The Perspectives on Fasting from the Three Main Religions in Malaysia

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          Fasting can be generally defined as restricting oneself, willingly, from certain or all food, drinks or both, for a period of time. In the medical field, fasting is usually indicated before certain medical tests and anesthetic surgeries, where a patient is required to be unconscious and unable to feel pain. Indeed, fasting has been proved to have positive health effects. McKie (2012) found that stopping all food in-take for one or two days a week could protect the brain against Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s. His findings parallels to the work of Mosley (2013) who suggested on a new dieting idea: one can eat anything he likes for five days in a week and still lose weight – as long as he fasts for the remaining two days. However, fasting is often viewed from the religious perspective, as it carries a deep spiritual significance to it.  Fasting is a common religious practice in the three major religions in Malaysia: Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism.

To be a true Muslim, one has to uphold the five pillars of Islam – one of it is to fast during the 30 days of Ramadhan. Fasting during Ramadhan is a means of placing the poor and the rich on equal footing in terms of asking forgiveness for the past sins. Look at the time schedule of a believer during this month; getting up early before dawn for a light snack, stopping all eating and drinking all day, being ready to devote himself to prayers and adoration of Allah SWT, eagerness to do good and abandon evil, and during the nights of this month to stand in for hours, sacrificing sleep and comfort, offering special extra prayers; more or less like one of a soldier under rigorous training. The only difference here is that it is not just one physical battle he is training for but an all comprehensive and continuous war against evil both from within and without. There can be no doubt that fasting during the month of Ramadhan leads a Muslim one step closer to attain Jannah.

In Buddhism, fasting is done by individual choice. The Modern Chinese interpretation of fasting is basically eating a vegetarian diet. The common week-long fast in the Buddhism practice is that it is strongly recommended to eat the bulk of their protein (whether vegetable based or other) in the morning and afternoon. For dinner, they are suggested to prepare plant based meal using greens like kale, dandelion, spinach; some cruciferous vegetables like broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage; and starchy vegetables like acorn squash or sweet potato. In some extreme practices, Buddhists have been known to fast on water only for up to 72 days but they require supervision of an experienced religious teacher. Fasting is one of the ways that lead to Nirvana, where one is released from the cycle of rebirth and where suffering comes to an end. Indeed, it is the goal of every believer in Buddhism.

The ways of fasting in Hinduism vary widely in importance. Hindus believed that if they fast on a particular day, that particular deity becomes happy with them and lessens their sufferings. Therefore, if they are in trouble and go to an astrologer, he would also advise them to do fasting on a particular day depending upon the nature of their problems. For example, Monday is meant for Lord Shiva (Lord of Dance), meanwhile Saturday is to please Lord Hanuman (Hindu Monkey God), Sunday for Khandoba (Lord of War) and Friday for Santoshi Mata (Lord of Love and Forgiveness). Hindus do not always fast on particular days but it is practiced in months according to their religious calendar. In the month of Jesht (May-June), this fasting is done only by married women to increase the lifespan of their husbands. According to ancient Hinduism tradition, one should fast once a week with remaining empty stomach until afternoon. Then, one is allowed to drink water until that time. In the afternoon, one should have fruit juice or one or two fruits. After that, one should break the fast in the evening after sunset. Timing for fast is from sunrise to sunset or else 12 am to 12 am of the next night which is 24 hours. While for breakfast, one should eat some rice first. Eating non-vegetarian food is not allowed on the day of fasting. If they eat non-vegetarian on the day of fasting, it is useless to fast.

In conclusion, besides fasting being beneficial for health, it is also a practice where one can purify his soul and become closer to God. Fasting is a common practice for many religions as it is universal. Therefore, there can be no doubt that fasting is favorable for the body, mind and soul.

Nurain Shahira, Malaysia

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References

  1. (2014, July 1) In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved on July 6, 2014, from http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fasting
  2. Fasting can Help Protect Against Brain Diseases, Scientists Say. (2012, February 18) In The Guardian. Retrieved on July 6, 2014 from http://www.theguardian.com/society/2012/feb/18/fasting-protect-brain-diseases-scientists
  3. The 5:2 Diet: Can it Help You Lose Weight and Live Longer? (2012, August 16) In The Telegraph. Retrieved on July 6, 2014 from http://www.telegraph.co.uk/lifestyle/9480451/The-52-diet-can-it-help-you-lose-weight-and-live-longer.html
  4. On Fasting from a Buddhist’s Perspective. (2013) In org. Retrieved on July 6, 2014 from http://www.urbandharma.org/udharma9/fasting.html
  5. Jesus did this, Buddha did this, Muhammad did this. (2013, April 16) In The Sacred Science. Retrieved on July 6, 2014 from http://www.thesacredscience.com/blog1/jesus-did-this-buddha-did-this-mohammed-did-this
  6. Fasting in Hinduism. (2011, June 20) In The Hinduism Facts. Retrieved on July 6, 2014 from http://hinduismfacts.org/fasting-in-hinduism/
  7. Why do Muslims Fast? (2013). In Sunnah. Retrieved on July 6, 2014 from http://sunnah.org/ibadaat/fasting

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