AS the New Year starts, different religions perform different rituals as they dedicate the year to a divine being they believe holds their destiny.
For Christians, many are already absorbed in the 10 days of prayer and fasting as has become a tradition. The concept of fasting dates back to the Bible when God instructed his people to fast whenever they were facing challenges. It was also for the purpose of renewing their relationship with God.
Evangelical Fellowship of Zimbabwe general secretary Pastor Blessing Makwara said the concept of fasting is clear in the Old and New Testament times of the Bible.
“In the Old Testament, God instructed his people to fast and in the New Testament Jesus himself fasted but it was mainly spiritual.
“Fasting itself although it is biblical, does not specifically instruct people on how many days. So this now differs from person to person and from church to church.”
Pst Makwara added that fasting is an act of repentance and reaction to intense grief according to Jonah 3:5-9.
“When the king of Nineveh ordered a fast after the preaching of Jonah and also when the bones of Saul and his sons were buried in the book of Samuel, again when the Israelites needed God’s deliverance, they had to fast.
“When fasting, the Bible instructs us to be more prayerful and to read a lot of scriptures and more importantly to all, one should not wear a pathetic face or let the world know they are fasting.
“This is why He instructed people not to be like the Pharisees but to go in their inner rooms, fast and pray there without the world knowing,” posited Pst Makwara.
Tied to this time of fasting is sacrificial giving known as seeding which is a way of covenanting in the belief of an answer from God.
Others believe seeding during this time sets a powerful tone for breakthroughs as the year progresses.
“It is sad that over the recent times clergymen have been taking advantage of these fasting times and in promising people breakthroughs they extort from them, clearly a diversion from the real concept of fasting which should mainly be spiritual and not about money.
“In some churches, the 10 days fasting concept is acknowledged from household to another, from the most junior to the most high-ranking clergymen,” he said.
Methodist Church in Zimbabwe pastor, Kholiwe Moyo, said on the dawn of a new year, the church launched its 10 days of fasting and prayer based on Acts 1 and this has been adopted as part of the church’s tradition.
“Since then it has become our tradition as the church although some people argue that it began with Pentecostal churches like the Zimbabwe Assemblies of God Africa (Zaoga).
“Today nearly every member of the church practises it willingly though we are not saying this is the only time we fast. We do so many times, anytime of the year but for January, we believe it is more important as it is time to relay our resolutions to the Lord,” he said.
While many follow the 10 days concept, other denominations have a different view.
For some Muslims the first 10 days are devoted to more serious prayer and the 10th day, the Day of Ashura, is set aside as a fasting day.
According to the book “Lives of Prophets”, Prophet Muhammad believed the Israelites were freed from bondage on this day as was Jonah from the belly of the fish. It is also the day Prophet Muhammad’s grandson was killed.
Muslim teacher Imam Ustaaz Saleem said despite having the 10 days of intensive prayer, the Day of the Ashura is most important as it is believed to be a compensation for the sins of the previous year.
“We believe this is the day we dedicate all we wish for in this year to Allah.
“During these days we are highly encouraged to desist from fighting and generally all acts that contradict the laws of Sharia which is the Islamic code of conduct,” he said.
Zimbabwe National Practitioners Association (ZINPA) president Sekuru Friday Chisanyu said like other religions, the African Traditional Religion also begins in January, with traditional ceremonies where they verbally convey to the ancestors on what they expect to accomplish during the year.
“During the first month of the year, we perform ritual ceremonies using traditional beer and brown rice to appease the ancestors. These ceremonies are either done overnight or during the day. We sing and dance to traditional songs and then appease the ancestors by reciting our totems and telling our ancestors our plans for the year.
“Sometimes at these ceremonies, this is where we receive premonitions on what the ancestors also want us to do for them for example ‘kuvabikira doro’ brewing beer. Sometimes they may even tell us to instead of performing one ceremony for the New Year to perform another or several others,” he said.
Sekuru Chisanyu said these ceremonies began way back and whenever they were done the whole clan would gather with those from the city travelling to their rural homes.
“Way back, we would travel to our rural homes for the ceremonies but in recent times because of economic challenges, city based families now perform the rituals in their homes as a small family.
“These ceremonies are very important in our religion because they mark a new year for us and it is the time for being born again,” said Sekuru Chisanyu.
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