Fasting and Health

By Najma Hakimah

Within the yearly cycle of practices taught to us by the Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) is the obligatory one month of fasting. Beyond this are many other days of the year during which fasting is encouraged. During a fast we are made aware of our daily habits of eating and drinking. Withdrawal from the normal routine suddenly highlights those habits upon which we have fixed our emotional and psychological dependencies over and above the needs of our bodies for sustenance. Addictions to such things as tea, coffee and cigarettes become glaringly evident. Fasting grants us the possibility of self-awareness.

We live in a time when excess is easy. The speed and quantity with which we produce commodities allows, and indeed encourages, excess. This is no less true of food than of paper, clothes and other items. In addition, we live and work in buildings which are temperature controlled so that we become less and less attuned to changes in climate and weather. These two factors alone tend to discourage us from keeping a careful balance in our bodies. All illness stems from imbalance. Fasting is a means for redressing excess and establishing balance.

Almost every degenerative illness, including cancer, heart disease and multiple sclerosis results from the habitual excessive. intake of extreme foods, either too much contractive food, such as meat, or too much richly expansive food, particularly food heavily laden with sugar and chemical additives. While modem research has sought in vain for a cure for the common cold, anyone who understands fasting knows that two or three days without sugar, fruit juice, dairy products, ice cream or iced drinks will cure any cold. Colds are merely excess mucus trapped and expelled through the nose. A few days withdrawal from cold, wet expansive foods ends the problem. Bronchitis is an exacerbated cold which develops through extended excessive intake of these foods, especially taken across a change in climate. Pneumonia is a form of illness which strikes a person of strong constitution who regularly consumes a proportionately large amount of meat. Either may be prevented by the fast which cures the cold. Appendicitis is associated with the excessive consumption of meat. Attacks are often brought on by overeating. Fasting for a few days is the natural balancing agent for such a crisis. One of the most important health maintaining functions in the body is the elimination of excess and toxic matter. The blood as it circulates is constantly being purified and itself purifies the cells through which it passes. Major waste is eliminated through the lower digestive tract. Toxins and waste are also eliminated through the skin, thus the importance of perspiration. If any of these systems become blocked or overwhelmed, the whole body is endangered. Excess fat and mucus accumulate first toward the periphery of the body – in the sinuses, inner ear, lungs and breasts, and in the lower part of the body in the intestines and kidneys.

Later, if the bloodstream continues to be filled with fat and mucus, the If this accumulation is stored long enough, it will eventually begin to calcify, producing kidney stones, gall stones, hardening (sclerosis) of the arteries, the liver, the heart – any organ or tissue may succumb to the process. Toxins are normally eliminated through the skin without irritation. Skin rashes are a sign of excessive toxic elimination. When suppressed by topical remedies, the toxins which were being eliminated through the skin must seek other avenues, through the bloodstream and other organs. Often they accumulate in and around the internal organs causing serious problems.

Among the different kinds of fasts that have been explored for detoxification of accumulated excess and toxic substances are two types of fasts commonly recommended by health practitioners? One is a juice fast, the other a whole-grain brown rice fast. The juice fast, which may last three days or longer during which only fruit or vegetable juice is consumed, concentrates on cleansing the digestive and circulatory systems. The juice helps to remove toxins from the body, while the liquid intake reduces the severity of the contraction caused by the fasting. A person whose body is accustomed to expansive foods finds the juice fast more gentle than a brown rice fast. The brown rice fast, consisting of ten days during which whole-grain brown rice and water are consumed is designed to give the body a quiet, steady intake of polysaccharides while eliminating all stimulation either of a contractive or expansive nature. This gives the body a rest and allows it to purify itself from all excess.

Extended fasts go beyond the reduction of yesterday’s excess. As day by day passes with little or no intake, the body begins to use excess stores of energy materials, thereby reducing the possibility of serious illness. The fast of the month of Ramadan, requiring abstention from all food and drink as well as smoking from sunrise to sunset during one entire lunar month, is a most useful aid to health. Because it is obligatory on every practising Muslim who is able to fast, it provides a yearly rest physically, emotionally and mentally from habits of consumption. By the end of the month we find ourselves eating less and less and needing less and less sleep. Our bodies are able to reduce accumulations of excess and our minds are able to perceive incorrect habits and patterns.