Shabir Ally writes:
People had complained to Jesus saying, "Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink?" (Luke 5:33). But Jesus replied that as long as he is with them his disciples should not fast, but after he is taken away then "they will fast in those days" (Luke 5:35). This is why Jesus also gave them instructions on how to fast for the sake of God (Matthew 6:16-18). If they were never to fast, such instructions would be pointless.
The Bible shows that the disciples were fasting afterwards: "they had fasted and prayed" (Acts 13:3), and again they had "prayed with fasting" (Acts 14:23). The Bible mentions fasting as one of the observances of a minister of God (2 Corinthians 6:5), and "fastings often" as a proof of the worth of a disciple of Jesus.
Luke 5:33 quoted above reveals that (a) fasting means abstinence from eating and drinking, and, (b) that although the disciples were not to fast until after Jesus was taken away, Jesus himself continued to fast, otherwise the complaint would have been against him also. It is clear that the Jewish Rabbis were fasting (Matthew 9:14, and Mark 2:18). And Jesus too was called a Rabbi (see John 1:38; 3:2; 6:25 and Matthew 23:8). So he too must have been fasting.
The disciples were unable to drive out a demon from a boy, but Jesus drove it out. When the disciples asked how he did it, he said that this kind can be driven out only "by prayer and fasting" (Mark 9:29).
This shows that because the disciples were not fasting they could not drive out the demon, and, that Jesus could drive it out because he was fasting. Some copyists attempted to change this verse by leaving out the words Ďand fasting'. This is how, for example, the Revised Standard Version reads. But this reading gives the passage an impossible meaning that Jesus's disciples were not praying either. This is perhaps why the Catholic Edition of the Revised Standard Version restores the words and fasting. The New Testament From the Ancient Eastern Text also includes the words and fasting (Mark 9:29).
Fasting is not unique to Islam or Christianity, many Pagan religions also called for fasting. Christians, as well as Muslims, have not done well with this discipline. In spite of the Qur'an's instructions for Muslims to fast during Ramadan, more food is consumed it that month than at any other time of the year in most of the Muslim world. I have had dinner in a popular Pakistani restaurant in my area during Ramadan, on several occassions, and have seen Muslims sit impatiently waiting for the moment, of sunset, when they can devour the all-you-can-eat buffet. Also, in spite of general theme of Ramadan there are often many tensions in Muslim countries which frequently "boil over" and result in anger, fighting, and death during this month (Indonesia and Algeria are good examples).
There are several problems with this conclusion:
1. It is wrong to force people to fast either privately or publicly. Jesus rightly criticized the religious hypocrites of his day who behaved in this way. If society (government or religious institutions) forces people to fast, it robs believers of the joy of obeying God out of love and replaces this love with obligation. This type of injunction (to force fasting) does not conform to the teachings of Jesus.
2. Jesus tells us that our fasting should be seen only by God. If fasting is public, instead of private, then we have already received our reward - the approval of society. If we fast in secret, then our reward is in heaven - with God. Once again, the Ramadan fast, since it is done publicly instead of privately, does not conform to the teachings of Jesus.
3. What is the motive for fasting? Can we please God by fasting and wash away our sins? No, only Jesus Christ can take away our sins. Fasting, or any other "work", does not makes us acceptable to a perfect God - only the blood of Jesus does that. Once we are saved through Jesus, fasting is an excellent way to build a relationship with God. However, we have to follow the instructions of Jesus - our fast must be private and done out of a sense of love for God and our fellow human beings. Only those who accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior and follow His teachings are the "true followers of Jesus".
Responses to Shabir Ally and his "Islamic Information"
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