Saturday, August 23, 2008
Ramadhan and Psychological Benefits
Ramadhan, mother of all months is around the corner. Allah knows best the incentives of why He ordains fasting. To give meaning to the benefits of Ramadhan, I've gathered information on the psychological benefits of Ramadhan. Evidently, Ramadhan is for the betterment of this Ummah. There are reasons and wisdom behind every single act in Islam, no matter how small. In time we may know the wisdom for behind some acts, and for others we may never know. Salaat, for instance, is a daily training for purifying the believer and reminding him that he is a member in a community of believers. Fasting, on the other hand, is an annual institution containing all conceivable attributes for human excellence. It is a training for the body and soul, a renewal of life, encouraging the spirit of sharing and giving. Therefore, it is important to understand how fasting works and also some of the general benefits:
How Does Fasting Work
At the beginning, fasting achieves a physiological rest to the digestive, assimilative, and protective organs, probably the first time for most people. Next, the bodily energy normally used to digest and assimilate food is now used to purify our body. The purification process is called autolysis, or auto-digestions in which our body draws energy by decomposing and burning unused substances and metabolic wastes with the help of bacteria and enzymes. Waste materials to be decomposed, reused, and eliminated include fat and calcium deposits, atheromatous plaque, morbid accumulations, abnormal cells, dead and dying cells, damaged tissue, and various kinds of neoplasm (Burroughs, 1976; Ehret, 1966; www.fasting.com). This is the single most important phase of fasting: breaking down superfluous tissue and mobilizing the toxins from their storage areas. Non water-soluble chemicals are also transformed into relatively polar substances and then quickly excreted through enhanced cleansing ability of all the eliminative organs (Gormley, 2000).
During the auto-digestion process, because waste materials, chemicals, and toxins begin to circulate in blood stream and throughout the body, they can cause headache, nausea, and some other physical symptoms. At this point, many people quit fasting and start to eat. They blame fasting as the cause of their uncomfortable conditions. However, it is well-known fact that these symptoms will go away in few days as the elimination process progresses and fasters feel better and even stronger. Auto-digestion stops when they start to eat (Bragg & Bragg, 1999; Ehret, 1966).
One caution should be made here. Those who have been seriously ill or on heavy medications need to fast only under medical supervision because a prolonged fast can be dangerous because of the large amount of toxic substances they have to eliminate (Bragg & Bragg, 1999; Burroughs, 1976; Ehret, 1966). “Fasters who died from a long fast did not die from lack of food, but actually suffocated in and with their own wastes” (Ehret, 1966, p47). All fasters must educate themselves to know what physical conditions occur during a fast.
The Physical and Psychological benefits
The physical and psychological benefits cannot be separated. Fasting purifies cells all over the body, including those in the brain. Negative mental states such as anxiety, boredom, loneliness, tension, and fear, to the some extent, can be said as the mental expression of a physical state. When the brain is free of toxic poisons, the mind is liberated both physiologically and then psychologically. Although psychological drugs only temporarily alter the mental states by affecting the brain, fasting may free the brain forever (Bragg & Bragg, 1999). In the last 50 years in Russia, therapeutic fasting has been found to be the most effective treatment for schizophrenia. As early as 1972, Dr. Yuri Nikolayev, director of the fasting unit of the Moscow Psychiatric Institute, reported on the use of fasting to successfully treat over 7000 patients who suffered from various mental disorders including schizophrenia. Now Nikolayev after 30 year’s experience fasting over 10,000 patients says, “seventy percent of those [schizophrenia patients] treated by fasting improved so remarkably that they were able to resume an active life” (www.fasting.com).
Many fasters report that their mind is sharpened and focused. This is explained by the fact that the cleansing process of fasting actually gets rid of cementing and intrusive particles of the nerve tissues. As a result, a greater number of our brain cells come into contact with purified blood and the improved flow of blood to the brain helps to clarify our mind. An Irish literary critic and dramatist, George Bernard Shaw, attributed his successful works to the effect of fasting (www.fasting.com).
One of the most important things fasting affords the observer is helping him control or change his or her habits, the reason being human life is an embodiment of acquired habits. To change or control a habit is to wage a war on yourself. If jihaad is mandatory on every believer because it is the peak of the essence in Islam, and it entails changing habits, the fasting is the training ground for the inevitable that will occur. The believer cannot wage a war and hope to defeat an enemy if he or she cannot wage war against his soul. Thus, the faster is admitted to the compulsory training opened only in Ramadan, the learning in this school is mandatory and succeeding or scoring high is mandatory, otherwise it is like you never entered. The Prophet (saas) said: "Many a faster receives naught from his fast except the pain of hunger and thirst." (
If he scores high the reward is guaranteed: "Three people's prayers are not rejected-among them - the faster, until he breaks." (Ibn Hiban) Now, does a Ramadan fast control one`s habits? Simple, two of the most important habits are food and drink. An average person eats three meals a day, 21 meals a week. The way the fast is structured, with its basic and drastic alteration of eating habits, a faster takes light meals early in the morning and late in the evening. If the believer can control these two habits, food and drink, it will undoubtedly be easy for him to control other habits, including the habits of smoking, drug abuse and illicit sex. Do you not see that, if you can control your tongue, hands and all other parts of your body, it will be easy for you to apply the same training for the rest of the year.
The benefits of fasting transcend guiding the faster from idle talk and indecent acts. It is a sentinel against disease, provided the faster follows the strict dietary rule: eat during fast breaking and avoiding over-eating. Allah (SWT) states: "...Eat and drink, but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not wasters." (Al-Qur`an, 7:31)
A great deal of ailments originate from stomach indigestion. This is why the Messenger of Allah (saas) says: "The son of Adam will never fill a container with something worse and evil than his stomach. It will suffice him some morsels (food) that will keep him on his feet, otherwise, he should divide his stomach into three parts: one third for his food, the other for his drink and the other third for his breath." (Ibn Hibban)
This hadith indicates that the stomach is the origin of harmful bacteria. Even in the age of sophisticated machines, you can hardly find a machine so fragile but yet so remarkably durable and efficient like the stomach. This is the machine that receives food particles, processes and refines them, and distributes the products to different parts of the body. This is a lifelong operation. For the non-faster, the stomach will have no chance for rest. When the stomach is empty, as a result of fasting, it gets well-desired rest, to renew and rejuvenate its energy. With the fasting, the stomach is forced to go through a discharge whereby harmful residue are eliminated through perspiration as the body searches for food during fast.
During fast, the system of secretion is organized, and this in turn benefits the blood pressure, inhibiting hardening of the arteries. The heart and kidney functions are enhanced as the work load tapers off. The fast helps to correct the problem of obesity and diabetes. Doctors over the years have used fasting as a prescription for certain ailments.
There was a discussion between Ali Bin Husain bin Waquid (raa) and a Christian physician to the Khalifah, Haroon Ar-Rasheed, about Islam's outlook on the science of medicine and health care. The physician said to Ibn Waquid: "There is not in your Book, Al-Qur`an, anything about medicine. For if Al-Qur`an is a book of science, what about this science?. Aren't there two kinds of sciences: the science of the body and the science of the soul?" Ibn Waquid responded: "Allah, the Most High has combined both sciences in half of a verse, when He states: "...Eat and drink but waste not by excess, for Allah loves not the wasters." (Al-Qur`an, 7:31)
The physician said: "Why, then, has nothing been mentioned about medicine from the mouth of your Messenger?" Ibn Waquid replied: "Our Messenger (saas), has combined the sciences about medicine in a few words when he says: "The stomach is the house for disease and prevention is the essence of medicine." The Christian physician then said: "Then your book, Al-Qur`an, and your Prophet Muhammad left nothing about medicine for Jalienas (a famous physician of the ancients)." (Arkanul Arba`ah by Abul Hasan Nadwi)
An American physician published a report on fasting and its benefits saying: "It is mandatory on every person who is sick to restrain from food certain days in a year whether he be wealthy or poor because if bacteria can find food in abundance in the body, it will grow and multiply. But with fasting it becomes weak.'' He then praised Islam. It should be considered as the wisest religion, for as it mandated fasting it has mandated health care. He continued: "Indeed, Muhammad, who brought this religion, was the best physician who succeeded in his teachings, for he called for prevention before ailment, that is apparent in fasting and the nightly prayer (Taraweeh) that Muslims observe after fast breaking every day of Ramadan, for these physical acts contain big benefits in digesting food." (Arkanul Arba`ah by Abul Hasan Nadwi)
Fasting helps in conditioning the heart, the soul, and the body on the virtues of patience, tenacity, and firmness in the face of adversity. Patience is the pinnacle of self-mastery, discipline and spiritual agility. Patience is to turn the phrase "I can't" into "I can." It is to say, the difficult is easy. It is an inner and psychological demolition of things perceived by others as impossible. Fasting helps in all these shades for the virtuous, patient person because, the conditioning is that if a believer can exercise patience, and forsake gourmet food and drink, and the exhilaration we enjoy while eating or drinking our favorites, as well as marital association, the gratifying of other normal appetites for a whole day, for a month the realization that the barrier between you and food is your consciousness of your Creator, can better make you able to exercise patience in virtually everything in life.
Socially, fasting is an expression of solidarity with the poor, the family and the whole society. This is a period in which the rich have first-hand experience of what it is to be poor, the pains the indigent suffers in normal living conditions. The process of disciplining resulting from Islamic fasting, instills in the rich the virtue of mercy, Rahmah, which is very important in terms of social well - being and proliferation of harmony. Allah bestows his mercy upon those who themselves are merciful to others. "Those who are merciful to others, the Merciful will have mercy upon them," the Messenger said. He continued, "Have mercy upon those on earth, and those in heaven will have mercy upon you." (Abu Dawud/Tirmidhi)
Fasting strengthens family ties, especially in that the family is an endangered institution in western society. It helps the family gather together to break fast, at Iftar, and eat sahuur together at least twice a day for a month. The family even makes Salaat, together with the father as Imam.
Fasting enhances and energizes friendship, as Ramadan is known as the month of invitations and visitations. Friends, family members and neighbors extend invitations to each other to come to their homes to have Iftar together. The Messenger said, "When a believer invites you, you should respond." Besides, Muslims gather together in the Masajid for taraweeh and ta'aleem.