Dining Etiquettes… And the Spirit of Fasting

It is God’s grace on the Islamic nation that he assigned fasting during the great month of Ramadan, and God knows best what he created. He added great benefits – known and unknown – in fasting, some that He revealed, a lot that science is still discovering day after day, and some that He kept in His own knowledge, which is unknown except by the ones He chose.


The benefits of fasting interact with the three elements of our formation; fasting polishes the brain, purifies the soul and strengthens the body, and as much as a believer abides by the spirit of fasting and understands its teachings and rules he can benefit from this month, taking advantage of it as much as his constancy allows by God’s will to supply him for the rest of his life and be a provision in his hereafter and resurrection.


Fasting enjoys a quality that is unlike other religious rituals and pillars. Abu Hurairah (may God be pleased with him) narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) recited the divine Hadith transmitted from God Almighty where He said “All the deeds of man are for himself except for fasting, which is for me and I reward it.”


Seeing that the one who rewards fasting is the Generous One, who created all methods and distributed fortunes, what generous rewards may we expect? Could that reward have any limits? Is it only in the hereafter aside from life on earth? Does God prescribe a religious practice for people, one that he excludes from other practices with such a special value, without adding secrets and benefits to it that illustrate the ability of a Merciful one who knows what is best for them, benefits that overwhelm their minds as well as their bodies? What is in fasting for our bodies? The advantages of fasting for our bodies – my beloveds – are beyond the capacity of books.  Medicine is revealing what is considered miracles day after day.


Scientific research proved that fasting has great benefits for the digestive system. It is very beneficial for type-2 diabetics, those who suffer from high blood pressure and other conditions. Fasting also has great benefits for the immune system and fighting all kinds of illness, but I believe that getting the full benefits of fasting can only be achieved through abiding by the full etiquettes of fasting and its hidden secrets, and today I will write about one of them: the moderation in consumption of Halal food at the time of Iftar (breakfast) and avoiding fullness and overfeeding. The general divine recommendation is “…and eat and drink and be not extravagant; surely He does not love the extravagant” and the advice of the Prophet “Man has never filled something worse than his stomach. It should be enough for the son of Adam to have a few bites to satisfy his hunger. If he wishes more, it should be one-third for his food, one-third for his drink, and one-third for his breath.”


The mentioning of one-third is in itself inimitable for both fasting and non-fasting individuals, as there are tons of studies confirming that reduction of food intake leads to lower rates of lots of health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and cancer. It also boasts the immune system and longevity, and delays the appearance of signs of ageing.


Those who eat excessively at the time of Iftar lose all the physiological health benefits of fasting, which God prepared for fasting people as an earthly reward before the hereafter.


Fasting – as we know – might not have a significant effect on weight loss for those with normal weight, as it only contributes to weight loss with balancing metabolism, but scientific studies proved that fasting followed by a balanced healthy meal helps in losing weight in overweight individuals, and that is where it becomes an important factor in treating obesity, which – as we all know – is a leading cause of many illnesses (God forbid) such as high blood pressure, heart disease, type-2 diabetes, fatty liver, gallstones, arthritis in the knees and even increases chances of developing certain kinds of cancer, such as colonic cancer and others, may God cure our patients and spare us from all causes of illness and give us good health.


Losing weight is not only linked to eating smaller portions of food during the month of Ramadan, but it is also associated with the quantity of burnt calories as a result of mobility, which means that one of the secrets to fasting is working and staying active rather than living a sedative life and being inactive. By breaking free of the myth that fasting requires rest and immobility, it is not a surprise that most decisive Islamic battles, such as Badr, Hitteen and Ain Jalut took place during the month of Ramadan.


Moreover, excessive eating at the time of Iftar (breakfast) does not only dawdle all the benefits of fasting but it also drain out its entire spiritual and mental values.


When the mind is defeated in front of the stomach’s desires, as in eating whatever it missed during the day or even double as much as the amount of time spent fasting during the day, in that case a person gets nothing from his fasting but fatigue, thirst and hunger, just as an oblivious fasting person misses out on his reward “There might be a person who receives nothing from his fasting but hunger and thirst.”


Since fasting is a refinement to the desires of the mind, how could that great advantage be achieved by someone who let his stomach take the lead at Iftar and allowed his desires to be in charge of his mind? Indulgence in the different kinds of food, and the market’s abundance with all sorts of dishes and supersizing the Iftar meal during this holy month to equal two normal meals, only sets the stage for all sorts of psychological illnesses and strengthens the desires of the body. It could even be a path to the body’s addiction to overeating and avidity during a month that was originally meant for restricting of the body’s desires and helping it give up urges.


How is the soul supposed to elevate and benefit from this great month, if the soul could not reach limpidity through prayers while the person weighs it down by a body filled with food? The thickness of the soul and hardness of the heart is indeed akin to lavishing, extravagance and fullness…


Moderation, however, is the ultimate goal of the true religion; just as the soul is not purified through the crippling of repletion, the mind will not illuminate through exhausting hunger. The prophet (PBUH) advised the hastening of Iftar and delaying of Sohour, and prohibited sexual relationships during the day while fasting. He advised that we follow moderation and warned against pretending that he told some “I fast and eat, pray and sleep and marry women, so whoever goes against my Sunnah (way) is not from me.”