MMF hosted a panel on “Fasting in Abrahamic Faiths”

During the month of Ramadan, on August 12 2012, MMF hosted a panel on “Fasting in Abrahamic Faiths”. Fasting in Judaism, Catholicism, and Islam was the focus, respectively. The panel participants were Bernard Gerson, Phil Webb, and Abdurrahim Ali, who gave their perspectives of their own faith traditions.
Rabbi Gerson quoted “May you have an easy fast” from his tradition. He asserted that in all three parts of the Hebrew bibles there is mention of fasting and fasting is regarded as a practice that works on the heart. Fasting can take on different moods such as mood of grief, meditation, and petition. The most famous fast day on the Jewish calendar is Yom Kipur, the Day of Atonement. Practicing self-denial is the beginning of fasting. Abstaining from eating and drinking, marital affairs, washing and ablutions, anointment, and wearing leather shoes are part of the observance of Yom Kipur. The Jewish Prophets such as Isaiah encouraged fasting in a deeper and introspective manner that directs the heart by extending the fast to being charitable, conscious about and sensitive to the poor in order to attain piety and become better human beings. When the Israelites were preparing for certain journeys or missions, they would fast on the day before so that they could associate their activity with God. Other occasions include Queen Esther’s ordering the Persian Jews to fast, and Tisha B’av (day of profound sadness) to commemorate the destruction of the two temples in Jerusalem. When there were times of great drought, rabbis would authorize Jews to fast and pray to seek forgiveness and mercy from God for their sins and transgressions. Today, although the Jewish community is diverse in their practices, fasting is highly regarded across the board because of the feeling of community, humility, and sense of form and spirituality associated with it (as well as it practicing part of system of law for the Orthodox Jews).

Phil Webb, currently a Catholic, grew up in a protestant tradition. He indicated that all Christian groups place some emphasis on fasting because after all Jesus fasted himself, and he said his disciples would fast after he is gone. In the protestant tradition he grew up fasting was pretty individualistic as compared to the Catholic tradition in which fasting is one of the five precepts. It is more of turning to God than self-discipline to directing your heart mind and soul to be more oriented with God, similar to the point Rabbi Gerson made. There are two official practices, namely abstinence and fasting. Abstinence is refraining from eating warm blooded meat on Fridays and on holy days like Ash Wednesday and Good Friday starting from the age of 14 with certain exceptions such as pregnancy and health issues. Instead, they might eat fish, for instance, as cold blooded animals like fish are not considered meat per se and fish is a historic symbol of Christian identity dating as well as other occasions associated with fish. Fridays are the days of commemorating the death of Jesus Christ for Catholics. Fasting requires 18 years of age and older. During fasting you eat one big meal a day and two smaller meals. The church encourages individuals to also fast on top of the holy days in their own terms based on their own needs similar to New Year’s resolutions to stay away from certain practices, because that directs your soul, mind and heart to God.

Imam Ali stated that fasting during Ramadan is the fourth pillar of Islam. Fasting is purification of oneself and learning self-discipline. It is also more about becoming closer to God than not eating and drinking. Muslims fast 29 to 30 days during Ramadan according to the lunar calendar. The last ten days of Ramadan is especially important because the very first verses of Qur’an were revealed to Prophet Muhammad on one of these last ten days, called the Night of Power during when Muslims pray all night to commemorate this holy day in addition to fasting. In Qur’an the night of Power is said to be better than a thousand months which is equal to a life time. The fast requires that Muslims purify themselves by self-restraint not only from food and water, but also discipline their eyes, tongue and many more that encompasses all aspects of life. It is an intense training and if Muslims train properly it would last through the rest of the year. Muslims perform extra prayers during the month of Ramadan and recite Qur’an every day. Ramadan feeds one’s intellect and spirit bringing one closer to the All-Mighty, to the other Muslims and the poor. The sensitivities are heightened to those who are in need since you feel the hunger that the poor experience all the time. This consciousness to the poor should carry on after the month of Ramadan. Prophet, peace be upon him, also fasted three days out of each month. Muslims also try to follow the same practice to remain disciplined and purified although Ramadan is the special month for Muslims. Fasting also helps with physical purification by getting rid of the toxins in our body so it is physical and mental purification. For him, it is more of the aggravations from other people to bear with than eating and drinking that is the hardest during fasting. Sometimes one has to say that he is fasting and walk away before one says something that can break the fast. Purification of the intellect and the heart takes place, and to have a balance of the intellect and the heart is most important for the Muslim. The heart should filter what one receives intellectually, because if we only act on intellect we can become very hard, stony, cold, logical, rational creatures without any sentiments. Although logic and rationale are very important, we need to have the sentiments of the heart. Fasting, extra prayers, and reading the Qur’an gives Muslims the extra sense of closeness to the All-Mighty. Muslims spend extra time in the mosques, pray extra prayers, ask God for forgiveness, his mercy, and his guidance. Also, God encourages Muslims to be more charitable to the needy and our relatives, and keep close family ties, and become closer to Christians and Jews as the children of father Abraham during the month of Ramadan.