Fasting and Food

August 21, 2009
Fasting is part of the faith life of religions old and new all over the world. In a fast, the believer chooses, for a set time, to do without something that is hard to do without. This is done so it does not come between the believer and God, so it cannot act as a god over that relationship and over the life of the believer.

Usually, the fast is to do without food. Food is one of the great blessings of God in our lives, a true pleasure and a true necessity. But humans tend to be gluttons; we want to eat more. Our hunger can compel us, force our hand, occupy our thoughts. When we have anything in our lives that we don't or can't say no to, then it is lording over us. But God is in control. If something else takes up God's place in our lives, it is an idol, and we are living in something akin to idolatry. Fasting helps to bring it back into enough control for us to surrender it to God so it can be returned to its rightful place in life. Food is the foremost example of such a thing.

You can fast from some foods, and not others. You can fast from watching television, having sex, and buying pleasure items, even from buying ordinary stuff. You can fast from hobbies you crave, places you are unhealthily drawn to, music, books, news, and movies. You might even find it necessary to be fasting from use of the Internet -- though please don't start until you're done using this site. :) If you can be described as a 'junkie', 'freak', or 'fanatic' about something, that's a good thing to fast from. For most people in North America, and the upper classes all over the earth, the most important fasting may be to fast from being a consumer of goods, for our role as a consumer consumes us spiritually. For Catholics, fasting for Lent is one of the most enduring hallmarks of their tradition.

Ramadan, the ninth month in the Islamic calendar, is special to millions of Muslims worldwide as a holy period dedicated to fasting, self-purification, and spiritual attainment. Every year the world’s Muslims redesign their life to focus on the goals of Ramadan: A whole-body awareness of God and a humble thankfulness for whatever blessings He has granted.


Muslims follow dietary laws that are similar to Jewish kosher regulations. Foods that Muslims can eat are called Halal. Prohibited foods are called Haram and questionable foods are called Mashbooh. Swine and pork products, as well as meat not properly slaughtered or slaughtered in any name other than Allah are Haram. Carnivorous animals and birds or prey are also Haram. Haram animals include pig, dog, donkey, carnivores, monkeys, cats, lions, frogs, crocodiles, turtles, worms, flies, cockroaches, owls, and eagles. Alcohol, coffee, tea and other drugs are Haram. Halal foods that have become contaminated by contact with prohibited foods are also Haram.

Fasting is also important. Fasting is a way to earn the approval of Allah, wipe out previous sins and understand the suffering of the poor. Fasting is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. Muslims fast during the month of Ramadan and voluntary fasting on Mondays and Thursdays is also common. Muslims are encouraged to only eat to two thirds of capacity.

The Muslim holy month of Ramadan, in which Muslims fast from just before sunrise to sunset each day, is upon us again. This year it begins in mid-November. Special issues that may arise in a pharmacy during Ramadan include providing advice on appropriate diet and on medical compliance among the Muslim population. In this article, I provide a personal perspective of why Muslims fast and, as a Muslim pharmacist, what advice I consider may be appropriate for fasting customers both healthy and those on medication, such as diabetic patients

The observance of fasting during Ramadan constitutes one of the five pillars of Islam. The experience of fasting is intended to teach Muslims self-discipline and self-restraint, and understand a little of the plight of the less privileged (e.g., the hungry, thirsty and the poor). Furthermore, Ramadan fasting is not just about disciplining the body to refrain from eating and drinking from predawn until sunset but is also about exerting control over the mind. This involves restraining anger, doing good deeds, exercising personal discipline, and preparing oneself to serve as a good Muslim and a good person. Ramadan is a month of peace and love in which individuals are encouraged to bury differences, to forget and forgive and to renew both human and spiritual relationships. Therefore, it contributes to the overall principle of making the individual more humane, more considerate and generally a more responsible member of society. In this way, the month of Ramadan ultimately benefits society not just the individual. It does this, in part, by setting a standard for behaviour not only in this month but during the rest of the year and, indeed, every year of a Muslim's life. These principal tenets of Ramadan are important when considering our intentions and subsequent actions during this spiritual month, including those pertaining to the health of the individual.

Fasting during Ramadan is prescribed for every healthy, adult Muslim whereas the weak, the sick, children, travellers and menstruating women are among those exempt. Muslims observing the fast are required to abstain not only from eating food and drinking water but also from consuming oral medicines and injecting intravenous nutritional fluids. However, not all Muslims who are ill seek this exemption and insist on fasting in any case. Fasting by Muslims during illness can cause problems if not supervised by health professionals. However, health problems during Ramadan can develop in otherwise healthy individuals and such patients could benefit from receiving advice on their diet.

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