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The aesthetics of fasting.

By Mali Ishtewi SWEDENa"IT IS that time of year, when the inevitable question is bound to arise: Why do Muslims fast? As a citizen of a country placed in the very Northern parts of the so-called civilized world, there are those who would eagerly point out the futility of having to abstain from the necessities of life. I will have to both undergo a process of questioning, examination and on occasion some sort of Freudian analysis of why I and a few other hundreds of millions fast in the Islamic World. Some will readily point out that fasting is in fact a primitive practice, which has outplayed its role in the modern world. Whereas before it might have been a way of saving food or livestock, our current technology has in effect solved that problem. It is a primitive practice in the sense that it follows the customs of the ancients and adheres to traditions that have no relation to reality or to modern life. It is asked: what is the point of having to starve oneself throughout the day for a period of a whole month when food is ample and plenty? Is it even healthy to fast? Furthermore, it is argued that the pretensions of fasting Ramadan are false. If one is thinking of the poor then one is not really helping them out by starving oneself. At the end, you have chosen to fast or abstain from food, while the needy are forced into this. Ultimately, those fasting will have food at home waiting for them, while the poor will continue to suffer. There is no way one will be able to even comprehend the agony and pain a starving person will have to experience by pretending to starvea"the poor and the starving on the contrary will continue to endure the hunger long past the end of Ramadan. What happens after Ramadan has passed? Will the problem of starvation disappear? The above-mentioned points are valid and do raise critical questions that each and every Muslim ought to consider. For no one can disagree with the above that the poor will remain poor (if not poorer) even after Ramadan has gone. Also, it cannot be denied that we as Muslims tend to overindulge during this time of the year. We too have forgotten our basic teachings of temperance, self-control and modesty. But Islam is not the only religion to espouse or encourage its adherents to fast. Most religions have requested or encouraged their believers to abstain from food in order to develop their spiritual side along with the aim of disciplining the desires of the body. Both Hinduism and Buddhism have clear rules of when and how to fast. Equally so, the various strains of Christianity, such as Catholicism, the Coptic and the Greek Orthodox Church have their forms of fasting. Ironically, the various diets that are being promoted nowadays all have their methods of fasting. True, neither the Atkins' nor the Lemon Detox Diet promote the belief in a Higher Being, but the basic presumption is to abstain from certain foods, drinks or lifestyles. In essence, fasting is not primitive or passe. Furthermore, it cannot be denied that fasting is a way of rebooting a system that throughout the year has been functioning on a certain routine. It is ultimately about breaking with a rhythm or pace and allowing the senses of the body to redevelop. Consequently, abstaining from the necessities of life must heighten smell, sight, and other sensations. I do not deny that many, in these Northern parts of the world, are genuine and curious to understand the reasons for fasting. I have met several people who have claimed that abstaining from food, water, smoking and other mundane activities from dawn to sunset carries with it a certain beauty. Many do recognize the effort and struggle it takes for a certain person to withstand the many temptations that may lead to one breaking the fast. Yes, there is a certain admiration given to those who are able to complete the day enduring and resisting one's very basic urges. Fortunately, there are those who still recognize the aesthetics of fasting.

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Publication:The Star (Amman, Jordan)
Date:Sep 8, 2008
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