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The many customs of Lent

Fasting as a way to regain or refocus spirituality is common in many religions. Fasting has played a key role in many of the world’s major religions (apart from Zoroastrianism—a Western religion–which prohibits it), being associated with penitence and other forms of self-control. Christians traditionally observe Lent, which began yesterday, Ash Wednesday (February 26) and ends on Holy Thursday (April 9). Although Lent is most commonly observed within the Roman Catholic Church, there are different denominations that choose to honour it in their own way even though they may not necessarily call it Lent. Catholic News gives insight on how other religions of the world practice fasting and why they do it.

Catholic- Christian fasting: a spiritual feast

The Roman Catholic Church has a long tradition of fasting for Lent with specific regulations for its members covering Lenten fasting. Not only do Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday, but they also abstain from meat on those days and all the Fridays during the 40-day Lenten period. Fasting does not mean complete denial of food, however. Most Catholics choose to voluntarily fast from something for all of Lent — dessert, alcohol, coffee, or some other luxury. Most often it is a food, though these days many choose to fast from Netflix or Facebook.

On fast days, Catholics are allowed to eat one full meal and two smaller meals which, together, do not constitute a full meal. Young children, the elderly, and persons whose health would be affected are exempt from fasting regulations.

For Christians, fasting is associated with prayer and alms-giving as spiritual disciplines to take a person’s attachment away from the world and focus it on God and Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.

Islamic fasting: that you may become righteous

Fasting literally means ‘to abstain’ and in Islam it means to abstain from food, drink, sexual relations with one’s wife/husband and all other things which can break the fast, from the break of dawn until sunset with the intention of an act of worship. It is therefore essential that the intention of observing the fast be made by the individual. A document from the Darul Uloom Trinidad and Tobago Institute of Higher Islamic Studies and Secondary Education states that observing the fast of Ramadan is compulsory on an individual basis and is evident from the Holy Quran. Generally, Muslims fast for 30 days during the month of Ramadan—the ninth month in the Islamic calendar which begins this year April 24 to May 23.  It is also permissible to fast for six days in Shawwal—the tenth month in the Islamic Calendar which is considered the equivalent to fasting for one year; Mondays and Thursdays and; the 13th, 14th and 15th of every month.

While abstaining from food, drink and the fulfilment of one’s desires, the fasting persons is also ordered to give up such things which can corrupt the fast and erase the rewards. He must give up vain talk, falsehood, lust, sins and indecent/ immoral behaviour.

Protestant Christian Fasting: what is done in private

Learnreligions.com said that most Protestant churches do not have regulations on fasting and Lent. Another website moroccoworldnews.com said that because fasting is a private matter, many Protestants do not fast at all. But those who do, fasting is practised at any time and in a variety of ways.

The Presbyterian Church makes fasting voluntary. Its purpose is to develop a dependence on God, prepare the believer to face temptation, and to seek wisdom and guidance from God.

The Methodist Church has no official guidelines on fasting but encourages it as a private matter. John Wesley, one of the founders of Methodism, fasted twice a week. Fasting, or abstaining from such activities as watching television, eating favorite foods, or doing hobbies is also encouraged during Lent.

The Baptist Church encourages fasting as a way to draw closer to God, but considers it a private matter and has no set days when members should fast.

The Assemblies of God consider fasting an important practice but purely voluntary and private. The church stresses that it does not produce merit or favour from God but is a way to heighten focus and gain self-control.

The Lutheran Church encourages fasting but imposes no requirements on its members to fast during Lent. The Augsburg Confession states, “We do not condemn fasting in itself, but the traditions which prescribe certain days and certain meats, with peril of conscience, as though such works were a necessary service.”

Hindu fasting: without eating anything during the interval

As in many religions, several periods of fasting are also practised in Hinduism. However, fasting is not an obligation, but a moral and spiritual act where the aim is to purify the body and mind and acquire divine grace. There are different forms of fasting which are more or less strict, more or less difficult to follow and which vary depending on personal, family and community beliefs.

Alimentarium.org said that in some cases, fasting involves abstaining from one meal in the day. However, fasting does not necessarily mean the body has to go without or suffer. Sometimes, it is sufficient to eliminate certain types of food and replace them by others, without restricting the quantity. Meat eaters, for example, may settle for a strictly vegetarian dish.

The most commonly-observed fast, Ekadashi, is respected approximately twice a month, on the eleventh day of each ascending and descending moon. The celebration at the beginning of the year, in honour of Shiva, is another important occasion. During the months of July and August, many Hindus adopt a vegetarian diet and fast on Mondays and Saturdays until the evening. Many Hindu women fast on Mondays in order to have a good husband.