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The Power of Fasting for the Faithful

Professional Photography: Kameel Rayess, Lebanon (fb: @kameelRayes)
A sign of God’s infinite mercy toward mankind is in the commandments and duties to which we can commit. God’s commands are for our own good. It’s not to feel His power on us; He asked us to pray. It’s not that He derives pleasure from making us suffer; He asked us to fast.

Fasting is the abstinence from food and drink (or even talking), either partially or completely, for a given period of time. It is an interfaith concept practiced in Buddhism, Christianity, Islam, Judaism, Jainism, Hinduism and Tawhid. Fasting may also include restraining oneself from indulging in bodily pleasures, and can be practiced in a variety of ways, according to one’s preferences and beliefs.

Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God, and that you are not your own? 

(1 Corinthians 6:19)

In Tawheed, fasting is an ascetic element that guides us towards spiritual discipline. It is sacrificing lusts, suppressing desires, curbing eagerness and enjoying the self-struggle that edifies and refines the human soul. 

O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint


What is the Spiritual meaning of fasting?

For many of us, fasting is a spiritual duty to Allah where we willingly deprive ourselves of what we love in order to prove our love for Him. Fasting is more about what we’re acquiring physically, mentally and spiritually than it is about what we give up.

Fasting can be seen as exchanging the need to survive with the need to live. It is a test of one’s potential to control desires instead of being controlled by them. For example, by fighting the demanding urge to eat, we practice to beat the demanding urge to sin.

It is a major step towards bracing oneself against all the temptations that we might experience. Boosting ones willpower, fasting increases one’s self-determination to keep sane amidst life’s chaos. 

I asked my father once, how did some muwahhidin (mainly those who practice religious asceticism, remain celibate and spend the rest of their life in a monastery) manage to abstain from fleshly lusts their whole life? He answered: “Through praying and fasting, once you fast, all your desires and lusts fade away.”

In childhood, we heard many stories about monks, hermits and “awliya” who spent their lives depriving themselves of what they love. One spent his whole life craving a “labneh” sandwich, and he passed away before even knowing what it tastes like. The mystic and the martyr of truth, Hussein Al Hallaj, spent a whole year feeding on crumbs of bread and drops of water all day. Prophet Dawood (PBUH) fasted on alternate days, meaning he used to fast every other day. There are many similar stories, too many to mention in one article.

What else do we achieve with fasting?

Fasting Benefits to Mental Health:

Fasting stimulates the production of a protein in nerve cells called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. This protein plays a crucial role in learning, memory and the generation of new nerve cells1.

Rodent studies suggest that fasting can protect the brain against age related changes and protect against changes seen in Alzheimer’s disease2.

Depression and anxiety are common mental disorders worldwide, with more than 264 million people affected, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). With fasting, the BDNF levels increase and neurons go into a “stress resistance” mode, explaining why those who fast report improvements in mood, alertness and experience a sense of euphoria3.

Fasting Benefits to Physical Health:

  • Helps with weight loss: Normally when we eat, our body burns the food to provide energy. Any extra food that doesn’t get used up as fuel, is converted into fats and stored within the body. With fasting, there is less food to convert into energy, and our body is forced to start using stored fats without affecting muscle tissue, aiding in weight loss.
  • Delays aging and increases strength: As we grow older, our body’s metabolism starts slowing down. Fortunately, fasting helps to speed up metabolism, preventing loss of muscle tissue. In addition, fasting also stimulates the release of growth hormone, leading to increased bone strength, better protein synthesis and increased muscle mass.
  • Boosts the immune system: According to studies, a three day fast can lead to the regeneration of the entire immune system and the production of new white blood cells, enhancing the body’s ability to fight diseases.
  • Promotes blood sugar control: Several studies have found that fasting improves blood sugar levels by reducing insulin resistance. This allows the body to transport glucose from the bloodstream to the body’s cells more efficiently.
  • Helps prevent cancer: Fasting can help reduce the growth of tumors and the spread of cancer through the body. Researchers have found out that fasting helps eliminate toxic substances from the body, thereby reducing the risk of cancer formation.

1. A´ngela Fonta´n-Lozano, J. L.-C.-A. (2007). Caloric Restriction Increases Learning Consolidation and Facilitates Synaptic Plasticity through Mechanisms Dependent on NR2B Subunits of the NMDA Receptor. The Journal of Neuroscience.
2. Veerendra Kumar Madala Halagappa, a. Z. (2006). Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction ameliorate age-related behavioral deficits in the triple-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiology of Disease.
3. Veerendra Kumar Madala Halagappa, a. Z. (2006). Intermittent fasting and caloric restriction ameliorate age-related behavioral deficits in the triple-transgenic mouse model of Alzheimer’s disease. Neurobiology of Disease.

About Manar Amaneddine

Dr. Manar Badri Amaneddine is a doctor of physical therapy, and instructor and trainer at the Lebanese University.

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