Notes and Comment: Professional Fasting

4 The Review of Religions – October 2003 Professional Fasting? In this narcissistic age, it is all about standing out. Being merely talented, it appears, is no good any more. Or at least, this seems to be the philosophy of David Blaine, and perhaps is why he embarked upon a strong dose of self-imposed martyrdom framed in a glass cage. The American illusionist has moved on from the standard legerdemain of card tricks to feats of performance and endurance that have kept him in the front pages of newspapers and television screens. An estimated fourteen million American viewers watched him entomb himself in a block of ice in Times Square for two and a half days. He followed this up by standing on top of a 100-ft pole in a Manhattan park for 35 hours, before jumping down into a pile of cardboard boxes. For his next trick, Blaine is in London and a total of 44 days incarcerated inside a Plexiglas box suspended over the River Thames at Tower Bridge, an event filmed by satellite television. He has no food: his only means of sustenance is water delivered by a feeding tube. He is fitted with a catheter and his only baggage is a backpack containing diapers, Wet Wipes and lip balm. Such feats which appear more and more a macabre dance with mortality than magic is what the daredevil refers to as the ‘purity of suffering.’ The problem for the magician is that some have responded with a heart-warming refusal to be impressed. No medical team was willing to monitor his progress in the glass case for what he claimed would make valuable scientific research. Unless he gets through a record number of nappies, this would not be one for the record books either as the G u i n n e s s Book of Records has turned him down on the grounds that it does Notes & Comments 5The Review of Religions –October 2003 not do starvation records. Quite rightly so, otherwise the book will be full of anorexic schoolgirls and cadaverous victims of famines. But more than anything else, B l a i n e ’s organisation was not quite prepared for the level of antipathy their man has provoked. This was not the intended response to ostentatious fasting, an act repeatedly introduced as his toughest endurance feat yet. The crowds were supposed to faint with anxiety, empathise through the long nights, discern some noble purpose for his supposed travail. Instead some come to participate in an exhilarating act of collective ridicule; they watch, eat and cackle. Worse than that, the magician has come under assault from fish and chips, eggs, golf balls and laser pens from a public expressing their outrage. He failed to appreciate that people would only be impressed if he were doing this for charity; to raise money for famine relief, for instance. Not when he is to walk away with an estimated £5m from TV and licensing for a dull episode of professional fasting. So some good does come out of all this. The prospect of Blaine at the mercy of a good humoured, if predominantly satirical crowd, composed of all ages, classes and ethnicities, hints at some residual, collective good sense and moral judgement, which can discriminate between perhaps a huckster and a hero. It bears a strong message of disapproval for a stunt which makes a mockery of the hunger strikes of Aung San Suu Kyi and Mahatma Gandhi, is an insult to Third World charities and the starving of the world. Fasting has been inculcated in all religious disciplines based on Divine revelation. Says the Holy Qur’an, the final code of conduct revealed to mankind by Allah Almighty: O ye who believe! fasting is prescribed for you, as it was p rescribed for those before Notes and Comments you, so that you may become righteous. (Ch.2: V.184) As David Blaine emerges from his faux-starvation, millions of Muslims around the world would be looking forward to the start of the holy month of Ramadan with a joyous surge of anticipation that inspires the hearts of the young and the old. During Ramadan, the ninth month of the lunar calendar in Islam, fasting – complete abstention from food, drink and conjugal relations from dawn till sunset – is obligatory upon every adult Muslim, subject to certain permissible exemp- tions. The purpose, as of all forms of Islamic worship, is to draw people closer to Allah. It is a physical, moral and spiritual exercise designed to promote righteousness and guard against evil. Among other things, the Muslim learns, through personal experience, what hunger, p o v e r t y, loneliness and dis- comforts mean to the less fortunate sections of society. Ramadan is a season of closer communion with Allah A l m i g h t y, providing numerous opportunities to seek His pleasure. As such, the birth of the new moon which signifies the start of the lunar month is greeted with excitement. Felicitations are exchanged all around as mosques begin to be filled with eager worshippers. An extra prayer service is held every evening during which the congregation is privileged to listen to the recitation of the Holy Qur’ a n from beginning to end. Numerous people read the Holy Qur’an through by themselves. Others hear it interpreted and expounded during discourses held and a reflection over the Divine signs contained therein take up a larger portion of one’s time. Most of the night is passed in supplication and in praise, glorification and remembrance of Allah. Greater attention is directed towards philanthropic causes such as caring for the poor, the needy, the widow, the orphan, the sick, the distressed, the neighbour and the wayfarer. Towards the close of each day, the heart experiences a glow of 6 Message from Heaven The Review of Religions – October 2003 gratitude to the Divine that His Grace has enabled one to approach the end of the fast having spent the night and the day striving to conduct oneself in conformity to His will. Numberless people experience closer communion with their Maker and Creator during this blessed month, the intensity and frequency of which continue to increase as the month progresses. During the last ten days of Ramadan, many people go into retreat, as it were, into a mosque, devoting their entire time not occupied by obligatory and voluntary prayer services, to the study of the Holy Qur’an and the remembrance of Allah. This period of complete devotion is the culmination of the physical, moral and spiritual discipline instituted by Islam. Fasting is the only form of worship in which the only audience is none other than God himself. In other forms of worship, one could allege that someone is praying or giving alms to be seen as amongst the faithful but a fast is only undertaken for God – there is no show-off. The spiritual recom- pense of the Islamic fast and its concomitant activities is beyond the fancy of the materialistic illusionist. The Holy Prophet of Islam(sa) is reported to have said: ‘ T h e re are appro p r i a t e spiritual re w a rds for all worship and righteous action; the ultimate reward of a person who observes the fast solely for winning the p l e a s u re of Allah is Allah Himself.’ Tommy Kallon – UK Postscript – Mr David Blaine emerged 4 stones lighter on 20th October 2003 and in an emotional outburst declared that the experience had taught him an appreciation of all the little things created by God. 7 Message from Heaven The Review of Religions –October 2003


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