On Islamic Fasting


By Rod Blackhirst

Human consciousness is fragmented. Specifically, it is bifurcated (schitzoid) into sleeping and waking. We are caught up in a realm of dualities, even though Reality is One.

The objective of human spiritual transformation is to heal this bifurcation. The different spiritual methodologies such as prayer and meditation all assist in overcoming this breach and aim to render us whole again.

This is very specifically the objective of the Islamic mode of fasting. Its modus operandi is simple. Following the cycle of night and day – which is the macrocosmic parallel to the microcosmic cycle of sleeping and waking – the Muslim abstains from all food and drink during daylight hours, but can eat and drink during the night.

This is a deliberate reversal of the usual situation. Usually, we eat and drink during the day (while we’re awake) and abstain during the night (because we’re asleep).

The effect of the fast is to trick our physical metabolism into thinking we are asleep while we are in fact awake.

In particular, it has the effect of reversing the liver cycle (which controls metabolic functions). The liver has a 24 hour night/day cycle. If we stop eating and drinking, then after several hours our liver thinks we are asleep and moves into its night cycle. Lack of food and drink is the trigger.

This liver cycle feeds our dreams. As we all know, if we eat and drink too soon before going to bed we might have bad dreams. This is because of the action of the liver. Thus do ancient texts describe the liver as the seat of dreams and visions. They understood this very well.

While fasting, then, it is as though we are asleep while we are awake. We have, as it were, entered into sleep while conscious. Our liver is going through its night cycle even though we are walking around in full consciousness.

In this way the bifurcation has been overcome. Night and day, sleeping and waking, have been remarried. It is the same symbolism as the ‘Sun at midnight’ – consciousness and sleeping overlap instead of being kept apart in a duality.

After several weeks of this mode of fasting the effects may manifest in clarity of dreams and visions. Thus is the ‘Night of Power’ (Laylat al-Qadr) said to be on one of the nights towards the end of Ramadan.

These effects of the fast are compromised if we eat and drink to excess at night or if we spend the days asleep (as some Muslims do.) It is best to eat and drink in moderation and to go about our normal business in full consciousness throughout Ramadan.

This is the “organic” foundation of Islamic fasting. We trick our metabolism into thinking we are asleep, even though we are fully awake. It is a bit like a type of sleep walking. While we are fasting, parts of our metabolism are asleep. So we can experience sleeping whilst awake.

Modern people think spirituality is a set of beliefs. No – beliefs have little to do with it. Or they think it is about “morality” (suppressing our appetites) No – morality has little to do with it. Rather, it is a “technology” in the etymological sense – techne = skill. Islam is a method. Fasting is one of its techniques for spiritual transformation, for healing our captivity in a prison of duality.

When we overcome our duality then, as Christ says:

“Let thine eye be single and thy body shall be full of light.”