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Monday, October 2, 2023

The joy of fasting


 –  Mahatma Gandhi


For some readers, the title of this essay may be highly paradoxical. I’m sure that would be the opinion of the Serere man who (says the Fula man) saw the new moon heralding the beginning of Ramadan and went for a long stick to try to push it back into the clouds. Such are the pains of abstaining from food and drink that even the thought of fasting could evoke feelings of great inconvenience for most people. Yet fasting could be a great source of joy and happiness for the person who approaches it with the right frame of mind and understanding regarding its purpose and techniques. 

In a poem that I wrote many years ago, the opening couplet was: “Do practise self-denial/ life is but a trial.” I later learned from Mahatma Gandhi that self-discipline, which happens to be one indispensable key to success in any field, rests on the practice of self-denial. Man must conquer his lesser urges and impulses to be able to live a happy and successful life, be it in this world or in the hereafter. We have just entered one such period of self-denial, the holy month of Ramadan, which happens to be a great season of fasting, prayer and devotion to all that is good and beautiful in the eyes of Allah. 

Though some people may be sad at the advent of this month, it is surely a blessing and a period of great benefaction from Allah. For those moaning and groaning about the pains of hunger and thirst, they should be glad to know that fasting is the boon of mental, physical and spiritual well-being. “What is perhaps a rare phenomenon with humans is rather second nature to animals, who instinctively avoid food to ease pain, discomfort or disease.”

When Allah said in the Holy Qur’an, “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you may (learn) self-restraint”, it certainly was not a means to punish the believers but in His all-encompassing wisdom Allah thus prescribed a great spiritual, physical and psychological cleanser and restorer for His beloved creation, humankind. 

All the great religions embrace fasting as a means of bringing out the best and the noblest from our souls, and this universality of fasting is alluded to in the foregoing verse since Allah also tells Muslims that fasting had been prescribed to other peoples before the coming of Prophet Muhammad (sallalahu alaihi wassalam). Allah, being the great lover of His creation, has intended that our lives be good and beautiful, hence the prescription of fasting as one of the tools in making our lives better and nobler.

In terms of the health benefits of fasting, the Islamic Medical Association   of   Malaysia’s   Student   Chapter   blogged   that: [D]uring a fast, the body is on a ‘conserve energy’ and ‘healing’ mode…Fasting enables rest for the digestive system, and this saved energy goes into self-healing and repairing operations. Cleansing and detoxification in the intestines, blood and cells heal the body from many ailments.  Fasting thus invigorates the immune system to function at its best and helps promote physical and emotional health by rejuvenating the body.

And as James Balch, MD, teaches: “Fasting is an effective and safe method of detoxifying the body…a technique that wise men have used for centuries to heal the sick.” Fasting therefore contains many benefits that could help you live a longer and happier life.

Fasting is a great tool to heighten your spiritual development. As Saint Augustine explained, it “cleanses the soul, raises the mind, subjects one’s flesh to the spirit, renders the heart contrite and humble, scatters the clouds of  concupiscence, quenches the fire of lust, and kindles the true light of chastity.” 

Fasting may not be easy, especially with our ingrained habits of three square meals a day, but all good things and results can only be attained by paying the price. That is the law of the universe: “Do the thing and you shall have the power,” as American philosopher Ralph Waldo Emerson says. In the words of another philosopher James Allen: “Those who set their feet firmly upon the path of self-conquest, who walk aided by the staff of faith on the highway of self-sacrifice, will assuredly achieve the highest prosperity, and will reap abounding and enduring joy and bliss.” Self-denial today will bring you joy, abundance and prosperity tomorrow. May Allah ease our fasting for us and help us to do it with the noblest intention and the purest execution. Amen. 

Ramadan Mubarak; Kullu am, wa antum bil khair (May you be well throughout the year).


Momodou Sabally

An Excerpt from The Way to Happiness: Inspirational Essays

Fulladu Publishers, 2012


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