Human beings are created to be free and choose what to do with their own lives. However, sometimes the path toward growth is not through being free to have whatever we desire but to abstain from what we really wish while it is deviating or is a barrier against reaching the perfect version of ourselves. Here, the history of fasting finds its meaning. This is a ritual in which one, by his/her own free will, chooses to abstain from certain activities; this could range from not eating or drinking for a specific time, etc. Many faiths and religions, throughout history, encouraged their followers to fast in a certain way, each aiming at the spiritual elevation of their adherents. Islam is also among those religions which have made fasting an obligation upon its followers under certain circumstances, accepting the fact that this was not a tradition unique to Islam:
"O you who have faith! Prescribed for you is fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may be Godwary." Quran (2:183)
In what follows, we will have a look at the practice and history of fasting in the five most prominent non-Abrahamic faiths.
Looking at the history of fasting in primitive tribes and cults, we find some evidence regarding their belief in the spiritual impact of fasting and "was a practice to prepare persons, especially priests and priestesses, to approach the deities." Some Hellenistic cults believed fasting to be the prerequisite for reaching divine revelation for their priests. Some others thought that fasting "was one of the requirements for penance after an individual had confessed sins before a priest." 
Fasting was also common among Native Americans, practiced in private, or as a part of public ceremonies. The individual fasting often included the ones who had recently entered puberty, and they had to spend some time alone, from one to four days. During this time, they had to reach a particular spiritual maturity by observing certain rituals. Also, "It was not uncommon for an adult to fast, as a prayer for success when about to enter upon an important enterprise, as war or hunting" . Moreover, fasting was considered a requirement for religious heads to be able to fulfill their duties. The public fasting happened as a part of the initiation into religious societies, the length of which "ranged from midnight to sunset, or continued for four days and nights." The fast of these ancient tribes often included abstinence from food and water. The Native Americans saw fasting as "a means to spiritualize human nature and quicken the spiritual vision by abstinence from earthly food… as a method by which to remove "the smell" of the common world." 
Ancient Egyptians and Babylonians also practiced abstinence from food and drink as "a form of penance that accompanied other expressions of sorrow for wrongdoing. Like people of later times, these nations viewed fasting as meritorious in atoning for faults and sins and thus turning away the wrath of the gods." 
The Hindu faith also includes some form of fasting, which is ultimately aimed at spiritual awareness and growth by forming a balanced relationship between the body and the soul. Hindus believe that fasting can be a means of concentration on spiritual attainment through abstaining from worldly indulgences and distractions. Another purpose of fasting in Hinduism is self-discipline, which is made possible through "training of the mind and the body to endure and harden up against all hardships, to persevere under difficulties and not give up. According to Hindu philosophy, food means gratification of the senses, and to starve the senses is to elevate them to contemplation." 
Hindus have specified certain days for fastings, such as Purnima (full moon) and Ekadasi (the 11th day of the fortnight). Moreover, depending on the god or goddess each individual worships, certain days of the week are dedicated to fasting. They also fast on special feasts and festivals, including "Durga Puja," "Navaratri, Shivratri, and Karwa Chauth. Navaratri is a festival when people fast for nine days."  It is noteworthy that some kinds of fasting in Hinduism are only obligatory for women.
The practice of fasting in Buddhism is seemingly limited to monks and religious leaders. It is said that the Buddha had undergone long periods of fasting during the time he was learning from other teachers as a kind of self-mortification. While there is no record for Buddha's fasting after this time or his recommendation for fasting to his followers, many Buddhist monks tend to fast on certain occasions as a way of self-purification and spiritual elevation. They would eat only one meal a day and would fast on the days of the new and full moon.
As a part of Buddha's concept of moderation and avoiding excessive manners, intermittent or prolonged fastings are not encouraged in this faith. However, fasting for a reasonable amount of time and refraining from excessive eating is considered a useful way of preserving health in Buddhism.  In general, fasting in Buddhism is limited to refraining from eating solid food, such as meat.
Daoist's concept of fasting is more about mind rather than the body. Therefore, they encourage a form of "fasting of the heart" (xinzhai), which will result in a more pious life . However, they also believe that the fasting of the body will ultimately result in a clean body and a pure soul. In the book of Mencius, one of the famous Chinese scriptures, fasting is considered as a means of self-purification even for the one who has darkened his/her soul by vices:
"But although a person is ugly, it is possible, through fasting and purification, to become fit to perform sacrifices to the Lord-on-High" 
In this tradition, one must avoid doing any evil deed and keep away from harmful hobbies and desires. The followers of this tradition try to read more of their religious scriptures as they fast to connect more to that Higher being and find peace .
Zhang Yuchu wrote in the Ten Daoist Commandments: "Anyone cultivating Dao must fast for a clean body as well as a pure heart, and he must visualize the spirits and read Daoist scriptures silently in his mind. It is as if facing the Higher Emperor, communicating with him with the heart." 
It seems that most Zoroastrians implicitly reject the practice of bodily fasting, which in their view would weaken the body and prevents one from appropriately attending his/her spiritual duties and satisfying physical needs . The only form of fasting which they find permissible "is that of abstaining from sin" . There is also a reference to this prohibition in Avesta, the religious Zoroastrian text:
"It is requisite to abstain from the keeping of fasts. 2. For, in our religion, it is not proper that they should not eat every day or anything, because it would be a sin not to do so. 3. With us, the keeping of fast is this, that we keep fast from committing sin with our eyes and tongue and ears and hands and feet. 4. Some people are striving about it, so that they may not eat anything all day, and they practice abstinence from eating anything. 5. For us it is also necessary to make an effort, so that we may not think, or speak, or commit any sin; and it is necessary that no bad action should proceed from our hands, or tongue, or ears, or feet, which would be a sin owing to them. 6. Since I have spoken in this manner, and have brought forward the fasting of the seven members of the body, that which, in other religions, is fasting owing to not eating is, in our religion, fasting owing to not committing sin." 
However, there is a tradition of fasting in this religion at the time of mourning for a departed soul, which is only limited to not eating meat. As the Avesta suggest:
"In every habitation where anyone departs, passing away from the world, it is necessary to endeavor that they may not eat and not consecrate fresh meat for three days therein. 2. Because the danger is that someone else may depart, passing away; so the relations of that former person should not eat meat for three days." 
So far, we have reviewed the history of fasting in five well-known non-Abrahamic faiths, which reveals the spiritual roots of this practice from the beginning of the time. In the next article, we will study the ritual and history of fasting in three Abrahamic religions; that is Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
- native american fasting
- Das, Subhamoy. "Religious Fasting in Hinduism." Learn Religions, Feb. 11, 2020, learnreligions.com/why-fast-in-hinduism-1770050.
- Mencius, translated by Irene Bloom, Colombia University Press, New York. Book 4B, part 25.
- M. N. Dhalla, Zoroastrian Civilization from the Earliest Times to the Downfall of the Last Zoroastrian Empire 651 A.D., New York, 1922. P.187.
- Sad Dar, Translated by E. W. West, from Sacred Books of the East, volume 24, Clarendon Press, 1885. Chapters 78th and 83rd.
Have you ever taken part in a challenge of self-building for a certain amount of time? These challenges, be it individual or social, need a few elements to keep you move on and get over them. Thirty days of fasting in the holy month of Ramadan seems like both an individual and a social challenge.
In this text, we would like to discover the ways that keep us motivated to finish our challenge of fasting in Ramadan. How can we complete this challenge and take the most benefits out of it?
The challenge is to perform fasting for thirty (sometimes 29) days in the month of Ramadan. Fasting in Islam is to avoid eating and drinking and many other worldly desires and sins from the morning prayer (Salat al-Fajr) time until the dawn prayer (Salat al-Maqrib). It is noteworthy that committing some acts will make fast invalid. 
The main goal of fasting like any other type of worship is to purify the soul and improve human beings spiritually: “Felicitous is he who purifies himself.” (87: 14)
But any type of worship, apart from its ultimate goal, has other benefits and some minor goals in training the human soul. For example, one of the small goals of praying the obligatory prayers (Salat) during the day and at night is to teach Muslims to adhere to certain principles. It is mentioned in the Quran that one of the characteristics of true believers is that they are “those who are humble in their prayers” (23:2) and “are watchful of their prayers” (23:9). These two verses, mentioned in the same Surah, show that one level of being a believer is to reach a feeling of utter humbleness in front of Allah. However, at the same time, being watchful on prayers and trying to perform them on time while observing all of its rulings is another aspect that will lead to higher spiritual levels. The same example applies to any other type of worship, especially fasting in Ramadan.
I have personally tried many different challenges for forty days; for example, forty days of waking up before dawn, forty days of avoiding fast foods, forty days of doing half an hour exercise per day, etc. I’ve been able to make some of those challenges a habit. However, in all those challenges, I needed something or someone to keep me motivated and guide me with the issues that I was facing throughout the challenge.
Regarding the challenge of fasting in Ramadan, I think it is essential to find some ways to help us enjoy fasting, instead of solely experiencing hunger and thirst.
Different things can keep us motivated to have better spiritual experiences of fasting in Ramadan. Having a different routine in the month of Ramadan, avoiding some entertainment and starting some new useful habits such as reading the supplications and contemplating on them, specifying a certain amount of time on reciting the Quran with translation and interpretation, performing the recommended prayers (Nawafil), trying to help others in any possible ways, and any other act of goodness that we can accomplish.
While we try to perform good deeds during fasting, reciting the Quran has a powerful influence on all our acts. Allah (SWT) mentions in the Quran: “So recite as much of the Quran as is feasible. He knows that some of you will be sick, while others will travel in the land seeking Allah’s bounty, and yet others will fight in the way of Allah. So recite as much of it as is feasible, and maintain the prayer and pay the zakat and lend Allah a good loan.” (73:20)
Allah (SWT) tells us to recite the Quran as much as we can. Then He mentions that He is aware of different conditions that people may have; some of them may be sick, some maybe traveling and working outside their houses to gain Allah’s provision, some may be fighting in the way of Allah. But then He mentions again that in whatever situation you are, do not forget to recite the Quran. It does not need to be a lot of recitation. Just recite as much as you can, and it will help you by both its miraculous and extraordinary achievements.
To provide a better definition of the above phrases, it can be said that the miraculous effects of the Quran are those effects that everyone can gain them by reciting it, even if they are not contemplating on its verses. However, exceptional achievements are for those who recite the Quran thoughtfully and intend to understand the words of Allah (SWT) as much as possible.
In sum, when you start the challenge of fasting in Ramadan and hope to gain the best results out of it, you need someone to motivate you, to be your mentor, and to elevate your knowledge and wisdom while you are going through the hard days of your challenge. The Quran could be that mentor who speaks to you the words of Allah (SWT), gives you hope, sympathizes with you in your hard moments, and guides you through the way to reach your ultimate goal. “So recite as much of the Quran as is feasible.” (73: 20)
Backbiting is highly forbidden in Islam and is considered as a major sin. By speaking behind the back of others, people might deliberately spoil the dignity of each other, and in Islam, nothing is far more valuable than the honour of a human being. It is narrated from Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) that during the miraculous night journey (Mi’raj) [i] that he (PBUH & HP) had, he (PBUH & HP) passed a group of people in hell who were scratching their own faces with nail. He (PBUH & HP) asked who they were. It was said that, those were the ones who used to backbite and dishonour others . This punishment, besides others, was due to the fact that backbiting destroys the face of others and misrepresents them, hence, the backbiters scratched their faces which caused them to look more monstrous and nasty. Let’s see what Islam’s definition of backbiting, its conditions, types, consequences, etc is.
According to Prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP), backbiting is to mention and scold someone behind his back which is unpleasant and unkind to him/her . It can be about his/her physical appearance, body, origin, character, deeds, or possessions like clothes, home, children or spouse.
Notice that there is a delicate difference between backbiting and slander. According to Imam Sadiq (AS), backbiting is to reveal something about your Muslim brother which Allah Almighty has concealed. But, revealing which is apparent such as being irascible or hasty is not considered as backbiting. But, slander is to attribute something to someone which is basically wrong .
Not every act or saying about another person is backbiting. Backbiting is:
• If someone talks about the apparent and obvious characteristics of another person, it won’t be backbiting anymore, unless he\she intends to mock and deride that person. Hence, revealing the hidden defects of someone else is considered as backbiting whatever the intention is, but, talking about the obvious defects is considered as backbiting if one aims to reproach;
• When someone reveals the “defects” of someone else, but revealing the “strong points” of another person won’t be backbiting anymore;
• If the deficiency attributed to another person is unpleasant and blamed by everyone else;
• If one aims to dishonour another person by revealing his\her defects;
• And, if there is someone else who listens to or hears what is said about another person. It means that if one reviews someone’s defects by him\herself alone, it is not backbiting.
Backbiting is so denounced in Islam that it is said: “Whoever dies while he had repented from backbiting, he\she will be the last who enters Heaven. And, whoever dies while have kept on backbiting, he\she will be the first who enters the Hell !
In another narration, backbiting is compared to leprosy disease. It is said that backbiting ruins one’s faith much faster than leprosy disease ruins his\her body . In surat Hujurat it is said: “O you who have faith! ... do not spy on or backbite one another. Will any of you love to eat the flesh of his dead brother? You would hate it. And be wary of Allah ...” (49:12).
Backbiting is “mentioning” someone’s deficiency behind his\her back. Accordingly, the types of backbiting are:
• By words: it is the most common type of backbiting. It means one “speaks” about another person’s defect;
• By writing: if someone writes down the imperfection of someone else such that others can read it, too, the cartoons drawn to mock a personality or using someone’ pet phrase in order to make fun of him\her ;
• By act: if one reveals other person’s defect to someone else by showing or imitating it;
• By indirect words: like saying that “how lucky we are that we don’t have such a stingy partner!”;
• By gesture: like revealing one’s defect by a special movement of hand, head, eyes, etc.
Now that we found out how much backbiting is disapproved in Islam and what it is consists of, we need to find out its consequences, the way to prevent ourselves or others from backbiting, etc. Follow us on the second part of this topic to find the answers.
[i] The Mi’raj refers to the materialistic journey of the prophet Muhammad (PBUH & HP) from Mecca to Jerusalem, and from there, to the skies and back home again. That was during this journey that he (PBUH & HP) saw heaven and hell. For more details see: https://www.islamquest.net/en/archive/fa6152
- Mirza Hussain Nouri, “Mustadrak al-Wasa’il”, vol. 9, p. 119.
- M. Naraqi, “Mi’raj al-Sa’sah”, p. 447.
- Shaykh al-Kolayni, “al-Kafi”, vol. 2, No. 7.
- Mulla M. Faydh Kashani, “Al-Mahajjat al-Baydha' ”, vol. 5, p.252.
- Shaykh al-Kolayni, “al-Kafi”, vol. 2, No. 1.