The concept of fasting is one that has been around since ancient times and is a regular feature in various religions around the country.
by Emily Mary Chin, Carrybeans
Fasting can mean many things from partial to complete abstinence of food and water. In some cultures, people can also choose to fast from certain types of behaviour or habits like smoking or quick temper. Abstinence in any form holds various spiritual benefits in most religions.
Muslims the world over are currently in their holy month of fasting. Fasting during Ramadan is an obligatory act of worship for all adult Muslims. Its practice has an intended purpose of fostering abstinence and self-control.
To read more about how fasting is practised in Muslim tradition, click here!
But Islam is not the only religion that has fasting traditions within its culture.
There are multiple ways to fast in Christianity, depending on the denomination in question. Most denominations within Malaysia observe the Lenten Fast for the 40 days from Ash Wednesday to Easter. You may still eat but must maintain controlled meals throughout the day. Usually, that means one main meal and one or two smaller meals.
Roman Catholics, however, treat Lenten Fast as a voluntary practice. In fact, much of Catholic fasting tradition has a voluntary element to it. Catholics may voluntarily abstain from meat on Fridays. However, the Eucharistic Fast—every Sunday, one hour before Eucharist—is more strictly observed.
The Eucharistic communion / Credit: Pixabay
Anglicans, on the other hand, fast according to the days prescribed in the Book of Common Prayer. The main ones to observe are the 40 days of Lent, the Ember-Days at the Four Seasons, the three Rogation Days, as well as all Feast-Day vigils.
John Wesley, founder of Methodism, encouraged followers to fast for a whole day, in complete abstinence of food. Initially, he encouraged his ministry to fast every Wednesday and Friday. However, this was eventually reduced to once a week every Friday instead.
… the man that never fasts is no more in the way to heaven than the man that never prays.
– John Wesley, founder of Methodism
Fasting is a very common practice in Hinduism, though there are not many rules for it. Like much of Christianity, its observance is not an obligation. Instead, it serves a more spiritual purpose of purifying the mind and body with strength and character in line with divine grace.
Hindu culture is unique in that fasts on specific days of the week are dedicated to pleasing specific deities. Hindus believe that a person who chooses to fast on a Monday, for instance, is fasting in the name of Lord Shiva. Tuesday fasts, however, are for the Goddess. They also observe monthly and yearly fasts that work in the same way. For example, the monthly Chaturthi fast is associated with Lord Ganesha and the annual Gokulashtami with Lord Krishna.
In Buddhism, people fast for the sake of practising and exercising self control. However, Buddhism does not really expect its followers to fast. Buddhist culture mainly encourages its monks to do so in order to keep aligned with the Buddhist path of life. A common practice among monks is to eat only in the morning and to fast after noontime up until the next morning. Some even maintain vegetarian or vegan diets.
Credit: Ivan Tejero
Followers of Buddhism may also fast for the sake of moderation. This is done out of compassion for those who are less fortunate or more suffering. The rationale is that by sacrificing one’s own meal for any given period of time, they are indirectly giving to those who need it more.
Fasting in most religions holds very similar purposes of practising self-control as well as moderation. This serves to strenghten one’s own faith and spiritual resolve. Decided efforts to restrain one’s own indulgences has a psychological effect on our thoughts and behaviour. When we shift our habits out of what is self-involved, it also shifts our focus and perception into a more worldly and conscious one. Something as simple as limiting your food intake is enough to create a more supportive and humanitarian society.
Day of Prayer for Peace 2011 / Credit: Archbishop Rowan Williams
Despite many differences in practice and rituals, most religions carry the same message of humility and love. And their different fasting observances is a reflection of that. This is something that’s easy to forget when we are all holding so steadfastly to our beliefs. And though it is important to have faith in your chosen religion, it is also of utmost importance to respect that of other religions too.
Because at the end of the day, all religion is trying to do is invoke our spirituality and create a more conscious and giving environment for all. And when we can give respect and space for other religions to flourish, our community flourishes along with it.
Ramadan Mubarak to all our Muslim friends! Click here to read how and why fasting is practised in Islam religion.
Featured Image Credit: Cultural Awareness International