Sunday, July 31, 2016

Seminar on Fasting in Religions

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In conjunction with SAUJS and St. Augustine College of South Africa we hosted an interfaith event at St Augustine’s College, Victory Park in Johannesburg. The topic was “The role of fasting in different religions”.

As it is one of our important aims to involve members of different religions and cultures in dialogue. We believe such forums are important for people to see the universal aspects of religion. Otherwise there is always a risk that there would develop an exclusivist view of religious traditions.

Mr Mehmet N Kaya presented Muslim perspective, the Hindu representative was Swami Shivashankarananda and the Christian understanding was given by Dr Judith Coyle. Notes on Jewish thinking were given by Rabbi Dr Robert Ash from Beit Emmanuel.

All the experts remarked that a number of reasons and views of fasting were shared by all the religions. Mehmet N Kaya explained that there were in fact three types of fasts in Islam, the obligatory, the optional and the forbidden. The most famous of these, the fast of Ramadan, fell into the first category. Fasting he said “helps us recognize the bounties of the world”.

Rabbi Ash said that Judaism was not an ascetic religion and so there was a need to see what role fasting played in the life of the religion and the nation. He quoted from scripture showing the many times in history that the nation Israel has had to fast. This included times of drought, the death of a king and for freedom from an oppressive ruler. He also explained the importance of fast days in the religion such as Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur.

Swami Shivashankarananda observed that in Hinduism there was no obligation to fast. However, fasts are still an important way to gain mental, physical and spiritual strength. Therefore there are a number of times during the Hindu calendar that fasting is part of religious tradition. He added that there were different types of fasts, such as milk and fruit fasts.

Dr Judith Coyle, who works at St Augustine’s, explained that in the Roman Catholic tradition fasts were fairly minimal. Examples included Ash Wednesday and the time of Lent. She explained that fasting helped with training for a disciplined life and for building solidarity with the poor.

All speakers commented that charity and prayer were important aspects that often accompanied the fasting process. Having pondered the mystical wonders of fasting, participants were then invited to share a meal with one another for the rest of the evening.

Article written by BENJI SHULMAN and appeared in SA Jewish report on 5-12 November 2010 issue.


On 27 January, there will be a discussion on the above topic on Chai FM, a Jewish community Radio at 1pm.