Sunday, 17 July 2011

Fasting to feed the soul

Since Ramadan, the Islamic month of fasting, ended last year in September, I’ve tried to fast at least one time a week on Mondays or Thursdays. On these days, I will refrain from eating or drinking from the crack of dawn until sunset. In addition to performing regular prayers, I strive to be extra attentive of my emotions and how I react to annoyances that arise at work, in my personal life, or even while driving or shopping.

I get asked on occasion why I fast frequently outside the month of Ramadan. I usually hesitate to answer honestly to avoid sounding like an eccentric weirdo.

If I said in all honesty that I fast because it feeds my soul, a non-spiritual person is likely to be slightly discomfited, especially if I mention that my guardian angels present my good and bad deeds to God on Mondays and Thursdays so it is auspicious to fast on these days. This reasoning is particularly fazing and people are sometimes restrained in their reply, as if I am someone who still believes in Santa Claus or a childhood fantasy, and they don't want to tell me it isn't real.

Believing in angels and performing acts of worship for God are often perceived to be at odds with modern society rather than nurturing its balance. We are constantly persuaded to enjoy and live life through the value of 'things'. By consuming, earning, buying, selling, indulging, owning and exchanging things we are pursuing a full life.  The concept of being rational and being spiritual are seen to be contradictory.

For me, it has only been since turning on my spiritual intuition in the past two years that I have been able to see life clearly and live a more balanced, fulfilled existence. Regular fasting, like regular prayer, has been crucial in helping me achieve equilibrium in my life.

When you're full of food and drink, Satan sits
where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue
in place of the Kaaba
When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.

-Jalaluddin Rumi

While Ramadan is a time when all Muslims will refrain from food and drink for a month, we have the freedom individually to make fasting part of our spiritual routine throughout the year.
Fasting is about discipline and worship. It is something we can do exclusively for God as a symbol of gratitude and appreciation. It requires the development of patience, self-restraint and self-discipline. Like any art or skill, it is about practicing and refining an ability to do something well. Along with prayer, charity and good deeds, fasting allows us to feed and nourish our souls any time of the year.

“Deeds of people are presented (to God) on Mondays and Thursdays. So I like that my actions be presented while I am fasting,” the last Prophet, Muhammad , is cited as having said.

I decided to try it out following Ramadan last year. After a number of weeks of fasting once or twice a week, it became part of my routine, like eating, exercise, socialising. My father passed away on the second day of Ramadan last August (God rest his soul/الله يرحمه), so I fast also with the hopes of benefitting his soul. I will often dedicate my fasts to him.

If a week passes and I have not fasted, I sense something essential is missing in my life. I’ve been able to fit worship into my routine; I keep a prayer outfit in my office, and plan business lunches around my fasting schedule.

When I became more conscious of my intrinsic connection with God, particularly after reading the Quran for the first time a little over a year ago, I found myself quite naturally wanting to do more to nurture my personal relationship with Him. I did not want to limit myself to remembering God only on Fridays, or being conscious of Him only during Ramadan. So I consistently began praying five times a day and fasting regularly. Each day we receive so many gifts and blessings from God, whether significant or subtle, so it is important also to give back that energy by devoting time each day to remembrance.

Ramadan begins in two weeks and I feel spiritually ready for it because I have kept my connection with God turned on every day of the past year. Ramadan is a rigorous spiritual exercise that means far more than refraining from food and drink, and gathering for meals with family and friends. That is the easy part for me. After a few days, most people are able to adjust to the fasting schedule quite well.

It is the other responsibilities that demand greater dedication. For instance, it is favourable to spend greater time in prayer, with many Muslims praying more than an hour longer than usual each day of Ramadan. Special and optional congregational prayers known as taraweeh take place each night of Ramadan and, over the month, the Quran is recited in its entirety.

We are also encouraged to read the Quran’s 114 chapters on our own during the month. Quran is an Arabic word meaning ‘The Recitation’, referring to the verses revealed by God to the Prophet Muhammad . The Last Prophet was literally asked to recite the words of God to humanity as a verification for those who deny the existence of the one Almighty God and a promise of redemption for believers.

Quranic lessons on prayer, giving ample charity, doing kind and righteous deeds, being patient, modest and humble, and remembering and being thankful for His blessings offer a beautiful, as well as encyclopaedic guide to living.

The first of these verses was revealed during the month of Ramadan, which is why the month is so important for Muslims, those who have submitted themselves to God. I am looking particularly forward to this Ramadan because I have devoted so much individual time in the past year to fasting and prayer. Ramadan is a time to share the same spiritual experience with the community.

There's hidden sweetness in the stomach's emptiness.
We are lutes, no more, no less. If the soundbox
is stuffed full of anything, no music.
If the brain and belly are burning clean
with fasting, every moment a new song comes out of the fire.
The fog clears, and new energy makes you
run up the steps in front of you.
Be emptier and cry like reed instruments cry.
Emptier, write secrets with the reed pen.
When you're full of food and drink, Satan sits
where your spirit should, an ugly metal statue
in place of the Kaaba. When you fast,
good habits gather like friends who want to help.
Fasting is Solomon's ring. Don't give it
to some illusion and lose your power,
but even if you have, if you've lost all will and control,
they come back when you fast, like soldiers appearing
out of the ground, pennants flying above them.
A table descends to your tents,
Jesus' table.
Expect to see it, when you fast, this table
spread with other food, better than the broth of cabbages

-Jalaluddin Rumi


  1. Your blog is very inspirational :) You must be more prepared for the upcoming month as you've kept fast regularly outside of it! Please continue to post, it is a pleasure to read.

  2. Thank you so much for your encouragement! I am glad to hear you enjoy reading it, barely get any feedback but I love to write:)

  3. This blog post is beautifully written and it has inspired me to fast regularly outside of Ramadan. May God elevate you in closeness to Him. Looking forward to reading some more.

  4. As I was reading your post about how hard this is to talk about with friends and acquaintances, I realized that is one of the reasons I blog. Nobody ever wants to talk about the stuff I am interested in talking about. On a blog, you can write it down without judgement from others. If they enjoy it, great.

    I really appreciated this education about the purpose of fasting in Islam. By fasting throughout the year, you are like a Marathoner who is keeping up your base miles before the big event. You are literally preventing spiritual flabbiness! No wonder it is so hard for people to fast just for that month. They have to be in training really, to do it justice.

    I agree with your other commentators that this blog is very inspirational. You focus on changing the one thing all of us can change: ourselves. I look forward to reading more.

  5. Thank you for your comment Anonymous, I am so happy that you were inspired by my humble experience. May God reward you for your efforts. I would love to hear about your experience with fasting regularly.

  6. Karen, you are always able to eloquently synthesise my ideas. I love the marathon analogy! I may just borrow that for a future article, am imagining the headline with "spiritual flabbiness":)

  7. I am really happy I found this blog! I feel like your experiences with Islam are mirroring mine. I have been thinking about regular fasting on Mondays and Thursdays and you have helped inspire me to implement this change :) Please could you write something on hijab? I am thinking of wearing it and I noticed you do not wear a would be interesting to know your reflections on it. Please keep posting, I have become a regular reader just through your one post on trying to pray five times a day, it was excellent!! :)

  8. Thanks Anonymous, I am really touched that you enjoy reading my blog! Best of luck with introducing fasting into your spiritual routine. These days I usually strive for one time a week, and really it helps keep you focused on what is important.

    I find it a bit difficult to write about hijab because I don’t wear it and I often find it confusing to be honest because women wear it in so many often contradictory ways. I’ve always dressed quite modestly and my clothing choices have changed in the past two years to become more modest—I expect this will continue.

    My priority now is to focus on what is inside, to orient my heart, my thoughts, my words, my rituals of worship toward honouring God. Islam for me is a state of mind, where our mind is consistently conscious of God.

    The strength of one’s Islam is something that we cannot judge on the surface, which is why the tendency to focus on external symbols of Islam perplexes me. Hijab is not a destination for me, although it may be part of the journey.

  9. Sorry for the late reply, but thank you for your answer to my question. I have had the same thoughts as you about hijab, but I couldn't have put it as eloquently as you do! I continue to read your blog and look forward to reading more :)