As a kid I used to be among the first ones in my family to get up at 4 am in the morning ever ready to keep a fast. This was the age when sweet sleep did not matter. Sleep was not a precious thing and hunger never struck. This was the age when keeping a fast in the month of Ramadhan, which began this week, on Wednesday July 10, was neither obligatory nor recommended. At that age my enthusiasm to starve all day was always at high. Even with so much enthusiasm my mom never let me fast. She told me that for kids of my age, there was something similar to a fast. This was called a “birdie fast”.
Cute sounding as it may be, the idea of it was not acceptable to me. In a birdie fast a kid would get up for the Prayer before dawn, eat breakfast, then keep fast till lunch, eat lunch and then fast till dinner. Unlike the regular fast in which you eat at dawn and then fast till dusk, in the birdie fast you are allowed to drink and eat. Being the youngest and eager to grow up, I thought that this so called birdie fast was no fast; not only did it sound childish but it was not much different than my regular eating schedule.
To convince this stubborn child my mom explained that my birdie fast was special. An adult keeps one fast in a day but with my fast I would be keeping two fasts, breakfast to lunch and lunch to dinner. This I liked; more fasts in a day meant more blessings. Keeping two fasts a day meant I was ahead of my older siblings in the count of my fasts and blessings.
However, as the years passed and sleep and food became more and more precious, the entire idea of getting up before dawn and starving all day seemed hard. Forget keeping two fasts it became hard to push myself to keep one. The enthusiasm started to fade. I started to question, why does God need us to starve in the month of Ramadhan and how does it benefit him?
Yes, growing up I always heard that by fasting one gets blessings but I wanted to know why God made fasting obligatory. It is true that God does not need us to fast but it is something for our own sake. The Quran states: “O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you, as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may (learn) self-restrain”( 2:183 ).
Fasting helps one achieve self-control and selflessness. During the month of Ramadhan the believers offer extra prayers and give extra alms while feeling plight of the poor and needy. This experience helps in honing the human character for the rest of the year and hopefully rest of his or her life. Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be on him) said that in this month God opens the doors to paradise and puts Satan in chains. This statement means that one has the ability to stay away from evil deeds and increase in good works.
Fasting is not prescribed or appreciated by God for those who are sick or are traveling. Mirza Ghulam Ahmad, the Messiah and founder of the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, said that if a person keeps a fast while being on a journey or being sick is not doing to please God but rather is putting him or herself in danger and disrespecting the words of God. This account displays that God has made it very easy for us to fast and illustrates that it is better in the eyes of God to not fast if you are sick or traveling.
There is no doubt about the spiritual blessings of Ramadhan but there are many physical benefits of fasting as well.
Fasting not only cleanses one spiritually but it also detoxifies the physical body. Abstaining from food causes the body to use its stored fat while burning away toxins. Fasting reduces blood glucose and insulin levels causing glycogen in the liver to breakdown providing glucose to the body.
After keeping in view the various spiritual and physical benefits it makes it easier each year to gear up for Ramadhan. Even though as a student hours of sleep seem to decrease each night and the bed seems like heaven, the idea of getting up early and starving to achieve the heaven of the hereafter does not seem difficult; climbing the hills of UC Berkeley every day while fasting, does not seem to strain the body. Ramadhan is not only a springboard to achieving a spiritual and content life but is also a catalyst for maintaining a healthy lifestyle.
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