Madinat al-Muslimeen Islamic Message Board
|The psychology of fasting|
|10/03/01 at 04:32:07|
|Assalamu Alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh|
[center]The psychology of fasting
By Dr Muhammad Kamal Al-Shareef[/center]
If we want to study the psychological benefit of fasting, we need to discuss first the question of immediate and delayed fulfilment of human needs and desires. Fasting is an abstention from fulfilling certain desires and physical needs, from dawn to dusk. It involves abstention from eating when hungry, drinking when thirsty, and from immediate response to certain other desires. This in itself involves personal training in what psychological experts call "delayed fulfilment."
The ability to delay the fulfilment of one's desires is the criterion that distinguishes an adult from a child, a mature person from one who lacks maturity. When a child wants something from you, he or she will pester you until he gets it. The thought of having to get it may become too strong that the child would not be able to tolerate being denied. A child may often be in a fit of tears if his or her desire is not satisfied, but as the child grows up and becomes psychologically mature, he or she becomes better able to tolerate being denied what they desire. But the degree of tolerance may vary a great deal from one child to another. The same applies to adults, some of whom may be very keen to satisfy their desires immediately. Even an adult may need to be more mature in this sense, and acquire a greater ability for delayed fulfilment of personal desires.
Indeed patience and tolerating the inability to have one's desires immediately satisfied are highly important elements in attaining personal maturity. Fasting in Ramadan may be viewed as an annual training course in being more patient and able to resist one's desires. It helps to acquire higher maturity. Indeed, trying impatiently to satisfy one's desire is found at its strongest with people who have not had the sort of training faith provides. God says in the Qur'an: "Yet man prays for evil as eagerly as he prays for good. Truly man is ever hasty." (17: 11) He also says: "Man is a creature of haste. I shall make My signs obvious to you. Do not, then, ask Me to hasten [things]." (21:37) In another verse, He says: "You love this fleeting life, and give no thought to the life to come." (75: 20-21)
Fasting and the sexual desire
The Prophet encourages young people to get married, once they are able to afford marriage. Those whose means do not enable them to marry should resort to fasting, for it helps them to resist the sexual urge. The point here is not that fasting, with what it involves of hunger and thirst, weakens the body and, consequently, reduces desire. A fasting person will finish the fast at sunset, and have a good meal that brings one's body to its full vigor. In the early days of Islam, when sexual intercourse was forbidden to Muslims even at night on a fasting day, some of the Prophet's companions fell for the temptation and courted their wives. This shows that fasting was not sufficient to quieten their sexual desire completely. Nevertheless, the Prophet advises single men who are unable to get married to resort to fasting. This means that fasting is useful in such a situation, but in a way that is different from weakening the body through hunger and thirst.
Young people who steer away from illegitimate sex and cannot afford marriage may suffer from sexual thoughts, pressure and romantic feelings to an obsessive degree.
That may cause disruption of one's work or study. Such A preoccupation may take place even though there may be no specific object of excitement. This is particularly troublesome and people may find it too difficult to get rid of. It is in this area that we find a particular benefit of fasting. Some young people have told me about their own personal experience, confirming that fasting overcomes such obsessive thoughts about sex and love, without weakening the sexual desire itself. A fasting person will continue to be influenced by sexual excitement when he comes across it.
Generally, people do not like marriage in Ramadan or shortly before it. A newly married couple find it very hard to abstain from sex during the day when they are fasting, having nothing to eat or drink. On the other hand, a single person who is fasting and tries not to look hard or get involved in what excites sexual feelings will continue to have his mind free, not pre-occupied with oppressive love and sex fancies. In this way, fasting is a protective factor for him, particularly when it is coupled with lowering one's gaze so that one does not look at what tempts him to indulge in sin. Moreover, fasting has the beneficial effect of feeling oneself to be in worship from dawn to dusk.
Should a fasting person be temporarily oblivious of the fact that he is fasting, he will come back to realize that he is in worship. That will make him more resistant to a temptation of stealing a forbidden look, or anything that awakens his latent sexual desire.
[i]"Islam in Perspective" - Arab News - 18 June 2001[/i]
Wassalamu Alaikum Warahmatullahi Wabarakatuh
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