Rabat-Today, the majority of Muslims around the world are fasting for Ramadan. But do followers of other religions fast on particular holy days? How do they fast and why do they do it?
Catholic Christian fasting: ‘a spiritual feast’
Fasting in the Catholic church is less restrictive than in Islam. Catholic Christians are to abstain from eating meat (not including fish) on Fridays during Lent, which is a six-week period before Easter. Catholics may eat meat on Fridays outside of Lent if they perform a charitable act.
In addition, Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, and Good Friday are obligatory fasting days. However, Catholic fasting allows Christians to eat one meal. In 1966, Pope Paul VI declared in his Apostolic Constitution Paenitemini “The law of fasting allows only one full meal a day, but does not prohibit taking some food in the morning and evening…”
During Lent, Catholics also focus on prayer and charity to become closer to God. In the same vein, Mike Aquilina of the St. Paul Center for Biblical Theology asserts, “Fasting is a spiritual feast.” Many Catholics today also take the opportunity to “fast” from non-food items that hinder their relationship with God during Lent, by giving up gossip, social media, or Netflix, for example.
Protestant Christian fasting: ‘what is done in private’
Protestant Christians practice private fasting because of Jesus’ words exhorting his followers not to fast for public approval. In Matthew 6:17-18, he says, “So when you fast, wash your face and make yourself look nice. Then no one will know you are fasting, except your Father, who is with you even in private. He can see what is done in private, and he will reward you.”
Because fasting is a private matter, many Protestants do not fast at all. For those who do, fasting is practised at any time and in a variety of ways. Standard fasting is going without food, but still drinking water, often for a 24-hour period. Some denominations also encourage fasting every Sunday.
Protestants fast in order to focus on prayer and growing closer to God, often before making life-changing decisions. In the Bible, Jesus fasted for 40 days before he began his ministry, the patriarch Moses fasted 40 days while receiving the Law, and the prophet Elijah fasted 40 days when fleeing for his life.
Jewish fasting: ‘you must not eat food’
Jews fast on Yom Kippur (the Day of Atonement) in accordance with God’s command to Moses in Leviticus 16:29, “This law will always continue for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month, you must not eat food.” There are four additional fast days in commemoration of defeat at the hands of the Babylonians and one fast day celebrating Queen Esther’s fast.
Similar to Muslims, Jews fast from dawn until the first stars are visible. However, Jews fast a full 24 hours without food or water for the Day of Atonement and the 9th of Av, the day both the first and second Temples were destroyed.
On Yom Kippur, Jewish communities fast to repent of sins. On other fast days, with the exception of Esther’s fast, Jews communally mourn the destruction of the Temple and the desecration of God’s name at the time of the Babylonian captivity.
Buddhist fasting: ‘my soul becomes brighter’
Fasting in Buddhism is considered an ascetic practice. Lay Buddhists fast by abstaining from meat and luxurious food two or more times per month. Some Buddhists eat only one meal every day, just before noon. Monks go even further; a typical Monastic fast lasts 18 days and involves drinking only a small portion of water.
Buddhists fast to purify themselves and to clarify their thoughts. Buddha said that when fasting, “my soul becomes brighter, my spirit more alive in spirit and truth.”
Hindu fasting: ‘without eating anything during the interval’
Fasting in Hinduism can take many forms. It can be as simple as eating a meal without meat or drinking only water and milk. The most common fast in Hinduism, Ekadasi, takes place twice a month on the 11th day of the new and full moons. Many Hindus also fast during the month of Shravan, which falls in July and August, in worship of the god Shiva.
Bhishma, a devotee of the god Krishna, said, “He will be regarded as one that is always fasting if he eats once during the day and once during the night at the fixed hours without eating anything during the interval.”
Sikh fasting: ‘fasts…are of no use’
Followers of Sikhism do not fast, because they believe it does not give any spiritual benefit. In the words of Guru Granth Sahib Ji, “Pilgrimages, fasts, purification and setting limits are of no use, nor are rituals, religious ceremonies or empty worship.”
Sikhs, however, are encouraged to practice moderation in all things, including in eating. They are neither to eat gluttonously nor to fast.
Islamic fasting: ‘that you may become righteous’
During Ramadan, Muslims fast communally from dawn to sunset. They forego not only food, but water, smoking, and sexual activity. Dr. Arafat el-Ashi, director of the Muslim World League Canada Office, notes that according to the traditions of Prophet Mohammed, Muslims should eat light meals before and after fasting, and that the fast should be broken with dates or water.
The purpose of fasting in Islam is to develop righteousness. Surah al-Baqarah verse 183 says, “O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you that you may become righteous.”
Muslims do not only fast during Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar. They are also encouraged to fast for six days in Shawwal, the month following Ramadan; Mondays and Thursdays; the “white days” of the lunar month when the moon is full; Ashura, the tenth day of the first month in the Islamic calendar; and for the nine days preceding Eid al-Adha.
This feature is part of an exclusive series at Morocco World News for Ramadan. Also in the series is: