Fasting is not a new practice that only Muslims observe. It is also found in Judaism and Christianity. The Qur’an says: “O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that ye may achieve piety.” (2: 183) If fasting in the first place is without spiritual significance, then it is like an empty shell without a kernel. Muslims consider Ramadan not as a burden but as a blessing. They fast first and foremost because God has enjoined it upon them, but they enjoy many medical benefits as well.
In 1994 the first International Congress on “Health and Ramadan,” held in Casablanca, entered 50 research papers from all over the world, from Muslim and non-Muslim researchers who have done extensive studies on the medical aspects of fasting. Researchers reported that while improvement in many medical conditions was noted, in no way did fasting worsen any patients’ health. Following are some of the medical benefits of fasting:
1. Abstinence from water for several hours causes concentration of all fluids within the body, producing slight dehydration and activating the body’s water conservation mechanism. It has been shown that slight dehydration and water conservation, at least in plant life, improve longevity.
2. Fasting lowers the systolic blood pressure.
3. Fasting replaces the destroyed body cells – it acts like lancets in cleaning the body and ridding it of damaged cells as well as the unneeded ones.
4. In giving the pancreas gland a chance to rest, fasting helps to lower and regulate the glucose in the body.
5. Treatment for obesity – fasting helps in reducing weight if moderation during meals is observed, especially during breaking the fast.
6. It helps in cutting down the percentage of fats and cholesterol in the body. Many Muslim and non-Muslim medical researches have confirmed that owing to the fact that fasting reduces fats in the body, it then cuts down the percentage of cholesterol.
7. It mitigates arthritis – This is a disease that leads to an unabated swelling of the affected areas that is followed by severe pain.
8. When a person over eats, the digestive system becomes tired. Therefore, fasting brings a wholesome physiological rest for the digestive tract and central nervous system and normalizes metabolism.
9. Fasting can also be fundamental to healing various addictions, such as coffee, cigarettes, drugs, alcohol, food, etc. The medical community has long accepted that addiction can be cured by breaking the addict’s habitual cycle. The principle of fasting is taught in almost all major religions, albeit differently in Islam, as a means of developing a higher level of self-mastery and self-control.
There are many medical benefits of fasting that the space does not allow me to enumerate. God says: “… and it is better for you to fast, if ye only knew.” (2:184)