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In Muslim countries, a deer fast is a brief fast undertaken to prepare for the prolonged period of fasting during Ramadan. Deer fasting is often used to show children how to fast, allowing them to prepare physically and psychologically for the holy fast, and some adults may also periodically engage in deer fasting. Various versions of the deer fast can also be seen in other religions, since fasting is often an important part of religious practice in many cultures.
By Muslim law, all faithful Muslims must fast in the daylight hours during Ramadan, with the exception of the elderly, disabled individuals, pregnant women, certain travelers, and young children. Generally, girls under nine are not expected to fast, and boys under 15 are also exempt from fasting. Individual Muslims can also receive permission to abstain from fasting if they have a doctor's note indicating that fasting would be unsafe.
The fasting rules are compassionately designed to ensure that people who need nutrition during Ramadan are not deprived. However, some Muslims who are exempt from fasting may choose to fast anyway, because they believe it is important, and some children like to start early. Children in devout Muslim families may fast for Ramadan to prepare for fasting as adults, or as a personal expression of faith.
Since children are not accustomed to fasting, if they plan to fast during Ramadan, they often go on a deer fast before Ramadan actually begins, so that they can get used to fasting without the rigid rules of Ramadan. The idea is that during a deer fast, the faster has some leeway, meaning that he or she can eat or drink if it becomes really necessary without fear of violating the rules of Ramadan. By the time Ramadan rolls around, the deer faster is ready to fast with the rest of the community.
The term “deer fast” references the idea that deer are said to eat little during the summer months, the same period when people embark on deer fasts. Some people have criticized deer fasting, arguing that young children and other specific individuals are exempted from the Ramadan fast for very sound reasons, and that they should not be permitted to endanger their health with a deer fast or Ramadan fast. Others argue that when people personally choose to fast, their desire to express religious faith should not be suppressed.