Medical Benefits of Ramadan
There is much wisdom and many benefits in fasting, which have to do with the taqwa mentioned by Allaah in the aayah (interpretation of the meaning):
“… that you may become al-muttaqoon (the pious).” [al-Baqarah 2:183]
The interpretation of this is that if a person refrains from halaal things hoping to earn the pleasure of Allaah and out of fear of His punishment, it will be easier for him to refrain from doing haraam things.
If a person’s stomach is hungry, this will keep many of his other faculties from feeling hunger or desires; but if his stomach is satisfied, his tongue, eye, hand and private parts will start to feel hungry. Fasting leads to the defeat of Shaytaan; it controls desires and protects one’s faculties.
When the fasting person feels the pangs of hunger, he experiences how the poor feel, so he has compassion towards them and gives them something to ward off their hunger. Hearing about them is not the same as sharing their suffering, just as a rider does not understand the hardship of walking unless he gets down and walks.
Fasting trains the will to avoid desires and keep away from sin; it helps a person to overcome his own nature and to wean himself away from his habits. It also trains a person to get used to being organized and punctual, which will solve the problem that many people have of being disorganized, if only they realized.
Fasting is also a demonstration of the unity of the Muslims, as the ummah fasts and breaks its fast at the same time.
Fasting also provides a great opportunity for those who are calling others to Allaah. In this month many people come to the mosque who are coming for the first time, or who have not been to the mosque for a long time, and their hearts are open, so we must make the most of this opportunity by preaching in a gentle manner, teaching appropriate lessons and speaking beneficial words, whilst co-operating in righteousness and good deeds. The dai’yah should not be so preoccupied with others that he forgets his own soul and becomes like a wick that lights the way for others while it is itself consumed.
Ramadan is a month of self-regulation and self-training, with the hope that this training will last beyond the end of Ramadan. If the lessons learned during Ramadan, whether in terms of dietary intake or righteousness, are carried on after Ramadan, it is beneficial for one's entire life. Moreover, the type of food taken during Ramadan does not have any selective criteria of crash diets such as those which are protein only or fruit only type diets. Everything that is permissible is taken in moderate quantities.
The only difference between Ramadan and total fasting is the timing of the food; during Ramadan, we basically miss lunch and take an early breakfast and do not eat until dusk. Abstinence from water during this period is not bad at all and in fact, it causes concentration of all fluids within the body, producing slight dehydration. The body has its own water conservation mechanism; in fact, it has been shown that slight dehydration and water conservation, at least in plant life, improve their longevity.
The physiological effect of fasting includes lower of blood sugar, lowering of cholesterol and lowering of the systolic blood pressure. In fact, Ramadan fasting would be an ideal recommendation for treatment of mild to moderate, stable, non-insulin diabetes, obesity and essential hypertension. In 1994 the first International Congress on "Health and Ramadan", held in Casablanca, entered 50 research papers from all over the world, from Muslim and non-Muslim researchers who have done extensive studies on the medical ethics of fasting. While improvement in many medical conditions was noted; however, in no way did fasting worsen any patients' health or baseline medical condition. On the other hand, patients who are suffering from severe diseases, whether diabetes or coronary artery disease, kidney stones, etc., are exempt from fasting and should not try to fast.
There are psychological effects of fasting as well. There is a peace and tranquility for those who fast during the month of Ramadan. Personal hostility is at a minimum, and the crime rate decreases. Muslims take advice from the Prophet who said, "If one slanders you or aggresses against you, say I am fasting.'" This psychological improvement could be related to better stabilization of blood glucose during fasting as hypoglycemia after eating, aggravates behavior changes.
There is a beneficial effect of extra prayer at night. This not only helps with better utilization of food but also helps in output. There are 10 extra calories output for each rikat of the prayer. Again, we do not do prayers for exercise, but a mild movement of the joints with extra calorie utilization is a better form of exercise. Similarly, recitation of the Quran not only produces a tranquility of heart and mind, but improves the memory.
Healthy adult Muslims should not fear becoming weak by fasting, but instead it should improve their health and stamina.