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Monday, May 27, 2019

The "Science" of Islamic Fasting

For a laugh, one could do worse than check out how Muslims try to twist scientific findings to support Islam.

Example of the day:

Japanese Scientist Shows how Body is Cleansed during Fasting. Wins Nobel Prize

This article from allamericanmuslim.com starts off with Dr. Yoshinori Ohsumi's 2016 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for his discoveries of the underlying mechanisms of autophagy (roughly, cellular detox).

While they are correct that fasting stimulates autophagy, they make a huge leap of logic in trying to link examples of Islamic fasting to autophagy. Namely, fasting on Mondays and Thursdays, for six days in the month of Shawwal, The White Days (Ayam Al-Beedh), the Day of Ashura - 10th of Muharram, Arafah - 9th of Dhul-Hijjah and the month of Shaban.

Note that fasting in Islam [Sawm] follows the same rules. Namely, you fast from dawn to dusk - which includes not drinking water.

Now, we can see that it is a stretch to claim that Islamic fasting might trigger autophagy, because I have never found any scientific sources which say that dehydration is good for health (indeed, non-religious fasting advice is that you should drink water).

Furthermore, the Muslim fasting window for Singapore for today, 27th May 2019, is 13 hours 27 minutes.

Yet, assuming I eat dinner at 7pm and breakfast at 7am and eat nothing else in between, that's already a 12 hour fast.

Clearly, a longer fasting period is required to trigger autophagy (or the other touted benefits of fasting, or intermittent fasting).

This is why most fasting regimens seem to start at 16 hours (I couldn't find popular fasting recommendations for periods under 16 hours; the closest I found was a recommendation that women fast for 14-15 hours under the Leangains protocol).

Back to Islamic fasting, on Monday 27th May the fasting period in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia is 15 hours and 1 minute. While this might seem to fit in with health-related fasting proposals, bear in mind that the Islamic calendar does not follow the sun (which is why the date of Ramadan keeps changing).

So on the Winter Solstice of 22nd December this year (i.e. the shortest day of the year), a Muslim in Riyadh would be fasting for about 12 hours only (assuming the start time of the fast remains the same as today - 1.5 hours before sunrise). And even on the Summer Solstice of 21st June (the longest day of the year), the fast would only be for about 15 hours and 10 minutes.

Clearly, Islamic fasting, even in the context of Islam's birthplace, does not meet the requirements for health-related fasting for most of the year, and possibly all of it.
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