Perspectives on intermittent fasting

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Finally, Ramadan is here. They say that the first ten days are for Allah’s Mercy, the second ten are for forgiveness, and the last 10 are for protection. This is believed to be a saying of weak derivation, but I can understand why it is often repeated and held up as a model for managing Ramadan fatigue. This can be helpful for Muslims and non-Muslims undertaking a cleansing intermittent fast of a month.

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All the psychological and physical benefits of intermittent fasting notwithstanding, Muslims fast for spiritual reasons, predominantly because it is one of the five foundational pillars of Islam, and as such is called upon directly and unequivocally in the Qur’an, as a duty and a mercy, simultaneously. Science has repeatedly shown that this type of fasting is great physiological benefit, and as such, many non-Muslims attempt to join one and a half billion Muslims each year for the camaraderie, out of curiosity, or to enjoy the “worldly” benefits of the fast. With this in mind, I’d like to share some of the common wisdom accrued over a millennium and a half (give or take a century) of intermittent fasting on a yearly basis by Muslims. So you too can reap all the benefits associated with this month.

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The first ten days we are normally eager to challenge ourselves and set a pace that we hope to maintain throughout the month, but soon we inevitably run into fatigue and various hardships. Reminding ourselves that there is good to be had by working through these hardships is a welcomed way to surmount said challenges. The good to be had is the mercy aspect of the struggle.

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As we decide to pace ourselves around the middle of the month, and perhaps begin to feel that we’re falling short of our initial expectations, we are reminded that God is merciful and we should be kind to ourselves as we would be to others. So forgiveness comes into play, to be patient with ourselves, and not fall into the bottomless pit of self-condemnation and recrimination. This is when the physical cleansing really starts as well, as the body becomes adjusted to the new rhythm.

 

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Nearing the end of the month we try to push ourselves to the finish line, putting our whole selves into the last sprint. At this juncture it is hoped that our efforts will pay off in the long run, establishing habits (which we know from research take about a month to set in), that we carry out throughout the year. This is where we remember that good habits are established over a month of devoted practice, and this is the beginning of a new lease on life.

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Ultimately, this is our yearly reminder that it’s never too late to become a better version of ourselves, and that we are capable of much more than we give ourselves credit for. At the same time, it’s a reminder that we are not perfect, and that we need to listen to our kinder, gentler voices, and not be hypercritical of ourselves. As we work through our individual hardships, we also empathize with others more readily, and are more willing to share their burden, helping people in need, giving to charity and being kinder and more compassionate overall with all those around us. With this in mind, we are cleansed from the inside out in hopes to be able to start anew, with a revived commitment to healthy, long lasting habits. We then make a commitment to fasting every Monday and Thursday of the week as a smaller reminder to keep up the positive practices and good vibes experienced as a collective in the month of Ramadan.

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Ramadan is a challenge, in other words, to achieve balance in all aspects of our lives. I wish all of you out there doing this, or contemplating this, balance, wherein to obtain peace (Salam)!

Peace be upon you and happy renewal!

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