Fasting in Christianity and Islam

For an episode of time, humans have been engaged in a religious, as well as, traditional practice in which, food, drinks, etc. have been abstained willingly by them, and have been referred to by the term ‘fasting’. In this regard, a number of variations in fasting have been observed throughout history, in terms of limitations and restrictions that have been imposed, and followed by willing persons. For instance, several uninterrupted days can be observed with fasting, or some periods of a day are considered for fasting. Thus, different cultures, religions, and civilizations have been observing fasting, but in diverse and various conditions. As earlier mentioned in the paper, food is the basic restriction that is imposed during the period of fasting on the willing person, as it has gained importance and significance as compared with other necessities of human life since the advent of humans on this planet.

Since pre-history, human customs have constituted fasting for different religious and spiritual grounds. For instance, most of the sacred scriptures of religions, such as Islam and Christianity have been evaluated by a number of professionals and experts, and all the scriptures have regarded the practice of fasting for their followers. Thus, a religious relationship has always been made with fasting in every era.1 In particular, the Old, as well as, New Testament of the Bible have included the term of fasting for the promotion of the soul. Similarly, the Holy Quran has also asked the Muslims to observe fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, which has been a continued and sacred practice of Muslims since the advent of Islam on the globe.2

In this paper, we will try to define, discuss, evaluate, and compare the concepts of fasting in particular, Islam and Christianity. Particularly, Jesus of Nazareth has centered his teachings on life according to the New Testament, and a monotheistic religion has been introduced, which has been referred to as Christianity. Old Testament has prophesied the Jesus as the Son of God, as well as, the Messiah for the world. According to the statistics of the year 2001, there were an estimated 2.1 billion adherents, which turned Christianity into the largest religion with the highest number of followers in the world.3

Europe, America, Australia, and the Philippine Islands are some of the locations, where the abovementioned religion is predominant, as compared with the other ones. In addition, New Zealand, and Sub-Saharan Africa have also a major number of believers in their regions. Nowadays, Africa and Asia are also predominating in this religion rapidly. China and South Korea are the particular ones in this regard. In this respect, a number of cultures have been incorporated with the teachings of the Bible, and one may see different and diverse practices around the world. Specifically, the Bible has been divided into two canonical books, which are, the New Testament and the Old Testament.

A collection of these books is known as the Bible, which is regarded as the most valid and divine source in the religion of Christianity. The inspiration of the Holy Spirit has been taken during the writing of these scriptures by human authors. It is considered as the word of God that has been collected, written, and compiled together in an inerrant way. All the truth, which was revealed by God, and is necessary for the purpose of salvation, is contained in these scriptures, as believed by the Protestants.4

In Christianity, Christ should be followed by everyone in his or her everyday actions, as believed by Christians, which has been one of the basic principles in the religion. Many Christians believe that the Ten Commandments should be obeyed in this regard. The Ten Commandments is the mixture and essence of Jesus’ teachings and guidance that he instructed to his disciples and followers. The rights and love for the elders and younger, neighbors, and most importantly, love for God, are some of the teachings that he taught during his lifetime. However, these things have now become very uncommon and taken for granted by a number of people.

In addition, acts of piety have also been included in Christian practices, such as, reading the Bible and offering prayers to God. According to Christian beliefs, moral and spiritual progress can only allow someone to overcome their hardships and their problems in their physical world. Most Christians believe that their sins are departed away through their strong faith in Christ, his death, his resurrection, last judgment, and his teachings, etc.

In the light of the abovementioned scriptures and teachings of Christianity, the term of fasting has been used many times in the Bible, and the practice of fasting has been encouraged in this religion. In particular, one of the chapters in the religious book of Isaiah has discussed the abovementioned term for the Christians. In spirit, hunger or thirst should be abstained during the fasting period, and immoral wants must be refrained. As a result, substantial blessings and gaining have been promised in this book. In another book, a partial fast has been described, and healthy effects on the willing person have been discussed in the same chapter.5

It has been observed that several masses of Christians practice the traditional practice of fasting in their lives, whereas, an external ceremony in terms of fasting has been deemed by other denominations of Christianity. As earlier mentioned in the paper, the term fasting has been used many times, in order to relate the importance of fasting to the followers. For instance, during the conversation with God, a fast of forty days and nights was observed by Moses. In another event, the son of King David was punished by God due to adultery, and in response, a fast was observed by King David until his son died.

Observance of fasting in response to the victory in war has also been mentioned in the Bible. For instance, when the Moabites and Ammonites were defeated by King Jehoshaphat, a fast was proclaimed by him for thanksgiving. In another chapter, the judgment of God was averted by Prophet Joel by observing a fast. Thus, different circumstances have been related to the practice of fasting in the pre-history. In another book, followers were warned by Jesus, as the favor was expected in return for the fasting by men at that time. In response, private fasting was encouraged by Jesus, as spiritual growth and development were meant by it.

The abovementioned were some of the accounts of fasting that were noted in the Bible. Now, the paper will discuss the modern practices of different denominations of Christianity. In the Charismatic sect of Christianity, a closer relationship is sought by the observance of fasting. In this regard, the observance is taken up during one or two days of a week by the Charismatic Christians spiritually. In the Eastern Orthodox, and Eastern Catholics sects of Christianity, four seasons of fasting have been introduced to the followers. In particular, Dormition, Apostles, Great Lent, and Nativity Fast are the abovementioned four seasons of fasting in these two denominations.

Throughout the year, Fridays and Wednesdays have been considered as the days for fasting by these followers. In some of the monasteries, fasts are also observed during Mondays. Thus, different days have been considered spiritual for the observance of fasting by the Christians in different denominations. In some denominations, abstention from meat and fish has been included during the period of fasting. Specifically, wine and several alcoholic beverages have also been prohibited in most of the denominations of Christianity.6

In Protestantism, as earlier mentioned in the paper, observance of fasting has been deemed as an external practice by most of the reformers. It has been criticized by the reformers that personal salvation cannot be attained by the observance of fasting. On the other hand, fasting has been encouraged by some of the churches, such as Anglican Communion, as well as, American Protestants, etc. Thus, variations in the practice of fasting have been observed in even Protestantism.

Similarly, fasting during the period of Lent has been encouraged by the Lutheran churches. In other denominations, private fasting has been encouraged, rather than the fasting done for the acquiring of favor by the persons. In some sects of Christianity, the accompanying prayer has been considered a must for the observance of fasting. For Roman Catholics, one full meal of a person is reduced during the period of fasting. In addition, intake of solid food between meals is prohibited for the Roman Catholics. On some days, meat is prohibited completely for them. On the other hand, water consumption has been taken as the only permissible item to be taken during the fasting period by some of the Roman Catholics.

Until now, we have described and discussed some of the basic facts that have been practiced by the majority of Christians in light of the sacred scriptures and holy books. Now, the term of fasting and the modern practices of Muslims around the globe will be discussed subsequently in the paper. The paper will try to compare the abovementioned fasting practices of Christianity with the Islamic principles of fasting that are considered by the majority of the Muslim community around the world.

During the seventh century, a religious and political figure emerged in the Arab region, who taught the teachings of a monotheistic religion, Islam. In particular, Prophet Muhammad was the noble and chosen person of God, who taught the new way of living life to the human race of the world. The will of a person is submitted to God willingly, in order to accept Islam and be a Muslim. A number of studies and surveys have shown that Christianity has been followed by Islam on the basis of the population around the globe. Specifically, approximately two billion Muslims have been registered, and Islam is now the second-largest religion in the world.7

It has been believed by all the Muslims that Quran was revealed to Muhammad by God, and He is the last prophet of God. Thus, the majority of the Muslims have been sourcing the teachings of the Holy Quran and the teachings that have been given by Prophet Muhammad during his lifetime, as the basic pillars of religion. In addition, Prophet Abraham, Prophet Moses, Prophet Jesus, and several other prophets have been related in the teachings of Islam, and it has been believed by Muslims that the same monotheistic faith has been restored by the Prophet Muhammad.8

Many religious practices have been included in the teachings of Islam, which may vary according to the traditions and cultures of different denominations of the religion. However, the five pillars of Islam have been given due importance by almost all the followers of Islam. Virtually, different aspects of life, society, culture, politics, etc. have been considered by a number of rules and regulations, which have been referred to as Islamic law. This law has governed almost every aspect and sector of different concepts of life in this universe.

The Sunni and Shia constitute the majority of Muslims around the world, as two of the major denominations of Islam. After the death of Prophet Muhammad, the quest for the religious and political leadership of Muslims resulted in several disagreements during the late seventh century. As the result, eighty-five percent of Muslims accepted the Sunni concept of Islam, and the rest of the followers accepted Hazrat Ali as the First Imam (leader) of the Muslims, or the time, as believed by a majority of the Shia Muslims.

As earlier mentioned in the paper, the largest group in Islam is the Sunni Muslims. The first four caliphs have been considered as the lawful descendants of Prophet Muhammad, and the teachings of the Holy Quran and the sayings of the Prophet have been considered as the essential sources of Islam. Moreover, the Sunni denomination of Islam has considered the metamorphic interpretation of religion in the light of the Holy Quran and the life of Prophet Muhammad. On the other hand, more esoteric interpretations of the Holy Quran and guidelines of Imamate of the time have been considered as the basic pillars of the religion. In this regard, the modern practices of Shia Muslims are primarily, a reflection of guidelines of the Imamate.

Although many fundamental practices have been shared by the abovementioned two major denominations of Islam, the provision of proper importance to the leadership has been a matter of disagreement between them. Now, we will try to discuss the basic concepts of fasting in Islam and will evaluate the modern practices of major denominations of this religion.

Islamic jurisprudence has regulated the Arabic word ‘Sawm’ for fasting. A similar concept of fasting has been considered by the Islamic teachings and is that eating, drinking, as well as, sexual intercourse should be prohibited during the fasting period by Muslims. As earlier mentioned in the paper, the five basic pillars of Islamic faith have been considered as the fundamental of Islam, and thus, the holy month of Ramadan has ordered the Muslims to observe the fasting period during this month. 9However, a number of other fasting periods have been mentioned in the teachings of Islam, but the month of Ramadan signifies the true example of fasting in Islam.

In the Islamic context, Holy Quran has given specific periods during the holy month of Ramadan that should be observed with fasting by Muslims. In this regard, the period of dawn, i-e, sunrise, the sunset has been considered as the fasting period during the month of Ramadan by Muslims. During this period, eating, drinking, and sexual activities have been prohibited by the teachings of the Holy Quran. In addition, some of the sayings of Prophet Muhammad have prohibited smoking during fasting. Moreover, closeness to Allah has been promised as the essential gain from fasting, which is quite similar to the concepts that are practiced in Christianity.

A different concept of fasting in Islam has been noted by a number of professionals. In particular, sympathy with the poor ones, and people with less fortunate resources have been considered as one of the distant objectives of fasting in Islam. Thus, Muslims have been instructed to do charity during the holy month, which is considered a must practice by some of the Muslim populace around the world. In addition, thinking of immoral thoughts during the fasting period and cursing during this month has been strictly prohibited by the Islamic scriptures.10

In esoteric interpretation, devotion to Allah has been the major objective of fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. During this month, Muslims have been asked to control their emotions that may result in their lust for money, hunger, sexuality, and otherworldly wants, which may avoid any closeness of a Muslim with Allah. In this regard, a number of conditions have been imposed on Muslims that should be fulfilled before, during, and after the fasting period. For instance, making of an intention for a fast has been considered a must thing before starting the fast, and almost all the denominations have considered it as a condition for the validity of the fast.

In addition, the general conditions of eating, drinking, and sexual activities have already been discussed in the paper. It has been observed that if the abovementioned conditions are not fulfilled by a Muslim during this month, and the only food is not eaten by him, the fast is not considered as a fast, and only starvation is deemed by this act. Thus, it is necessary that physical, social, spiritual, as well as, emotional conditions should be considered by Muslims during the fasting period in the holy month of Ramadan.

Several exemptions have also been provided to Muslims during the fasting month. In Islam, fasting is exempted during the conditions of nursing, traveling, and sickness. Moreover, persons with weak health, elderly and aged persons, and pregnant women are permitted with the fasting during this month. In addition, permission for fasting has not been given to menstruating women. However, it has been instructed that fasting should be continued by these women after their period of menstruation. Furthermore, observance of missed fasts should be done next year before the holy month according to the Islamic scriptures of the Quran. Thus, men and women have been considered equal in the Islamic scriptures, and all the religious duties should be fulfilled by both sexes.

In this regard, it has been evaluated that a number of similarities are shared by the Christian and Islamic scriptures, as both of them have been revealed through one divine authority. However, several concepts have been diverse in some contexts, which is due to the different times and conditions of the revelation of the Bible and the Holy Quran. It has been hoped that this paper will help in the better understanding of both religions, as well as, the concept of fasting that is practiced in both religions willingly.


  1. Allan Cott. Fasting. (Hastingshouse/Daytrips Publications, 1997).
  2. Lynne M. Baab. Fasting. (Intervarsity Pr, 2007) pp. 30-35.
  3. Francis E. Peters. Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (Princeton University Press, 1990) pp. 33-37.
  4. Trevor Barnes. Christianity. (Kingfisher Publications, 2005) pp. 12-18.
  5. Ina Taylor. Religion and Life with Christianity and Islam. (Harcourt Heinemann, 2005) pp. 46-50. pp. 101-109.
  6. William Lee Johnson. Motivations for Fasting in Early Christianity to A.D. 270. (Johnson, 1978) pp. 54-58.
  7. Vartan Gregorian. Islam. (Brookings Institution Press, 2003) pp. 24-26.
  8. Ali Budak. Fasting in Islam & the Month of Ramadan. (The Light Inc, 2005) pp. 19-21. pp. 23-25.
  9. Muhammad Ali. The Religion of Islam. (Ahmadiyya anjuman isha ‘at Islam, 1936) pp. 88-92.
  10. Reverend W. R. W. Stephens. Christianity and Islam. (Kessinger Publishing, 2004) pp. 112-115.