"And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew." --- Qur'an chapter 2, verse 184
"Fast and you will be healed (or cured)." --- An authentic hadith of Prophet ( s.aw )
Fasting, [Islamic wise] by way of definition is; Abstinence from food, drink and sexual intercourse with one's spouse from dawn to dusk. It is even stretched to include; 'zipping' one's mouth from backbiting, slandering, gossiping as well as talking in a morally deplorable manner. It is a very significant part of Islam, hence being the forth in line among the five pillars of Islam. Whenever one reflects on the tenets of Islam (especially, fasting), one would clearly see that, this religion is a complete way of life-as it gives guidelines on how mankind can live on this earth safely and securely.
The two quotes above (Qur'an and Hadith) "...And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew." and, "Fast and you will be healed or cured." were coincidentally re-echoed [without seeing it, thought] by Benjamin Franklin who said, "The best of all medicines is resting and fasting.", Plutarch, a Greek biographer and moralist who advocated, "Instead of using medicine, better fast today." and Philippus Paracelsus, one of the three father of western medicine also declared, "Fasting is the greatest remedy-- the physician within."
New Research at the Intermountain Medical Center's Heart Institute in the US is pointing to abstinence from food as a way to derail the potentially debilitating track of diabetes. "Fasting has the potential to become an important diabetes intervention. We found that in three different populations of people, some of whom have been fasting for more than 40 to 50 years on monthly basis, (they) have a lower risk of diabetes and a lower risk of coronary disease."
In an article on scientific American website dubbed, "How Intermittent Fasting Might Help You Live a Longer and Healthier Life", it says,"In recent years, researchers have focused on a strategy known as intermittent fasting as a promising alternative to continuous calorie restriction. Intermittent fasting, which includes everything from periodic multiday fasts to skipping a meal or two on certain days of the week, may promote some of the same health benefits that uninterrupted calorie restriction promises. The idea of intermittent fasting is more palatable to most people because, as Templeton would be happy to hear, one does not have to renounce the pleasures of the feast.."
This is amazing because quite apart from Ramadan fasting, the holy Prophet of Islam Muhammad recommended kind of a "farewell" fasting six days after Ramadan, call "sita shawal", or (fasting) six days of the next month of Ramadan, every Mondays and Thursdays and on the eve of the Eidul Adha, among others.
Fasting as The Greatest Discovery of Our Modern Time?
In a book entitled, "Miracle of Fasting", the co-authors, Patricia Bragg and Paul Bragg, quizzically asked a questioned, "What is the Most Significant Discovery of this Modern Age?" They listed multiple choice answers such as, "The finding of Dinosaur eggs on the plains of Mongolia, which scientists assert were laid some 120,000,000 years ago? The unearthing of ancient tombs and cities, with their confirmations of the Scriptural stories, and their matchless specimens of bygone civilizations? The radioactive time clock by which Professor Lane of Tufts University estimates the age of the earth as 1,250,000,000 years? Jet airplanes? Space travel? Lasers? Television? Radio? Computers? Telephones? Cell phones? Automobiles?
They however declared; "None of the above when compared with fasting!..."The Greatest Discovery of Modern Times!...In our opinion, the greatest discovery by modern man is the method to rejuvenate himself physically, mentally and spiritually by fasting. Man can create a quality of agelessness and with fasting, can prevent premature ageing and a premature death! The dread of "growing old" and becoming a burden to himself and others is one of man's greatest fears.
The fear of becoming sick, senile, helpless and unable to care for one's self is rooted deep in every thinking person's mind. With the complete knowledge of fasting and The Bragg Healthy Lifestyle, as outlined in this book, you can banish all your fears of premature ageing! With a 24 hour complete... fast weekly - setting aside 52 days and for 7 to 10 day fasts a year for body purification -you can keep the toxins removed and flush the rust and crystals from your moveable joints and muscles. You must bear in mind that it is the toxic debris and wastes of metabolism (from the biological process of converting food into living matter and the matter into energy) that bring on many physical ailments and premature ageing."
But these co-authors and all others medical experts who recommended fasting as medicine cannot claim the accolade for it, because it was Allah who first enjoined us to do it when he advocated over 14 centuries ago: "..And it is better for you that ye fast, if ye only knew." , as quoted above and the prophet of Islam Muhammad who advice that, "...fast, you will be healed or cured. "And He(Allah) gave doctors the wisdom to discover in recent time, this health advantages, which were not know in the medieval period of the Qur'anic revelation.
Fasting Conserves Energy Your Vital Force
"Let me explain", say the authors of this book, "We eat food and as it passes through the body, it must be masticated, digested, assimilated and then the waste is eliminated. We have four great organs of elimination: the bowels, the kidneys, the lungs, and the skin. In order for these eliminative organs to work perfectly, the body must build a high Vital Force of body energy reserves. It takes a tremendous amount of Vital Force to pass a large meal through the gastrointestinal tract and also eliminate the waste via the 30 foot tube that runs from the mouth to the rectum. It takes the great power of Vital Force to pass liquids through the 2 million filters of the human kidneys.
It takes Vital Force for the chemical power of the liver and the gallbladder to do their work in preparing food for the billions of body cells. It takes great Vital Force for the lungs to deeply inhale up to 2 quarts of oxygen with each breath, to purify the entire bloodstream in your body and expel the toxins and the carbon dioxide. It takes great Vital Force for the skin (often called your third kidney) with its 96 million pores, to throw off body toxins in the form of skin rashes, pimples, sweat and foul body odors."
There is this story about an Egyptian whose Doctor prescribed to him some medication in order to prepare him before he gets operated on to rid him off certain tumor in his stomach. When he realized that the medication would prevent him from fasting, which it was about to begin, he became so sad and then gave his trust to Allah by fasting, with the hope that Allah will cure him. Lo and behold, a miracle happened! This man went back to his doctor after Ramadan and the doctor examined him and he realized that, the tumor that he supposed to operate him and removed is nowhere to be found, and he told him about it, and man then revealed to the Doctor that, perhaps he was cured because he fasted, and the doctor admitted to him the medical advantages of fasting, confirming what the Qur'an says.
Consider the Basic Eleven Medical Benefits of Fasting
A medical expert, Dr. Cinque summarizes it all very well below:
1. Fasting promotes detoxification. As the body breaks down its fat reserves, it mobilizes and eliminates stored toxins.
2. Fasting gives the digestive system a much-needed rest. After fasting, both digestion and elimination are invigorated.
3. Fasting promotes the resolution of inflammatory processes, such as in rheumatoid arthritis.
4. Fasting quiets allergic reactions, including asthma and hay fever.
5. Fasting promotes the drying up of abnormal fluid accumulations, such as edema in the ankles and legs and swelling in the abdomen.
6. Fasting corrects high blood pressure without drugs. Fasting will normalize blood pressure in the vast majority of cases, the blood pressure will remain low after the fast, if the person follows a health-supporting diet and lifestyle.
7. Fasting makes it easy to overcome bad habits and addictions. Many people have overcome tobacco and alcohol addictions by fasting, and even drug addictions. Fasting rapidly dissipates the craving for nicotine, alcohol, caffeine and other drugs.
8. Fasting clears the skin and whitens the eyes. It is common to see skin eruptions clear while fasting, and the whites of the eyes never look so clear and bright as they do after fasting.
9. Fasting restores taste appreciation for wholesome natural foods. People say that their taste buds come alive after fasting and that food never tasted so good.
10. Fasting is the perfect gateway to a healthful diet and lifestyle. Going on a fast gives you the motivation and enthusiasm to make a fresh start.
11. Fasting initiates rapid weight loss with little or no hunger. Most people are surprised at how little desire for food they have while fasting.
And as we know, other religions have prescribed fasting as a means of getting closer to the Al-mighty God, but obviously( just calling a spade a spade, not by virtue of being a Muslim), fasting, the Islamic way would be more medically effective, because it is more frequent-both annually(a whole 30 or 29 days of the month of Ramadan, monthly(some days in some months) and weekly(Mondays and Thursday). And it is only those who can (religiously) observe these prescribed periods of fasting that can effectively benefit from the health advantages of it as mentioned above.
Religious/Eternal Benefits of Fasting
Quite apart from the health benefits of fasting, it has eternal rewards(of Ramadan fast) as well, which Allah and his holy and beloved prophet mentioned in the Qur'an and Hadith respectively. Below are some of them:
Qur'anic Scriptures & Prophetic Narratives About Ramadan Fasting
"Ramadan is the (month) in which the Quran was sent down, as a guide to mankind and a clear guidance and judgment (so that mankind will distinguish from right and wrong)O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain taqwaa(piety)(Fasting is) for a fixed number of days; and if any of you is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed number (Should be made up) from days later, and for those (who miss the fast for illness or travel) who are able to do it, is a ransom of feeding one that is indigent. But he that will give more, of his own free will, it is better for himAnd it is better for you that you fast, if you only knew...The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur'an, guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desires ease for you; He does not desire hardship for you; and (He desires) that you should complete the period, and that you should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure you may be thankful." --- Qur'an chapter 2, verses 183-185.
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained." (Imam Bukhari)
Narrated Abu Huraira(r.a): The Messenger of Allah (saw) said:"... whoever fasts during Ramadhan out of sincere faith and hoping to attain Allah's rewards, then all his past sins will be forgiven." (Imam Bukhari).
The Messenger of Allah (saw) addressed his companions on the last day of Sha`ban, saying, "Oh people! A great month has come over you; a blessed month; a month in which is a night better than a thousand months; month in which Allah has made it compulsory upon you to fast by day, and voluntary to pray by night. Whoever draws nearer (to Allah) by performing any of the (optional) good deeds in (this month) shall receive the same reward as performing an obligatory deed at any other time, and whoever discharges an obligatory deed in (this month) shall receive the reward of performing seventy obligations at any other time. It is the month of patience, and the reward of patience is Heaven. It is the month of charity, and a month in which a believer's sustenance is increased. Whoever gives food to a fasting person to break his fast, shall have his sins forgiven, and he will be saved from the Fire of Hell, and he shall have the same reward as the fasting person, without his reward being diminished at all." [Narrated by Ibn Khuzaymah]
Abu Said al-Khudri reported that the Messenger of Allah (saw), said: "No servant fasts on a day in the path of Allah except that Allah removes the hellfire seventy years further away from his face." This is related by "the group," except for Imam Abu Dawud. In another hadith,`Abdullah ibn `Amr reported that the Messenger of Allah (saw), said: "The fast and the Qur'an are two intercessors for the servant of Allah on the Day of Resurrection. The fast will say: 'O Lord, I prevented him from his food and desires during the day. Let me intercede for him.' The Qur'an will say: 'I prevented him from sleeping at night. Let me intercede for him.' And their intercession will be accepted." [Imam Ahmad]
Abu Umamah reported: "I came to the Messenger of Allah (saw) and said: 'Order me to do a deed that will allow me to enter Paradise.' He said: 'Stick to fasting, as there is no equivalent to it.' Then I came to him again and he said: 'Stick to fasting."' [Imam Ahmad, Imam Nasa'i, and Imam Hakim]
Sahl ibn Sa'd reported that the Messenger of Allah (saw): "There is a gate to Paradise that is called ar-Rayyan. On the Day of Resurrection it will say: 'Where are those who fasted?' When the last [one] has passed through the gate, it will be locked." [Imam Bukhari and Imam Muslim]
He who is amongst those who pray will be called from the gate of the prayer (in Paradise) and he who is from the people of Jihad will be called from the gate of Jihad, and he who is from those' who give in charity (i.e. Zakat) will be called from the gate of charity, and he who is amongst those who observe fast will be called from the gate of fasting, the gate of Raiyan." Abu Bakr said, "He who is called from all those gates will need nothing," He added, "Will anyone be called from all those gates, O Allah's Apostle?" He said, "Yes, and I hope you will be among those, O Abu Bakr." [Imam Bukhari]
Abu Hurairah reported that the Messenger of Allah (saw) said : "The time between the five prayers, two consecutive Friday Prayers, and two consecutive Ramadans are expiations for all that has happened during that period, provided that one has avoided the grave (major) sins." [Imam Muslim]
In another hadith, the Messenger of Allah (saw) says, "Ramadan has come to you. (It is) a month of blessing, in which Allah covers you with blessing, for He sends down Mercy, decreases sins and answers prayers. In it, Allah looks at your competition (in good deeds), and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allah goodness from yourselves, for the unfortunate one is he who is deprived in (this month) of the mercy of Allah, the Mighty, the Exalted." [ImamTabarani]
Abu Umaamah r.a.a. said: I said: 'O Messenger of Allah (saw), tell me of an action by which I may enter Paradise'. He said: 'Take to Fasting, there is nothing like it.' [Imam Nasai', Ibn Hibbaan, Al-Haakim, Saheeh]
Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed receiving then times its like, up to seven hundred times. Allah the Most High said, 'Except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will give recompense for it, he leaves off his desires and his food for Me.' for the fasting person there are two times of joy; a time when he breaks his fast and a time of joy when he meets his Lord, and the smell coming from the mouth of the fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of musk." [Imam Bukhari]
"Fasting is a shield with which a servant protects himself from the Fire." [Imam Ahmad, Saheeh]
On the Day of Judgment, "Fasting will say: O My Lord I prevented him from food and desires so accept my intercession for him." [Imam Ahmad, Imam Haakim and Abu Nu'aim, Hasan]
There are in the month of Ramadhan in every day and night those to whom Allah grants freedom from the Fire, and there is for every Muslim an supplication which he can make and will be granted." [al-Bazzaar, Ahmad, Saheeh]
The Messenger of Allah (saw) said: He who gives food for a fasting person to break his fast, he will receive the same reward as him, except that nothing will be reduced from the fasting persons reward." [Ahmad, at-Tirmidhee, Ibn Maajah, Ibn Hibbaan, Saheeh].
Who Are Exempted from Fasting?
Both the Qur'an and Hadith have prescribed exemptions, taking into consideration the welfare of the people first. The (seriously) sick person, whose ailment would require him/her to be taking prescribed medication during the day, is exempted; the aged or old person, who is already energetically frail and fragile is also exempted, a pregnant woman is also not supposed to fast, because her fasting would mean, letting the fetus(baby in the womb) to 'fast', by denying it nourishments, which it receives when Allah miraculously digests food in her stomach and channels some of it through a special tube, connected to the umbilical cord to facilitate it's continuous feeding. And after delivery, she is not supposed to fast immediately, because she cannot breast feed without eating, since what she eats replenishes the milk the baby suckles from her nipples. Travelers are also exempted from fasting, due to the stress and fatigue on their ways. However, many scholars are with the view that, if one travels in a modern vehicle, a bus, an airline, or ship, that has an air-condition, it reduces the stress on the way, since the traveler would not get dehydrated and weak. But sick and the old have to feed ten poor people the equivalent of the meal that he/she eats daily, only if they are financially capable and the rest have to fast after Ramadan when they are in good shape to expiate for the days they missed.
NB: Folks, please follow me here on Ghanaweb.com and modernghana.com for a daily series of "Qur'anic Exegesis & Analysis Via the Lens of Modern Science" from tomorrow. Thursday, first day of Ramadan till the end of this blessed month. Feel free to ask any question about the Qur'an/Islam and the Prophet, and you will be answered, God willing! I wish everyone Ramadan Kareem, & Mubarak!
Husseini Yushau BabalWaiz, is the Research & Outreach Coordinator at the New York Center for Media & Peace Initiative[CMPI]. He is a tutor in Arabic and Islamic Studies and an author of three books.