Saturday, July 31, 2010

Think Fast!

The holidays are fast (haha) approaching! Yes, I realize that December is nowhere close to being here, but the month of Ramadan is- the month of the Islamic calendar during which Muslims fast from eating, drinking, and engaging in any marital relations during the daylight hours. By practicing self-sacrifice, we purify our souls and refocus our attention on Allah.

The Prophet Muhammad (saws) said, "When the month of Ramadan starts, the gates of the heaven are opened and the gates of Hell are closed and the devils are chained." [Bukhari]

But in addition to being a time for recharging our spiritual batteries, Ramadan is a time for cleansing our bodies of the all the greasy, fat-laden junk that we eat throughout the year. In the same way that we often retreat to tropical beaches and exotic lands as a vacation from work, Ramadan is a vacation for our bodies from having to constantly digest food.

Weight-related health issues are probably the most obvious concerns that can be treated through fasting. Lots of celebrities go on weird diets involving pills and baby food in an attempt to lose weight. But these kinds of fasting only result in temporary weight-loss because the body is malnourished and in lack of the appropriate number of calories needed to maintain itself. However, during the course of Ramadan, Muslims are still meeting (or eating slightly below) their daily caloric needs and receiving the proper nutrients needed for the body's survival. But stuffing ourselves with fried chicken and cake when breaking our fasts will not help us lose any weight (which is why many Muslims gain weight during Ramadan). Instead, if we eat moderate amounts in balanced meals, we can be sure we are giving our body just what it needs to function and break down any unnecessary fat we have in order to properly maintain a healthy weight.

Anyone who has ever fasted during Ramadan knows that this month is so powerful that even the most difficult things can be overcome. Fasting benefits us psychologically by distancing the behaviors we are accustomed to from the behaviors that we aspire to. As creatures of habit, it is not easy for us to cut out harmful practices (like smoking, for example) from our daily lives because everything we do feels as natural to us as breathing. But the inactive aspect of fasting allows us to step outside of our normal routines, giving us the chance to pause, reflect, and think about our next move. It heightens our awareness and gives us a greater appreciation for the things we have. And with this unique kind opportunity, we can make better decisions and set off in a more positive direction.

The Messenger of Allah (saws) said, "Ramadan has come to you. (It is) a month of blessing, in which Allah covers you with blessing, for He sends down Mercy, decreases sins and answers prayers. In it, Allah looks at your competition (in good deeds), and boasts about you to His angels. So show Allah goodness from yourselves, for the unfortunate one is he who is deprived in (this month) of the mercy of Allah, the Mighty, the Exalted." [Narrated by Tabarani]

I encourage both Muslims and non-Muslims to fast during this blessed month because the benefit of doing so is just so inexplicably great. May Allah allow all of us to reach this upcoming Ramadan. May He make our fasts easy for us and may He make this month a period of peace, increasing taqwa, and total submission to His will. Ameen.