: صوم) is an Arabic
word for fasting
regulated by Islamic jurisprudence
. In the terminology of Islamic law, Sawm means "to abstain from eating, drinking and sexual intercourse". The observance of sawm
during the Islamic holy month
is one of the Five Pillars of Islam
, but is not confined to that month.
The word sawm
is derived from Syriac sawmo
. Literally, Sawm means "to abstain".
For example, the Muslims of Afghanistan
use the word rozeh
which comes from the Indo-Iranian language of Dari. In Turkey
, Sawm is called oruç
, while the Malay
community in Malaysia
call it puasa
, which is derived from Sanskrit, upvaasa
is also used in Indonesia
. Interestingly, the word is also found in the Maltese language
Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking, smoking
, and engaging in sexual intercourse from dawn
) to sunset
). Fasting is essentially an attempt to seek nearness to Allah
and increase one's piety. One of the remote aims of fasting is to sympathize with those less fortunate ones who do not always have food and drink readily available. Also one must try to avoid cursing and thinking evil thoughts. Fasting is also viewed as a means of controlling one's desires (of hunger, thirst, sexuality, anger) and focusing more on devoting oneself to God.
Sawm also carries a significant spiritual meaning. It teaches one the principle of love: because when one observes Fasting, it is done out of deep love for God.
Fasting in the Qur'an
In the Qur'an surah Al-Baqarah verse 183, God Revealed:
*يٰأَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
"O those who believe, the fasts have been enjoined upon you as were enjoined upon those before so that you be God-fearing."
Conditions of Fasting
For a fast to be valid in the first instance, an intention (niyyah) must be made beforehand; this is considered to form an oath. If this is not performed then the fast is not valid, it is not required to be made verbally.
Throughout the duration of the fast itself, Muslims will abstain from certain provisions that God has otherwise allowed; namely eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse. This is in addition to the standard obligation already observed by Muslims of avoiding that which is not permissible under Qur'anic or Shari'ah law
and indecent speech, arguing and fighting
, and lustful thoughts
). Without observing this standard obligation, Sawm is rendered useless, and is seen simply as an act of starvation. The fasting should be a motive to be more benevolent to the fellow-creatures. Charity
to the poor and needy in this month is one of most rewardable worship.
If one is sick, nursing or travelling, one is considered exempt from fasting. Any fasts broken or missed due to sickness, nursing or traveling must be made up whenever the person is able before the next month of Ramadan. According to the Qur'an, for all other cases, not fasting is only permitted when the act is potentially dangerous to one's health - for example; those elderly who are too weak to fast for extended periods of time, but this must be made up by paying a fidyah which is essentially the iftaar, dinner and suhur for a fasting person who requires such financial help. diabetics, nursing, and pregnant women.
Observing the fast is not permitted for menstruating women. However, when a woman's period has ceased, she must bathe and continue fasting. Any fasts broken or missed due to menstruation must be made up whenever she can before the next month of Ramadan. Women must fast at times when not menstruating, as God indicates that all religious duties are ordained for both men and women.
Breaking oaths and the consequences
During Ramadan, one who fasts and breaks the oath out of forgetfulness must nevertheless continue, since the fast will remain valid. If, however, one intentionally breaks the fast, by eating, drinking, or smoking, then they must continue for the rest of the day, add one day onto their fast and pay a "penalty'" (fidyah). Fidyah differ in the different schools of thought. In Malaysia however, a fidyah consists of the amount of rice used for a meal.
However if one intentionally breaks the fast by having sex (without breaking it first by other means such eating, etc.) a set of "penalty" (kaffarra) shall apply. These exist in three forms, of which the person must choose one:
- Fasting for an extra 60 consecutive days
- Feeding and clothing 60 people in need
Penalties for voluntary fasts at other times of the year, are, however, more lenient; if an oath is given, and circumstances dictate that if broken (or if the one giving the oath deliberately breaks it), one needs to fast for three days consecutively if they cannot initially find 10 poor people to feed and provide clothing for (both of which are commanded before the act of fasting as a form of repentance). The penalties are harsher during Ramadan because all mentally able Muslims are expected to have an increased awareness of the fast at that time.
Beginning and ending the Fast
In accordance with traditions handed down from Muhammad
, Muslims eat a pre-dawn meal called the suhoor
. All eating and drinking must be finished before Salat-ul-Fajr
, the pre-dawn prayer. Unlike the Salat-ul-Zuhr
prayers, which have clear astronomical definitions (noon and sunset), there are several definitions used in practice for the timing of "true dawn" (al-fajr as-sadq
), as mentioned in the hadith
. These range from when the center of the sun is 12 to 21 degrees below the horizon
which equates to about 40 to 60 minutes before civil dawn. There are no restrictions on the morning meal other than the restrictions on Muslims diet
. After completing the suhoor, Muslims recite the fajr
prayer. No food or water is allowed to go down the throat after the suhoor
. However, water unlike food may enter the mouth, but not go down the throat during wudu
The meal eaten to end the fast is known as al-Iftar. Many Muslims, following the Sunnah of the Prophet, Muhammad, break the fast with dates and water before praying Salat-ul-Maghrib, after which they might eat a more wholesome meal.
Benefits of fasting
Fasting inculcates a sense of fraternity and solidarity, as Muslims can feel and experience that which needy and hungry humans feel. However, even the poor, needy, and hungry participate in the fast. Moreover, Ramadan is a month of giving charity and sharing meals to break the fast together, the latter offering more reward than if eating alone. Most importantly, the fast is also seen as a great sign of obedience by the believer to Allah. Faithful observance of the Sawm
is believed to atone for personal faults and misdeeds and to help earn a place in paradise
As briefly mentioned earlier, fasting can also be observed voluntarily (as part of the Greater Jihad ): Sawm is intended to teach believers patience and self-control in their personal conduct, to help control passions and temper, to provide time for meditation and to strengthen one's faith. Fasting also serves the purpose of cleansing the inner soul and freeing it of harm.
Days For Fasting
Month of Ramadhan
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered Fard (obligatory).
Days For Voluntary Fasting
Islam also prescribed certain days for non-obligatory, voluntary fasting, such as:
- each Monday and Thursday of a week
- the 13th, 14th, and 15th day of each lunar month
- six days in the month of Shawwal (the month following Ramadan)
- the Day of Arafat (9th of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Islamic (Hijri) calendar)
- the Day of Ashura (10th of Muharram in the Hijri calendar), with one more day of fasting before or after it (For Sunni Muslims only. It is prohibited in Shia Islam)
- As often as possible in the months of Rajab and Shaban before Ramadhan
- First ten days of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Islamic calendar
Days When Fasting Is Forbidden
Although fasting is considered a pious act in Islam, there are times when fasting is prohibited. There are certain days on which fasts are prohibited:
- Eid ul-Adha
- Eid ul-Fitr
- Day of Ashura [10th of Muharrum] (For Shia Muslims only - however they can do a faqa, which is a fast from morning to mid day prayers)
- Ayyam at-Tashriq (the 11th, 12th and 13th of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah).
Things To Remember
Things That Invalidates Fasting
Favorable Things To Do During Fasting
- Late suhoor (early morning meal before fasting)
- Breaking of fast with dates or sweet delicacies
- Before breaking of fast, make dua (supplication) with at least:
اللهم لك صمت وبك امنت وعلى رزقك أفطرت
O Allah, I have fasted for You and in You I believed and with Your provision do I break my fast
- Increase reading the Quran, zikr, selawat (greetings to Prophet), charities
- Giving charities to the poor and needy
- Avoid petty conversations
- Performing ghusl before the time for Fajr prayer
Unfavorable Things To Do During Fasting
- Tasting food with the tip of the tongue
Fasting in other religions
, Yom Kippur
, Tisha B'av
, Fast of Esther
, Tzom Gedalia
, and the Tenth_of_Tevet
, all in Judaism
, are also times of fasting. Nevertheless, the fasting practices are different from one another. Members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormons) generally fast for 24 hours on the first Sunday of each month. Like Muslims, they refrain from all drinking and eating unless they are children or are physically unable to fast. Fasting is also a feature of ascetic
traditions in religions such as Hinduism
. Mahayana traditions that follow the Brahma's Net Sutra may recommend that the laity fast " during the six days of fasting each month and the three months of fasting each year" [Brahma's Net Sutra, minor precept 30]. Members of the Bahل'ي Faith
observe a Nineteen Day Fast
from sunrise to sunset during March each year.