Fatima Bulla – Religion Affairs Editor
About two weeks ago, a 73-year-old self-proclaimed prophet from Zimuto lost his life amidst suspicion that he had succumbed to a 30-day-and-night fast he had embarked on.
Naturally, questions have arisen as to what really is fasting and how does one go about it.
Methodist Church in Zimbabwe national education secretary, Reverend Eliot Mashonganyika, says the objective of fasting is to add concentration to prayer through depriving oneself of bodily needs.
“Fasting is divided into two parts: partial and absolute fasting. By partial we mean cutting or reducing your needs for the sake of talking to God. For example if you are used to taking three meals a day you then opt to take one or two — that is partial fasting.
“You can also deprive yourself of comfort, leave your bed and everything in your house, and go to a mountain where you sleep on the ground. That can be classified as partial fasting as well.
“It can also apply to married people. They can decide not to have sex for a certain period of time. That is partial fasting as well. For example, Prophet Elijah and John the Baptist practiced partial fasting when they ate locusts and honey instead of eating the staple food of that time,” Rev Mashonganyika explains.
“Absolute fasting is when one decides not to take anything — food or water — for a certain period of time for the reason of prayer. The good Biblical example is Jesus when He was in the wilderness and practiced absolute fasting.
“All in all, the main objective of these two types of fasting is to add concentration when praying. Depriving yourself your needs will increase your concentration.”
Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs in Zimbabwe deputy national chair Sheikh Ishmail Duwa adds that there are different types of fasting in the Islamic faith. Ramadan is compulsory.
“Ramadan is compulsory because it is one of the pillars of Islam. But there are other types of fasting like the one set for next month which is for nine-and-a-half days. This one is meant to commemorate the time when Abraham went to sacrifice his son.
“So we buy beasts except chicken and give to the less privileged. There is also fasting that we do on Mondays and Thursdays only when one wants extra blessings. But the fasting is done at the discretion of the believer,” Sheikh Duwa says.
Muslims fast from dawn to sunset with children breaking at midday. The elderly, sick, pregnant women and those on their monthly cycle are exempted. Sheikh Duwa says Muslims also fast with the objective of petitioning God when they have an urgent need. According to Rev Sabina Chikeya of the United Methodist Church, when one fasts they have decided to forsake the flesh to focus on spirituality.
“You are denying the flesh for the sake of connecting to God. It is only abstaining from food but it has to be accompanied with prayer. You do not fast when there is no food at home but even when it is in abundance . . . there is a fast during which you decide to not drink water for three days or drink in the evenings only. Or you can choose not to eat until in the afternoon. Some may decide to omit a certain type of food they like in their meals, like meat. So it depends,” Rev Chikeya says.
Glorious Fire Family International Ministries founder, Pastor Tonderai Nyariri, adds that fasting demands wisdom.
“There is the Daniel fast (Daniel 1) during which one decides to eat vegetables only. Then there is the absolute fast when you do not take anything including water. Or a partial fast where you choose to forsake other solids and take juices only.
“Another type is when a married couple may decide to abstain from sex for a certain period of time when they commit to prayer. You cannot fast for more than three days and three nights without the Holy Spirit telling you.
“But while you fast you also need to consider taking care of the body. I know of a woman who was used mightily by God and would go on a seven-day-and-night fast. This she did also preaching and casting demons. Now preaching for an hour is like working in a mine — it is strenuous. So later her body began to struggle from inside, she fell ill and died. I think while we may fast we need not also destroy the body. You can decide to fast and abstain from sex with your spouse, but taking it to the extreme because of lack of wisdom can drive your partner into an adulterous affair. Paul said abstain though for a season and you must come back (1Corinthians 7:5),” Pastor Nyariri counsels.
Jesus, Elijah and Moses went on prolonged fasting, Pr Nyariri adds, because the Holy Spirit led them.
“There needs to be a balance between the Word, praying and fasting. Some fast without reading the Word and some of it opens doors for demons. I saw on television a man who took up fasting for 40 days and on the 39th day demons entered. That individual surely had not been driven by the Word of God.”
For Catholics the traditional days of fast are the Lent, Ember, Vigil of Pentecost, Vigil of the Assumption, Vigil of the Immaculate Conception and Vigil of Christmas.
According to catholictradition.org all persons over 18 and under 59 years of age must fast, unless their health prevents them from doing so.
“This means that on a fast day, they may have only one principal or full meal, and two smaller snacks.
“They may eat meat at this principal meal, except on days of abstinence. At the two smaller snacks, they may not have meat, but they may take sufficient food to maintain their strength.
“However, these two smaller snacks together should be less than a full meal. Eating between meals is not permitted; but liquids, including milk and fruit juices, may be taken at any time on a fast day.”
“The substantial observance” of Fridays as days of penance, whether by abstinence from meat or other penance is “a grave obigation”. (Pope Paul VI, Paentemini, 1966).
The Catholic tradition also states that, “Serious obligation to fast exists now only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday and all other Fridays during Lent, abstinence from meat.
On all other Fridays of the year, other penances must be undertaken if the former abstinence is omitted.”
According to online sources, fasting in Buddhism is practiced during times of intensive meditation, such as during a retreat; while adherents of the Bahá’í Faith observe it from sunrise to sunset during the Bahá’í month of Ala (March 2–March 20).
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