If you’re a Muslim, why do you fast?
There’s no right answer. You could say it’s one of the five pillars of Islam, and that’s fine. You could say that you do it because everybody else around you does it, and that’s fine too. You maybe do it to feel closer to God and to purify your soul, which is brilliant, and absolutely fine.
But why do it one month in an year?
My issue, if you’ve gathered, is not with fasting nor with it’s purpose. Of all the tenets of Islam, fasting is the one that’s focused on the individual, on your inner self. Depending on how deep you want to go into the philosophy behind fasting, you could argue that it’s good for your health, you could argue that it helps you become more compassionate, and you could even argue that only by learning to discipline yourself (most importantly your mind) can you become a better person / better Muslim.
But wouldn’t an exercise of such great value to the human soul and to the sheer Muslimness of you be much more useful if it was conducted on a regular basis? In essence – wouldn’t it be better if you fasted once a week, all throughout the year, instead of 29-30 days at a stretch out of 354-355 days (lunar calendar)?
If you get past your initial horror of changing anything you’ve been taught, the benefits are mind-numbingly obvious:
1. You fast more – roughly 50 times as compared to 30 times during Ramadan. If God really loves those who fast, then you’re bound to please him more this way.
2. Countless nutrition studies point to regular fasting (as in once or twice a week) as a critical factor in improving the long-term health of individuals. Plus it’s a great weight loss tool – you’ve built a day of detoxing your body into your weekly routine – and combine that with an active lifestyle and you’ll shed weight naturally.
3. It’s also infinitely more practical. Currently Muslim societies tend to treat Ramadan as a time when it’s completely OK to blow off work because hey, you’re fasting and it’s tough. Government institutions take half-days the whole month, people stop working and focus on eating (the antithesis of what Ramadan is about – self-control), and generally it’s become an ritualistic excuse to slack off.
Let’s cut that out and make fasting more manageable and a part of our daily lives as opposed to a month that everybody stops working in.
4. It’ll make you a better Muslim. A weekly fast encourages you to explore your spiritual side on a regular basis and continously re-evaluate your life in terms of what’s right and wrong. Again, instead of taking a month off from your hedonistic lifestyle, you can build a healthy dose of moderation into it by fasting once a week.
5. Zakat is another key part of Islam, so rolling that into the day of weekly fasting again makes it a part of your regular routine as opposed to something you do once a year.
The best part is, you already have the perfect day of the week for it – Friday.
The only argument against this is a resistance to change. There is no heresy – the significance of Ramadan can be maintained by observing the relevant days as holy ones, similar to how we treat other days in the lunar calendar. It’s actually more beneficial – to yourself and to society – than a month-long break which is preceded and followed by 11 months of hedonism.
We’ve become so dogmatic and fanatical in our beliefs that there’s no room left for either reasoned debate or accepting a difference of opinion. It’s a symptom of the divides in our society but it’s also a global trend where polarization seems to be growing by the day. We need to change the way we live – not just once a year but every week, all the time.
Of course there’s no way this idea would ever be accepted at large – there’s too much at stake for those who are vested in resisting practical thought and maintaining old ideals that create divisions across religious lines. If we haven’t been able to reconcile a centuries old political conflict between Sunnis and Shias, there’s very little hope to do something productive. Plus who wants to be so ‘disciplined’ throughout the year? Our laziness, more than our fear of change, will prove to be the ultimate defense against progress.
The feedback I received on this idea focused on two things – one, that we shouldn’t change what’s been set down as law, and two, that spreading fasting out throughout the year would reduce it’s significance.
Given that we already pick and choose what interpretation to believe, it’s safe to say you’ve already changed your religion to suit yourself and the issue you have here is psychological and nothing to do with the sacred nature of religion.
The second point is amusing, actually. The point of fasting was never to show the world, it was never about ‘significance’, external or otherwise. The core point is, and has always been, about spiritually cleansing yourself. Sure, focusing it on one month out of 12 can concentrate the impact, but that impact is then lost in the next 11 months. But that is to ignore ground realities – the month of fasting is now the month of false moralities and feasting, with hypocrisy and over-indulgence rampant (the very things fasting was supposed to avoid). The reason for this is part human nature, and partly the insanity of asking people to behave only 1 month out of 12.
Ask them to do it every week, and they’ll learn it as a habit. Habits are tougher to let go of than religious principles, which are eagerly discarded at the first opportunity.