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Psychological Benefits of Fasting

And seek help through patience and prayer, and indeed, it is difficult except for the humbly
submissive [to Allah] (2:45)
Allah (swt) decreed us the above ayath to guide us on how to seek help. It is indeed clear that
Allah (swt) will answer our duas if we seek help with patience and prayers. Patience is
something that comes with training and self-control, and for those with the strongest trust in
Allah (swt). It is easier said than done for many. Submission and devotion to Allah comes with a
great amount of patience, as it takes a great deal of effort to accept that Allah (swt) tests the ones
who are most submissive to ensure that the iman is strong and gets stronger. The month of
Ramadan is a blessing from Allah (swt) to teach mankind the art of patience. Allah (swt) has
said, O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you,
that ye may (learn) taqwa (self-restraint) (Al-Quran: Surah Al-Baqarah 2:183). Further, Allah
says, (The month of Ramadan is that in which was revealed the Qur'an, wherein is guidance for
mankind and the clear signs of guidance and distinction. Thus whosoever among you witness the
month must fast.... ) (Al-Baqarah 2: 185). This month of Ramadan comes along with many
spiritual and psychological benefits to mankind. These benefits prepare mankind to handle and
face the day to day challenges of life, according to the teachings of Islam.
What is Psychology?
Psychology is the scientific study of human mind and behavior. This area of study has some
strong connections with Islam and its history. During the 8 th century, many Islamic scholars had
developed treatment methods and psychiatric theories of mental illness. Early Arab and Muslim
scholars wrote extensively about human psychology. They used the term Nafs (self or soul) to
indicate individual personality and the term fitrah (nature) as an indication for human nature.
Nafs is a broad term that includes the qalb (heart), the ruh (spirit), the aql (intellect) and irada
(will). Moreover, the Islamic and Arabic psychological era includes the establishment of the first
mental hospitals, the development of the first clinical approach to mental illness, and a unique
experimental approach to the study of the mind (Khaleefa, 1999; Paladin, 1998). The first mental
hospital in the Middle East was established in Baghdad in 792 A.D.
What is fasting and what is the purpose?
Fasting is called sawm in the Qur'an. The word sawm literally means "to abstain." According to
Shari'ah, the word (sawm means to abstain from all those things that are forbidden during fasting
from the break of dawn to the sunset, and to do this with the intention of fasting).

Those things that are forbidden during fasting are, eating, drinking or smoking deliberately,
including taking any non-nourishing items by mouth, nose or anus; deliberately causing oneself
to vomit; menstruation; post-childbirth bleeding; ejaculation out of sexual excitement from
kissing, hugging, etc. In addition to that, narrated by Abu Huraira: The Prophet (pbuh) said,
"Whoever does not give up forged speech and evil actions, Allah is not in need of his leaving his
food and drink (i.e. Allah will not accept his fasting.)" (Sahih Bukhari, Volume 3, Book 31,
Number 127).
The purpose of fasting, and abstaining ourselves from all those mentioned above, is primarily to
create some space to appreciate and recognize the blessings of Allah (swt). Deprivation leads to
appreciation. A typical lifestyle does not permit us to take a break to think. However, depriving
ourselves for a short time allows us to ponder the blessings Allah (swt) has given us and
understand what the less fortunate go through every day. Fasting lets us repent of having
forgotten to be thankful to Allah (swt), and provides an appointed time to give away zakat
(charity) in order to purify our income and wealth. This practice allows us to become more
appreciative, grateful and psychologically and physiologically healthy.
Psychological Benefits of Fasting
Consciousness
Consciousness in Islam is about Taqwa. Taqwa is piety, righteousness and consciousness of
Allah. Taqwa requires patience and perseverance. Fasting teaches patience and, with patience,
one can rise to the high position of taqwa. When ones position in taqwa is high, it teaches how
to be conscious, aware, or mindful about life and its blessings. Consciousness helps one to be
considerate before acting, be remorseful after, if the act is wrong. Consciousness also enables
one to guard behaviors and thoughts, so they will be acceptable to Allah (swt), and rewarded.
Consciousness is refreshed, trained and enhanced during the month of Ramadan, as we are
continuously aware and thoughtful about our behaviors, emotions and feelings during the hours
of fasting, with the expectations and niyah to fulfill the fast and be rewarded for it.
Patience
Fasting is about being patient. The determination to pull
through the day, to abide by the rules of fasting, teaches
us how to make and sustain strong willpower. Being
patient shapes our attitude and behavior at the same time.
Looking at it from a psychological perspective, Sigmund
Freud identifies the id, ego and the superego, three
components of personality, to be the governing body of
the human mind and behavior.

Id is the inner 2 year old child who demands immediate gratification, operates on the pleasure
principle, and is selfish. The id makes us focus on hunger and thirst, feel self-pity because we are
tired, and suggests breaking fast early, or resenting how hard it is to fast. If the Id dominates, the
faster will yield to temptation and give up the effort to fast.
The superego, on the other hand, is the controller, or the parent. During fasting, the superego
should be reminding us to keep our focus on Allah, rather than being distracted by the concerns
of the body. However, if the superego is too zealous about its role, too bossy and too critical, it
may cause the well-meaning faster to feel guilty about bodily distractions, as though they are
convictions of a failure to be a good Muslim. A dominating super-ego threatens that we should
fast because we will not be rewarded otherwise, or worrying us about what the community will
say about failure or trepidation. A healthy super-ego, however, allows us to understand the
significance of the rewards Allah has for fasting, like what was reported by Abu Hurayrah.
Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) 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 (Al-Bukhari and Muslim).
However, the ego ends up finalizing the resolution as a mature and healthy adult, by telling the Id
to be patient, that food is not out of reach, but is safe to wait for. This sense of patience and
control comes to us as we grow older and learn the spiritual and psychological benefits of it.
Having the patience to withstand temptation and tolerating until the delayed gratification is
received are highly important elements in attaining personal maturity.
Self-Control
Self-control is controlling our nafs, controlling our self or soul. It is about how we control our
behavior and desires. How Merciful is Allah (swt) who not only rewards us when we control our
nafs, but He rewards us immensely whilst we are learning how to control our nafs in fasting.
May Allah (swt) grant us all the ability to earn His pleasure and not waste this magnificent
opportunity.
Fasting teaches us to control various behaviors such as anger outbreaks, violence, gambling,
addictions, infidelity, sexual activities, etc. "O assembly of young people, whosoever among you
has the wherewithal to marry should do so, as it will help him to lower his gaze and safeguard
his chastity. And whoever is unable to do so should fast, because it diminishes sexual desire."
[Sahh al-Bukhr (5066) and Sahh Muslim (1400)]. This strict training for a period of one
month helps us get used to restricting ourselves from bad deeds. It helps us resist temptations,
control desires, and instills deep feelings of gratitude and patience. We learn to appreciate only
when we learn to control our desires. Learning to refrain from eating and drinking, even when
there is a desire for it, is all a practice of self-control, and learning to control other desires for the
sake of Allah is a stronger practice of self-control. Prophet Muhammad said that," Fast is a

shield (which helps refrain from bad deeds)". Fasting not only helps us learn to self-control, but
also helps us fight addictions and other significant impulses.
Addiction Control
Smoking is not allowed during fasting, and this helps the individual get used to the new routine.
The bodys biological mechanism eventually learns that the substance is no longer going to be
present at the usual time, and communicates with the brain to make adjustments to accommodate
the changes. Once the changes are accommodated, it is a matter of continuing later on, which
actually helps individuals get over their long term addictions. Fasting also helps the body flush
out toxins and other substances that are harmful to the body, helping in addiction control.
Overcoming Complexes
Fasting teaches us what it is to be poor and hungry the whole year. Normally we fail to slow
down to think about poor and hungry people, as we are too busy earning and spending it all on
ourselves. Hence, fasting is a way of bridging the gap between the different classes and in and
out groups in the society. All are equal in the eyes of Allah and wealth doesn't matter. "Allah
doesn't look at your wealth and your body; in fact he looks at your deeds". This feeling helps
poor people to overcome the idea of being inferior to the others. On the other hand, rich people
also realize and feel themselves equal to the poor, hence eliminating the pride of being superior
or dominant.
Healing and Restoration
During the month of Ramadan, most of our lifestyles change. Everyone from our immediate
family to the people around us are encouraged to study and understand more about Islam, its
teachings, and are engaged in religious activities more than usual. There are more Islamic
programs telecasted on the TV, and radio channels; masjids are more crowded with children and
adults for ifthar events and tharawi prayers. Given the increased global focus on todays
technology, information, and social media, the internet facilitates an increase in publishing about
Islam. This gives us a chance to learn, change, and restore our iman, with new understandings.
Ramadan is a month of forgiveness. Abu Hurayrah reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings
be upon him) said Whoever stands (in the voluntary night prayer of) Ramadan out of faith and
in hope of reward, his previous sins will be forgiven.(Al-Bukhari and Muslim). This gives us a
chance to feel the healing taking place for consequences of the mistakes or sins we might have
committed in the past, and gives us a feeling of refreshment and recovery. It allows us to feel
complete and new, making us less tense and more protected. Abu Hurayrah (may Allah be
pleased with him) reported that the Prophet (peace and blessings be upon him) said When
Ramadan enters, the gates of Paradise are opened, the gates of Hellfire are closed and the devils
are chained. (Al-Bukhari and Muslim). Knowing that the month of Ramadan is filled with
blessings and forgiveness, it allows us to renew ourselves, seek forgiveness for the things that we

feel guilty about, and helps us to fix the broken soul and regain strength. It gives us a sense of
relief that we have done our part to release ourselves from the burdens that we carried for the last
one year.

Hana Haniffa

Hana Haniffa, holds a BSc. in Psychology (Honors) from Missouri University of Science and Technology
USA, and is pursuing her MA in Psychotherapy and Counseling. She lectures and writes on topics in
Psychology. She can be reached through the editor of this magazine.