Why the religious fast for Ramadan, Lent and other holy days

Mar 23, 2023, 2:15 PM | Updated: 3:06 pm


Muslims around the world are welcoming the start of Ramadan, a month of fasting, increased worship, heightened charity, good deeds and community. Christians are also fasting during Lent, the 40-day period of penance and prayer ahead of Easter, which marks the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.

Fasting across religions is practiced for a wide range of reasons that include spiritual purification and self-discipline. Here is a quick look at fasting as an act of faith:


— In Buddhism, fasting is recognized as one of the methods for practicing self- control. Buddhist monks generally refrain from taking solid food after noon every day.


— In Christianity, fasting is used as a way to purify the body, practice self-control and save resources to give to the poor.

— Many Pentecostal Christians fast in anticipation that it will equip them to experience the Holy Spirit more powerfully.

— During Lent, many Christians observe a 40-day period of penance, prayer and fasting. It is observed from Ash Wednesday through Holy Saturday, the day before Easter, which marks their belief in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. This year, Easter falls on April 9 for most Christians. During Lent, Christians replicate the biblical account of Jesus withdrawing to the desert to pray and fast for the 40 days.

— Christians often abstain from eating meat on Fridays during Lent, and some for the entire period. Some also give up coffee, candy or another item they see as a personal sacrifice. “You’re showing your seriousness and your willingness to suffer for your religion,” said Deana Weibel, an anthropology and religious studies professor at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Michigan.

— The Catholic Church does not consider fish, lobster and other shellfish to be meat, so they can be consumed on days of abstinence, according to Friday fish fries are common occurrence during Lent.


— In Hinduism, fasting is not an obligation, but a voluntary act of spiritual purification. The most commonly observed fast is Ekadashi, which falls on the 11th day of each lunar cycle as the moon waxes and wanes. Hindus also fast during several festivals or as part of their spiritual discipline. People may do complete or partial fasts or just give up their favorite foods for a certain period of time.


— Abstaining from all food and drink — not even a sip of water is allowed– and sexual intercourse from dawn to sunset during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan is regarded as an act of piety and devotion to God and an exercise in self-restraint.

— Islamic scholars say the merits of fasting also include cultivating gratitude and compassion for the less fortunate and poor.

— Making donations and helping feed the needy are hallmarks of the month, which also typically sees the devout dedicating more time for prayers, religious studies and reading of the Quran, the Muslim holy book.

— Many look forward to the fast as an act of spiritual rejuvenation and purification.

— In Islam, fasting is one of The Five Pillars of the faith, along with the profession of faith, prayer, almsgiving, and pilgrimage, which is known in Arabic as hajj. There are exemptions from fasting, including for the sick.

— The daily fasting is followed by iftar, or breaking of the fast, often in festive gatherings with family and friends.


— Fasting is an important part of Jainism. It is viewed as a way to cleanse one’s body, including one’s bad karma or actions. Jain fasts could last from one day to more than a month. People may do complete or partial fasts or just give up their favorite foods for a certain period of time.


— The holiest day of the Jewish calendar involves a 25-hour fasting period that’s coupled with prayers for forgiveness. During Yom Kippur, Judaism’s day of atonement, Israeli life grinds to a halt — businesses shut down, roads empty out and even radio and TV stations go silent as the faithful fast for 25 hours and hold intensive prayers of atonement.


— Sikhism is one of few religions that does not regard fasting as meritorious. Guru Nanak, founder of the Sikh faith, regarded fasting as inferior to the “truth” or “right action,” which he said was superior to fasting, penance or other austerities.


Associated Press writers Deepa Bharath and Peter Smith contributed to this report.


Associated Press religion coverage receives support through the AP’s collaboration with The Conversation US, with funding from Lilly Endowment Inc. The AP is solely responsible for this content.

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Why the religious fast for Ramadan, Lent and other holy days