The purpose of fasting in all three monotheistic religions

Fasting is a practice found in Judaism, Christianity and Islam in various forms, an issue discussed at the latest Ahmadiyya Muslim Community seminar
Mariam Azarkan


The third pillar of Islam is fasting, the essence of which is still unknown to people. The reality is that a person is unable to describe the condition of an area or state that he has never experienced. For Muslims, fasting does not mean that man should simply abstain from food and drink, but rather that it has a much greater purpose and its effect can only be proven through experience. 

According to the Muslim religion, it is in the innate nature of man that the less he consumes, the more his soul is purified and the more his spiritual strength is enhanced. Through fasting, God desires that one form of food be reduced in order to increase another. A fasting person should always keep in mind that the purpose is not to starve himself, but to occupy himself with the remembrance of God in order to develop in asceticism and self-discipline.

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Therefore, the essence of fasting is for man to limit one form of nourishment (which nourishes only the body) and to seek other forms of nourishment, which satisfy the soul. Those who fast solely for the pleasure of God, and not just as a mere ritual, should be concerned with the praise, remembrance and worship of God, who will ultimately provide them with the other forms of nourishment.

The Ahmadiyya Muslim Community presented this Thursday the webinar 'The philosophy of Ramadan', exposing the differences and similarities between fasting in the three monotheistic religions: Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The speakers were Qamar Fazal, spokesman for the Ahmadiyya Muslim Community, Isaac Sananes, president of the Jewish Community of Valencia, and Iñaki Iraola, philosophy teacher at the Montearagón School in Zaragoza.

According to Judaism, fasting is the perfect state of the body and, during fasting, Jews nourish their spirit. Breaking the fast is breakfast, starting from nourishing the spirit with fasting, and moving on to nourishing the physical part. In this way, the Jewish people have practised fasting in order to show their connection to their spiritual side and at the same time to fill themselves with knowledge that lifts the spirit. The Jewish fast day Yom Kippur, the fast of the great Shabbat, is celebrated on the 10th of Tishri in the Jewish calendar. This 24 or 26-hour fast allows for repentance towards God and forgiveness from Him.

Mariam Azarkan

They engage in three aspects, teshuvah (wiping the slate clean), tefillah (praying to God) and tzedakah (giving). Hunger can promote repentance, the physical result joining the spirit, so that it is accepted by God. It is a total fast, dedicating oneself to the nourishment of one's spirit. Jews use this fast as the sublimation of the desire to eat, it is an offering, taking advantage of emptiness to generate a higher level of sacrifice, and they point out that it is a valuable opportunity to connect with God. 

In Christianity we see that Jesus Christ fasts for 40 days, and he asks us to fast because it is good, but he does not make it obligatory. Christians think that this has already been done for him and that this sacrifice has already been made for them. However, St. Paul points out that there is a need to feel what Jesus did. That is why they fast twice a year, on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday.

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Six things are proposed by fasting: to take one's eyes off the things of this world; to show God that one is serious about one's relationship with him; to change one's inner self; to feel and fulfil the obligation to be more spiritual, not to appear spiritual, but to be spiritual; to master one's inclinations; and finally, to make reparation for all sins.

In Islamic fasting it is forbidden to eat, drink and have sexual intercourse. The obligation is prescribed in the Qur'an, the aim is spiritual progress and greater closeness to God. This is an act of obedience and submission in order to become a better person. A form of restraint from lawful things, a patience that will be present and makes Muslims more prepared to hold back from other temptations of sin at other times.

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This month the satan in everyone, the shaytan of temptations, is chained, and this abstinence makes the believer appreciate its benefits. From a scientific point of view, in order to maintain longevity, there are scientists who consider fasting as a measure against obesity. Many doctors point out that it restores hair and cures alcoholism and tobacco addiction. In addition, Ramadan is a discipline for coping with crisis and anger. 

From the point of view of the world's current attachment to the obsession with material things, to improve one's status and financial sense, spending on unnecessary things (effects of materialism to which no one is immune), fasting during Ramadan reaffirms the believer in the face of all these material needs. God descends to the lowest level of the heavens during this month.
Spiritualism, repentance and forgiveness are the keys to fasting in all three religions. It means a coming closer to God, a cleansing and purification of the soul. A nourishment of the metaphysical part of the human being.