SIYĀM: THE ISLĀMIC FAST
By Dr. Ebrahim Kazim
Trinidad, West Indies..
Fasting is a universal custom and is advocated by all religions of the world, with more restrictions in some than in others. The “Siyām’’ should not be interpreted as “fasting” lest it may be misunderstood as mere starvation or as an act of self-denial and ascetism, and therefore, a renunciation of the world. For the purpose of this article, let us call it the “Islamic Fast”.
Readers are kindly requested to refer to Q. 2:183-185, where the main fruit of fasting is to achieve Taqwā that essentially means self-restraint.
“O ye faithful! fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you so that you may guard against evil”. This is also translated by some as “…you may learn self-restraint”, or “…you may develop Taqwā٬ (God-consciousness)” (Q.2:183).
Thus, the Islamic fast is for those Muslims, who are preparing to become Mu᾿minīn (true and firm believers in faith). Faith carries much more weight than belief or doctrine. In this verse, Allah gives an open invitation to us as: “Oh ye faithful!” Although multiple benefits accrue, Muslims in general fast because it is Allah’s command and not merely for the physical benefits.
General considerations: Fasting is the most rigorous of all spiritual disciplines imposed on every adult Muslim man and woman. Fasting frees oneself from egoism, replacing it with an indescribable peace within, which makes the person accept differences in humans. The aim of this spiritual exercise is to enable man to achieve proximity to Allah and obtain His pleasure.
In Islam, fasting is obligatory in the lunar month of Ramaḍān, a lunar month of 29 or 30 days. During this period there is complete abstinence from food, drink, smoke, marital relationship, and any evil thought, word or deed. The advantage of the lunar month , compared to solar, is that fasting takes place by cyclic rotation under different climatic conditions, during the life span of the individual while residing in the same geographical location.
Fasting gives us an opportunity to fine tune the body, to develop qualities of endurance, and to control anger, sensual desires and a malicious tongue. The fasting person should avoid such actions as might arouse passion in him as well as in others, such as casting lustful eyes at a woman. He should also abstain from thinking carnal thoughts and fantasizing pleasures incompatible with the spiritual regimen.
It is a well-known fact that beasts can be brought under control by keeping them occasionally hungry and then feeding them at planned intervals. Similarly, man can tame the animal within himself and become its master by fasting for one whole month. One of the objectives is to bring unruly passions under control. The man who can rule his desires and makes them work as he likes, has attained true moral excellence.
Allah puts our faith to a severe test for one month, with strict non-indulgence in physical gratifications, during long hours of a day. If we emerge triumphant in this test, more strength develops in us to refrain from other sins. Our brain then also responds by sending recurrent and frequent signals to us to protect ourselves by rejecting evil immediately. In fact, this exercise trains us to receive warning signals at all times, whether Ramaḍān or not, so that we should not see evil, hear evil, utter evil or act evil. Besides abstention from food and drink, the fasting of the pious man is to curb unchaste desires, to fast from looking at the provocative, from hearing the mischievous, and from uttering the obscene. A fasting man is also required to avoid slander and from thinking about inflicting injury to others. He should never find himself in a situation which may expose whatever animal qualities in whatever form he possesses.
The effect of fasting on the human personality is dominant and decisive. It enables man to subdue the strongest worldly urges raging within him and brings a harmonious equilibrium between the temporal (the body) and the spiritual (the soul), both coming together for peaceful co-existence.
Fasting is an institution for the improvement of the moral and spiritual character of man. The purpose of the fast is to help develop self-restraint, self-purification, God–consciousness, compassion, spirit of caring and sharing, and the love of Allah and humanity. The objective of fasting is to develop our personality to a high standard of God-consciousness and maintain that standard throughout life, so that on the Day of Judgment before God, we would already be well-off to a good start, to begin our life in Hereafter.
However, for some Muslims, Ramaḍān is a burst of Islamic activity in a year-long ocean of un-Islamic behaviour. As soon as the fasting programme is over, some Muslims throw to the wind whatever good and hard-earned qualities they might have gained as a result of that exercise, and sooner or later return to their vicious habits and practices of their pre-Ramaḍān days, be they of thoughts, words or deeds. We ought to remind ourselves that we must not allow the weeds in our garden to stifle the flowers and the fruits. Islam is neither a Sunday religion nor a Ramaḍān only religion. Ramaḍān is not meant to be a 30-day fast ending on ‘Id with a feast to beat all feasts. Some of the greatest achievements in Islam were made during Ramaḍān, e.g. the Battle of Badr. If the newly converted Muslims had gorged themselves after Ifṭār parties at nights and had slept in the day, they could not have become victorious at the Battle of Badr, and we, even now, might still have been pagans.
From a moral point of view, during fasting, one becomes more sympathetic and tolerant towards those in needy circumstances. It brings about a better realisation of human understanding. In this world of today, with a population explosion, where two-thirds of the world goes to sleep on an empty stomach, the quicker this realisation takes place, the sooner the problems would be appreciated and solved. It is only during such time as Ramaḍān that one can reflect and make an inventory of the importance of the basic moral values affecting oneself and the community.
Requirements: “Ṣaum” or “Ṣiyām” is a special kind of service to Allah (“‘Ibādah”) by able-bodied and sane persons, who observe a particular kind of abstinence (from food, drink, and marital relationship etc.) for a specific compulsory period (from dawn to sunset), in the ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar, called Ramaḍān. The following categories of persons need not fast: (a) the very young, the elderly, the infirm, the insane; (b) menstruating women, pregnant and nursing mothers. They must make up for the lost non-fasted days later on in the following month or as soon as they are able to keep up the fast; (c) travellers also can postpone the fast, if they wish to; (d) persons suffering from some diseases that cause episodic hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar) such as insulinomas (insulin-secreting growth of the pancreas) or certain in-born errors of metabolism e.g. glucose-6-phoshate deficiency or fructose–1,6–diphosphate deficiency and others.
Muslims are asked to stay away from food, water, sex, smoking and verbal or physical misconduct during the period of fast. They are advised to engage in acts of piety such as prayer, charity, or reading the Qur᾿an during this month.
The arkān (pillars) of the fast, besides the ṣā’im (the one who fasts) are the niyyah (intention), and abstention from the muftirāt (things that vitiate the fast). One can formulate the niyyah before dawn on each day of fasting. However, the Shāfe‘īs can follow the Mālikī Madhhab by making the niyyah for the whole month in advance, in the night before the first of Ramaḍān. The mufṭirāt are: (a) taking into the body something consciously, which is preventable, e.g. swallowing food, drinking beverages, chewing gum and inhaling cigarettes; (b) sexual intercourse; (c) deliberate seminal emission; (nocturnal emissions during sleep are not mufṭir); (d) menstruation and post-partum bleeding (child-birth); (e) insanity; (f) intoxication; (g) deliberate vomiting.
We should remember that Allah says that fasting has been prescribed for you. It is a divine prescription from Allah Who is the Greatest Physician. It is different from a medical doctor’s prescription and hence this prescription should be duly respected and carried out in full. It is also a pre-scription i.e. it was also prescribed for religious communities before the advent of Islam. If a person fasts for temporal motives only e.g. slimming according to a doctor’s prescription, he will be far from performing his religious duty or achieving nearness to Allah or obtaining His pleasure. In order to subjugate the body with the sole purpose of developing will power and a dominant personality, it is essential to bring certain forces within the body under control and thus develop will power. Besides hunger, thirst and carnal desires, we must gain full control of the tongue, mind and the rest of the body. Hence, Muslims call Ramaḍān a blessed month of compassion and mercy, a month of self-purification and re-dedication, a month of commiseration with the poor and the hungry, who are in the majority among mankind. It is a unique month of self-analysis, of taking stock of one’s moral and spiritual assets and liabilities and of examining critically one’s spiritual portrait.
Why is it that we fast in the daytime and not, for our own convenience, at nights? This is because the human personality only develops when a person is exposed to maximum social conditions. Hence, Islam puts great stress on family and community life. Islam does not advocate running away from society or becoming a monk or leaving the family to retire in a desert, with all the solitude and the solitary confinement. Personality only develops during encounters with others in a society or community. To alienate from society is not Da‘wah (invitation to Islam). Religion does not become perfect without the world. We must work for the community and also with the community for the common welfare and the good of the Ummah. Islam regards the interest of the society above the interest of the individual. Service to Allah is rendered through a clean life in the turmoil of this world in the multitudes of society.
Perhaps it would be interesting to consider why fasting was not made compulsory every single day of one’s life. Allah gives us a month of compulsory fast and then gives us eleven lunar months to asses the result of this month-long effort. This 11-month grace period is the reason as to why we should not fast every single day of our lives. If we had done so, we would have remained under continuous compulsory restrictions of the Islamic fast throughout the year, and without the complete and unrestricted freedom to do as we like. Our will power would not have been given a chance to develop a strong personality. Personality grows much more when we are free to do any wrong we would like, but choose not to do it under unrestricted conditions, such as during the eleven months following the Ramaḍān fast. Both during Ramaḍān and after, Allah gives us the opportunity to examine our spiritual profile and see where the defect lies. Has some jealousy, hatred, malice, miserliness, tendency to give short measure, cheating and intrigue and unforgiving thoughts and actions been removed in our acquired attributes?
Fasting is an institution by which an individual and by extension a community, may benefit physically and morally. The Islamic fast strengthens the disposition of the individual to obedience of laws and respect for social order. Islam lays stress on submission to Allah and consequently, lays stress on submission to just authority, beginning with example in the home.
What are the three components of personality that we put to the acid test in the month-long exercise of fasting? They are (a) our physical cravings, (b) sensory desires, and (c) material longings. If we are successful in overcoming these, we shall pass the first part of our examination, emerging a far better Muslim within ourselves, fully laden with Taqwā (God-consciousness). We see a much better individual unfolding itself from within us, a person that was lying dormant for long. Now the same person in the month of Ramaḍān, has become the captain, the master of the control room of the self, controlling and at times eliminating certain types of worldly desires. It is easy now for such a person to be “on guard” and reject evil temptations as fast as they come, even challenging and encountering more temptations without any fear of giving in to them.
The purpose of the Islamic Fast is to obey Allah’s Command with a view to becoming His vicegerent (Khalīfah). It trains all those who volunteer for service to Allah before allowing them to take on the job of His vicegerency and establish Allah’s rule on Earth.
There is no guarantee that the fasting person has definitely acquired the laudable achievement of Taqwā or God-consciousness. Some of us, who fast, often wait anxiously for Ramaḍān to end so that we could resume our nefarious activities. Sometimes, during the fasting month Satan becomes more active than usual. Allah may use such situations to test a fasting person’s Taqwā if and when he makes his evil passion his god.
The English translation of Q.2:183 is usually expressed as “…you may develop taqwā”. Note the word “may”. There is no guaranty that a fasting person would definitely develop God-consciousness and piety or enough will power that he could guard against evil. In fact, the fasting person cannot develop Taqwā if he continues to backbite, slander, tell lies, harm others, deceive people and show malice, anger and hatred towards fellow beings. It is easy for any belittler, slanderer, tyrant or businessman who gives short measure or a miser who does not disburse Zakāt money, to starve himself during Ramadan days. But, how can such a person develop God-consciousness and divine qualities? Such a person, besides committing sins of commission and omission, may simply be wasting his time by fasting. Shall we spend a month every year, in which we starve and become thirsty, fast and eat, while our condition does not change – our rich remain rich and our poor remain as poor? Prophet Muhammadﺹ had warned that poverty may lead to unbelief. This is why a person who steals food while facing starvation is not to be punished according to the Sharī ‘ah.
What about other factors? “Ṣaum” also refers to fasting of the tongue as in Q.19:26. The saying: “Hādha kalām yubattiluṣ Ṣaum” means this is speech which breaks or vitiates the fast. During the Islamic fast (and indeed at all times), the person must refrain from indecent talk, slander, lies and backbiting. Prophet Muhammadﺹ is reported to have said: “If one did not give up speaking falsehood and acting by it, Allah does not require of him to give up eating or drinking”. Also in another Hadīth: “Many are the people who fast but who gain nothing from their fast except hunger and thirst; many are those who stand up praying all night but gain nothing except sleeplessness”.
A major difference between the Islamic Fast and mere starvation is that the Ramaḍān fast is an exercise in self-discipline involving food intake, use of tongue, hands, eyes, ears, thoughts, and sex, etc. Many of the undesirable habits and traits of the previous months are automatically corrected during this month. Some of us, God forbid, may have been habituated to a particular type of wrong-doing e.g. gambling, smoking, drinking, backbiting, fornication, fraud, hot temper, domestic violence, etc. Fasting breaks that habit either gradually for some or immediately for those of us with a stronger will power, especially if supported by constant supplications in seeking Allah’s assistance. To do so, it needs faith and determination. The usual antidote is to put an entirely opposite thought in the mind contained in a Qur᾿anic verse, for immediate implementation, which would block and displace the evil trend.
During the Islamic Fast, every organ in the body that has been given to us as Trust by Allah is put to a critical test. We must not see, hear, utter or act evil. This is a training session for us to develop Taqwā (God-consciousness) and piety, as well as to show gratitude for the great favour of the Revelation of the Qur’an during the month of Ramaḍān in Lailatul Qadr (Q.2:183-185). These organs include:
(a) The tongue: The tongue is too noble an organ for it to be abused. It must be kept clean and should not be used for backbiting, slander, ridicule, obscene language and telling lies. In fact, all these violate the sanctity of fasting and cancel it. Allah has placed the tongue in a special compartment behind bars (our teeth) and properly sealed it (with our lips), and has left it for us to constantly watch and guard it. The same tongue that is used to spread evil could also be used to spread righteousness instead. This latter is classified as charity and has an added advantage. We lose nothing and gain much. With this same tongue, we can cause mischief and bloodshed, and yet it could also be used to make peace between persons and families and transform the lives of hundreds of homes into happy ones. Injury caused by the tongue may be worse than that caused by a knife since the latter heals in a week or so but that of the tongue may often never heal at all. Allah is the Unseen Guest in every company and is the Silent Listener in every conversation. It is just as important to know when to speak and why not to. Well-timed silence could be the most commanding expression and a suitable reply to many.
Ṣadqatul-Fiṭr is a charity amounting to feeding one person per member of the family at the end of the month of Ramaḍān and is meant to safeguard against vain speech and other abuses of the tongue done unintentionally during the fasting period. It is compulsory on every Muslim, rich or poor. Although Muslims try their best to be pious at all times, mistakes can occur unknowingly and unintentionally, and this charity of Ṣadqatul-Fiṭr expiates one’s mistakes of the tongue during Ramadān.
(b) The hand: With one hand, we can take away people’s money and yet with this same hand we can give also. To give is a divine quality; to take is human. With this same hand, we can knock down a person weaker than ourselves. But strength lies not in knocking down a weaker person but lies in lifting someone who is already fallen on the ground. Here the poet explains:
Agar ché ghaalébee az doshman é za eef bé tars; ké teeré aahé sahar bar neshaanah mee aayad: Even if you have overpowered, be fearful of the weak enemy since the arrow of the grieving sighs at dawn aim straight at the target.
(c) The legs: Surely these legs can carry us to the discos, pubs and nightclubs. But these same legs can also carry us to the mosque or to an orphanage or to a hospital to visit the sick.
(d) Others: Similarly, the other perceptual organs of the body given to us by Allah as trust should not be abused. The eyes must not look at anything evil; the ears must not listen to gossip and vulgar jokes. The mind that controls the body should be tuned to a different frequency of clean thoughts and intentions; the sexual organs should only be used for the legal partner and that, too, after the fast is broken.
Fasting has been prescribed by Allah as a form of worship, also as a training period to develop Taqwā, as well as to show gratitude for the great favour of the Revelation of the Holy Qur᾿an during Ramadān in Lailatul Qadr. The best way to show gratitude for a favour is to fulfil His Commandments (Q.2:183-185).
Spiritual strength cannot be gathered from fasting unless the fasting person is fully conscious of its purpose, and he himself motivates his thoughts, words and deeds. Taqwā is indeed the most valuable fruit of fasting. Fasting is a duty and an ‘Ibādah (worship) which is free from hypocrisy and show. Fasting, unlike prayers, Zakāt and Ḥajj, is strictly private since no one can know about it unless the fasting person mentions it. During fasting, one subdues the animal within oneself and masters one’s instincts and desires to the point of determining as to when and how they may be satisfied. This in turn depends on the will-power one has developed. Whenever there is conflict between reason and passion and reason dominates, then we are free to choose and implement our actions according to the moral and spiritual laws. This freedom is universally possessed by all human beings, the freedom to will as one wishes. Free will is the authority man has to direct his mind in any direction he chooses. It is important to choose the direction carefully, since this would indicate success or failure of will. The development of will power and the personality is an arduous task and is an outcome of this conflict. However, if we abide by and follow the spiritual laws, will power develops slowly but surely. Fasting strengthens the will and hence the will power, a welcome and plausible addition to our spiritual curriculum vitae.
To love, honour and obey Allah is to conscript oneself voluntarily into His service. Just as the government trains men for the army, police force and civil service before employing them to do their job, so does Islam. It first trains all those who volunteer for service to Allah before allowing them to take on the job of His vicegerency for establishing Allah’s rule on Earth. Just as an annual military exercise is compulsory in national military services of many countries, conducted by their respective governments, similarly the month of Ramaḍān is a compulsory annual spiritual exercise for full one month once a year, conducted by Allah Himself. Ramaḍān is the month of Allah. The mere fact that fasting has been made compulsory in Islam, goes to show that it must be having multiple and colossal benefits to the body and to the soul, both in this life and in the Hereafter. Allah says in Q.2:184:- “It is better for you to fast, if you only knew”.
A Muslim is continuously kept tied with rules and regulations like a soldier in an army, for full one month and then released for eleven months, to test whether the training he has received for one month has been effective, and if not, any deficiency found could be corrected and made up in the next year’s Ramaḍān programme. One or two days of fasting are not enough to achieve the noble goal of attachment to Allah. In Q.2:185, Allah advises us to fast the whole month and “complete the prescribed period”. Thus we have in our possession this divine prescription. Far from weakening a person, the Islamic fast enables him to draw more strength from the Unseen Power, so close to him. The Ramaḍān atmosphere enhances this driving force by which every individual races to reach his full potential. After having completed the period of fasting, we are advised to glorify Allah for having guided us and be thankful to Him (Q.2:185). Allah wants us to make the right choice and behave well when left alone and unattended. We must always be on the look-out for Satan because, although we are told he is chained during Ramaḍān, he could be very active.
In Islam we must not say “I”, we must say “We”, because of emphasis on community life. Even when we pray, we say: “Ihdinas Sirātal Mustaqīm”, i.e. guide us to the straight Path, not me alone. The ultimate result of our fasting together each day is the emergence of a well-organised, well-disciplined pious Muslim community, the Ummah, where each person is more spiritually evolved, and better equipped with fortitude to act and live according to the divine moral codes laid down in the Holy Qur᾿an. To come nearer to Allah is possible only by firm faith and conviction and by actually doing good deeds (Q. 34:37). The more a man develops within himself the divine attributes, the nearer he comes to Allah and to His magnificent qualities.
The month of Ramaḍan: Ramaḍān is derived from Ramḍ which means ‘to burn away’. In this month, all sins are burnt away and annulled. In fact, this is the month in which Allah grants amnesty to all believers, to all fasting Muslim men and Muslim women (Q.33:35). But for us to be eligible for that mercy and forgiveness, we must also look upon our fellow human beings and show them forgiveness and compassion. Prophet Muḥammadﺹ had said: “Allah will not be merciful to those who are not merciful to mankind”.
Just like the “great sale” of the departmental stores which are advertised during certain times of the year, Allah also advertises during the month of Ramaḍān, the “Greatest Sale” of the year, when He gives away lots of blessings, mercy and forgiveness besides free hand-outs of gifts, perks, bonuses, gift coupons, lagniappe (i.e. An extra or unexpected gift or benefit) and extra points in exchange for any act of goodness, however small. The VAT (Value Added Tax) that we see registered on the counter while shopping in Allah’s Plaza would appear as Virtue Added Tag on the divine screen in the Hereafter. Allah’s stocks are so huge that He is never out of stock. Prophet Muḥammadﺹ is reported to have said that the first 10 days in Ramaḍān is when Allah showers His mercy, the middle ten days is forgiveness and the last ten days are reserved for saving the fasted persons from Hell-fire.
The holy month of Ramaḍān suffuses the whole environment with a spirit of righteousness, virtue and piety. Just as plants have their season of flowering, Ramaḍ̣ān is the time of the year for the growth and flourishing of goodness and righteousness. In the season of blossoming of goodness and piety, not one but millions of people jointly water the garden of virtue. The month of Ramaḍān is earmarked as a time for all Muslims to fast together and ensure similar results. This measure turns individual ‘Ibadah (worship) into collective ‘Ibadah by the Muslim Ummah. Collective aspects of fasting manifest themselves in the fact that it takes place in the same lunar month for the faithful all over the world.
The Prophetﺹ used to become unusually kind and generous during Ramadān. No beggar in this month left empty-handed from his door and as many slaves as possible were set free. Prophet Muḥammadﺹ defined the good and felicitous man as one whose career adds to the total value of the universe and who leaves the world a better place than in which he was born.
The holy month of Ramaḍān inculcates a spirit of fortitude and gratitude. The seeds of virtue and personality enhancement that have remained so dormant in the summers, autumns and winters of our lives germinate and blossom in this holy month of Ramaḍān, the spring-time of the Mu᾿minīn. The atmosphere of Ramaḍān is such that positive thoughts wishing the welfare of one and all, including those who have wronged us, are automatically invoked round the clock.
The Islamic Fast is unique and different from other types of fasting observed in religions such as Christianity, Hinduism and Judaism. It is compulsory, for a specific period of time from dawn to sunset, and in a specific lunar month called Ramaḍān. It involves a voluntary renunciation of all appetites of the flesh for defined hours during that month, with a cheerful and willing acceptance of this beneficial Divine Mandate. A stable monotonous environment of eating three times daily tends to produce stereotyped reaction patterns. Fasting gives a variable environment with rigid strategies and sufficient degrees of freedom to cope with the changing conditions. It is a complimentary device for the regenerative processes of the body.
Prophet Muḥammadﺹ said ‘Every good deed of a man is granted manifold increase, ten to 700 times, but Allah says: ‘Fasting is an exception. It is exclusively for Me, and I will reward it as much as I wish’. And Allah always repays the account to the full (Q. 35:30; 2:272 and others).
During this month each year, we celebrate the most important anniversary to mankind, viz. the Revelation of the Holy Qur᾿an in Lailatul Qadr, the night of Power and Glory, which is equal to 1000 months or more than 83 years. If Prophet Muḥammadﺹ had laboured for over 83 years without having received the revelations of the Holy Qur᾿an, he could not have achieved the desired result. Allah’s blessings are showered down in this night through the angels. What should we ask Allah on this night of Lailatul Qadr? This was the question asked by Bibi ‘Āyesha, R.A., and Prophet Muḥammad ﺹreplied: “Say, ‘Oh Allah, You are the Most Forgiving and the most Merciful. You love to forgive. So forgive my errors and sins’ ”.
Lessons learnt: Fiṭr: (fatara) means “to break the fast”, which is deliberate and at a specific time. The fasting person rejoices and celebrates every sunset in Ramaḍān, for the sunset signifies the achievement of his victory over himself during the day. Every evening, we wipe our spiritual wind-shield, so that we can see better where we are heading, and avoid possible mistakes of omission and commission. During the month of Ramaḍ̣ān, we become special guests of Allah, since at every Ifṭār we thank our Host by saying .
Allāhumma laka ṣumtu wa ‘alā rizqika aftartu: O Allah for Thy sake I have fasted and for thy sake I am breaking the fast.
Everything must be avoided which might affect the purpose of the fast, e.g. at Ifṭār, one should not eat more than what is necessary. Prophet Muḥammadﺹ used to have a light Ifṭār and a light saḥūr. In the Prophet’s times, there were no lavish Ifṭār parties throughout the night, as is prevalent in many Muslim countries today. If each of us eats only one morsel of food less per meal, and if we ensure that the morsel is given to the needy, there would not be left a single hungry mouth on the face of this Earth. We are nearly 2 billion Muslims i.e. 2,000 million Muslims, and this makes nearly 2 billion morsels of food available each time for distribution. Prophet Muḥammadﺹ said: “The food of one person is sufficient for two”. This is much more than one morsel of food. It is half of a plate! In fact, if we really share and give half of the plate, the whole world would be adequately fed.
During Ramaḍān, we have to get up for Saḥūr early before dawn, stop eating and drinking before the break of dawn, abstain from such and such actions during the day and deliberately take Ifṭār (break the fast) in the evening at the exact time of sunset. This is precise timing. The month of Ramaḍān teaches us to be precise in our timing with the clock and punctuality at all times. The accurate timing for initiating the fast at Saḥūr and breaking it at Ifṭār with the right countdown to the last minute, teaches us the demarcation line between right and wrong, between Ḥalāl and Ḥarām.
The act of self-denial in Ramaḍān strengthens the will and hence the will power. This extra will power helps to overcome obsessions, addictions and bad habits. Fasting also reduces the person’s ability to commit crimes and since Muslim criminals also fast during Ramaḍān, the crime rate in Muslim countries falls drastically. If the fasting person has developed sufficient self-restraint (Taqwā), then he would not respond or retaliate whenever another person quarrels or curses him. He would restrain himself by saying “I am fasting”. Allah’s Apostle said, “Fasting is a shield ……… if somebody fights with him or abuses him, he should tell him twice, ‘I am fasting’.” (Ḥadith: Bukhāri).
Fasting and patience: Ramaḍān is also called the month of patience, because fasting teaches us this difficult lesson on a daily basis for one full month annually. “Nobody can be given a blessing greater than patience” (Ḥadīth: Al-Bukhāri).Because man was created hasty (Q.21:37), he is ever hasty (Q.17:11), and having been created very impatient, he gets fretful when evil touches him (Q.70:19-20). Hence, Allah advises us to constantly persevere in patience so as to be eligible for His blessings and rewards. In Q.2:177, Allah recommends that we should be patient in suffering and adversity and throughout the periods of panic. Here is a consoling Persian poem by Shaikh Sa‘di:
Khodaa gar zé hekmat bé bandad daree; zé rahmat goshaayad dar é deegaree: If God were to close a door in His wisdom, He would open another door in His mercy.
Various ailments which we are afflicted with are not a calamity but a mercy from Allah. Man develops immunity by suffering many infectious diseases. When we undergo hardships and misfortunes, the Nafs (person) gets purified. Illness for a believer acts as a detergent of the human Nafs and purifies it from the burden of sins so it can eventually qualify to reflect in whatever little way the beautiful Attributes of Allah called Asmā al-Ḥusnā.
It is more often during times of adversity than of prosperity that we resort to virtue. A Chinese proverb says that adversity elicits talents which otherwise would have remained dormant. The lessons of adversity are put there for us by One who knows how and when we should be tried, so that we make use of the brain to open up our problem-solving capacity and improve ourselves. It is not for us to tell Allah how to run His world. These difficulties are meant, for us to become better, not bitter. Moreover, Allah showers His mercy on us after adversities have touched us (Q.10:21). Stumbling blocks can become stepping stones if we learn to use them, depending on Allah’s guidance. It is after having endured frustrations and sufferings that blessings appear, once we have observed patience. The grey hair of an old person should be respected, since it represents all the difficulties he has patiently passed through and many a pair of shoes worn out during rough and tortuous periods in his Earthly journey.
The quality of patience is highly recommended for the believers and the faithful. We should seek help with patient perseverance and prayer for Allah is with those who patiently persevere (Q.2:153). The key to success lies in vying in perseverance of patience and constancy, strengthening each other and being God-conscious (Q.3:200). It is through perseverance that what seemed as certain failure gets transformed into evident success. Sometimes, a man can accomplish singly what a whole community cannot, once he has patience and he perseveres.
Patience gradually creates confidence which eventually leads to success. The reason that patience is the key to success is that, during the period when man bears the heavy load of patience and tolerance in any difficult situation, he does not give in to hasty decisions in response to emotional impulses. Instead, he takes his time and formulates a rational move to solve the problem peacefully. Hence, he does what others would not and therefore he achieves what others could not. That is how he realises his own indefatigable potential. When faced with difficult situations, instead of grumbling and saying “why”, he says “why not” by relying on Allah’s assistance. We are instructed to face adverse circumstances and calamities with patience and fortitude. When we are afflicted with frustrating times, we must remind ourselves that whatever Allah does is good, either in itself or in its consequences, a thought that initiates patience. Allah loves those of us who are patient (Q.3:146). In fact, those of us who were constantly patient, have been promised by Allah that angels will salute them from every gate to convey greetings of salāms in the Hereafter, with a reward of the highest place in the heaven (Q.13:22-24; 25:75).
Although sometimes we fight in order to maintain peace between nations, it should not necessarily be so if we observe patience. It is easy to make an acquaintance but with patience, we can make life-long friends. Patience teaches us to love and forgive our enemies. In many verses in the Holy Qur᾿an we are instructed to show patience and exercise restraint in response to provocations, to bear hardships with patience and also to recommend others to have patience(Q.103:3). Patience subdues anger and maintains peace in the community. Even during states of anger and minor quarrels, simply saying “a ‘ūdhu billāhi minash shayṭān ir rajīm” would defuse the existing tensions (Ḥadīth: Bukhari and Muslim).
On occasions of calamities and bereavement, just uttering “Inna lillāhi wa inna ilyhi rāji‘ūn” would instil a great deal of patience and solace to the bereaved and remind the listener that Allah Who gave us life in the first instance is also the One to take it. Offering condolences to someone means sharing in his grief and encouraging him to be patient. Of course, just as when a person comes out of darkness into light, it takes some time for the eyes to adjust, so is the delay in getting the fruits of patience. And if you have patience, then “You shall certainly know the truth of it all after a while” (Q.38:88).
It does need a lot of mettle to have patience but during this exercise we learn humility, tolerance, contentment and gain eventual success when these same pains and sufferings appear later on in the form of blessings. Remembrance of Allah is directly proportional to the degree of pain we suffer. During such periods of patience, we can take time, sit quietly and listen to promptings of our inner selves. Although we may at times encounter a rough passage and stormy weather in our life, we would have peace and tranquillity, amid the storm followed by a safe landing. The Persian proverb says:
. Sabr talkhast lykin baré sheerin daarad. Patience is bitter but its fruit is sweet. We were born because of the patience and much suffering of labour pains by the mother, sometimes bringing mother and child both, nearer to death.
The tears that flow from us in times of affliction wash our eyes so that we can see Allah’s divine guidance much clearer. The reason we face problems from time to time is that Allah wants our attention to be turned to Him. In fact, theraison d’être of our adversities is that our Great Teacher, who is All-Wise, loves us and knows the time when we are due to learn our lessons in patience. Sometimes, due to the refraction of light through our tears, we can see a rainbow in the dark clouds of adversity. That is the reason why mankind needs difficult and stressful situations from time to time so that we should remember Allah, follow His commandments more carefully and be thankful for the experience. Haḍrat‘Ali, R.A. said: “The One Who sends you calamities is the One Who will bring you out of it”. A believer should always be smiling in times of adversity. For this he needs patience.
Allah brings people into deep waters to cleanse them, not to drown them. Moreover, patience teaches us humility, the only attribute not mentioned among Allah’s 99 attributes, but which man possesses. Hence Allah exalts those of us who profess humility. Wa man Tawāḍ̣a‘a lillāhi rafa‘ahullāhu, (Ḥadīth: Imām Aḥmad) meaning “Allah exalts him who is humble to Allah”.
Calculations: As mentioned before, 2½% of our time (approximately 36 minutes for the 5-time daily compulsory ritual prayers) is reserved for Allah. Moreover, 2½ % of our net cash savings is also reserved to be compulsorily disbursed in Allah’s cause. Now in the month of Ramaḍān, Allah tests us further by combining both (2½ % + 2½ %) i.e. 5% of our time annually, for the compulsory Islamic fast so that we could see for ourselves whether we are capable of becoming His vicegerents or not. This is an exercise to be rewarded by Allah Himself. (The geographical position of the country is a determinant of the length of the fast. Depending upon this factor, the length of the fast may vary from 12 to 19 hours a day. By taking the average of 14.16 hours a day for 30 days, the total time amounts to 5% of 354 days of the lunar year. Such a multi-disciplinary approach prepares mankind for Allah’s vicegerency). Four hundred and twenty five hours of intensive study in any subject of one’s choice in any university, qualifies a student for a diploma in that particular subject, provided certain standards are met. Similarly, 425 hours of intense devotion in Ramaḍān is certainly expected to uplift the practising Muslim to a stage of higher spiritual achievement, and get a certificate of merit from Allah. Allah does not deny the reward of his/her good deeds, and therefore this is a month of harvesting the fruits of our actions. Ramaḍān is also known as the month of Allah since He Himself rewards it.
Exam results: If we have passed this Ramadān examination, only then we are entitled to celebrate the Achievement Day called ‘Id-ul-Fiṭr, also called ‘Iduṣ Ṣaghīr or the Minor ‘Id. This patiently-awaited, well-deserved and rightly-earned day is best celebrated by those of us who have fasted for the full month. After this, Allah gives us two months and ten days, to prepare ourselves for the ‘Id of Sacrifice (‘Id ul Aḍ ḥa), also called the Major ‘Id or ‘Id ul Kabīr. This is part two of the examination of post-graduate studies for higher spiritual achievement, and begins on the first day of Shawwāl, i.e. on ‘Id ul Fiṭr day itself. This would determine how much we have learnt to sacrifice our time, money, leisure, skills, our talents and bounties, and are prepared to share them with our fellow–men. This will now prepare us to take on the final role of vicegerents of Allah, one of the purposes for which man was created. The celebration of ‘Id ul Aḍ ḥa after two months and ten days of effort marks the ending of the second part of this post-graduate course.
Muslims celebrate at least three anniversaries every year viz. (a) Birthday of Prophet Muḥammedﺹ (b) Anniversary of the Holy Qur᾿an on Lailatul Qadr, culminating in ‘Id ul Fiṭr, (c) Anniversary of the last sermon of the Holy Prophet on Mount ‘Arafāt, culminating in ‘Id ul Aḍ ḥa. And finally with the customary embrace, it brings about peace and harmony among the family members and the society.
The Minor ‘Īd following the completion of the fast, entitles us to climb one step up the ladder on Ṣirāṭ al Mustaqīm. If we as Muslims, adhering faithfully to the five pillars of Islam, had fasted in the month of Ramaḍan, then for us the first part of this examination is over, and we are now entitled to celebrate the ‘Īd-ul-Fiṭr, also called ‘Īd -us Saghīr or the Minor ‘Īd. Later, after this celebration, in order to climb one more step on the ladder, we are now expected to learn to sacrifice much more of our time, money, leisure, pleasure, skill, talents and other God-given gifts and bounties, and be prepared to share them with our fellow-men. Allah now gives us 2 months and 10 days to prepare for the ‘Id-ul-Aḍ ḥa or the ‘Id of sacrifice, also called ‘Īd-ul-Kabīr, the Major ‘Īd. As Mu᾿mins adhering to the seven branches of Īmān (i.e. seven principles of faith), we must accomplish good deeds. This in turn will now prepare us for the second examination of higher spiritual achievement. If successful in it, we will then be able to climb one more rung on the ladder up Ṣ̣irāṭal Mustaqīm, and entitled to celebrate ‘Īd-ul-Aḍ ḥa as Mu᾿minīn and Mu᾿mināt.
Before we could join the second level, let us ask ourselves: Was our fast accepted by Allah? Or was it mere starvation? A hunger strike is not an Islamic Fast, just as suicide is not sacrifice. Did we utter any word which could have broken our fast? Words like “that person is not trustworthy” amounts to back-biting and. Hādhā kalām yubaṭṭilul ṣaum: means: “this is speech which cancels the fast”. Did all such words like “Hell”, “Damned”, “Shut up” and many others disappear from our vocabulary in that month or not? And did such words return after Ramaḍān was over? Did we indulge in any wrongful deed such as adulteration of goods, fraud, short measure, profiteering, selling defective items, etc.? Did we continue to abuse our tongue by back-biting, slander, telling lies etc.?
During the eleven months when we were free to do whatever we wanted, did we discard whatever good qualities and the Taqwā we had achieved during Ramaḍān or did we hold on to them and improve on them as months passed by? Did we continue to abuse our tongue by back-biting, slander, telling lies, etc.? Did we continue to deceive people, use intrigue or show malice? Did we forgive all those who wronged us, knowing that Allah also grants general amnesty in the holy month of Ramaḍān? Did we take full advantage of this fasting month wherein we strengthen our physical, biological and spiritual stamina? Did we put on weight instead of losing some, in spite of knowing that decreasing meal frequency and caloric intake prolongs life? Did we really achieve constancy and permanency in our Taqwā so that we would be in the company of the prophets in the Hereafter? Can we name one bad habit that we have discarded because of this exercise? Did we say au revoir and al-widā‘ to bid farewell to Ramaḍān, on a full stomach and bulging pocket, leaving behind many needy and frustrated on-lookers aghast and empty-handed?
Thus, during the eleven months when we were free to do whatever we wanted, we must ask ourselves many questions and reflect on whether we discarded whatever good qualities and the Taqwā we had achieved during Ramaḍān, or did we hold on to them and improve on them as months passed by.
Science is in a state of continuous evolution, and discoveries follow on one another’s heels. There is a large quantum of digitised information, flowing like a spring from symposia, medical journals and the Internet. It expands our horizons and explains the benefits of Islamic injunctions.
The original meaning of Ṣaum is to be at rest. We give rest to the gastro-intestinal tract, the sexual organs, the tongue, the eyes and ears, etc. The transit time for a bolus of food from the mouth to the end of the large intestine, called colon, is about 14 hours. This corresponds to the period of 14 hours during which we fast and withhold any stimulus reaching the digestive system.
During fasting, the secretion of the growth hormone by the pituitary gland also increases. This is an anabolic hormone for synthesis of proteins and collagen that produces a positive nitrogen balance. The collagen synthesis may be responsible for keeping the skin of fasting Muslims wrinkle free, even when they get very old. Ramaḍān puts a healthy mind into a healthy body (in Latin: mens sana in corpore sano= a sound mind in a sound body).
Because the Islamic fast hardly exceeds 14 hours or so, the normal steady state of the body is maintained as a result of coordinated physiological mechanisms. There is no significant alteration in routine haematology. Nearly all the biochemical results in the laboratory are normal, such as blood levels of Na, K, Ca, P; lipids such as total cholesterol, high density lipoprotein (HDL), low density lipoprotein (LDL) and triglycerides; hormones such as cortisol, testosterone, prolactin, TSH, etc. The fast does not cause any adverse medical effect and on the contrary, may have some beneficial effect on weight, although the ‘lipostat’ situated in the pituitary gland in the hypothalamus part of the brain helps to maintain the body mass at a steady level. Liver function tests (such as SGOT, SGPT, Alk. Phosphatase, thymol turbidity, cephalin-cholesterol flocculation test, serum albumin, globulin and total serum proteins) show normal values. This constancy of the serum globulin level during fasting ensures against the tendency to produce deficient antibody formation. Plasma cholecystokinin and gastrin levels are also normal. Thyroid function tests including Basal Metabolic Rate, Thyroid-stimulating Hormone and Protein-bound-iodine levels also remain normal. Kidney function tests (such as the specific gravity of urine, glomerular filtration rate, blood urea nitrogen and serum creatinine) are also normal. Blood glucose concentration is maintained normally at 80 mgms %, due to hepatic production of glucose equalling utilisation, mainly by the brain which oxidises approximately 100 gms. glucose/ minute to CO2 and H2o. The brain alone consumes 1/4 to 1/3 of the total calories or about 500 calories / day. Even the most concentrated brain work causes no extra demands on caloric output. After 12 hours of fasting, the glucose level in the capillary blood approximates to that in the venous blood.
During the first few hours of a fast, the increased glucagon and the decreased insulin secretion result in stimulation of hepatic glycogenolysis and the gradual depletion of the hepatic glycogen store. As the level of glucose falls the rate of insulin secretion decreases and that of glucagon rises. The secretary pattern of these two islet hormones is actually pulsatile rather than continuous, the pulse intervals being approximately ten minutes in humans. Under normal circumstances, the plasma glucose falls more slowly during the transition from the fed to the fasted state and stabilises at levels well above 50 mgms %. Muscle, fat and the brain are the main glucose consumers.
During fasting the secretion of ACTH and cortisol is normal. The fasting stomach is empty and contracted. The rate of bile secretion is low and the pressure in the bile duct is correspondingly small.
FASTING IN ADVERSE CIRCUMSTANCES
However, if there are adverse circumstances surrounding the Islamic fast such as (a) dehydration due to excessive sweating because of hot weather or exercise, or (b) too little food or water was available at saḥūr, or (c) fasting was prolonged for any reason, then following changes may be observed. If the diet is normal, the renal flow remains unchanged even after four days of complete deprivation of water. There would be no decrease in plasma volume and no haemo-concentration, because the interstitial reserves of water will be called upon. Then the urinary output will be reduced. In water deprivation, the posterior lobe of the pituitary gland secretes anti-diuretic hormone which reduces urine flow to a minimum, thus conserving water. The total water content of the body decreases due to loss of extra-cellular fluid. Urinary acidity is maintained.
Only when fasting is prolonged (which is un–Islamic) does the Basal Metabolic Rate fall together with the voluntary physical activity, thus conserving calories. This ensures that weight loss is not excessive. With the fall in BMR, the pulse rate and the blood pressure also fall. The concentration of T3 (tri-iodothyronine) also falls. Serum angiotensin-converting enzyme activity (ACE) is reduced during fasting. The serum triglyceride is slightly elevated.
FASTING WITH UNDERFEEDING
During fasting, the subject must live on his own body tissues for energy purposes. In a 70 kg man, stored carbohydrate totals about 2000 calories, available from 100 Gms. of liver glycogen, 380 Gms. of muscle glycogen and 20 Gms. of glucose in extra cellular fluid. In contrast, 140,000 calories are available as stored fat in the body and the remainder in proteins. Energy is stored in adipose tissue as triglyceride, with glucose serving as the main source formed during glycolysis in the fat cells.
In the Islamic fast of around 14 hours, the body proteins are not used up, as the glycogen stores are the first to be utilised at the beginning of the fast.
It has been observed that underfed animals live longer than their heavily fed counterparts. They also suffer fewer illnesses including auto-immune disease, which may help to explain their longevity. Inflammatory symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis in man decrease during fasting. Moreover, there are certain diseases which are benefited by loss of weight through fasting and caloric restriction e.g. hypertension, diabetes, obesity, osteoarthritis, radiculopathies, etc. We should not overeat at Ifṭār and at Saḥūr if we wish to lose some weight.
There is also an incident reported in the Hadīth that once Prophet Muhammedﺹ was asked as to why such and such a tribe lived so long. The prophetﺹ replied that they would not eat until and unless they were really hungry and that they would stop eating before their appetites were half-filled.
Prophetﺹ used to have a light Ifṭār and a light Suḥūr. If after Ramadān is over, we find that we have put on weight instead of losing some, we better look critically at ourselves. It is obvious that we have not followed the Sunnah of Prophet Muḥammedﺹ.
FASTING AND MAGNESIUM
It has been observed that during fasting, the serum magnesium is elevated. The following points about magnesium are worthy of note:
(1) Several actions of magnesium ion can contribute towards its cardio-protective effects and hence magnesium is now more frequently used in the treatment of heart attacks.
Plasma magnesium levels are low for a day or two after myocardial infarction and chances of patients recovering from a heart attack are increased if magnesium is given immediately after a heart attack. Fasting halves the mortality rate in myocardial infarction, probably by reducing the risk of serious arrhythmias, especially ventricular fibrillation induced by the raised local concentrations of catecholamine.
Magnesium has also anti-platelet effects and hence prevents extension of the thrombus. Magnesium also acts as a vasodilator and prevents vascular stasis. Magnesium deficiency increases coronary artery tone and favours thrombosis.
(2) Magnesium and calcium ions are inversely related. Ca and Mg ions compete with each other. Magnesium inhibits calcium influx into myocardial cells. When the magnesium level is lowered, calcium is raised and may get deposited in tissues. Potassium acts as a cardio-protector in cardiac ischemia in synergy with magnesium. Potassium in combination with magnesium produces more reduction in systolic and diastolic B.P. than magnesium alone.
(3) Magnesium is essential for the activity of many enzymes, especially for phosphorylation and energy transfer. Phosphates bind magnesium in the bowel and prevent its absorption. A 12 oz. can of carbonated soft drink might contain 30 mgms of phosphate and take up an equivalent amount of dietary magnesium. The average daily requirement of magnesium is 300-400 mgms while an average diet provides 250-500 mgms daily. Taking too little magnesium makes it harder for the body to perform its usual tasks.
(4) Magnesium is a membrane stabiliser acting on the sodium/potassium/calcium flux at the membrane level. When (a) acting on the specialised connecting system of the heart, it relieves cardiac dysrhythmia and therefore prevents sudden death due to myocardial infarction; (b) on the vascular muscle cell of the coronary artery, it dilates the coronary arteries and relieves angina; (c) on the cell membrane of the neurons, it blocks transmission of nerve impulses, thus reducing neuro-muscular irritability. Magnesium therapy has a beneficial effect on most neuropathies; (d) on synapses, it relieves cerebral dysrhythmia and hence it is useful in various types of epilepsy. Persons who fast stop having epileptic fits; (e) on neuromuscular junctions, it prevents leg cramps; (Zam Zam water which prevents fatigue and leg cramps is high in its magnesium and calcium content); (f) on the bronchiolar muscle tissue, it relieves asthma; (g) on the uterus, it prevents hemorrhage and premature births. Magnesium deficiency during pregnancy can result in high B.P., low birth-weight babies and still births.
(5) Magnesium and atheroma: (a) In atheroma, the arteries become hard due to deposits of cholesterol, beta-lipoproteins, aggregates of calcium, all clumped together into a substance called phosphate-lipid-calcium complex. This deposit narrows the lumen of the arteries and may occlude them, aided by thrombosis. While triglycerides, also known as neutral fats, increase due to eating carbohydrates, blood cholesterol increases by taking lipids. Atherosclerosis is associated with triglycerides and cholesterol. Exercise reduces triglycerides while weight loss reduces blood cholesterol. A diet rich in monosaturated fatty acids (as in olive oil) has been shown to be as effective in lowering blood cholesterol as was a diet low in fat but high in carbohydrates. Fasting prevents the formation of atheroma as well as dissolves atheromatous plaques. During fasting, there is some lowering of serum cholesterol and phospholipids (mainly LDL). Fasting probably takes an active part in rejuvenating processes in the body through many channels, one being the reversal of atheroma and making the arteries more supple and pliable.
(6) Magnesium requirement is increased during stress, be it physical or psychological. Serum magnesium content is low in chronic alcoholics and in presence of delirium tremens. Magnesium deficiency is paralleled by deficiency of serotonin which may lead to depressive states. Magnesium is also used in the prophylaxis of migraine, tinnitus, pre-menstrual syndrome, and associated risks in type II diabetes. It is necessary for synthesis of ATP (adenosine tri phosphate) which is the muscle energiser. It has been used in the treatment of fibromyalgia. It controls immune responses, and also exhibits anti-mutagenesis properties; hence it may assist in prevention of carcinoma. (7)There is an inverse association between magnesium intake and risk of diabetes. Diabetics are advised to increase consumption of major food sources of magnesium, such as whole grains, nuts, and green leafy vegetables.
FASTING AND OUR BIOLOGICAL RHYTHMS
Allah (all glory be to Him) tells us in the Holy Qur᾿an about Ramaḍān that, “(He wants you) to complete the prescribed period (of fasting), and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful” (2:185). Many benefits result from completing this prescribed period of fasting, one being our biological rhythms.
Bio-Rhythm: A biorhythm or biological rhythm is a recurring pattern of alterations in physiology, emotions, or intellect due to the electric currents that flow in living tissues, such as nerves and muscles. From birth to death, every human is governed by internal biophysical cycles, while our body adapts itself to a rotating planet Earth.
Integration of diverse endocrine rhythms with other biological functions requires a mechanism for biological time-keeping. The period of regular oscillation may be as short as a few minutes or as long as a year. Biorhythm is also built in many animals such as cats, dogs, rats, cockroaches, biting insects such as mosquitoes as well as in organisms which transmit diseases such as malaria, filaria and many others. Afternoon “Siesta” tendency is also built into our circadian rhythms.
There are biological pacemakers or oscillators within the body with time-keeping capacity which synchronise with the external environmental cycles such as light. Environmental cues that synchronise biological pacemakers are called “zeitgebers” (from the German “time-givers”), and the process of re-setting the pacemaker is called re-synchronisation. All forms of life on earth, including our bodies, respond rhythmically to the regular cycles of the sun, moon and seasons caused by the Earth rotating on its axis e.g. as night turns into day, our heart rate and blood pressure rises. Many biological rhythms reflect the period of one of four environmental cycles: cycles of the tide, of day and night, of moon phase and of seasons. The Earth’s tides are caused by the gravitational pull of the moon and sun. The moon can affect the tides and all liquids including our circulating body fluids. The first report of the daily biological rhythm persisting in the absence of environmental cues was the leaf of a heliotrope plant opening and closing in constant darkness.
Fasting and the circadian rhythm: “Circa” means “about” and “diès” means “day”. The period of circadian pace-maker in humans is 24 hours 11 minutes. The Circadian rhythm is a name given to the “internal body clock” that regulates biological activities such as the brain waves, hormone production, cell regeneration and many others. Hormonal secretion is frequently characterised by rhythmic fluctuations which may be regular or irregular in periodicity, e.g. the hormonal concomitants of ovarian cycles recur at 4–28 day intervals, depending on animal species. Self-sustained rhythm with a period of 24 hours was first termed “circadian rhythm”. It is believed that melatonin, the hormone of darkness, plays a vital role in setting the body’s biological clock. Exercise also resets the body clock. Hence, exercising early in the day helps jet-lagged bodies readjust to their new time zone. The body timing system that drives circadian rhythm is exposed to external factors from the imposed activity-rest cycle, the natural light-dark cycle, temperature and social activities outside the workplace. The light/ dark cycle is a potent zeitgeber for circadian rhythm. The peak of the circadian rhythm in human plasma cortisol concentration occurs approximately at the time of rising in the morning. Reversal of lighting results in reversal of the cortico-steroid rhythm, but the cortico-steroid is not controlled by the sleep-wakefulness cycle. Most ACTH and cortisol secretion occurs between midnight and morning. In the absence of any time cues, human circadian rhythms begin to free-run. The supra-chiasmatic nucleus is thought to contain the circadian oscillator. (The central circadian biological clock is located in the supra-chiasmatic nucleus of the hypothalamus. It is a cluster of about 10,000 neurons on either side of the mid-line above the optic chiasma about 3 cms behind the eye. Re-setting proceeds at the rate of approximately one hour/day to adapt to a reversed shift pattern). Another important element in the coupling of the rhythmic activity with hormone release is in the pineal gland. The pineal gland also plays an important part in directional sense. Its proximity to the surface of the skin in primitive animals has earned its title “the third eye”. It is associated with seasonal and diurnal rhythms. Pineal activity undergoes circadian variations that are also linked with the light cycle. (Light information is relayed via a circuitous route from the suprachiasmatic nucleus, down through the spinal cord, into the superior cervical ganglion and back up into the pineal gland via the sympathetic fibres. The most important hormone of this is melatonin which is secreted into the circulation mediating the effects of day length). Muslims, who have been fasting regularly since childhood, have been exposed to different sleep/wake and light/darkness cycles, on a daily basis in one annual lunar month. Hence, it may be easier for such persons to synchronise at a faster rate their circadian, circa-lunar and circa-annual bio-rhythms, under difficult conditions. Therefore it is expected that Muslims who fast regularly would least suffer from jet lag while travelling in a plane from West to East and that health problems in Muslim shift-workers would be minimal.
Fasting, jet lag and shift work: Jet lag is a state of the body caused by the disturbance of our circadian rhythms and travel associated with sleep deprivation. When flying across time zones, the “home time” gradually shifts to the new “travelling time”. Our body clocks get out of tune with the local time and we feel sleepy or alert, hungry or full at the wrong times. The condition becomes worse if there was any sleep loss during an overnight flight or by alcohol and caffeine consumed on board. International travel across time zones produces symptoms of jet lag such as sleep disturbances, gastro-intestinal disorders, decreased alertness, fatigue and lack of concentration and motivation. Difficulty is experienced more while travelling to the East. Factors contributing to symptoms of jet lag are (1) external desynchronisation due to immediate difference between body time and local time at the end of the flight; (2) internal desynchronisation due to the fact that different circadian rhythms in the body re-synchronise at different rates, and during the re-synchronisation period, these rhythms will be out of phase with one another. General symptoms arising from desynchronisation include tiredness during the day and disturbed sleep and reaction time. NASA estimates that it takes one day for every time zone crossed to regain normal rhythm and energy levels. For every hour of time-change a person experiences it takes about a day to fully adjust. A six-hour time-difference thus needs 6 days to get back to normal. Inability to sleep the night before due to circadian desynchronisation in pilots adds to the effect of jet lag, especially while travelling eastwards. Age strongly affects sleepiness. Crew members who are over 50 experience increased number of awakenings, a high percentage of light drowsy (restless) sleep, and a lower percentage of deep slow-wave (restful) sleep, and a lower sleep efficiency. This may be responsible for cockpit human errors resulting from miscalculations, memory lapses and mis-communications and poor crew co-ordination, causing aircraft accidents. Jet lag also affects the performance of athletes, when there is a rapid displacement across Earth’s time zones, causing desynchronisation of their physiological cycles. Rapid adaptation to a new zone can be facilitated by maximizing exposure to zeitgebers for the new cycle e.g. changing to meal times and sleep times appropriate to the new time zone. Maximizing social contact and exposure to natural lighting will result in faster resynchronisation than staying in a hotel and eating and sleeping without regard to local time. Bright light has another effect besides adjusting the timing of the biological clock to the local time. It inhibits the release of melatonin, the sleep hormone. Exposure to light facilitates a nerve pathway from the retina in the eye to an area in the brain called the hypothalamus. It houses the supra-chiasmatic nucleus (SCN) which in turn processes signals to other parts of the brain that control hormones, body temperature and other functions that determine whether we should sleep or keep awake. There are widespread individual variations in the rapidity of resynchronisation. Muslims who fast regularly and who have experienced disturbed wakefulness/sleep cycles on a daily lunar annual basis can adapt themselves much faster to different time zones during international travel and do not suffer from the ill effects of jet lag. Shift workers also experience similar symptoms as jet lag, especially gastro-intestinal, cardiovascular, and sleep disorders and also reproductive dysfunctions in women. The inverted schedule of sleeping and waking also results in diminished alertness and performance during night-time work with attendant increase in the number of fatigue-related accidents during night time shift hours. Normally, a period of three weeks is required for re-synchronisation among shift workers, and as the fasting Muslim attunes himself to resynchronisation processes during the space of just over four weeks in Ramadān, his health problems as a shift worker would be negligible, as his synchronisation processes would be more rapid, whether during Ramadān or at any other time. Night work is a major health hazard to millions of workers the world over, and may be responsible for an increased risk of cardiovascular illness, gastro-intestinal disorders, infertility and insomnia, and also results in diminished productivity and increased fatigue-related accident rates. Despite the deprivation of night sleep, these workers experience daytime insomnia. The circadian timing system fails to adjust to an inversion of the daily routine even after a week of night work. It is also a common observation that as soon as Ramaḍān is over, normal circadian rhythms are established in the Muslims who have fasted, with such great rapidity as to be at par with pre- Ramaḍān levels, on the first day of Shawwāl, i.e. ‘Īd-ul-Fiṭr. The circa-annular bio-rhythm is so well established that during Ramaḍān, we normally wake up automatically a few minutes before the alarm clock rings to wake us up for suḥūr. Moreover, as soon as Ramaḍān is over, normal physiology of the body is restored promptly the following day on ‘Īd ul Fiṭ̣̣r. The ability to adjust to the different phases of the bio-rhythm also enables the fasting Muslim to balance the various neurotransmitters secreted by the brain involving motivation and tranquillity. Fasting and encephalins: During the exercise of fasting, prayers and other spiritual experiences of Ramaḍān, certain endogenous, narcotic-like substances are released by the brain and spinal cord into the body called opioids (or endorphins/endo-morphins), that include encephalins, endorphins and many others. These are responsible for euphoria, contentment, satisfaction, tranquillity, serenity and optimism during such periods. They have a tranquilising as well as an elating effect on the mind. They may also be responsible for prevention of psychosomatic diseases. Encephalins: These are several times more potent than morphine. Encephalins are not only present in the brain but also in the tissues of the gut and in the adrenal medulla. Encephalins cause: (1) Analgesia by influencing pain perception. (2) Inhibition of gut motility similar to morphine. (3) Encephalins present in high concentrations in the posterior pituitary may also influence the secretion of vasopressin and oxytocin. (The adrenal medulla is a major source of encephalins in plasma, but is rapidly de-activated. However, even the small amounts released during stress may be found sufficient to influence opiate receptors throughout the body. The stress-induced analgesia in humans may be related to opiate peptides of adrenal origin). Endorphins: (or endo-morphins): As pain relievers, these are several times more potent than encephalins and a thousand times more potent than morphine. The neurotransmitter (beta-endorphin) increases in plasma in times of stress. (a) To alter the pain sensation, the brain and spinal cord release specialised neurotransmitters called endorphins and encephalins. These chemicals interfere with the transmission of pain impulse by occupying the nerve cell receptors. This makes the pain impulse travel less efficiently as the cell receptors are required to send the impulse across the synapse. Endorphins and encephalins can significantly lessen the perception of pain. In extreme circumstances, they can even make severe injuries nearly painless. Endorphins and encephalins are natural painkillers and are responsible for the “feel nice” effects experienced by people after rigorous exercise. (b) Beta-endorphin is very active, and is about 20 times as potent as morphine. In addition to its pain-killing properties, the narcotic analgesic causes a profound feeling of well-being (euphoria). It is this feeling that is in part responsible for the psychological drive of certain persons who are fasting. (c) If an athlete is injured during the height of competition or a soldier during a fight, or persons who are fasting, they may not realise they have been hurt, until after the stressful situation has ended! This happens because the brain produces abnormally high levels of endorphins or encephalins, in periods of intense stress, excitement or fasting. Fasting and Growth Hormone: During fasting there is increased secretion of growth hormone (G.H. also called somatotropin) by the pituitary gland. G.H. is necessary for normal growth of most of the soft tissues and of the skeleton, but it is not capable of promoting normal growth in the absence of thyroid hormone, glucocorticoids, gonadal steroids and insulin. The complex system that encompasses the release and action of G.H. includes many neurotransmitters, hormones and organs. G.H. is a protein anabolic hormone which produces a positive nitrogen and phosphorous balance. It stimulates erythropoiesis, and increases gastro-intestinal absorption of calcium. It also causes renal retention and body storage of Ca, P, Na and K as part of its generalised anabolic activity. G.H. increases gluconeogensis from fat and proteins, causes loss of body fat and increases muscle mass with increased protein synthesis in muscle. It is responsible for the elevated level of serum alkaline phosphatase in growing children. It stimulates proportionate growth of the body by causing (1) skeletal growth, (2) growth of muscles, and (3) growth of other organs. G.H. is released more at night than during the day, especially during the first one and a half hour of deep sleep when delta waves in the EEG abound. Hence this period is important for repair of the body while the latter part of the night is more for consolidation of memory molecules during REM sleep, when there is intense brain activity and dreaming. Signs of deficiency of growth hormone frequently observed in old persons are: decreased muscle mass and strength; thinning of bones and wrinkling of skin; and diminished immune responses. Administration of Growth Hormone acts as an anti-ageing agent and can reverse these effects. The plasma G.H. concentration rises steeply soon after onset of sleep. The addition of daytime naps to the sleep sessions results in G.H. secretion during nap periods. Stages three and four (slow-wave sleep) occur more frequently during early sleep period when G.H. secretion is maximal. More G.H. is released during afternoon naps than in morning naps. The half-life of circulating G.H. in humans is 20–30 minutes. Annual rhythms have been observed in the plasma concentration of G.H. which may be a beneficial factor in Muslims who fast regularly in every Ramaḍān. Colostrum (the first milk from the mother’s breast after birth of a child) is rich in growth factors and hence its protective properties. Levels of G.H. increase in the blood (a) during fasting and hypoglycaemia; (b) after physical exercise, probably due to secretion of encephalins which are potent inducers of Growth Hormone; (c) after a couple of hours of sleep; and (d) with stress. Stimuli that decrease secretion are REM sleep, glucose and cortisol. Physiological effects of G.H. are: (1) increased protein synthesis; (2) intracellular lipolysis; (3) stimulation of collagen synthesis (this latter may be responsible for the observation that the skin of Muslims who fast regularly during the month of Ramaḍān do not wrinkle even when they are very old); and (4) stimulation of chondroitin-sulphate synthesis. G.H. accelerates chondrogenesis, and as cartilaginous epiphysial plates widen, they lay down more matrix at the end of long bones. In this way, stature is increased. In cartilage, G.H. stimulates proliferation the incorporation of phosphates, and the synthesis of collagen. Unlike anabolic steroids, G.H. causes no acceleration of the maturation of the bones. Hence, children can safely fast during Ramaḍān from an early age.
SLEEP, MEMORY AND FASTING
There are 20 billion neurons (nerve cells) in the human brain linked through various cross terminals. The neo-cortex (new brain) distinguishes the human brain from that of animals.
Memory depends on a series of molecular events due to biochemical changes in the nerve cells involving protein synthesis. Within the small volume of the human brain, experience of a lifetime could be recollected with the correct description of sights, sound, smell, tastes and emotions. The external world is mirrored in the microscopic structure of the brain. Because of various connecting fibres of the limbic system to other parts of the cerebral cortex, a familiar voice on the telephone projects a visual memory of the person calling. Experience must be imprinted and encoded in the finer structures of the brain before they can be registered, retained and recalled. This encoding is done through a series of molecular events triggered by external stimuli.
Three mechanisms interact in memory production: one mediating immediate recall of events of the moment; another, of events that occurred minutes to hours before, and a third, of memories of the longer term past. Memory for recent events is impaired in certain neurological diseases, but remote memories are remarkably unaffected, even in presence of severe brain damage. There is frequent loss of memory for the events immediately preceding brain concussion or electro-shock therapy, but remote memory is not affected. Damage to the amygdala and the hippocampus, two major components of the brain known as the limbic system, can result in global amnesia.
The cerebral cortex, especially the temporal lobes is involved in memory. Stimulation of the temporal lobe evokes detailed memories of events that occurred in the remote past, often beyond the power of voluntary recall. The memories produced by temporal stimulation are “flashed back” complete, as if they were replays of a segment of experience.
It may take a few hours to encode or consolidate memory. This process probably involves the hippocampus. Some alcoholics with brain damage develop impairment of recent memory, with pathological changes in the mammillary bodies, a major site of hippocampal fibres for encoding memory molecules.
Vasopressin secreted by the posterior pituitary is a neural hormone secreted directly into the circulation by nerve cells. Vasopressin is also called Anti-Diuretic Hormone (ADH) because it causes retention of water by the kidneys. The urine becomes concentrated and its volume decreases. Vasopressin secretion increases in pain, stress, emotion, exercise, administration of morphine and nicotine, and decreases by alcohol. Vasopressin may also be involved in influencing memory processes. When sleep is disrupted, the brain’s ability to transfer short-term memory into long-term memory is impaired.
Brain protein molecules for repair of the body are synthesised in the brain during deep sleep. Fasting positively and significantly increases the quality of deep sleep and hence accelerates synthesis of memory molecules.
ELECTROENCEPHALOGRAM, FASTING AND SLEEP: The sleep during Ramaḍān is a much deeper one and superior in quality. The repair processes of the body and the brain including the memory molecules in the hippocampus and other sites, take place during the stage of deep sleep. Later, during REM period of sleep when a person dreams, there is reorganisation of memory molecules of the data acquired during the previous day and which gets consolidated into the memory. Two hours of sleep during Ramaḍān is more satisfying and refreshing than several hours of sleep otherwise. The background activity of the brain is called the electroencephalogram and can be recorded by the use of electrodes inserted in the scalp. The dominant frequency and amplitude characteristic of the EEG varies with states of arousal. A person goes through five stages while going to sleep. Stage one: It is midway between waking and sleeping; it’s dozing. Calm wakefulness is accompanied by alpha waves 8-12 Hz (cycles per second) and low voltage fast activity of mixed frequency. Alpha waves disappear when we open our eyes. When the eyes are opened, the alpha rhythm is replaced by fast irregular low voltage activity with no dominant frequency. It is called the alpha block. Any form of sensory stimulation or mental concentration such as solving arithmetic problems could produce this break-up of the alpha rhythm. Stage two: It occupies most of the night. As sleep deepens, bursts of 12-14 Hz (sleep spindles) and high amplitude slow waves appear called ‘K’ complexes. Stages three and four: This deep sleep is featured by an increasing proportion of high voltage slow activity. Breathing is regular in slow-wave sleep or non-REM sleep. People in slow-wave sleep can sleep right through 80 to 90 decibels intensity of noise. It’s harder to wake a sleeping teenager than a sleeping adult. Teenagers need one or two hours more of sleep since growth hormone is secreted during deep sleep. A relatively quiet noise of 20 to 30 decibels is enough to wake up old persons since they have less slow-wave sleep. Delta activity (very slow waves, 0.5 – 4 Hz, high amplitude) is unusual in a normal record and sometimes accompanies deep sleep i.e. stages three and four. Stage 5 or REM (rapid eye movement) sleep: After about 70 minutes or so mostly spent in stages three and four, the first REM period occurs, accompanied by a reversal in the EEG pattern from stage four to stage two. These rapid low-voltage irregular waves resemble those seen in alert humans; sleep, however, is not interrupted. This is called stage 5 or REM sleep or dreaming sleep, when the EEG activity gets desynchronised. It occupies the final 5-10 minutes of non-REM sleep. There is marked muscle atonia despite the rapid eye movements in REM sleep, and the breathing is irregular. During REM sleep, cerebral activity increases almost to wakefulness, and there is a general increase in autonomic nervous system activity. (Theta activity with a pattern of large regular waves occurs in normal children and is briefly seen in stage one sleep and also in REM sleep). Non-REM (NREM) sleep passes through stages one and two, and spends 60-70 minutes in stages three and four. Sleep then lightens and a REM period follows. This cycle is repeated three or four times per night, at intervals of about 90 minutes throughout the night, depending on the length of sleep. REM sleep occupies 25% of total sleeping time. Young infants do not have the characteristic 4 stages of non-REM sleep and they go immediately in REM or dreaming sleep, spending 50% of their time in it. During the first few hours of an Islamic fast, the EEG is normal. However, the frequency of the alpha rhythm is decreased by a low blood glucose level. This may happen at the end of the fasting day towards evening when the blood sugar is low. Fasting improves the quality and intensifies the depth of sleep, a matter of particular importance to the aged, who have much less stage three and four sleep i.e. deep sleep. Hence, fasting is important to the old who have much less deep sleep. To repeat, the processes of repair of the body and of the brain, especially the memory molecules, take place during deep sleep. REM sleep and dreaming are closely associated. Dreaming may be necessary to maintain health, but prolonged REM deprivation has no adverse psychological effects. Dreaming sleep occupies 50% of the sleep cycle in infants and decreases with age. Brain protein molecules are synthesised in the brain during deep sleep. Fasting accelerates synthesis of memory molecules, increases deep sleep and leads to a fall in REM sleeping time or dreaming time.
TARAWĪH: Throughout the year, the average Muslim performs his 5-time daily obligatory prayers, as well as the optional ones. This amounts to gentle physical exercise, involving each and every muscle in the body. During the month of fasting, additional prayers of 8-20 rak‘as (physical unit of prayer) are also performed at nights after dinner, called Tarāwiḥ. Approximately, 200 kcals are utilised during Tarāwīḥ for the 20 rukū‘/rak‘as. Such additional exercise utilises any extra calories, ingested at Ifṭār (meal for breaking the fast) approximately 1-2 hours earlier. Simultaneously, the glucose which is steadily rising in the blood since Ifṭār is used up during the Taraweeḥ exercise.
Just before Ifṭār, both blood glucose and insulin are at their lowest level. Very little is metabolised by muscle, and FFA (Free Fatty Acid) is the predominant fuel. However, an hour or so after Ifṭār, the blood glucose begins to rise and also plasma insulin. The liver takes up much of the circulating glucose to replenish its glycogen content, and muscles may also do the same. Unless a lot of sweets are eaten very rapidly, the glucose level in the blood may not reach above the renal threshold of 180 mgms% and no sugar would spill in the urine. However, when the blood sugar begins to rise after Ifṭār to reach high levels in an hour or two, the benefits of Tarāwīh Ṣalāt, the latter coinciding with the timing of the rising of the blood sugar) come into effect. The circulating glucose is oxidised to CO2 and H2O during Tarāwīh Salāt.
Gentle exercise improves fitness and emotional well-being and increases longevity. For any improvement in the stamina and endurance, in flexibility and strength, the effort required needs to be only a little greater than the person is accustomed to. Not everyone could or should go jogging; even walking at 3 miles/hour or the 5 times daily compulsory prayers would produce the same physiological changes without unpleasant effects. Apart from health-promoting qualities of exercise, mild exercise such as prayers trains the person to be ever prepared for any unexpected physical exertion, such as running for a bus, which may be accomplished more safely and efficiently. This is an advantage for the elderly who will be able to maintain their physical independence much longer. Persons who fast and perform Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt report feeling healthier and better.
The physical movements during Tarāwīḥ prayers improve flexibility and co-ordination. It also reduces stress-related responses in normal persons and relieves anxiety and depression. Adrenaline and noradrenalin are secreted during the physical exercise of Tarāwīḥ, which are responsible for the consequent dynamism combined with the tranquillity and the serenity due to the secretion of encephalins, endorphins, serotonin and other neurotransmitters during Tarāwīḥ prayers. This makes the night prayers unique in the sense that dynamism is combined in the same individual with serenity, euphoria and dignity. The effects of adrenaline and noradrenalin are apparent, even after long night prayers is over, as evidenced by the continuing physical and mental activity. In fact, even the thought or intention (niyyah) of performing Tarāwīḥ prayers is sufficient to activate the sympathetic nervous system to secrete adrenaline and noradrenalin.
In the elderly, the level of physiological activity drops. Bones become thinner and osteoporotic. The skin also becomes thinner and wrinkled. The repair processes of the body become slower and immune responses are reduced. Reserve functions of all vital organs decline and the aged are more vulnerable to accidents and disease. But because prayers are compulsory, repeated and regular movements of the body during prayers will improve muscle tone and power, tendon strength, joint flexibility and the cardio–vascular reserve. This enables them to improve the quality of life and to meet with unexpected challenges which may have resulted in their falls, with consequent damage to their bodies. This also improves their stamina, self- esteem and self- confidence in being independent. The body movements help to prevent osteoporosis in the bones of elderly men and post-menopausal women.
The strain put on the forearm, during prostration in lifting the body from the ground, increases the bone mineral content of the forearm. The varying load during the different postures causes a lubricating effect and a protective flow of synovial fluid into the joint cavity. The reinforcement of the calf muscle pump by active ankle movements prevents deep vein thrombosis, which is a common cause of chronic ulcers of the legs in the elderly. Exercise makes us smarter. Studies have shown that old people who exercise have better memories, reasoning abilities, and problem-solving skills. Exercise prevents coronary heart disease, improves carbohydrate tolerance, enhances the immune system and ameliorates late-onset type-2 diabetes. Growth hormone secretion elevated by fasting is further elevated by exercise of long night prayers (Tarāwīḥ). As this hormone is necessary for collagen formation, this may be an important factor in the long delay of the wrinkling of skin of fasting Muslims who perform Tarāwīḥ prayers. Exercise of Tarāwīḥ improves mood, thought and behaviour. Although memory for short-term events deteriorates with old age, prayers improve memory in the elderly, for short-term events, by keeping the memory pathways in the brain open and communicating with each other, especially with constant repetition of the verses from the Holy Qur᾿an and other memorised supplications of Allah’s glory. This also helps to screen the mind from other incoming unpleasant thoughts.
The repetition of a prayer, supplications of glorification, dhikr (words glorifying Allah) or muscular activity, coupled with passive disregard of intrusive thoughts, causes a relaxation response, leading to lowering of B.P. and decrease in oxygen consumption, as well as a reduction in the heart and respiratory rates. All these are combined in Tarāwīḥ prayers. Thus Tarāwīḥ puts the mind at ease. Islamic prayers are unique in that tension builds up in the muscles, during the physical movements of prayers, with accompanying adrenaline and noradrenalin. Simultaneously, tension is relieved in the mind due to the spiritual component, assisted by the secretion of encephalins, endorphins, dynorphins, serotonin and others. All those persons who perform Tarāwīḥ prayers feel more alert and active, even after the age of retirement. They can meet with unexpected challenges of life much better, such as running for a train. This improves their stamina, self-esteem and self-confidence in being independent.
The social contact during Tarāwīh congregational prayers and other social spiritual activities act as zeitgeber (‘time-giver’) which regulates any desynchronised biological rhythm. In addition, the gentle exercise during Tarāwīḥ prayers resets the internal biological clock.
Even trivial activity is accompanied by secretion of adrenaline. Once secretion starts, it may outlast the stimulus that gave rise to it. The effect of adrenalin and noradrenalin is apparent even after the Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt is over. The adrenaline re-distributes the blood in the body to the active muscles, mobilises liver glycogen if necessary in order to provide glucose for the active tissues, diminishes fatigue in skeletal muscles, relaxes bronchiolar muscle, and initiates cardiovascular changes. Tarāwīh Ṣalāt is considered to be gentle exercise, and the beneficial effects of gentle exercise on the body are as follows:
Skeletal muscle: An unused muscle atrophies in spite of availability of ample proteins. During prayers, every muscle in the body contracts, some isotonically and others isometrically. Exercise also improves stamina and reduces fatigue. It helps the disabled to make the most of their residual capacities.
The blood flow of resting muscle is low. When a muscle contracts, it compresses vessels if it develops more than ten percent of its maximal tension. Between contractions, the blood flow is greatly increased. Blood flow sometimes increases even before the start of exercise, with just the thought of performing exercise or of performing Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt. During Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt, systolic B.P. may rise a little and the diastolic B.P. may remain unchanged or even fall. However, after Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt is over, the B.P. may drop to just below normal levels, a very welcome sign.
Training increases the maximal oxygen consumption produced by exercise, such as the regular Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt. Just as a person who exercises regularly feels better, persons who perform the Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt regularly also feel much better. Regular physical exertion increases the probability that a person can remain active past the standard age of retirement. Similarly, all those who perform the extra Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt besides the compulsory daily prayers, are more alert and active even after age of retirement, than those who do not perform the optional Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt.
Tendons and connective tissues: Exercise improves physical strength and joint stability and reduces risk of injury.
Skeleton: Bone mineral content falls with age, especially after age 40. Decrease in the bone density can be prevented or even reversed by mild exercise, in menopausal and in elderly women. Exercise increases bone mineral density at sites of maximal stress. Some areas of the skeleton have to bear extra pressure during Rukū‘and Sajdah. Exercise also prevents osteoporosis and maintains normalcy in bone structures. The risk of osteoporosis and consequent hip fractures is substantially less in those who take regular exercise or pray Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt, in addition to five-time daily prayers.
Joints: Exercise improves lubrication and range of movement and maintains flexibility. The varying load during the different postures of prayers causes a lubricating and therefore a protective flow of synovial fluid into the joint cavity.
The reinforcement of the calf muscle pump by active ankle movements such as in Islāmic prayers, prevents deep vein thrombosis, the latter being the most common cause of leg ulcers in the elderly as well as pulmonary embolism.
Eryhtropoietic system: Repeated exercise activates the erythropoietic processes in the bone marrow.
Metabolic effects: Exercise improves body weight control and expends calories without proportionate increase in appetite. A combination of moderate dietary restriction, both at Ifṭār and at Saḥūr, accompanied by Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt, achieves weight reduction. With exercise, fat and body weight both get reduced, but fat-free weight (such as muscle and bones) remains constant or may even increase slightly. Hence, for persons who would like to lose some of the excess weight during Ramadān, it is important not to overeat at Ifṭār and at Saḥūr, and in addition should offer Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt.
Exercise prevents coronary heart disease, improves carbohydrate tolerance and ameliorates late-onset diabetes and other metabolic diseases. Beneficial changes have been recorded in the lipid profile, B.P., clotting factors, weight reduction and insulin sensitivity of muscles and other tissues in persons who exercise regularly. Growth Hormone secretion elevated by fasting is further elevated by exercise such as Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt.
Cardiovascular effects: Exercise brings benefits by its effects on the main coronary risk factors by (a) facilitating to stop smoking, (b) reducing obesity, and (c) decreasing cholesterol levels. Exercise increases maximum oxygen uptake, slows the heart, lowers the B.P. slightly, decreases ventricular ectopic activity, enlarges the lumen of the coronary arteries and increases cardiac output.
Psychological effects: Exercise improves mood, thought and behaviour. Exercise improves the quality of life, reduces anxiety and depression and contributes to enhanced self-esteem and confidence. It improves memory in the elderly, especially if accompanied by constant repetition of the verses from the Holy Qur᾿an and other verses of His Glory which would help to screen the mind from other incoming base thoughts. Tarāwīḥ Ṣalāt puts the mind at ease due to the release of encephalins, beta endorphins and others into the circulation.
Islam is the only religion where physical movements of prayers are combined with spiritual exercise. Prayers being made compulsory through a person’s life at regular intervals trains him to undertake the difficult task of meditating during physical movements of prayers, so that he benefits both from the spiritual as well as physical exercise. Islamic prayers are unique in that tension builds up in the muscles during physical movements of prayers, while at the same time tension is relieved in the mind due to spiritual component.