allah: Approach not nigh thereto. Thus doth Allah make clear His Signs to men: that They may learn self-restraint. Quran, 2:187

Narrated Anas bin Malik: Allah's Apostle took an oath that he would abstain from his wives, and at that time his leg had been sprained (dislocated). So he stayed in the Mashruba (an attic room) of his for 29 days. Then he came down, and they (the people) said, "O Allah's Apostle! You took an oath to abstain from your wives for one month." He said, "The month is of twenty nine days." (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Divorce, Volume 7, Book 63, Number 212)" The longest fasting period in any religious group is attributed to the coptic Christian in egypt, who fast for 250 days.

Fasting is not only limited to corporeal restraints, positive ethical attitudes is also commanded. Narrated Abu Huraira, "The Prophet said, "Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)" (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 127)

Fasting diminishes sexual desires according to this hadeeth, Narrated 'Alqama, "While I was walking with 'Abdullah he said, "We were in the company of the Prophet and he said, 'He who can afford to marry should marry, because it will help him refrain from looking at other women, and save his private parts from looking at other women, and save his private parts from committing illegal sexual relation; and he who cannot afford to marry is advised to fast, as fasting will diminish his sexual power." (Translation of Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31, Number 129)"

Fasting is integrated into many world religions including Islam, Judaism & Christianity. Many are skeptical to the positive physiological and spiritual effects fasting have on the adherents of the major religions. With significant numbers, alternative healers believe fasting can do wonders for the human body.

Physiologically, fasting instigates between 12 to 24 hours at the beginning of the fast. The chemical kickoff of a fast starts when the body begin to tap into carbohydrates stores in the body in order to be used as an energy source. Fasting continues when fats and carbohydrates in the body are utilized for energy, not protein stores in muscles. If proteins stores depletion begins, a person is technically starving.

Due to food deprivation, the body turns to its own energy stores by a process called autolysis. Autolysis is the breaking down of fat stores for the production of energy. The liver is tasked with the conversion of fats into ketone which consists of metabolic substances called acetoacetic acid and beta-hydroxybutyric acid.(1) These substances are then distributed to the body via the bloodstream. The less a person eats, the more the body will tap into fats and the more ketone bodies creation occurs, the buildup of ketone is referred to as ketosis.

Detoxification is the key case fasting adherents advocate. Detoxification is a process the body utilizes by eliminating toxins through the lungs, skin, kidneys, colon, and liver. (2) This process is rushed by fasting due to the absence of incoming external energy source and the body utilization of its own energy stores. When fat stores are used for energy during fasting, chemicals are released from fatty acids into the system which are then secreted through detoxification organs, such as the kidney, colon, liver, etc.

During fasting energy is unfocused towards the digestive system due to lack of utilization and instead energy is focused towards the immune system and metabolic system. Abnormal growth in the body, such as tumors, do not have the full support of the body's energy during fasting and as a result are more at risk of autolysis.

The most scientifically proven advantage of fasting is extended life expectancy. The only reliable way to extend lifespan of a mammal is under nutrition without malnutrition.(2) Modern experiments performed on mice support this claim.(3) In the 1930s a study was performed on earthworms with one isolated worm going through a cycle of fasting and feeding. The isolated worm outlasted its relatives by 19 generations.

References

1) fasting for better health, Sue Reith, http://www.saanendoah.com/ketosis.html, last accessed 9/30/2006
2) WebMD – Detox Diets: Cleansing the Body, Jeanie Lerche Davis, http://www.webmd.com/content/article/11/1671_52826, last accessed 9/30/2006
3) Caloric Restriction and Life Expectancy, Elena Armandola, PhD, http://www.pubmedcentral.nih.gov/articlerender.fcgi?artid=1480571, last accessed 9/30/2006.
Of the Five Pillars of Islam, the fast is the most well known.

Every day during the month of Ramadan, muslims fast from dawn to dusk. They abstain from food, drink, and sex.

Those who are unable to fast during Ramadan, such as the sick or pregnant, can make up the fast for an equal number of days anytime during the year.

People who cannot fast at any time must feed a needy person for every day of fasting they miss.

There are a number of fast days throughout the year in Judaism.

25 hour fasts - from the start of the Jewish day (sunset the evening before) until nightfall on the day concerned.

  • Yom Kippur - the Day of Atonement. Jewish date is the 10th of Tishri. Falls in September or October. A day spent in Synagogue praying for forgiveness.
  • Tisha B'av. Jewish date is the 9th of Av. Falls in August usually. Possibly the saddest day in the Jewish calendar, commemorates the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and many other bad events in Jewish history.

Daily fasts - from sunrise until sunset only (therefore the ones in the winter are easier than the ones in the summer).

  • Tsom Gedaliah. Jewish date is the 3rd of Tishri, the day after Rosh Hashanah. Falls in September or October. It commemorates the slaying of Gedaliah ben Ahikam, the governor of Judah appointed by Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, after the destruction of Jerusalem.
  • Asarah b'Tevet. Jewish date is the 10th of Tevet. Falls in December or January. It marks the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar.
  • Ta'anit Esther. Jewish date is the 13th of Adar, the day before Purim. Falls in March or April. Described in the biblical book of Esther. Queen Esther asked her uncle Mordecai to declare a fast for the Jews as a means of praying for her success with King Ahasuerus and against the evil Haman.
  • Shivah Asar b'Tamuz. Jewish date is the 17th of Tamuz. Falls in June or July. This was the day the Romans breached the walls around Jerusalem, which led to the destruction three weeks later (Tisha B'Av) of the Second Temple in 70 C.E.

Some other fasts.

  • Ta'anit B'Chorim - the Fast of the Firstborn. Jewish date is the 14th of Nissan, the day before Pesach (Passover). Traditionally first born males fast on this day to show we have sympathy with the Egyptians who lost their sons in the last of the 10 plagues, the Death of the First Born. Usually, though, a reason is found not to fast. This is simply because the meal on the first night of Pesach at the Seder feast is often held very late. The most common method is to complete learning a portion of Talmud after morning prayers, and on completion of learning any "section", a small meal is always held. After that, all present can eat for the rest of the day.
  • Fasting for B'Hab. This isn't observed by many people nowdays. It involves fasting on the Monday, Thursday and Monday following the major festivals of Succot and Pesach. It is in case the celebreations of the festival caused you to do any sins that may be inappropriate for the nature of the festival.
  • Wedding Day. Most religious Jews fast from when they get up on their wedding day until the ceremony itself. This is because the day is considered a personal Yom Kippur, on which they are forgiven their sins and start again as a married man or woman.

Jewish fasting is a complete fast - one is not allowed to eat or drink anything for the duration of the fast. Of course, if it would be dangerous for one to fast (say if you're diabetic), one mustn't fast. But the decision to eat or drink, especially on Yom Kippur (as the holiest day in the year) should be made after consultation with both a Rabbi and a Doctor.

The obligation to fast commences when a boy is Bar Mitzvah (13) and a girl is Bat Mitzvah (12). Most children would fast for one or two years before this, and even younger children, while they shouldn't fast, should still mark the day by not eating luxury foods, sweets or chocolate.

A huge majority of Jews fast on Yom Kippur, however religious they are. Only religious Jews fast on most of the other days.

In Christianity, fasting is considered to be a spiritual discipline. Fasting involves denying yourself some form of sustenance (certain foods or all foods and/or drinks) for a period of time. Fasting is often combined with prayer, bible study, or meditation to elevate the spiritual aspect of the fast.

The word fast is derived from the Hebrew term tsom, which refers to the practice of self-denial. In New Testament (koine) Greek (including the Septuagint), the word nesteia is used, which is fully synonymous.

Biblical Basis for Fasting:

  • Fasting is neither mentioned nor required by the Mosaic law set forth in the Pentateuch, although Moses fasted for 40 days and 40 nights while receiving the Law from God.
  • Fasting appears by example in a number of places in the Old Testament as an expression of mourning. It is thought that the practice of fasting originated with the natural loss of appetite due to times of great distress.
    • Nehemiah 1:4 (NET): When I heard these things I sat down abruptly, crying and mourning for several days. I continued fasting and praying before the God of heaven.
    • Nehemiah 9:1 (NET): On the twenty-fourth day of this same month the Israelites assembled; they were fasting and wearing sackcloth, their heads covered with dust.
    • Esther 4:3 (NET): Throughout each and every province where the king's edict and law were announced there was considerable mourning among the Jews, along with fasting, weeping, and sorrow. Sackcloth and ashes were characteristic of many.
    • Daniel 9:3 (NET): So I turned my attention to the Lord God to implore him by prayer and requests, with fasting, sackcloth, and ashes.
  • A major Old Testament teaching regarding fasting can be found in Isaiah 58:3-7.
    "They lament, 'Why don't you notice when we fast? Why don't you pay attention when we humble ourselves?' Look, at the same time you fast, you satisfy your selfish desires, you oppress your workers. Look, your fasting is accompanied by arguments, brawls,and fistfight]. Do not fast as you do today, trying to make your voice heard in heaven. Is this really the kind of fasting I want? Do I want a day when people merely humble themselves, bowing their heads like a reed and stretching out on sackcloth and ashes? Is this really what you call a fast, a day that is pleasing to the LORD? No, this is the kind of fast I want. I want you to remove the sinful chains, to tear away the ropes of the burdensome yoke, to set free the oppressed, and to break every burdensome yoke. I want you to share your food with the hungry and to provide shelter for homeless, oppressed people. When you see someone naked, clothe him! Don't turn your back on your own flesh and blood!" (Isaiah 58:3-7, NET)
  • Jesus' teachings about fasting:
    • Matthew 6:16-18 (NET): "When you fast, do not look sullen like the hypocrites, for they make their faces unattractive so that people will see them fasting. I tell you the truth, they have their reward. When you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to others when you are fasting, but only to your Father who is in secret. And your Father, who sees in secret, will reward you.
    • Mark 2:18-20 (NET): Now John's disciples and the Pharisees were fasting. So they came to Jesus and said, "Why do the disciples of John and the disciples of the Pharisees fast, but your disciples don't fast?" Jesus said to them, "The wedding guests cannot fast while the bridegroom is with them, can they? As long as they have the bridegroom with them they do not fast. But the days are coming when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and at that time they will fast.
    Jesus expected that His disciples would fast, and gave them guidelines on appropriate behavior while fasting as well as when fasting would not be appropriate.
  • Fasting in the Early Church:
    • Acts 13:2-3 (NET): While they were serving the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, "Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them." Then, after they had fasted and prayed and placed their hands on them, they sent them off.
    • Acts 14:23 (NET): When they had appointed elders for them in the various churches, with prayer and fasting they entrusted them to the protection of the Lord in whom they had believed.
    Fasting in the 1st Century Christian Church was performed both as a matter of routine and targeted for special purposes, like commissioning leaders of the Church.

History and Development of Fasting

  • For the first couple centuries, fasting was a widely practiced discipline, although an optional one. Fasting was often done on Wednesdays and Fridays, so that they would not be confused with the Pharisees, who fasted on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
  • In the third century A.D., fasting was declared mandatory in preparation for receiving the sacraments of Holy Communion, baptism, and ordination.
  • In the 6th century A.D., the feast of Lent was extended from its original 40 hours (the traditional amount of time spent by Christ in the grave) to a period of 40 days.
  • In the 6th century A.D., Benedict of Nursia wrote a book of precepts for monastic life called the Rule of St Benedict. This book became the primary source for guidelines on living a cloistered life or the life of a hermit. In Chapter 4, the love of fasting is listed as one of the Instruments of Good Works. In Chapter 30, fasting is listed as a potential punishment for boys. Fasting is mentioned in a number of other locations in the Rule as a part of the liturgical calendar.
  • In 998 A.D., the Roman Catholic Church instituted fasting on Fridays and during Lent for all adult parishoners, and declared it a sin for anyone to refuse the fast without permission from their clerical superior. Any priest or deacon of the church would be degraded from their ordination for failing to properly follow the instituted fasts.
  • In 1505 A.D., Martin Luther joined the Augustinian monastery in Erfurt, dedicating himself to prayer and fasting. However, he later rejected the monastic methodology as part of the Protestant reformation.
  • In 1620 A.D., the pilgrims fasted the day before disembarking from the Mayflower.
  • In 1983 A.D., the Roman Catholic Church issued the current Code of Canon Law. Fasting in the Catholic church is dictated by Canons 1250-1253:
    • Canon 1250: All Fridays through the year and the time of Lent are penitential days and times throughout the entire Church.
    • Canon 1251: Abstinence from eating meat or another food according to the prescriptions of the conference of bishops is to be observed on Fridays throughout the year unless they are solemnities; abstinence and fast are to be observed on Ash Wednesday and on the Friday of the Passion and Death of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
    • Canon 1252: All persons who have completed their fourteenth year are bound by the law of abstinence; all adults are bound by the law of fast up to the beginning of their sixtieth year. Nevertheless, pastors and parents are to see to it that minors who are not bound by the law of fast and abstinence are educated in an authentic sense of penance.
    • Canon 1253: It is for the conference of bishops to determine more precisely the observance of fast and abstinence and to substitute in whole or in part for fast and abstinence other forms of penance, especially works of charity and exercises of piety.

Types of Fasts:

  • The standard fast is the most commonly practiced type of fast (for Protestants). In this fast, you ingest only certain liquids (water and/or juice). The duration of this fast can be any period between 1 and 40 days, although longer fasts should only be attempted after receiving medical advice from your physician.
  • The Catholic fast involves eating only one meal in the day, usually at the beginning of the day. Later variations on this fast include up to two collations, or small snacks, as part of the daily fast. This version of fasting can be easily extended for a long period, and was routinely performed by monks and priests during Lent.
  • The absolute fast allows no food or water at all, and should be very short (usually a day or less), as going without water for an extended period of time is very dangerous.
  • The partial fast omits certain foods, or limits your diet to only specific allowed foods. One Biblical example of a partial fast is Daniel's commitment to eat only fruits, vegetables, and grains. This fast is easily sustainable over a longer period, and is also generally safe for diabetics.

Reasons to Fast

  • Fasting helps focus our minds on God and things of the Spirit rather than matters of the flesh.
  • Fasting helps us practice exercising our willpower and denying ourselves in favor of God's worship.
  • Fasting helps up gain empathy for those people who live in poverty and for whom starvation is a stark reality.
  • Occasional fasting can be beneficial to our health. It can help clean out our systems and purge toxins, especially if drinking a lot of water as part of the fast.

How to practice fasting appropriately

  • Start small - don't try to start with a 40-day fast, or even a 3-day fast. A good way to start is to perform a Catholic-style fast: eat a hearty breakfast, then nothing else for the rest of the day. Then you can try for larger periods.
  • Determine your commitment at the beginning - it may help to put your commitment in writing. Determine what kind of fast you will practice, when you will start the fast, and when you will finish the fast.
  • Don't forget that fasting is not a solo discipline - plan at least some time during the fast to spend time in prayer, meditation, or Bible study. Good times to do this are at the beginning and end of the fast period and during the times where you would ordinarily be eating meals.
  • Don't parade your fasting - your commitment to a time of fasting is a matter between yourself and God. At most, you should share your commitment only with a spiritual mentor or accountability partner.
  • Don't allow fasting to become simply routine - this is a time to spend in fellowship with and submission to God. If it helps, don't establish a schedule, and don't do it so often that it loses meaning.

Fasting can be an enriching experience that helps greatly in the process of spiritual formation and in walking more closely with God, as long as it is approached with solemnity and care.

References:
The NET Bible - http://www.bible.org
Fasting for Spiritual Break Through (Elmer L. Towns)
Catholic Online: Lent - Fasting and Abstinence - http://www.catholic.org/clife/lent/abfast.php

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