During Lent Christians from all over the world will fast as well as give up something, like eating chocolate, or watching television as a sacrifice to bring them closer to God. For example, I have given up watching my favourite shows and will replace that time with reading Scripture.
There are two important fasting days for Christians during Lent, which are Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. On these two days Christians are asked to fast by eating two small meals and one larger meal that does not equal their two smaller meals combined. This may seem miniscule in comparison to the fasting Muslims partake in during Ramadan. Ramadan is known as the ninth month of the Islamic calendar and it is a time when Muslims fast from eating and drinking from sunrise to sunset. The Bahá’í’s also have a similar fast. Their fast takes place during the month of ‘Ala which takes place during the same time every year. Their fast is nineteen days and it occurs immediately before the Bahá’í New Year. In the Jewish religion, Yom Kippur, also known as the day of atonement, and is a twenty-four hour period in which Jews fast. The fast has its own name, Ta’anit, which Jews abstain from food and drink from sunrise to sunset for one day.
Fasting in the religious context is a way in which a person is brought closer to God. It is a physical action which represents a sacrifice. Religious fasting can also be exercised as a means of solidarity. I recently read an article that mentioned a Muslim Scottish government minister, Humza Yousaf, who is giving up Irn-Bru this lent in solidarity with Christians to raise money for Aid to the Church in Need. He chose this charity because it is a “Catholic charity which prioritises support for persecuted Christians in the Middle East and other Muslim-majority regions.” When speaking at an Aid to the Church in Need youth rally in summer 2015, Yousaf described religion as a fundamental human right for all.
Fasting in solidarity with other religions is not a new concept and many religions have been taking part in this action across Scotland. For example, last year Interfaith Glasgow offered the chance for non-Muslims to observe the Ramadan fast from sunrise to sunset. After sunset there was an opportunity for everyone to gather at the Al Furqan Mosque and see the Maghrib prayer and experience iftar (breaking the fast).
Interfaith fasting is a way in which different religions can be brought together in solidarity and show respect for one another. Currently Pope Francis is invoking a fast for this upcoming Friday (February 23rd). Pope Francis is calling Christians and other faiths worldwide to pray and fast for peace. This fast is especially for people suffering in South Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Fasting is a time of retreat for many different religions. A time of more awareness of God, others, and one’s own prayer life. As the fasting Lenten journey begins now for Christians, I hope it spurs an interest into the interfaith connections fasting has and the possibilities of learning about fasting between other faiths and not just our own.