When people ask the question “is fasting healthy?” I feel that the question should be re-framed as “is Ramadan healthy?” Either way, my answer is yes. When Ramadan approaches, it’s not just about abstaining from food and drink during daylight hours. There are many facets of this month that are beneficial for spiritual, emotional, and physical well being. Which is why I would like to elaborate on the health benefits of Ramadan rather than the health benefits of fasting itself.
Increased social interactions
Although one of the rules during Ramadan is to speak less, the amount of social interaction is inevitable. Community Iftars (fast breaking meals) and Taraweh prayers (extra prayers) are two frequent events that truly bring the Muslim community together more than any other time of the year. Most of the time is spent around prayer and not much conversation is exchanged between one another. But the presence of others who share the same goals serves as a positive form of moral support.
Avoidance of gossiping and negative speech
Practicing Muslims understand the true value in having their fasts accepted. One of the deterrents from having their fasts accepted is by gossiping and speaking badly of a situation. Gossip and swearing can have a number of negative psychological effects for the donor and recipient. Also, gossiping and negative speech can unconsciously breed bad habits that are difficult to break. Because Ramadan fine tunes Muslims to become more conscious of what goes in the mouth, the same amount of energy needs to be used toward what comes out the mouth.
Increased patience and perseverance
The Quran places a high emphasis on patience. One quote from the Quran states “God is with those who patiently persevere”(2:153). And because Ramadan is a time when Muslims try to be closer to God, they make every extra effort possible to stay patient. An aspect of patience that often goes forgotten is the patience that we must have with ourselves. Ramadan draws greater recognition to that very idea. Muslims will find that the changes in their eating and sleeping patterns will lead to a slower rhythm of productivity during the day. That is perfectly normal. It’s a great reminder of how precious our energy is. While the body may crave food, it also craves homoeostasis to the point where we become more conscious of how much energy we use and how much we need to preserve.
Decreased snacking and unneccessary eating
It’s a well known fact that many of us eat more often than we should. Our eyes are bigger than our stomachs, we partake in emotional eating, we eat when we’re bored, work places have too many treats and the list goes on. Through fasting, your body is removing all the toxins that accumulate in our regular and irregular diets. In addition, many Muslims become more strategic about the types of food they eat so that they can spend more focused time on their spiritual and daily routines. Because Ramadan is when the Quran was revealed, one of the greatest goals is to read it in its entirety by the end of the month. It’s best to make the most of the limited time that there is to eat so that the body is properly fuelled to reach this goal.
In our busy lives, we often forget to breathe and breathe properly. I am guilty of this neglect. However, I’ve noticed that through this slower paced lifestyle during Ramadan, I become a lot more conscious of my breathing. I also notice that my breathing feels a lot cleaner. I may be alone in saying this but this is an observation that I’ve gathered over the years. Regardless, I think it’s something worth noting. Perhaps more people will be aware of this beautiful health effect that occurs during Ramadan.
Increased prayers and gratitude
Prayers are an optimal time to convey your gratitude and find a place of peace. In addition to the 5 daily prayers that Muslims are prescribed to perform, there are additional nightly prayers in Ramadan called Taraweh prayers. Because something so fundamental has been intentionally taken out during Ramadan, Muslims become reminded of how much there is to be thankful for; which leads to a much more enjoyable and focused prayer. Fasting during Ramadan makes it easier to be thankful for the simplest types of food. Even a glass of water becomes the most gratifying consumption. As much as it seems “unfair” that we cannot have water while fasting, it’s not. If it means that you become a gracious person, then it’s more than fair.
Going back to to the idea of fairness, many people seem to think that the overall act of fasting during Ramadan is unfair. My response: “is it fair that there are so many poor people in the world? I’m lucky that I even get to break my fast.” One key intention for observing Ramadan through fasting is to become more empathetic toward those who are less fortunate. Although many of us are aware of those who are suffering, we do not really know what it feels like not to have food. Fasting validates the unfortunate reality that there are many people who cannot break their fast even if they were permitted to. This heightened sense of empathy is a very healthy character trait to have because it dictates our remaining actions and choices.
Contrary to the popular belief, it turns out Muslims gain more than they lose during Ramadan. Whatever is “lost” actually ends up being for our own good anyway. Ramadan is a time for Muslims to strengthen their character and also maintain these healthy habits after the month is over.