Once upon a time, fasting was done for primarily religious reasons or for the purposes of a political protests. Christians and Muslims have fasted since time immemorial as recommended by the two holy books to increase spirituality and to connect with us with as supreme being.
Everything God has provided for us has a purpose, and one of those provisions is fasting. This practice makes the mind clearer through the rest of the digestion work. Science has proven several benefits of fasting, including better cognition and clearer and more logical thinking. Most of these proofs are among people who carry out this practice, such as Seventh-day Adventists Christians.
For Muslims, fasting is not merely abstinence of food, drink, smoking and sexual relations from dusk till dawn, it is a month where one seeks to renew his relationship with Allah SWT by abstaining from gluttony, gossip, and all things forbidden.
Another group of people that fast are activists and prisoners. Perhaps, the most common example of a hunger strike was that of India’s Mahatma Gandhi. He staged several hunger strikes to protest British rule, the longest said to have been 21 days. Bobby Sands, a member of the Irish Republican Army (IRA), starved himself to death in 1981 after 66 days on hunger strike while demanding to be treated as a political prisoner and not as a criminal. For them, A hunger strike is a method of protest during which food is refused. It is mostly used by those who have no other form of protest available — usually prisoners. Such an action is often aimed at protesting prison conditions, achieving a policy change, or bringing attention to a certain case or cause.
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A hunger strike is a special type of protest in which participants are prepared to harm themselves to achieve a goal. Hunger strikers often rely on the moral force of their protest, as some may be determined to even die for their cause. This type of action might also bring a certain amount of publicity to their case and help them succeed.
There are several reasons why authorities usually don’t neglect a person who goes on a hunger strike. For example, it is generally expected that a responsible society will not allow a preventable death, so authorities might face consequences from the public or censure by foreign institutions. In addition, they may fear that, if they let a protester die, he or she could become a martyr for that cause.
Thank God for the sanity of my beloved country, Nigeria. Our massive gluttony for food and drinks especially displayed at parties, burials and conferences will not allow us to embark on such a folly. God forbid that we should be begged to eat! Eating also called Belleful is our first right as Nigerians.
In the past years, apart from fasting for religious purposes and strikes, fasting has gained fame in the form of intermittent fasting. All around the world, the fad has caught on and everyone is doing one form of intermittent fasting or the other. Intermittent fasting is an eating plan that switches between fasting and eating on a regular schedule. Research shows that intermittent fasting is a way to manage your weight and prevent or even reverse some forms of non-communicable diseases.
When I first heard about intermittent fasting years ago, I chuckled to myself. Fasting that we have been doing for several centuries is what the Oyinbo man is now giving a fancy name? Is it not the intermittent fasting we are doing, denying ourselves food for 12-14 hours depending on where you live and eating for the rest of the twenty-four hours?
Science and Religion have finally become full circle, at least where fasting is concerned.
Research carried out at John’s Hopkins by a neuroscientist, Mark Mattson, outlines the many benefits of fasting. One of Mattson’s studies published in the New England Journal of Medicine revealed data about a range of health benefits associated with the practice. These include a longer life, a leaner body and a sharper mind. Many things happen during intermittent fasting that can protect organs against chronic diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, age-related neurodegenerative disorders, even inflammatory bowel disease and many cancers.
For the benefit of this article, I will divide the benefits of fasting into two categories: health and spiritual benefits.
The first health benefit is that promotes blood sugar control by reducing insulin resistance. Several studies have found that fasting improves blood sugar control, which could be especially useful for those at risk of diabetes. People with type 2 diabetes specifically benefit as most of the available research shows that intermittent fasting can help people lose body weight and lower their levels of fasting glucose, fasting insulin and leptin while reducing insulin resistance, decreasing levels of leptin and increasing levels of adiponectin. Certain studies found that some patients practicing intermittent fasting with supervision by their doctors were able to reverse their need for insulin therapy.
Now is that not beautiful news?
Secondly, fasting promotes better health by fighting inflammation. While acute inflammation is a normal immune process used to help fight off infections, chronic inflammation can have serious consequences for your health. Research shows that inflammation may be involved in the development of chronic conditions, such as heart disease, cancer, and rheumatoid arthritis. Studies have found that fasting can help decrease levels of inflammation and promote better health. One review of 18 studies found that intermittent fasting could significantly reduce levels of C-reactive protein, which is a marker of inflammation.
Thirdly, it may enhance heart health by improving blood pressure, triglycerides, and cholesterol levels. Heart disease is considered the leading cause of death around the world, accounting for an estimated 31.5% of deaths globally. Research has found that incorporating fasting into your routine may be especially beneficial when it comes to heart health. One study revealed that alternate-day fasting could reduce levels of total cholesterol and several risk factors for heart disease in people with overweight compared to a control group. Another study showed that alternate-day fasting was able to significantly decreased blood pressure, as well as levels of blood triglycerides, total cholesterol, and LDL (bad) cholesterol.
Lastly, though research is mostly limited to animal research, several studies have found that fasting could have a powerful effect on brain health by boost brain function and prevent neurodegenerative disorders.
In Islam, the main aim of fasting it increases our Taqwa. Having Taqwa has often been translated to being conscious of Allah, fearing Allah or simply being pious. It has the profound meaning of being vigilant over our own lives as if constantly conscious that Allah can see us.
‘O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those who came before you, so that you may attain Taqwa (piety)’. [The Noble Qur’an, 2:183]
Secondly, fasting protects us from the Fire. The Messenger of Allah (saw) said, ‘A worshipper does not fast a day for the sake of Allah except that that day (of fasting) distances the Fire from his face by seventy autumns’. [Tirmidhi]
SubhanAllah! Just a single day of fasting takes us far away from hellfire. Now, imagine the reward of those who fast every week or even every month. How distant they must be from the Fire, and how close to Jannah!
Thirdly, it stops us from having an indulgent relationship with food. As mentioned before, it is wonderful that we take so much pleasure in Allah’s blessings, but we should not fall into the habit of satisfying our every craving. This gluttony and accumulation tendency we have of stuffing ourselves with food whether or not we are hungry is very unhealthy. An Islamic way of living is inherently opposed to ‘instant gratification culture’ – our ultimate happiness lies in the next life, with Allah!
One of my favourite hadith of The Messenger of Allah is where he said: ‘A human being fills no worse vessel than his stomach. It is sufficient for a human being to eat a few mouthfuls to keep his spine straight. But if he must (fill it), then one third of food, one third for drink and one third for air’.
Did you hear that? One third only for food!
So, please by all means- fast! Intermittently or otherwise!
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