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Fasting for religious reasons
In Hinduism, a religious fast is observed on ekadasi (the eleventh day of each lunar fortnight) and, if observed strictly, involves taking no food or water from the previous day's sunset until 48 minutes after the following day's sunrise.
Also during Navratri which occurs twice a year in the months of April and Oct/Nov during Dussera just before Diwali, as per the Hindu Calendar, fasting is observed for 9 days and one can only eat fruits and the like. During this period even those who are unable to observe the fast would refrain from eating Non-Vegetarian food and consuming Alcohol.
The Bahá’í Faith
In the Bahá'í Faith, fasting is observed from sunrise to sunset during the Bahá’í month of `Ala' (between March 2nd through March 20th). Bahá'u'lláh established the guidelines in the Kitáb-i-Aqdas. It is the complete abstaining from both food and drink (including abstaining from smoking). Observing the fast is an individual obligation, and is binding on all Bahá’ís who have reached the age of maturity (15 years).
Along with obligatory prayer, it is one of the greatest obligations of a Bahá'í. The Guardian of the Bahá'í Faith, Shoghi Effendi explains "It is essentially a period of meditation and prayer, of spiritual recuperation, during which the believer must strive to make the necessary readjustments in his inner life, and to refresh and reinvigorate the spiritual forces latent in his soul. Its significance and purpose are, therefore, fundamentally spiritual in character. Fasting is symbolic, and a reminder of abstinence from selfish and carnal desires."
In Islam, fasting from 10 minutes prior to fajr (dawn), until maghrib (sunset) is observed during the month of Ramadan. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the Pillars of Islam, and thus one of the most important acts of worship. By fasting — whether during Ramadan or other times — a Muslim draws closer to his Lord by abandoning the things he enjoys, such as food, drink and sexual intercourse. This makes the sincerity of his faith and his devotion to Allah (God) all the more evident. The believer knows that Allah will love him when he is ready to abandon worldly comforts for Allah’s sake.
Allah tells Muslim in the Qur'an that fasting was prescribed for those before them (i.e., the Jews and Christians) and that by fasting Muslim gains 'taqwa', which can be called the care taken by a person to do everything Allah has commanded and to keep away from everything He has forbidden. Fasting helps prevent many sins and is a shield with which the Muslim protects himself from jahannum (Hellfire).
Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. It also means to abstain from any falsehood in speech and action, from any ignorant and indecent speech, and from arguing and fighting. Therefore, fasting helps to develop good behavior.
Fasting also inculcates a sense of brotherhood and solidarity, as a Muslim feels and experiences what his needy and hungry brothers feel. Moreover, Ramadan is a month of giving charity and sharing meals to break the fast together.
A Muslim is encouraged to read the entire Qur'an during Ramadan and to perform extra salat (Prayers) at night, which are known as taraweeh. In almost every masjid in the world, taraweeh prayers are held every night of Ramadan following isha. Thus Ramadan becomes a blessed month of physical and spiritual renewal through fasting and worship.
Fasting is a practice in several Christian denominations. Other Christian denominations do not practice it because they see it as an external observance.
For Roman Catholics, fasting is reduction of one's intake of food to one full meal (which may contain meat) and two small meals (known liturgically as collations, taken in the morning and the evening), required of the faithful on specified days. It differs from abstinence which was the complete avoidance of meat on Fridays, especially during Lent.
Ash Wednesday and Good Friday are still days of fasting and abstinence, as specified in the Code of Canon Law (cc. 1250 to 1253). On these two solemn days Roman Catholics are enjoined to both fast (reduce the size of their daily meals) and to abstain (to completely avoid the consumption of meat in those meals).
The current regulations concerning Lenten fasting and abstinence for Catholics in the United States generally are as follows,
- Abstinence from meats is to be observed by all Catholics 14 years old and older on Ash Wednesday and on all Fridays of Lent.
- Fasting is to be observed on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday by all Catholics who are 18 years of age but not yet 59. Those who are bound by this may take only one full meal. Two smaller meals are permitted if necessary to maintain strength according to one’s needs, but eating solid foods between meals is not permitted.
For Catholics whose health or ability to work would be negatively affected by fasting and/or abstinence, the regulations above don't apply.
At one time Ash Wednesday and all the subsequent Fridays and Saturdays of Lent were days of "Fasting and Abstinence" whereas all the other weekdays of Lent were days of "Fasting without Abstinence". An exception to this rule was granted to the Bishops of Ireland (see Irish calendar) by the Vatican in 1918, when the obligation of fasting and abstaining on the Lenten Saturdays was transferred to the Wednesdays of Lent instead.
Immediately before the Second Vatican Council limited fasting to Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, fasting days included all of the weekdays (i.e., non-Sundays) of Lent, all Ember days, and the vigils of (days before) Pentecost, Immaculate Conception, and Christmas, unless either of the latter two fell on a Sunday (regardless of other circumstances, a Sunday could never be a day of fast or abstinence). Abstinence was required on all Fridays, except those upon which a holy day of obligation fell, and also on Ash Wednesday, Holy Saturday, and the vigils of Immaculate Conception and Christmas unless the latter two were Sundays. Prior to 1951, all Wednesdays of Lent and the vigils of Assumption and All Saints (unless Sunday) were also days of both fasting and abstinence (but the vigil of Immaculate Conception was not), and Ember days brought abstinence as well as fasting (the fast on the vigil of Pentecost was added in 1951, not having been in force prior).
In recent years, Saint Patrick's Day has at times fallen on a Friday of Lent. Some Priests have granted dispensations for their parishioners from the abstinence obligations so that Catholics could enjoy traditional Irish dishes.
Eastern Orthodox Church
For Orthodox Christians, fasting at various times refers to abstention from animal products, olive oil (or all oils, according to some Orthodox traditions), wine and spirits -- see Eastern Orthodoxy (Fasting). Fasting can take up a significant portion of the calendar year. The idea is not to suffer, but to use the experience to come closer to God, to realize one's excesses and for alms giving. Fasting without prayer and almsgiving (donating the money saved to a local charity, or directly to the poor, depending on circumstances) is considered useless or even spiritually harmful by many Orthodox Christians.
In Protestantism, the Reformers criticized fasting as a purely external observance that can never gain a person salvation. The Swiss Reformation of the "Third Reformer" Huldrych Zwingli began with an ostentatious public sausage-eating during Lent.
However, churches of the English Reformation and American Protestant denominations affected by liturgical renewal movements encourage fasting as part of both Lent and Advent, two penitential seasons of the Liturgical Year. Other Protestants consider fasting, usually accompanied by prayer, to be an important part of their personal spiritual experience, apart from any liturgical tradition.
Latter-day Saints are encouraged to fast for twenty-four hours once a month (leaving out two meals), and the first Sunday of the month is usually designated a Fast Sunday; most Latter-day Saints who observe the monthly fast do so from the Saturday before this day until the first Sunday. The money saved by not having to purchase and prepare meals is to be donated to the church as a fast offering, which is to be used to help people in need.
Since fasting involves exercising control of the physical body, subjugating it to the mind, many Latter-day Saints consider fasting a way to focus on the spiritual, and use it in connection with prayer to make it more intense.
Observant Jews fast on 7 days during the Jewish calendar. Five of these are considered minor fast days: The Fast of Gedaliah, The Fast of the 10th of Tevet, The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz, The Fast of Esther, which takes place immediately before Purim & The Fast of the Firstborn, which takes place before Passover, and only applies to first-born sons. The first major fast day is Tisha B'Av, a 25-hour fast that mourns the destruction of the first and second Jewish Temple, the Jewish expulsion from Spain, and other tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people. The second major fast day is Yom Kippur, also known as the Day of Repentance, which is considered the holiest day on the Jewish calendar.
Fasting in Jewish practice means complete abstinence from all food and drink, including water. Partial or total exemptions apply in many cases for those who are ill, those for whom fasting would pose a medical risk, pregnant women, and nursing mothers.
Fasting for medical reasons
People can also fast for medical reasons, and this has also been an accepted practice for many years.
One reason that people fast for medical reasons is for surgery or other procedures that require anesthetic. Because the presence of food in a person's system can cause complications when they are anesthetized, medical personnel strongly suggest that their patients fast for several hours before the procedure.
Another reason that people fast for medical reasons is for certain medical tests. People are often asked to fast so that a baseline can be established.
A longer fast for health reasons typically lasts a week or longer and includes some food intake, such as fruit or vegetable juices.
Recent studies on mice show that fasting on every other day while eating double the normal amount of food on non-fasting days led to better insulin control, neuronal resistance to injury, and health indicators similar to mice on calorie restricted diets. This may mean that alternate-day fasting is an alternative to caloric restriction for life extension. However, this result may not apply to human physiology.
People who feel they are near the end of their life sometimes consciously refuse food and/or water. The term in the medical literature is Patient refusal of nutrition and hydration. Contrary to popular impressions, published studies indicate that "within the context of adequate palliative care, the refusal of food and fluids does not contribute to suffering among the terminally ill", and might actually contribute to a comfortable passage from life: "At least for some persons, starvation does correlate with reported euphoria."
The internal effects of fasting
Since the body consumes about one third of its total energy during the hours you are awake, your body is constantly requiring and using energy. When food is not eaten, the body looks for other ways to find energy, such as drawing on glucose from the liver's stored glycogen and fatty acids from stored fat and eventually moving on to vital protein tissues. The body is fine relying on fatty acids but the brain and the nerves depend on glucose. Once the glucose is significantly used up, the body switches and begins to produce ketone bodies (acetoactate, hydroxy-butyrate, and acetone). Even though this transformation to an alternative form of energy has been made, some parts of the brain exclusively need glucose and protein is still needed to produce it. If body protein loss were to continue, death will ensue.
Political fasts (today more commonly known as the hunger strikes) seem to be an invention of Mohandas Gandhi. Some people see a difference between a hunger strike, a pure political act, and fasting, a political and religious act. By fasting, they intend to take some of the responsibility of the problem in question.
Hunger strikes have been used by personalities all over the world, including Martin Luther King Jr. and Lanza del Vasto (during the Algerian War, Vatican II and the struggle of the farmers of the Larzac plateau).
Today, hunger strikes are often used by refugees seeking political asylum.
A crossover between the religious fast and the political fast can be seen in 40 Hour Famine , an event run annually by the Christian relief organization World Vision Australia, in which participants fast for 40 hours to raise awareness of world hunger and funds for World Vision's relief efforts. Each year the 40 Hour Famine draws hundreds of thousands of participants throughout the Pacific Rim and beyond.
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