Last week I was at a meeting of an interfaith club I participate in--we meet about every three weeks. Unfortunately I was the only Muslim present, in company which can't help its inability to view me as a credible source on Islam. And due to the recent indictment and arrest of seven local Muslim brothers, the main topics were them and jihad, leaving me with a lot of explaining. I'm not convinced I did a great job, either.
But since our next meeting will fall during Ramadan, inshaaAllaah, I mentioned as much near the end of the meeting. I and the other participating Muslimah will be fasting, inshaaAllaah, and I just wanted to make them aware of that. So the idea of fasting in Ramadan received only a brief overview.
And so did the concept of fasting in the Jewish faith. And according to the Jewish woman present (the second Jewish lady who comes was also absent on this occasion), Islamic fasting isn't "real" fasting. I had to smile. It isn't she or I who decide what fasting is, because it's prescribed by Allah.
Now, there are many observant Jews who fast on occasions throughout the year, but as I understand it, there's one day when almost all Jews will fast. That's right, one day. And it's a 24-hour fast, so it's a fast for the entire day. It starts at sunset (which is the beginning of the day in both Jewish and Islamic calendars) and ends at the next sunset. But as I was informed, it's really a more than 24-hour fast because there are services that they must attend before they break their fasts.
(Mind, I'm not sure if this is representative of all Jews, just Conservative ones, her congregation, or maybe just herself. I just want to clarify as much.)
So in comparison to these 24-plus hours, our 29-30 days of fasting is, according to her, not real fasting. I can't help but smile when I say that.
Other people have their own ideas about fasting. Some people talk about "juice fasts" or "water fasts" and the like--basically they abstain from solid food and drink only liquids, like juice, or maybe only water. So they find that the way Muslims fast--because they eat food at night, or because they don't drink any water during the day--isn't real fasting.
But I say they've missed the point. Muslims don't fast to be hungry. If they did, maybe they would adopt a Jewish model and prolong the hunger (i.e., for a whole day) that comes from not eating anything. And Muslims don't fast to clear their digestive systems or lose weight. Else, they might adopt the other model, by permitting water or juice during fasting.
Muslims, on the other hand, fast for the sole reason that it was prescribed by Allah. They do it (a) because Allah commanded it, and (b) in the manner that Allah commanded it.
Maybe all that some people get out of Ramadan is being hungry. And maybe all some people get is eating less food. But as we all know, the purpose of Ramadan fasting, according to the oft-repeated ayah from the Qur'an:
O you who believe! Observing As-Saum (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqun (the pious - see V.2:2). 2:183So we fast, in short, to become the people of taqwa, the people who have taqwa, Al-Muttaqoon. And after 3 weeks of diligent fasting, abstention from food and liquids during the time, can have a profound spiritual effect on the heart. And that's when we kick it up a notch, with even more prayer, and istighfar. Fasting does so much more on a spiritual level, towards achieving piety, than can be quantified or explained.
The Jewish day of fasting I referred to above is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, and it is preceded by 10 days during which Jews will seek repentance, and try to amend their behavior through extra acts of worship. So they might fast and perform charity, and of course ask for forgiveness. Sounds a bit like Ramadan, doesn't it? So maybe we don't fast for some 25 hours but in fact as Muslims we have a much longer period during which we are trying to amend our behavior, and seek forgiveness.
Furthermore, the month of Ramadan is divided into 3 sets of 10 nights--the first for mercy, the second for forgiveness, and the third for salvation. The fasting intensifies, and the worship intensifies. As Ramadan progresses, it's not that the fasting becomes harder--in fact, our bodies begin to adjust early on to the new schedule--but we start losing sleep as well. In fact, the loss of sleep has typically been for me the hardest part of Ramadan. And the fasting is only a reminder of the importance of worship and righteousness in Ramadan; a stepping stone towards everything else--the mercy, forgiveness, and salvation. It's not the end in itself.
And like Islam, it's a gift from Allah.