Religious Abstinence

By Dr Ananya Mandal, MD

Abstinence refers to the voluntary restraint from experiencing or indulging in bodily pleasures. This includes foods, smoking, alcohol, drugs of abuse and sexual intercourse. Abstinence may be practiced due to several reasons including health, philosophical considerations, social considerations or religious practices.

Spiritual discipline

In most faiths there is an ascetic element that guides towards a subjective need for spiritual discipline. Religion means to elevate the believer above normal life of desire to walk on path of complete renunciation. This is a principle that is shared by abstinence.

Religious fasting

For Jewish people the principal day of fast is Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement.

Among those following Islam the period of fasting lasts during the whole month of Ramadan. Each day of the month of Ramadan, people of the faith, fast without anything to eat or drink from dawn to dusk.

Hindus fast on several festivals sometimes going without food or water and sometimes living only on fruits and dairy products. Followers of Hinduism also observe certain days when they may abstain completely from eating meat, eggs or fish. This is called vegetarianism. Some faiths like Buddhism and Jainism may advocate complete vegetarianism.

Catholics and Orthodox Christians abstain from food and drink for an hour prior to taking Holy Communion, and abstain from meat on Ash Wednesday and during Lent. Many Catholics abstain all Fridays in the year.

For observing Catholics fasting refers to the discipline of taking one full meal a day and abstinence refers to eating no meat (fish is allowed). Some Protestants abstain from drinking alcohol and the use of tobacco.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church encourages the consumption of only clean meats as specified in Leviticus and strongly discourages the consumption of alcohol, smoking and the use of narcotics.

Mormons abstain from certain foods and drinks by combining spiritual discipline. Mormons also fast one day a month and the money saved by skipping meals is donated to the needy.

Both Jews and Muslims abstain from pork in their regular diet. Hindus abstain from beef in their diet.

Sexual abstinence

In many faiths including Islam, Hinduism, Christianity, pre-marital sex is prohibited.

Reviewed by , BA Hons (Cantab)

Further Reading

Last Updated: Jan 29, 2013

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