By S. Arshad, New Age Islam
22 May 2018
The month of Ramazan is practiced as the month of fasting in Islam. Thirty days of fasting from sunrise to sunset has been ordained in Islam. The Quran says that fasting increases piety and spiritual happiness. It develops a sense of physical and sensual sacrifices for attaining closeness to God.
But fasting is not practiced by Muslims alone. Fasting as a means of attaining spiritual elevating and piety was also prescribed in all the religions revealed by God. The Quran says,
“Oh you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that you many learn piety and righteousness". (2:183)
The holy Quran says this to Muslims to impress upon them the fact that this ritual of fasting was not ordained to them only. Earlier religious communities too had been ordained to suffer this hardship for their own good. The Quran then goes on to explain why fasting was ordained to men.
“Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may attain Taqwa." (2:183)
This makes the fact clear that all those religious communities that practice fasting as a religious duty belong to the category or revealed religions. Apart from the Quran, the Bible also mentions fasting by different prophets as also by Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ once fasted for forty days and forty nights.
“After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry” (Mathew 4:2)
The Bible also asks believers not to do fasting to show people their piety and demonstrate hypocrisy. Just as the Quran enjoins the Muslims to do fasting only to attain Taqwa. The Bible says,
“When you fast, do not look sombre as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth; they have received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you.”(Mathew 6: 16-18)
Prophet Moses also fasted for forty days when he had gone up Mount Sinai to receive tablets. Moses says about his own experience,
“When I went up the mountain to receive the tablets of stone, the tablets of the covenant that the LORD made with you, I remained on the mountain forty days and forty nights. I neither ate bread nor drank water.” (Deuteronomy 9:9)
This statement is corroborated by the Quran. Verse 142 of Surah Al Araf says that God ordained Moses to fast for forty days before getting the Shariah for his Ummah (community).
The Bible also mentions fasting done by Prophet Daniel for three weeks during which he abstained from meat, wine and delicacies.
“In those days I, Daniel, was mourning for three weeks. I ate no delicacies, no meat or wine entered my mouth, nor did I anoint myself at all, for the full three weeks. (Daniel 2:3)
The Bible also mentions fasting by Prophet Elijah for forty days and nights when he was fleeing the nation of Israel who had killed many prophets.
These are mentions of some of the prophets who did fasting to attain God’s pleasure. Fasting was also done while performing some important religious duty as Moses fasted while receiving the tablets from God on Mount Sinai.
Hinduism also has fasting as one of its religious rituals. In Hinduism, fasting is ordained on different festivals or religious events. Fasting among Hindus is for half a day, one day or longer and during fasting, they can drink water or have fruit. When breaking their fast they are advised not to have non-vegetarian food as it kills the purpose of fasting. They are advised to break their fasting with rice, juice or fruit.
The Vedas mention fasting as the means of pleasing God. In Vedas, fasting is mentioned as Vrat. In Madhayandin Yajurveda, verse 1.5 states that the Fire God is the ruler of the Vrat.
Among the Muslims, the fasting is only to fulfil the religious ordainment. So after breaking the fast, they go berserk, devouring meat and other heavy food. Even in the Sehri, most of the Muslims eat non-vegetarian food and other delicacies so that they do not feel hungry during the day.
Manichaeism, an old religion practiced in the modern Iran region also had fasting as a religious ritual. Encyclopaedia Iranica says,
“In Manichaeism, fasting was probably introduced by Mani himself. While there is considerable evidence of the Manichean fasts (surveyed in Henning, pp. 146-64), exact details remain sketchy. Manichean doctrine proposed that a portion of the spirit or light of Zurvan, the father of greatness or high god, had become trapped in matter created by Ahriman the source of evil and corporeality.
Fasting served as a means of limiting the transfer of this good, but entrapped, spirit through a series of evil corporeal incarnations. An important tenet, that pertaining to the so-called seal (Manichean Middle Persian Mohr) of the mouth, urged strict control over consumption. The clergy (the elect) or Dēndārān (bearers of religion) were required to abstain from consuming meat at all times and from any type of sexual activity. They also were expected to fast on Mondays.
In general, Manichean clerics fasted during the daylight hours, eating one meal of vegetables and fruits after sunset. The laity or Niyōšāgān (hearers) fasted each Sunday until sunset. Unlike clerics, they could eat meat (believed to contain much trapped spirit), although this practice was discouraged. Five (sometimes perhaps seven) fasts of two-day durations were observed by the community each year; these particular fasts seem to have been correlated with Yimki or prayer periods.
The most important communal fast took place during the thirty days preceding the vernal equinox, and culminated in the Bēma festival with confession of sins. This prolonged daytime fast included the fourth and fifth Yimki, with the final prayer period commemorating Mani’s demise while in the custody of Sasanian authorities (Boyce, p.12).
However, Zoroastrianism does not prescribe fasting as a means of spiritual growth and purity of mind though the religious practices and beliefs in Zoroastrianism are similar to Islam. It may be that texts about fasting were removed in later period.
The term Rozah also comes from Manichean term Rozag meaning fasting and so in the Ajami (non-Arab) world, Roza instead of the Arabic Saum is used.
These observations of fasting in different religious communities show that all the communities having fasting as religious duty are revealed religions. Their teachings might have been distorted over time but indeed they belong to the category of revealed religions. The Quran gives testimony to this fact. Different religions had different ways of fasting. In some religions, ways of fasting were distorted and were directed towards deities and false gods but the presence of ritual of fasting in them hint towards the fact that originally they were followers of prophets of God and revealed religions.
S. Arshad is a regular columnist for NewAgeIslam.com
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