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Abstaining from food, usually for religious or ethical reasons. In ancient religions it was used to prepare worshipers or priests to approach deities, to pursue a vision, to demonstrate penance for sins, or to assuage an angered deity. All the major world religions include fasting among their practices. Judaism has several fast days, notably Yom Kippur. For Christians Lent is set aside as a 40-day period of penitence before Easter, including the traditional fast days of Ash Wednesday and Good Friday. In Islam the month of Ramadan is observed as a period of total abstention from food from dawn to dusk. Fasting to make a political protest is often referred to as a hunger strike; hunger strikes have been employed by, among others, 19th-century female suffragists, Mohandas K. Gandhi, and late-20th-century Irish nationalists. Moderate fasting is also sometimes practiced for its claimed health benefits.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on fasting, visit Britannica.com.