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Fasting and Health
By: Dr. / Zaghloul El-Naggar
Abu Hurayrah(A.S.) narrated that the Prophet (PBUH) said :
“Observe fasting, as fasting will keep you healthy”.
Explanation of the Hadith
Many Prophetic and Qudsi Ahadith, and Qur'anic verses indicate the virtues and benefits of fasting. Many people, though, are under the impression that the benefits of fasting are restricted to the fact that it is an act of worship with the spiritual and emotional reflections experienced by he who fasts. However, many recent extensive studies have proven that fasting has many other benefits for man's health in general, which were summarized in the above-mentioned short statement of the Prophet (PBUH).
These studies have shown that the physical performance of the one who fasts, in the period between the breaking of Fajr (first day light) till Maghrib (sunset) is better than that of a person who does not. This is due to a better body tolerance of physical exertion, in addition to a better performance of the heart, circulatory system, digestive system, respiratory system and all other systems of the body during fasting.
This explains why a person who fasts experiences only a minor feeling of fatigue, while being able to tolerate what he may not probably be able to tolerate during ordinary non-fasting days. The reason is that the source of energy in the body of the one who fasts is different from that of the one who does not. Nevertheless, if the fasting period extends the average period prescribed by Islam (approximately 11-14 hours) then the physical and muscular functions start to be affected and the person starts to experience a feeling of fatigue.
It is well known that fasting leads to the break down of fats in the body, which raises the percentage of free fatty acids in the blood. These acids become the major source of energy for the fasting person instead of glucose, which is the usual source of energy at other times. This helps reduce the consumption of glycogen in the muscles and the liver of the fasting person, when he exerts any effort. This also helps in controlling the glucose blood level, the deficiency of which leads to a feeling of total exhaustion. Since the glucose level of a non-fasting person is his major source of energy, so he feels more tired than the one who fasts if they exert the same amount of exercise under the same circumstances.
Moreover, he who fasts is in a state of contentment and high spirits as he feels close to his Creator, Glorified be He. He is performing one of the most honorable acts of worship in the best and most blessed month, the month of mercy, forgiveness and release from Hellfire. All of this leads to a remarkable increase in the number of useful hormones (Endorphins) which boost bodily performance, and reduces the feeling of fatigue and exhaustion.
Needless to say that when one ceases from keeping up his daily routine; eating regular meals at specified times, he gives rest to his body systems. It is during the month of fasting i.e. Ramadan , that the human body gets rid of all the fats , toxins , fungi and other harmful materials that have accumulated inside the body throughout the year . These substances damage the health of man if they accumulate inside his/her body in great amounts, and that is why it is necessary to get rid of such toxins from time to time. Undoubtedly, fasting is the best way to achieve this goal. That is why Allah, Exalted and Glorified be He, has ordained fasting for Muslims in Ramadan and made it one of the pillars of Islam. Our Prophet (PBUH) also legislated for us other types of fasting which could be observed at any time of the year, such as voluntary fasting, "fasting done as an act of expiation" (Kaffarah), and fasting to fulfill a pledge or vow (Nadhr).
The Prophet (PBUH) was used to regular voluntary fasting throughout the year and he advised the Muslim nation to follow his example. He (PBUH) described fasting as one of the greatest acts of worship, besides being a means to protect human health and maintain spiritual inner peace and purity. That is why he (PBUH) said: "Observe fasting, as fasting will keep you healthy". The Prophet (PBUH) also warned against exaggeration in everything, especially what concerns eating and drinking and that is why he set a code of manners and conduct for us, to be observed during one's daily life. This code has been proven by scientific studies to be accurate, and comprehensive.
These scientific facts pose a number of questions: How did the Prophet (PBUH) know, fourteen centuries ago, that fasting keeps us healthy? Why did he say so at a time when people were oblivious of such facts? Of course this would not have happened unless Allah, with His Absolute Knowledge, knows that someday man would reach such a scientific fact. Then the Prophet's saying would emerge as a candle that enlightens the mind of man and as a witness to the truthfulness of the Message of Islam as well as the Divine nature of the Prophet's sayings:
﴾ Nor does he speak of (his own) desire . It is only a Revelation revealed. He has been taught (this Qur'an) by one Mighty in power [Jibril (Gabriel)]. One free from any defect in body and mind then he (Jibril- Gabriel in his real shape as created by Allah) rose and became stable. While he (Jibril(Gabriel)) was in the highest part of the horizon , Then he (Jibril(Gabriel)) approached and came closer , And was at a distance of two bows' length or (even) nearer. So (Allah) revealed to His slave (Muhammad (PBUH) through Jibril (Gabriel)) what ever he revealed ﴿
(Surat An-Najm (The Star): 3-10)
These scientific signs in the Glorious Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Prophet (PBUH) are of ultimate necessity in our modern age. They constitute a concrete proof for the truthfulness of Islam at a time when all people are astray and the Truth has disappeared under a dark veil. This scientific language is the most suitable one for our modern age and may Allah make in it a prevention of the bloodshed witnessed in the violent wars throughout the world. May Allah guide humanity to the right path.