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Articles on Ramadan: Ramadan
Time Table Ramadan
for Eid Eid
The Spiritual and Health Benefits of Ramadan Fasting
By Shahid Athar M.D.
At the onset of Ramadan Muslims all over the world start fasting from
dawn to dusk daily for 30 days as ordained in Quran.
"O you who believe fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed
to those before you so that you can learn Taqwa" (Quran 2:183)
The Arabic word Taqwa is translated in many ways including God consciousness,
God fearing, piety, and self restraining. Thus we are asked to fast daily
for one month from dawn to dusk and avoid food, water, sex and vulgar
talk during that period.
But why do we need to fast? It is our experience that temptations and
ways of the world tend to spoil our purity and austerity. Thus we indulge
in food all of the time, snacking and nibbling the whole day, heading
to obesity. We drink too much coffee, or tea, or carbonated drinks. Some
sexaholics can not stay away from sex unless they do it at least once
or more a day. When we argue, we leave our decency aside and resort to
vulgar talk and even physical fighting.
Now when one is fasting, he or she cannot do all of that. When he looks
at the mouth watering food, he cannot even taste it and he has to give
up snacking and nibbling as well as smoking cigarettes if he does. No
constant coffee, tea or Coke drinking either. Sexual passions have to
be curtailed and when he is provoked to fight, he says " I am fasting
that I cannot respond to your provocation". To achieve God consciousness
or God nearness, a better word, we are advised to do additional prayer
and read the Quran.
Medical benefits of Ramadan
Muslims do not fast because of medical benefits which are of a secondary
nature. Fasting has been used by patients for weight management, to rest
the digestive tract and for lowering lipids. There are many adverse effects
of total fasting as well as of crash diets. Islamic fasting is different
from such diet plans because in Ramadan fasting, there is no malnutrition
or inadequate calorie intake. The calorie intake of Muslims during Ramadan
is at or slightly below the nutritional requirement guidelines. In addition,
the fasting in Ramadan is voluntarily taken and is not a prescribed imposition
from the physician.
Ramadan is a month of self-regulation and self training, with the hope
that this training will last beyond the end of Ramadan. If the lessons
learned during Ramadan, whether in terms of dietary intake or righteousness,
are carried on after Ramadan, there effects will be long lasting. Moreover,
the type of food taken during Ramadan does not have any selective criteria
of crash diets such as those which are protein only or fruit only type
diets. Everything that is permissible is taken in moderate quantities.
The difference between Ramadan and total fasting is the timing of the
food; during Ramadan, we basically miss lunch and take an early breakfast
and do not eat until dusk. Abstinence from water for 8 to 10 hours is
not necessarily bad for health and in fact, it causes concentration of
all fluids within the body, producing slight dehydration. The body has
its own water conservation mechanism; in fact, it has been shown that
slight dehydration and water conservation, at least in plant life, improve
The physiological effect of fasting includes lowering of blood sugar,
lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. In
fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for the treatment
of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity, and essential
hypertension. In 1994 the first International Congress on "Health
and Ramadan", held in Casablanca, entered 50 extensive studies on
the medical ethics of fasting. While improvement in many medical conditions
was noted; however, in no way did fasting worsen any patients' health
or their baseline medical condition. On the other hand, patients who are
suffering from sever diseases, whether type I diabetes or coronary artery
disease, kidney stones, etc., are exempt from fasting and should not be
allowed to fast.
There are psychological effects of fasting as well. There is a peace
and tranquility for those who fast during the month of Ramadan. Personal
hostility is at a minimum, and the crime rate decreases. Muslims take
advice from the Prophet who said, "If one slanders you or aggresses
against you, say I am fasting."
This psychological improvement could be related to better stabilization
of blood glucose during fasting as hypoglycemia after eating, aggravates
behavior changes. There is a beneficial effect of extra prayer at night.
This not only helps with better utilization of food but also helps in
energy output. There are 10 extra calories output for each unit of the
prayer. Again, we do not do prayers for exercise, but a mild movement
of the joints with extra calorie utilization is a better form of exercise.
Similarly, recitation of the Quran not only produces a tranquility of
heart and mind, but improves the memory.
One of the odd nights in the last 10 days of Ramadan is called the night
of power when angels descend down, and take the prayer of worship to God
Fasting is a special act of worship which is only between humans and
God since no one else knows for sure if this person is actually fasting.
Thus God says in a hadith qudsi that "Fasting is for Me and I only
will reward it". In another hadith, the Prophet Mohammad (peace be
upon him) has said "If one does not give up falsehoods in words and
actions, God has no need of him giving up food and drink".
Happy Ramadan to all Muslims.
Shahid Athar M.D. is Clinical Associate Professor of Internal
Medicine and Endocrinology, Indiana University School of Medicine Indianapolis,
Indiana, and a writer on Islam.
Articles on Ramadan: Ramadan
Time Table Ramadan
for Eid Eid
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