For body and soul

Lubna Abdel-Aziz
Tuesday 19 Mar 2024


The whole of Egypt is virtually on a spiritual journey. Muslims are observing the fast of the holy month of Ramadan and simultaneously Orthodox Copts are fasting the Great Fast of Lent.

Muslims abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset throughout the month, while Copts refrain from eating meat, fish, poultry, and dairy products for 55 days until Easter. This rare occurrence brings the whole country together in a supreme act of worship.

Fasting, however, brings man yet another gift. It is nature’s best universal healer.

Known to man and beast since the beginning of time, fasting has been used instinctively as a tool for healing. Cleansing the system from poisonous toxins, man and animals refrained from eating, making fasting the first method of cure.

Other motives for fasting were to appease the gods, seek pardon, or mourn the dead.

This desire for sacrifice appears to be mainly an act of nature as is eating, drinking, sleeping, and crying. People of every culture have participated in purposeful fasting for both health and spiritual reasons.

Religions seized this habit of nature, creating rituals to support fasting as a form of penance; a process of purification and communion with God.
The Holy Quran tells Muslims that fasting was prescribed for “those who came before them, meaning Christians and Jews.”

By abandoning earthly pleasures a Muslim draws closer to God and “shields himself from Hell fire”.

Seven religions that require fasting in different forms are the three Abrahamic religions, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam as well as Hinduism, Buddhism, and the Mormon and Bahaai faiths.

Historians believe the oldest fast is the Buddhist fast which started when Buddha (c 563- 486 BC) meditated under a tree and remained there until he achieved enlightenment and founded Buddhism.

Fasting, however, is as old as man himself.

Besides being a religious practice, fasting has been adopted by philosophers, scientists, and physicians as a healing process.

The best human known for using fasting as a political tool is India’s leader Mahatma Gandhi. He effectively invented what is now known as the “hunger strike”.

Distressed by India’s British occupation and civil wars between Hindus and Muslims, Gandhi resolved to fast until the fighting stopped.

“By doing so, he became a spokesman for the conscience of all mankind,” said Albert Einstein.

Fasting is a multi-dimensional experience in which total body transformation occurs. Every fasting method cleanses toxins from our bodies, producing a wide range of metabolic changes and experiences. “The body breathes naturally and cleanses itself.” Among its many benefits is a heightened awareness and relaxation of body and mind. All past pains are abandoned and a positive attitude towards the present and the future is developed.

Unless you experience it personally, it is hard to describe its cool, crisp healthy effects, it many merits and marvels, its sense of peace and tranquility.

Penitence, purification, sacrifice and grief are some of the reasons for fasting in many forms of worship. This union with God brought about by the elevation of the spiritual state has added to the power of many a prophet.

Fasting releases toxins from the colon, kidney, bladder, lungs, sinuses and treats certain conditions like the common cold, flu, fever, fatigue, bronchitis, headaches, back pain, obesity, mental illness, constipation, allergies, asthma, skin problems, and even diabetes and cancer.

Some of the physiological effects of fasting include a lowering of blood sugar, cholesterol, and systolic blood pressure.

Detoxification is an ideal treatment for mild to moderate diabetes.

Considered nature’s universal remedy for the many problems caused by our food intake, “fasting is the single greatest therapy treatment.”

“The effectiveness of fasting as a life extension measure is fairly well-backed by experimental medicine,” writes John Mann in his book Secrets of Life Extension (1980). Rats that were made to fast one day out of three throughout their lives, while eating normally on other days, achieved 20 per cent increase in life span. In many cases we mimic rats.

Naturopathic medicine has applied fasting for health as an integral part of treatment for more than a century.

Ancient Greek philosophers, Socrates, Plato, Aristotle, and Hippocrates, believed in fasting therapy.

The Essenes, an early Christian sect, believed that the body is a temple that needs purification for God to reside there.

Fasting proponents believe we can turn our energies inward where we can use them for healing, clarity, and change.

Intermittent fasting is all the rage in contemporary medicine.

“It is the missing link in a healthy diet.”

In all fairness, attention must be drawn to the many health hazards of prolonged fasting. Over 30-40 days of fasting lead to loss of water, sodium, potassium and the destruction of lean and vital tissues needed for healthy living. It is particularly dangerous for children. Islam prohibits fasting for children.

Islam also teaches that abstaining from food and drink is not enough. Abstaining from all vices, mendacity, indecency among others, is essential, thus inspiring patience, tolerance, and brotherhood.

Christianity exalts the virtues of faith, hope and charity.

Most of us eat too often, too much. Whoever ordained three meals a day? Do we need all that food?

Food can be an addiction and like any other addiction, it produces toxicity. We need to break the drowsy spell of habit and give our overworked stomach a rest.

Why not fast? “Fasting is an institution as old as Adam.”

“It is the truest prayer used for self-purification, cleansing the body, soul and mind.”

Mahatma Gandhi (1869-1948)

* A version of this article appears in print in the 14 March, 2024 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly

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