What a timely question! As
Muslims begin to observe the month of Ramadan, your question is, do
Christians fast like us Muslims?
Let me first explain how
fasting in Christianity is different from Islam and then the
similarities. In Islam fasting is one of the five pillars of Islam, as
seen in SAHIH AL-BUKHARI 1.7, Abdullah ibn Umar. The Prophet said: Islam
is based on (the following) five (principles): To testify that none has
the right to be worshipped but Allah and that Muhammad is Allah’s
Apostle; 2. To offer the (compulsory congregational) prayers dutifully
and perfectly; 3. To pay Zakat (i.e. obligatory charity); 4. To
perform Hajj (i.e. Pilgrimage to Makkah); 5. To observe
fast during the month of Ramadan.
Fasting in Christianity is
not compulsory but encouraged, so in Islamic terms it is wajib
but not fardh. Fasting is not considered a good work or deed to
pay for our sin. As in SAHIH AL-BUKHARI according to Abu Hurayrah, 1.37,
Allah’s Apostle said, "Whoever observes fasts during the month of
Ramadan out of sincere faith, and hoping to attain Allah’s rewards, then
all his past sins will be forgiven." Fasting may be a sign of
repentance, but not work to earn forgiveness.
"Shout it aloud, do not
hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their
rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they
seek me out; they seem eager to know my ways, as if they were a nation
that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near
them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why
have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ Yet on the day
of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife, and in striking each other
with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your
voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s
head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what
you call a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the kind of
fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the
cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is
it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor
wanderer with shelter—when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not
to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break
forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your
righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the LORD will be
your rear guard. Then you will call, and the LORD will answer; you
will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. If you do away with the
yoke of oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and
if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs
of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your
night will become like the noonday. The LORD will guide you always; he
will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen
your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring
whose waters never fail. "
Fasting is primarily to God.
Hypocritical religious activity is a hindrance to fasting. Fasting
should be backed by righteous deeds. Jesus also has warned us that we do
not boast that we are fasting. Jesus said in Matthew 6:16-18: "When you
fast, do not look somber as the hypocrites do, for they disfigure their
faces to show men they are fasting. I tell you the truth; they have
received their reward in full. But when you fast, put oil on your head
and wash your face, so that it will not be obvious to men that you are
fasting, but only to your Father, who is unseen; and your Father, who
sees what is done in secret, will reward you." [Putting oil on the head
and washing the face were reserved for joyous occasions.]
I remember when I was a child
my Muslim dad always broke his fasting because of smoking. But he always
did it in a closed room away from the people. But in front of people he
fasted. Jesus shows us here that fasting is to God and to God alone.
What is the purpose of
Fasting then? Fasting has many purposes. These are some of them: to
Chasten the soul [Ps. 69:10]; to Humble the soul [Ezra 8:21, Ps. 35:13];
to seek the Lord [Chron. 20:3,4]; to prepare for spiritual warfare
You may ask when do
Christians fast then? Some Christians fast for 40 days just like Jesus
did [Matthew 4:2]. According to the Bible we should fast when we are
facing the judgment of God. Because of our sins this could be done
individually or as a community [Joel 1:4;Jonah 3:4,5]. We can fast when
we are concerned for the welfare of others [Psalm 35:13]. We can fast
when we have some personal concerns [2 Samuel 12:15-17]. We can fast
when we are facing danger [Esther 4:15,16]. We also fast when we appoint
leaders in the church [Acts 14:23].
Fasting should be accompanied
by confession of our sins and repentance. The Bible always mentions
fasting and prayer done together. Fasting should also be accompanied by
reading of the Bible.
Till we meet again.