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The fast to spiritual well-being

Building-BridgesPersons of the Islamic faith across the globe will on Thursday begin observation of a month characterized by fasting during the daylight hours, increased prayers, devotions and charity. The month is the ninth of the Islamic calendar (Muslims have a lunar calendar) known
as Ramadan.

Practitioners of the faith eagerly look forward to this time every year, as it is an important occasion on the Islamic calendar. The fast is a complete one, staying away from all food and drink during the daylight hours for those who are in good health and physically capable of completing such fasts.

Having been brought up in a Muslim household, I was introduced from an early age to this month of fasting and increased devotional activities. While not expected to fast at a young age, I would nevertheless try half a day or a few hours at a time to feel a part of the community’s collective action of fasting.

Breaking the fast at sunset was certainly an occasion to look forward to, and it is usually a joyful time in each Muslim household or mosque. I am sure many still eagerly look forward to the time of fast breaking each day.

The month is certainly an exercise in self-discipline and self-restraint. It is also a month in which one is expected to gain in piety, humility and God-consciousness. Such qualities are so important in today’s fast-paced world where our desires tend to get the best of us and where material gain is paramount for so many.

People of other faiths not accustomed to the rigours of such fasting would always ask how we do it. No food or drink, even a drip of water, from the break of dawn to sunset each day for a month?

I wonder about that as well, but recognize that while the majority of us who are fasting have a meal to look forward to at sunset, thousands of our fellow human beings face this hardship daily, with no pleasant sunset feasting to look forward to. This rigorous exercise of curbing our desire to eat should help reinforce and build our humanity to feel empathy for those in need, and those less fortunate than ourselves.

There have been many scientific and health benefits advanced for putting one’s body through the exercise of fasting. In fact, with the alarm bells being rung on the phenomenal rise in non-communicable diseases (NCDs), fasting may be seen as one method in combating such assaults on the body.

Lifestyle changes and the modern world of fast-food and non-healthy eating and living are certainly contributing to the increase in NCDs. Fasting can help, but fasting in and of itself is not sufficient. Fasting must be coupled with other lifestyle choices that impact positively on the human body physically, mentally and spiritually.

It is said that our physical health and spiritual well-being are intrinsically linked. Both may be improved by the addition of good habits into our lifestyle. In an article entitled the Seven Dimensions Of Wellness, the University of California, Riverside, promotes the following:

Wellness is much more than merely physical health, exercise or nutrition. It is the full integration of states of physical, mental, and spiritual well-being. The model used by our campus includes social, emotional, spiritual, environmental, occupational, intellectual and physical wellness. Each
of these seven dimensions act and interact in a way that contributes to our own quality of life.

Social wellness is the ability to relate to and connect with other people in our world. Our ability to establish and maintain positive relationships with family, friends and co-workers contributes to our social wellness.

Emotional wellness is the ability to understand ourselves and cope with the challenges life can bring. The ability to acknowledge and share feelings of anger, fear, sadness or stress; hope, love, joy and happiness in a productive manner contributes to our emotional wellness.

Spiritual wellness is the ability to establish peace and harmony in our lives. The ability to develop congruency between values and actions and to realize a common purpose that binds creation together contributes to our spiritual wellness.

Environmental wellness is the ability to recognize our own responsibility for the quality of the air, the water and the land that surrounds us. The ability to make a positive impact on the quality of our environment, be it our homes, our communities or our planet contributes to our environmental wellness.

Occupational wellness is the ability to get personal fulfilment from our jobs or our chosen career fields while still maintaining balance in our lives. Our desire to contribute in our careers to make a positive impact on the organizations we work in and to society as a whole leads to occupational wellness.

Intellectual wellness is the ability to open our minds to new ideas and experiences that can be applied to personal decisions, group interaction and community betterment. The desire to learn new concepts, improve skills and seek challenges in pursuit of lifelong learning contributes to our intellectual wellness.

Physical wellness is the ability to maintain a healthy quality of life that allows us to get through our daily activities without undue fatigue or physical stress. The ability to recognize that our behaviours have a significant impact on our wellness and adopting healthful habits (routine check-ups, a balanced diet, exercise, and so on) while avoiding destructive habits (tobacco, drugs, alcohol, and the like) will lead to optimal physical wellness.

Such approaches to being healthy and well can only be positive for ourselves and our society as a whole. Muslims generally will embark on this month hoping to achieve much spiritual wellness and, if that remains their goal, and they act accordingly, they will ultimately achieve the other dimensions of wellness probably without realizing it.  Sometimes faith practitioners and more so those outside faith affiliations regard such actions like fasting and prayers as mere rituals, but the fact is that such actions, done with the right intentions and
in the right manner, will affect positively one’s lifestyle.

The interconnection of our physical and spiritual being must be acknowledged. We damage one at the expense of the other. We must try to build and maintain both at the same time.

My faith’s promotion of a month of fasting and increased devotion has certainly helped me and, I am sure, millions others to bring about a disciplined lifestyle. It is a time for human beings to truly curb those desires of excesses, material comforts and useless pleasures.

It rejuvenates the body and mind, physically and spiritually, giving an impetus to go through the rest of the year invigorated. It further helps in cultivating good habits and leaving off negative behaviours, for it is not only fasting from food and drink, but all those negative traits we as human beings may fall prey to.

The universality of the fast adds the aspect of unity of purpose and action
to the exercise. All practitioners of the faith around the globe are observing the same form of fast at the same time –– a collective exercise in self-discipline and self-fulfilment, physical and spiritual.

Spiritual relationship is far more precious than physical. Physical relationship divorced from spiritual is body without soul. –– Mahatma Gandhi

(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace and secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association.  Email

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