Kids Corner


Not Through The Stomach:
Religious Fasting is Prohibited in Sikhism




The presence of Guru Granth Sahib and its message of universal fraternity of the human race and ultimate destination of oneness with the Supreme Being, imparts an unparalleled serenity and contentment on its disciple.

When I hear Hamza Yusuf deliver the Friday Kutbah in a nearby masjid, bow my head for a Jewish Hallel, listen to chants of the Om-mantar in a mandir … I see each as another form of reverence to the Almighty, but each one of these experiences leave me searching for more.

A few days ago I was invited by a Muslim friend to join her community in a fundraising Fast-a-Thon for Ramadan, where participants fast for a day and a local business donates a certain amount of money for each person fasting, to a charity or masjid. I acquiesced and signed up, happy to help with their efforts for daan (charity), or as they call it, zakat.

On the day of the Fast-a-Thon, I joined the Muslim brothers and sisters before dawn and ate Sehri (the pre-dawn meal) and respectfully stood behind them as they performed their Fajr prayer. I barely made it through the day without any water or food. In the evening, I attended the evening event where I broke my fast with Muslims and other non-

During this dinner, a young man stood up and gave a discourse on the significance of the fast in the Islamic context. He spoke of sacrifice, of forgiveness, of guidance, and of remembrance of Allah … all concepts shared with Sikhi.

However, when I spoke with him after dinner, he asked me a key question: “Fasting is actively practiced in every religion on this planet. People starve to death every day. There is lack of water in places. Fasting is the ultimate humbling experience. It helps us in our spiritual journey and takes us closer to God. Why doesn’t your faith call for you to sacrifice your daily wants for at least one day?”

This barrage of pronouncements and a question at the end left me nearly speechless and with no satisfactory answer. I left the gathering with a heavy heart and unanswered questions.

It ended up, however, becoming an opportunity to contemplate, reflect, explore and learn.

Though I had a general idea that Sikhi opposed the practice of fasting for religious reasons, I didn’t know why. I took it as a divine prod to learn about a highly practical and important aspect of Sikhi.

I have been fortunate enough to grow up with Christian, Jewish, Hindu, Muslim and Buddhist friends or family who have welcomed my curiosity in their respective faiths and invited me into their places of worship. These experiences have helped me realize the relative similarities of each faith’s spiritual goals as well the structural and procedural differences in the means of attaining these goals.

In turn, these interactions have pushed me to question and seek, then understand and appreciate, why I engage in certain activities or thought processes as a Sikh, as well as the practicality of the faith that I have been blessed.

Many faiths of the world promote the practice of fasting as means of advancing piety, holiness and spirituality. Medically speaking, periodic and controlled fasting is a cleansing tool for the body, and thus a healthy habit. It is also a noble deed if performed as an act of sacrifice to feed someone else.

While expressly rejecting the practice of fasting as a way of earning religious credits or brownie points, Sikhi condemns waste and gluttony, promotes balance and moderation.

That is, it specifically promotes healthy living by eating modestly and sparingly, while refuting fasting as a vehicle for spiritual advancement. Depriving the body of nutrition for the stated purpose of attaining excellence in spiritual discipline is disingenuous and farcical, according to the Sikh scripture.

She, who abandons corn, really practices hypocrisy || She is neither the happy bride nor a
widow ||

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle and thus a healthy body is fundamentally essential in Sikh theology, for only humans are capable of meditation and only through meditation can a devotee reach and unite with God. Dogs, horses, birds cannot achieve this spirituality as they are unable to meditate.

This human body has come to thy hand || This is thy chance to meet the Lord of the world || [GGS:12]

Nourishing the body and staying healthy, therefore, is exceedingly vital for meditation on the Divine Naam and achieving spiritual excellence.

Even the gods long for this body || So through that body of thine think thou of rendering service unto thy God || [GGS:1159]

A Gurmukh is instinctively and continuously in tune with the Karta Purakh - the Creator Being - as his sole support and not only relinquishes his attachments to worldly possessions (padarathvad) and the five deadly passions, and illusion/ doubt (maya), but also eats, drinks, sleeps in moderation, enough to sustain him physically.

They burn (break) the worldly bonds and live on paltry corn and water || [GGS:467]

Though many faiths advocate fasting as a vehicle to spiritual enlightenment, Sikhi encourages physical well-being as a prerequisite to travel on the spiritual path. However, there is a stage in Sikhism when earthly sustenance is no longer necessary for a spiritual devotee to survive physically. At this stage of spirituality, the devotee has achieved spiritual unity with God, and naam becomes his sustenance and support.

By His gracious glance He has made me happy and He shall stand by me to the infinite end || My soul and body are calmed down and they are sustained by the fare of the Name || [GGS:640]


August 4, 2011

Conversation about this article

1: Gurmeet Kaur (Canada), August 04, 2011, 11:00 AM.

You have highlighted the key difference between Sikhism and Islam. As a Sikh, you respect all religions and wanted to learn more about your friend's religion. As a Muslim, this man looked down on you as a kaffir who is following a false faith, and wanted to change you. Invite your Muslim friends to a gurdwara, and you'll see how many of them are willing to step a foot inside.

2: Devinder Singh (India), August 04, 2011, 11:49 AM.

Fasting gives a sort of excitement or an impetus to the vital being but the general effect does not seem to be sound, healthy, or lasting. One can get for a time into a state of inner energy and receptivity which is alluring to the mind and the usual reactions of hunger, weakness, intestinal disturbance, etc., can be wholly avoided. But the body suffers by diminution and there can easily develop in the vital a morbid overstrained condition. Nervous people should avoid the temptation to fast, it is often accompanied or followed by delusions and a loss of balance. Prolonged fasting may lead to an excitation of the nervous being which often brings vivid imaginations and hallucinations that are taken for higher experiences. And then, there is the need to be in control of the animal relish and of the eager push to stuff the stomach, when it is all over.

3: Sangat Singh (Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia), August 04, 2011, 11:58 AM.

During the construction of Harmandar Sahib, Bhai Kalyana was one of the few chosen by Guru Arjan to go and spread Gurmat and also collect donations for the project. He arrived in the state of Mandi and soon established a sizeable satsangat. Then came the Hindu festival of 'Janam Ashtmi', and the local ruler ordered all people to keep a fast on that day, and also worship the stone idol, Thakur. Bhai Kalyana did not bother. Instead, he cooked his meal in the usual manner and opened the langar to the needy. This was reported to Raja Hari Sain and Bhai Kalyana was duly arrested to explain his sacrilegious action and his disobeying the royal edict. Bhai Kalyana recited gurbani that there was no merit in worshiping stones, or in fasting. Bhai Kalyana was declared guilty for going against the established ritual and ordered that his legs should be broken. Bhai Kalyana went deeply into ardaas, and prayed for protection and the strength to keep his faith intact, and thereafter resigned to himself to the Guru's Will. The ruler, shortly after he passed the sentence on Bhai Kalyana, became violently sick and started foaming in the mouth. No cure could be found for him. At last they realized that this must be due to the injustice carried out against the saintly Bhai Kalyana. The ruler begged his forgiveness. Bhai Kalyana, in humility, said that he should ask for forgiveness from the Guru, adding that he, Kalyana, was but the Guru's servant. Raja Hari Sain, relieved from his affliction, realized that there was no merit in practicing meaningless rituals and was awakened to the Guru's teachings. He decided to become a Sikh and accompanied Bhai Kalyana to seek the blessings of Guru Arjan. (Source: Asht Guru Chamatkar, by Bhai Vir Singh.)

4: H. Singh (U.S.A.), August 04, 2011, 7:20 PM.

The Muslim questioner was probably just curious as to why Sikhs don't fast.

5: Ajitpal Singh Raina (Virginia, U.S.A.), August 04, 2011, 8:55 PM.

I love what he said: "People starve to death every day. There is lack of water in places ..." used to justify the need for fasting, and to display humility and sacrifice! I would have simply pointed out how gurdwaras feed thousands of people (including the needy) everyday ... for free. That seems to me a better solution to the problem than fasting myself. It's simple and logical!

6: Jesroshan Singh (Malaysia), August 04, 2011, 11:55 PM.

I went without lunch one day and ate a light dinner afterwards. The next morning was the worst in my life. Finally I ate such a heavy breakfast that I could not eat lunch after that. Guru Nanak was a genius to have discovered that the human body is as delicate as a flower that needs continuous nourishment in a continuous and balanced cycle.

7: Simran (Oceanside, California, U.S.A.), August 05, 2011, 7:26 PM.

Thank you, Amritpan Kaur! I found your article inspiring. It was courageous of you to experience the fast with Muslim brothers and sisters. Guru Nanak was known as the Pir by his contemporary Muslims and interacted with them often. He was theirs and they were his people also. He even addressed his Muslims followers in gurbani for their benefit. For instance: "Let mercy be your mosque, faith your prayer-mat, and honest living your Koran. Make modesty your circumcision, and good conduct your fast. In this way, you shall be a true Muslim. Let good conduct be your Kaabaa, Truth your spiritual guide, and the karam of good deeds your prayer and chant. Let your rosary be that which is pleasing to His Will. O Nanak, God shall preserve your honor." [GGS:141].

8: Baldev Singh (Bradford, United Kingdom), August 05, 2011, 11:09 PM.

Simran ji ... You have actually mentioned the extraordinary and powerful words of Guru Nanak which were uttered 500 years ago! Let us all, no matter who we are, live by them.

9: Ajit Singh Batra (Pennsville, New Jersey, U.S.A.), August 06, 2011, 10:45 AM.

Our Gurus saw beyond religious labels and insisted on the spiritual life in each belief system. "Musalmaan kahaavan muskal jaa ho-ay taa musalmaan kahaavai" [GGS:141]. That is, it is difficult to be a true Muslim. But if one is really so, it can only be laudable.

10: Prakash Singh Bagga (India), August 12, 2011, 2:32 PM.

"Nanak kae ghar kewal naam" - There is no place for rituals.

11: Mandeep Singh (Mumbai, India), March 24, 2012, 2:19 AM.

I agree with Gurmeet Kaur ji.

12: Jasmin (Amritsar, Punjab), November 02, 2012, 12:45 PM.

Very interesting article, Amrit. Fasting is more about controlling your mind from wandering to satiate the desires of your palate. It is a way to conquer your senses and direct your energy towards Naam rather than towards the kitchen and what to cook next. Fasting strengthens the will power, and is certainly not for the faint-hearted who dream of food while fasting. And that reminds me of Bhai Mardana's episodes, most of which are based on the fact that he was hungry and thirsty and got himself into trouble, only to be rescued by Guru Nanak, who being the ultimate Gurmukh had control on his hunger and thirst. And that is what was the original aim, though often lost, of those who adopted it as a religious practice and then turned it into a ritual.

13: Satya Ram (Punjab), December 08, 2013, 2:20 AM.

Why go 'fast', why not just go slow? Time is no object for God, he gave it and we must accept it as His will. Blessed is the man who knows what he has got. Let's not fast, but also let's not over-feed.

14: R. Gupta (USA), February 10, 2016, 11:26 AM.

I loved your explanation of religious text in clear and easily understandable words. I am always looking for reasons that religions are similar and try to ignore the dissimilarities. I am so glad I chanced onto this site when I was marking my calendar with fast dates for all world religions :)Thank you.

Comment on "Not Through The Stomach:
Religious Fasting is Prohibited in Sikhism"

To help us distinguish between comments submitted by individuals and those automatically entered by software robots, please complete the following.

Please note: your email address will not be shown on the site, this is for contact and follow-up purposes only. All information will be handled in accordance with our Privacy Policy. Sikhchic reserves the right to edit or remove content at any time.