Fasting as a religious practice has been mentioned in the Torah, Bible, Old and New Testament, Quran, and the Bhagavad Gita amongst other religious texts. Fasting is believed as a way of connecting and being closer to the Creator—- God. Many religions require fasting as an act of faith or penance—-often as means of purification.
Millions of Muslims all over the world practice fasting from dawn to dusk daily during a complete month of Ramadan. Fasting has been ordained in Quran” O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you can learn Taqwa”( Quran 2: 183). Taqwa means God-consciousness, God-fearing, piety, and self-restraining. Islam deems Ramadan fasting as obligatory and commands its followers to abstain from eating, drinking, smoking, sexual relationship, and all bad practices from dawn to sunset. During the month of Ramadan, almost all Muslims fulfill another religious obligation by paying Zakat, a certain portion of their wealth, to charitable causes thereby helping poor, needy, marginalized, and distressed people.
The third religious obligation of saying regular and special prayers ( Salaat) during Ramadan together with fasting and zakat payment, instill spiritual wellness in followers.
Most Muslims all over the world fast for 11-16 hours during Ramadan. In modern times many methods of fasting have been developed, the goal of which is to lose weight, improve overall health or improve metabolic health. One of these methods which is known as Intermittent Fasting (IF) has gained enormous attention in society, has been a subject of scientific investigations, and has proved to be a source of enormous medical benefits. In one protocol of IF you go without food for 16-18 hours every day designated as the fasting window and only eat during the remaining 6-8 hours known as the feeding window. This method is commonly known as “16/8” fasting. During fasting, the hormonal signals induce the body to make use of stored fat which burns out to provide energy. Therefore regular and disciplined IF for few weeks results in weight loss. This is the major health benefit of IF. The practice of IF is almost identical in nature and duration to the obligatory fasting observed by Muslims during the month of Ramadan. Therefore health benefits of Ramadan fasting may be similar to that of Intermittent Fasting methods.
Other health benefits besides weight loss of Ramzan fasting are:
- Improvements in blood pressure, cholesterol levels, and
- insulin sensitivity
- Body detoxification
- Boosting of the immune system
- Reduction in inflammation
- Stabilization of blood sugar
- Digestive system relaxation
- Production of high levels of endorphins-“feel-good hormones”-which may have a positive impact on mental well-being.
It needs to be emphasized that Muslims do not fast during Ramadan for medical benefits. They do it for fulfilling a religious obligation in order to be close to Allah (God)—-the Supreme Being.
Dr. Aqueel Khan,
Former Professor and Head, Department of Biochemistry,
RTM Nagpur University,