As a Protestant Christian, fasting has been something that was not an important part of my faith, except for certain individuals or groups or churches who stressed its importance. The Christian bible speaks little about it except when Jesus casts out the demon and says that one cannot do this without prayer (and some sources say "and fasting.") At another point the Pharisees ask him why the disciples are not fasting and he answers that "one does not fast when the bridegroom is with you. When the bridegroom leaves is time for fasting."
Thorough the years, fasting was encouraged by Catholics, Mormons Jews and others on certain days. Meat was not allowed at specified meals and holidays, but few religions fast as the Muslim religion does. Ramadan, the ninth month of the Muslim calendar, is a mandatory fasting period in which the Muslim must abstain from food, drink, smoking, profane language, and sexual intercourse from before the bread of dawn until the sunset for the entire month. There are other special days which some Muslims observe.
I wrote to my Iranian friend and asked him, as a Muslim, to explain fasting to me, a non-fasting protestant Christian. What do people benefit from this practice? In my practical Baptist/Presbyterian outlook there are reasons to keep the body fed; to feed the poor, and use one's energy to the benefit of God. As a child I learned the song, "Brighten the Corner Where You Are." My God requires much of me, but fasting is far down on the list, as I have seen it. Be well fed, love thy God with all thy heart and soul and thy neighbor as thyself--and these commands are hard enough to live up to without adding fasting.
However, with Ali's friendship I have grown to respect and treasure other customs and backgrounds than my own. Fasting symbolizes something very profound: a closeness to and concentration on God, a a response to what is seen as God's direction in our lives, improvement in one's spiritual outlook, purification and freeing of the mind; it is an aid to control fleshly desires, is is a penance for sins, and a solidarity with those in need. But, to me, the main reason I would fast would be to remind me of human frailty and the need for God's direction in my life.
And then, in the midst of my quest for understanding the fast, Ali, my teacher friend in Iran, spoke to me through the magic of the internet. His answer to my question, "Why do you fast?" follows: