In his book “Fasting,” in “The Ancient Practices Series,” Scot McKnight defines fasting as “a person’s whole-body, natural response to life’s sacred moments.” I like that definition, yet in a religious culture of potlucks, ice cream socials and “dinners on the grounds,” it’s sometimes difficult to explain the point of fasting.
Fasting is a practice in Christianity that traces its roots through ancient Judaism. David fasted; the prophet Isaiah fasted; Jesus himself fasted. Therefore, fasting isn’t something to be overlooked or deemed obsolete by contemporary Christians.
The point of fasting is not found in some notion that it makes one holier than others, nor is it correct to understand fasting as some sort of religious ritual that brings one closer to God simply through its undertaking.
Perhaps it helps to think of fasting as a removal of distractions. When one fasts, it’s not simply about abstaining from food; it’s about removing those things that distract one from listening to the Spirit of God.
Fasting from food is the traditional practice, because food is an essential and regular part of each of our lives. To fast from food meant one could use mealtimes and the reality of hunger to focus more completely on God.
Today, there are many things that distract us (TV, Facebook, etc.), and I believe we’d all be able to better listen to God and one another if we practiced fasting from our distractions.
Chris Thomas, Fairview Heights Northside Baptist Church, Anniston
To build character
The words for fasting in the holy Quran are “sowm” and “siam,” which mean to abstain from. Fasting from the Islamic perspective is abstaining from eating, drinking and sexual relations from early dawn to dusk throughout the month of Ramadan. This is an annual training program for Muslim believers, in which Islam wants them to learn how to control and discipline themselves.
Hunger, thirst and sexual desire are the main weaknesses of human beings in general. If a person learns how to overcome these, that person can be his own, in charge. That person has gained freedom from the slavery of desires. He develops strong willpower. That person will not compromise on principles.
There are etiquettes of fasting in Islamic teachings. For instance, Prophet Muhammad said there is no point in staying hungry and thirsty all day if the fasting person does not give up false statements and evil deeds.
In another tradition, Prophet Muhammad forbade arguments or quarrels while fasting. If anybody else is messing with you, don’t react. Just tell them, “I am fasting.”
As far as the purpose of fasting, the Holy Quran is very clear: “O who believe: fasting has been made obligatory on you, as it was made on those before you, so that you achieve God-Consciousness” (2:183).
Self-control, self-discipline, willpower, taming one’s desires, achieving God-consciousness and a strong faith in God ... this all leads to one thing, and that is character-building, and that is the whole point of fasting.
Muhammad Haq, Anniston Islamic Center