Credit: Ahmadiyya Gazette USA
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا
كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ
“O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil.” (Al Quran 2:184)
This verse was revealed in the seventh century Arabia, which had very limited knowledge of religions in other parts of the world, yet the verse makes a very bold and daring statement about all revealed religions. Additionally, it is a statement which would not have helped the local struggle against the polytheistic society of Mecca and the utility of the verse would not be seen until decades later, when the Muslims came in contact with the Romans and the Persians. Talking about this verse, in the Friday sermon of June 10, 1983 Khalifatul Masih IV, Hadhrat Mirza Tahir Ahmad said, “In this verse مِن قَبْلِكُمْ ‘those before you’ implies that there is no religion in which fasting was not prescribed, and this is mentioned and recorded in historical records. Therefore, Encyclopedia Britannica writes that all the religions of the world mention fasting. There is not even one religion that is without the concept of fasting. Even though such a research is easy in this day and age as the historical records are freely available in the book form. But when this verse was revealed to the Holy Prophet Muhammad, he did not have any access to the information about majority of the world’s religions. Therefore, the first issue that this verse diverts our attention to is that what a marvelous prophet and what a spectacular book is being revealed to him, that he makes a claim about the whole world, a claim for which there is no apparently logical secular reason present; yet, he with great confidence makes an assertion and it is proven to be true over time. So, what the man of this age is finding to be the case after major academic pursuits had been revealed 1400 years ago.”
According to eleventh edition of Encyclopedia Britannica (1911) under the heading of ‘fasting,’ “Fasting is of special interest when considered as a discipline voluntarily submitted to for moral and religious ends. As such it is very widely diffused. Its modes and motives vary considerably according to climate, race, civilization and other circumstances; but it would be difficult to name any religious system of any description in which it is wholly unrecognized.”
According to Wikipedia:
“Fasting for religious and spiritual reasons has been a part of human custom since pre-history. It is mentioned in the Bible, in the Old Testament and the New Testament, the Qur’an, the Mahabharata, and the Upanishads. Fasting is also practiced in many other religious traditions and spiritual practices.”
According to present day Encyclopedia Britannica online, “Fasting has been practiced from antiquity worldwide by the founders and followers of many religions,
In the religions of ancient peoples and civilizations, fasting was a practice to prepare persons, especially priests and priestesses, to approach the deities. In the Hellenistic mystery religions (e.g., the healing cult of the god Asclepius), the gods were thought to reveal their divine teachings in dreams and visions only after a fast that required the total dedication of the devotees. Among the pre-Columbian peoples of Peru, fasting often was one of the requirements for penance after an individual had confessed sins before a priest. In many cultures the practice was considered a means to assuage an angered deity or to aid in resurrecting a deity who was believed to have died (e.g., a god of vegetation).
In the religions of traditional or preliterate peoples, fasting is often practiced before and during a vision quest (e.g., among the North American Indian peoples of the Great Plains and the Pacific Northwest). Among the Evenk (also called Evenki, formerly Tungus) of Siberia, shamans (religious personages thought to have the power to heal and to communicate psychically) often receive their initial visions not with a quest but rather after an unexplained illness; after the initial vision, however, they fast and train themselves to see further visions and to control spirits. Priestly societies among the Pueblo Indians of the American Southwest fast during retreats before major ceremonies connected with seasonal changes.
Fasting for special purposes or before or during special sacred times is a characteristic of the major religions of the world. In Jainism, for example, fasting according to certain prescribed rules and practicing certain types of meditation leads to trances that enable individuals to disassociate themselves from the world and reach a transcendent state. Buddhist monks of the Theravāda school fast on certain holy days (uposatha) of the month. In China prior to 1949, it was customary to observe a fixed period of fasting and abstinence before the sacrifice during the night of the winter solstice, a time when the heavenly Yang (positive energy) principle was believed to begin its new cycle. In India, Hindu sadhus (holy men) are admired for their frequent personal fasts for various reasons.
Among the Western religions, only Zoroastrianism prohibits fasting, because of its belief that such a form of asceticism will not aid in strengthening the faithful in their struggle against evil. The other Western religions—Judaism, Christianity, and Islām—emphasize fasting during certain periods. Judaism, which developed many dietary laws and customs, observes several annual fast days, primarily on days of penitence (such as Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement) or mourning. Christianity, especially Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy, has observed a 40-day fast period during Lent, a spring period of penitence before Easter, and during Advent, a penitential period before Christmas. Among Roman Catholics the observance has been modified since the second Vatican Council (1962–65) to allow greater individual choice, with mandatory fasting only on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday during Lent. Protestant churches generally leave the decision to fast to individual church members. The month of Ramadan in Islām is a period of penitence and total fasting from dawn to dusk.”
The present day Encyclopedia Britannica online has mentioned numerous religions including several religions among the aborigines of North and South America that carry the institution of fasting. However, it has also mentioned one exception and that is Zoroastrianism or Parsee religion. Their claim about Zoroastrianism may be misinformation. For example, it is mentioned in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bombay by Asiatic Society of Bombay, Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland Bombay Branch, in the Centenary Memorial volume, “The Desatir, of which we have spoken above, and which is considered to be a semi-Zoroastrian book by some, refers to fasting as a good institution.” So after all there is evidence of fasting even in Zoroastrianism. The full volume of this journal is available on Google in the books section. The authors then try to explain away the fact, but as is said, ‘cat is out of the bag.’ According to Wikipedia, “The Dasatir-i-Asmani is an old Persian work related to Zoroastrian. … It contains fifteen sections which are said to have been revealed to fifteen successive prophets, the first of whom is Mahabad and the last Sasan. At the end of each section, with the exception of the last one, there is a prophecy about the next prophet. It is thought to have influenced Dabestan-e Mazaheb. A translation of it into the old Dari dialect of Persian language is supposed to have been discovered in Persia early in the 19th century, and was edited by Mulla Firuz of Bombay. The dating of the Dari translation is held to be the time of Khosrau II (590-628 A.D.). The scholars are divided over its authenticity, some consider it to be a work by Azar Kayvan in the period of the Mughal ruler Akbar.”