By Joachim Ng
Ramadan is a month-long opportunity to fortify social bonding — not just within the Muslim community but also between Muslims and non-Muslims who work together or dwell in the same neighbourhood. It’s a time for sharing of experiences, as fasting is a body-mind discipline familiar to Indians and Chinese who follow temple practices.
The moon features prominently as a signpost in the fasting prescriptions — not just of Islam but also of Taoism and Mahayana Buddhism. New moon or full moon days are the times to go vegetarian (Cantonese: sik zaai), and the duration of fasting may be 3, 5, or 7 days. In Hinduism, the feast of Navarathri is very popular and adherents fast for 9 days during the lunar month of Ashvin that usually falls in September-October.
Religious fasting confers three immediate benefits: (a) physical detox (b) mental cleansing (c) social bonding.
Physical detox. According to a Taoist proverb on longevity “there must be constant purity inside your belly” and “no faeces in your intestines.” Factories use holidays to scrub their machines clean of accumulated dirt that would over time jam the clog wheels. So too must you at regular times do thorough internal cleansing. If you’re new to fasting, you could start with the “break-fast” that merely requires you to stop eating for 12 hours until breakfast. This means you skip supper. Extend that to 15 hours and you have the “dinner” fast, with high tea as the last meal of the day. More rigorous is the two-meal fast: either have breakfast and lunch only, or breakfast and dinner only. Seasoned practitioners could join the Muslims for a dawn to sunset fast.
Mental cleansing. Alongside fasting, empty your mind of enervating or harmful thoughts and replace them with thoughts of kindness. Hold others in mind and recite: “May you be well and happy.” Spend time during fasting to de-clutter your mind by getting close to plant life. Touch a plant and feel its calmness.
Social bonding. A fast in which everyone participates reinforces the bonds of solidarity within the faith community. Since all religions encourage fasting, Ramadan as a high-impact fasting season can serve to strengthen the bonds of national togetherness when Muslims invite their non-Muslim friends, work colleagues, and associates to berbuka puasa in the tradition of Muhibbah.