Why do Christians fast? The Bible says: ‘And when you fast, don’t make it obvious, as the hypocrites do, for they try to look miserable and dishevelled so people will admire them for their fasting. I tell you the truth that is the only reward they will ever get. But when you fast, comb your hair and wash your face. Then no one will notice that you are fasting, except your Father, who knows what you do in private. And your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.’ (Matt 6 verses 16 – 18). We conclude from this passage that fasting is between God and the person fasting. You do not fast to impress anyone. The act of fasting requires self-denial and it helps us subdue fleshly desires and discipline our bodies. Fasting is also a way we can show God that we are serious about a breakthrough in the area we are fasting and praying about. Christians generally use the time they would spend in food preparation and eating in prayer during fasting. Fasting can take many forms but it is common for mature Christians to fast one day per week and then undertake three day to forty day fasts without food, and only drinking water. These fasts are 24 hours per day not just from sun up to sun down. Christians believe that God gives them the supernatural power to undertake this type of fasting. In Matt 17 v 21 Jesus taught his disciples that there were certain demonic powers that would not be dislodged and dethroned without fasting. An elderly prophetess, Anna spent her days in the Temple worshipping, praying and often fasting. She had the privilege of prophesying that Mary’s child was the Messiah and Saviour Israel had been hoping for. Read about this in Luke 2 verses 36 – 40. Increased spiritual power and greater sensitivity to the Holy Spirit is associated with fasting. Therefore everyone who is a Christian can fast at times through their life as they seek greater power from God. Some people increase their spiritual desire for God and His presence in their life by fasting regularly.
In Acts 13 verses 2-3 we read about the leaders of the Church at Antioch, ‘One day as these men were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘dedicate Barnabas and Saul for the special work to which I have called them.’ ‘So after more fasting and prayer, the men laid their hands on them and sent them on their way.’ It seems that God requires fasting at the time we hold presbyteries for the setting apart of leaders in the Church of Jesus Christ. This concept of fasting at times of presbytery or appointing leaders was also recorded in Acts 14 verse 23.
Many Christians observe a period of 50 days prior to Easter called ‘Lent’ where they fast and undertake various forms of self-denial as spiritual preparation for the Easter remembrance services. See question 133 for details about Lent.
Muslims believe that Ramadan, otherwise known as the fasting month, is the month when the Qur’an was revealed. But in actual fact the Qur’an was revealed over a long period of time and not just in Ramadan. It is probably true that the Prophet of Islâm, Muhammed had his first visitation in the month of Ramadan. Muslims believe that fasting during Ramadan is an act of obedience to Allâh. These are some of the Qur’anic references to fasting and Ramadan:
‘O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may learn self-restraint. Fasting for a fixed number of days, but if any of you is ill or on a journey, the prescribed number should be made up from days later. For those who can do it, fasting with hardship is a ransom. The feeding of one that is indigent (in old age), but he that will give m
“Ramadan is the month which was sent down in the Qur’an as a guide, to mankind and clear signs for guidance and judgement (between right and wrong). So every one of you who is present at his home, (the crescent on the first night) of the month of Ramadan, should spend it fasting, but if anyone is ill or on a long journey, the prescribed period (of days which one did not fast must be made up) should be made up later.’
‘Allâh intends every facility for you; He does not want you to be put to difficulties, and He does not want to make things difficult for you. (He wants that you) must complete the prescribed number (of days), and glorify Him for having guided you so that you may be grateful to Him” (Surah 2 Al Baqarah ayah 185).’
‘Ayat 187 states: ‘It is permitted for you on the night of the fasts, is the approach of your wives. They are your garments and you are their garments. Allâh knows that you used to do it secretly among yourselves, but He turned to you and forgave you. So now have sexual relations with them and seek that which Allâh has ordained for you, and eat and drink until the white thread (light) of dawn appears to you distinct from the black thread (darkness of night), then complete your fast till the night appears.’
And do not have sexual relations with them (your wives) while you are in Itikaf in the mosques. (Itikaf is three continuous days of fasting worship and prayer in a Mosque. It is preferable to do Itikaf in the last ten days of Ramadan). These are the limits (set) by Allâh, so approach not nigh thereto. Thus Allâh does make clear His signs to mankind that they may become ‘Al Muttaqun’ (self restrained)’ (Surah 2 Al Baqarah ayah 187). In Surah 97 ayat 1-5 we read: ‘We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power (Al-Qadr), and what will explain to thee what the Night of Power is? The night of Al-Qadr is better than a thousand months. Therein descend the angels and the Spirit (Al Roh Kudus – Gabriel) by Allâh’s permission on every errand: Peace! until the rise of the dawn.
THE HADITH ON FASTING
Abu Huraira related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘Whoever fasts during Ramadan with faith and seeking his reward from Allâh will have his past sins forgiven. Whoever prays during the nights in Ramadan with faith and seeking his reward from Allâh will have his past sins forgiven. And he who passes Lailat al-Qadr in prayer with faith and seeking his reward from Allâh will have his past sins forgiven’ (Bukhari, Muslim).
Abu Huraira related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘If anyone omits his fast even for one day in Ramadan without a concession or without being ill, then if he were to fast for the rest of his life he could not make up for it’ (Bukhari).
Abu Huraira related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘Allâh the Majestic and Exalted said: ‘Every deed of man will receive ten to 700 times reward, except Siyam (fasting), for it is for Me and I shall reward it (as I like). There are two occasions of joy for one who fasts: one when he breaks the fast and the other when he will meet his Lord’ (Muslim).
Abu Huraira related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘Many people who fast get nothing from their fast except hunger and thirst, and many people who pray at night get nothing from it except wakefulness’ (Darimi).
When to start fasting? Ibn Umar related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘Do not start fasting unless you see the new moon, and do not end fasting until you see it. If the weather is cloudy then calculate when it should appear’ (Bukhari, Muslim).
The Suhoor meal (eaten before dawn) Anas related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘Take the Suhoor meal, for there is blessing in it’ (Bukhari, Muslim).
Breaking your fast Salman ibn Amir Dhabi related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘Break your fast with dates, or else with water, for it is pure’ (Abu Dawud, Tirmidhi).
Fasting during a journey Aisha related that the Prophet of Islâm was asked whether one should fast when on a journey, and he replied: ‘Fast if you like, or postpone it if you like’ (Bukhari, Muslim).
Behaviour while fasting Abu Huraira related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘If a person does not avoid false talk and false conduct during Siyam (or sawm – fasting), then Allâh does not care if he abstains from food and drink’ (Bukhari, Muslim).
Forgetfully eating or drinking while fasting Abu Huraira related that the prophet of Islâm said: ‘If anyone forgets that he is fasting and eats or drinks he should complete his Siyam, for it is Allâh who has fed him and given him drink’ (Bukhari, Muslim).
Providing for those who are breaking the fast Zaid ibn Khalid Juhni related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘He who provides for the breaking of the Siyam of another person earns the same merit as the one who was observing Siyam diminishing in any way the reward of the latter’ (Tirmidhi).
Lailat al-Qadr Aisha related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘Look for Lailat al-Qadr (night of power) on an odd- numbered night during the last ten nights of Ramadan’ (Bukhari).
Anas ibn Malik related that the Prophet of Islâm said: ‘When Lailat al-Qadr comes Gabriel descends with a company of angels who ask for blessings on everyone who is remembering Allâh, whether they are sitting or standing’ (Baihaqi).