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Fasting in Islam

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Fasting in Islam, known as Sawm (صَوْم) Arabic pronunciation: [sˤɑwm] or Siyām (صِيَام) Arabic pronunciation: [sˤijæːm], the Arabic words for fasting, also commonly known as Rūzeh or Rōzah (Persian: روزه‎) in some Muslim countries, is the practice of abstaining, usually from food and drink. The observance of Sawm during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam.[citation needed]



Literally meaning "to abstain," ṣawm is a semitic cognate to Syriac: ܨܘܡܐṣawmā, Hebrew: צוֹם‬ "ṣōm", and Ge'ez: ጾም "ṣom".[1]

Other languagesEdit

The Muslims of Central Asia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Turkey use the words roza/rozha/roja/oruç, which comes from Persian. The Malay community in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore call it puasa, which is derived from Sanskrit, upvaasa. The word puasa is also used in Indonesia, Southern Thailand and Southern Philippines.


Muslims are prohibited from eating or drinking from dawn (fajr) to sunset (maghrib). It is considered time to begin fasting when a person standing outside can tell a white thread from a black thread, i.e the light of sun rise and the darkness of the night.[2] Fasting helps Muslims develop self-control, gain a better understanding of God’s gifts and greater compassion towards the deprived. Fasting in Islam involves abstaining from all bodily pleasures between dawn and sunset. All things which are regarded as prohibited is even more so in this month, due to its sacredness. Each and every moment during the fast, a person suppresses their passions and desires in loving obedience to God. This consciousness of duty and the spirit of patience helps in strengthening one's faith. Fasting helps a person gain self-control. A person who abstains from permissible things like food and drink is likely to feel conscious of his sins. A heightened sense of spirituality helps break the habits of lying, gossiping, and wasting time.[3] Fasting is also viewed as a means of controlling one's desires (food and drink) and focusing more on devoting oneself to God. Many Muslims have had food before the sun rises.

Sawm also carries a significant spiritual meaning. It teaches one the principle of God Consciousness: because when one observes fasting, it is done out of deep love for God and to learn self-restraint. As mention in the Quran:"O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous".[4]

In the QuranEdit

In the Quran, this practice is mentioned:

  • "O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, that ye may ward off (evil); (Fast) a certain number of days; and (for) him who is sick among you, or on a journey, (the same) number of other days; and for those who can afford it there is a ransom: the feeding of a man in need - but whoso doeth good of his own accord, it is better for him: and that ye fast is better for you if ye did but know - The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for mankind, and clear proofs of the guidance, and the Criterion (of right and wrong). And whosoever of you is present, let him fast the month, and whosoever of you is sick or on a journey, (let him fast the same) number of other days. Allah desireth for you ease; He desireth not hardship for you; and (He desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify Allah for having guided you, and that peradventure ye may be thankful. And when My servants question thee concerning Me, then surely I am nigh. I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he crieth unto Me. So let them hear My call and let them trust in Me, in order that they may be led aright. It is made lawful for you to go in unto your wives on the night of the fast. They are raiment for you and ye are raiment for them. Allah is Aware that ye were deceiving yourselves in this respect and He hath turned in mercy toward you and relieved you. So hold intercourse with them and seek that which Allah hath ordained for you, and eat and drink until the white thread becometh distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn. Then strictly observe the fast till nightfall and touch them not, but be at your devotions in the mosques. These are the limits imposed by Allah, so approach them not. Thus Allah expoundeth His revelation to mankind that they may ward off (evil). "

    — Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah (2), Ayah 183-187[5]
  • " Perform the pilgrimage and the visit (to Makka) for Allah. And if ye are prevented, then send such gifts as can be obtained with ease, and shave not your heads until the gifts have reached their destination. And whoever among you is sick or hath an ailment of the head must pay a ransom of fasting or almsgiving or offering. And if ye are in safety, then whosoever contenteth himself with the visit for the pilgrimage (shall give) such gifts as can be had with ease. And whosoever cannot find (such gifts), then a fast of three days while on the pilgrimage, and of seven when ye have returned that is, ten in all. That is for him whoso folk are not present at the Inviolable Place of Worship. Observe your duty to Allah, and know that Allah is severe in punishment."

    — Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah (2), Ayah 196[6]
  • "O ye who believe! Kill no wild game while ye are on the pilgrimage. Whoso of you killeth it of set purpose he shall pay its forfeit in the equivalent of that which he hath killed, of domestic animals, the judge to be two men among you known for justice, (the forfeit) to be brought as an offering to the Ka'bah; or, for expiation, he shall feed poor persons, or the equivalent thereof in fasting, that he may taste the evil consequences of his deed. Allah forgiveth whatever (of this kind) may have happened in the past, but whoso relapseth, Allah will take retribution from him. Allah is Mighty, Able to Requite (the wrong)."

    — Quran, Surah Al-Ma'idah (2), Ayah 95[7]


Intention (Niyyah)Edit

"The intention (niyyah) means resolving to fast. It is essential to have the intention the night before, night by night, in Ramadaan."[8][9]

General conditionsEdit

Throughout the duration of the fast itself, Muslims will abstain from certain provisions that the Quran has otherwise allowed; namely eating, drinking and sexual intercourse.[Quran 2:187] This is in addition to the standard obligation already observed by Muslims of avoiding that which is not permissible under Quranic or shari'a law (e.g. ignorant 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 the most rewardable worships.

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 Quran, for all other cases, not fasting is only permitted when the act is potentially dangerous to one's health - for example, those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are menstruating, pregnant, or nursing are permitted to break the fast, but this must be made up by paying a fidyah which is essentially the iftaar and suhur for a fasting person who requires such financial help.[10]

According to the Quran and the Sunnah,[11] if someone cannot afford fasting due to illness or traveling they are permitted to suspend fasting and continue at a more opportune time or condition of health. However, the question of those suffering a permanent disease has not been resolved. One view is that they can waive the obligation to fast if advised by a medical expert. Furthermore, it is held that they can provide a poor person with a meal for each day of fasting waived. Nonetheless, such a person must be willing to fast when in health.

Muslim scholars have stated that observing the fast is forbidden 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 the Quran indicates that all religious duties are ordained for both men and women. The reason for this is because the Quran refers to menstruation as "Say: It is a discomfort(Menstruation)" According to Nouman Ali Khan an Islamic speaker in the United States the reason for this prohibition is because of the pain associated with it. A Muslim women may still do dhikr (remembrance of Allah) and make duaa (supplication to Allah) during this time.[12][13]

Fasting is obligatory for a person if he or she fulfils five conditions:

  1. He or She is a Muslim.
  2. He or She is accountable (Islamic past the age of puberty).
  3. He or She is able to fast.
  4. He or She is settled (not travelling).
  5. There are no impediments to fasting such as sickness, extreme pain from injury, breastfeeding, or pregnancy. [14]

Breaking the fast and the consequencesEdit

During Ramadan, if one unintentionally breaks the fast by eating or drinking then they must continue for the rest of the day and the fast remains valid. For those who intentionally break the fast by eating or drinking they have to make up for that by fasting another day. For breaking fast by having sexual intercourse, the consequences are:

  1. Free a slave, and if that is not possible,
  2. Fast for two consecutive Hijri (moon) months, and if that's not possible
  3. Feed or clothe sixty people in need.[15]

During voluntary fasts, if one unintentionally breaks the fast then they may continue for the rest of the day and the fast remains valid. If one intentionally breaks the fast there is no sin on them because it is only voluntary.[16][17]

Breaking oaths and consequencesEdit

If an oath is given and circumstances dictate that it must be broken (or if the one giving the oath deliberately breaks it), one must offer expiation (kaffara) by freeing a slave, or feeding or clothing ten needy people with the average of what is needed for one's own family, or if neither of those can be done then a fast for three days is prescribed instead.[18]

Beginning and endingEdit

Ending the fast at a mosque

In accordance with traditions handed down from Muhammad, Muslims eat a pre-dawn meal called suhur. All eating and drinking must be finished before the adhan for fajr, the pre-dawn call to prayer. Unlike the zuhr and maghrib prayer, which have clear astronomical definitions (afternoon and after-sunset), there are several definitions used in practice for the timing of "true dawn" (al-fajr al-ṣādiq), as mentioned in the hadith. These range from when the center of the sun is 12 to 21 degrees below the horizon[19] which equates to about 40 to 60 minutes before civil dawn. There are no restrictions on the morning meal other than those of Islamic dietary laws. After completing the suhur, Muslims recite the fajr prayer. No food or beverage can be taken after suhur. Water can enter the mouth, but not be swallowed, during wudu.

The meal eaten to end the fast is known as iftar. Muslims break the fast with dates and water before maghrib prayer, after which they might eat a more wholesome meal.

According to some scholars of the Quran, the correct time to end the fast is instead at night and not sunset.[20][21]

Health effectsEdit

Fasting is one of the alternatives proved to reduce the DPP-4 level and activate the dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors and so, prevent osteoporosis. On the other hand, the circadian rhythm has a direct relationship with osteoporosis. This has been found by the biochemical markers, indicating that fasting at certain hours of the day, especially during those hours of the day which are recommended as part of the Muslim tradition (Islamic fasting), is very effective in reducing the effects of osteoporosis.[22]

Believed benefitsEdit

Fasting is said to inculcate a sense of fraternity and solidarity with the needy and hungry.[10] Most importantly, the fast is also seen as a great sign of obedience by the believer to God.[23] Faithful observance of the sawm is believed to atone for personal faults and misdeeds and to help earn a place in Paradise.

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. Some scholars, following the earliest understanding of the uses and objectives of the ritual of fasting strongly object to identifying mundane objectives of the ritual such as physical and psychological well being. To them the ritual of fasting is purely a worship and should not be treated as an exercise mixed with worship. The objectives of the fast is to inculcate taqwa (God-consciousness) in a believer. As mentioned earlier, fasting can also be observed voluntarily (as part of the Greater Jihad).


Fasting on a long hot day carries a risk of dehydration. However, if one is at medical risk of dehydration, which leads to serious consequences, then it is permitted to break one's fast. An increase of negative health effects are observed exclusively during the month of Ramadan due to fasting, such as migraines,[24][25][26] tachycardia, severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, circulatory collapse,[27] and sleeping problems.[28][29][30][31][32][33][34][35]


Month of RamadanEdit

Fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered Fard.[36]

Days of OathEdit

If you swear or make an oath, for example: "If I graduate with a good mark, I will fast for three days for God" then common belief dictates that one should fulfil this. This type of fasting is considered obligatory. Breaking such an oath is considered sinful.

Days for voluntary fastingEdit

Muslims are encouraged, although not obliged, to fast days throughout the year: the ninth and tenth, or tenth and eleventh of Muharram, the first month of the year. The tenth day, called Ashurah, is also a fast day for the Jews (Yom Kippur), and Allah commanded the Muslims to fast[37] two days to distinguish themselves from the People of the Book[citation needed]. such as:

  • any 6 days in the lunar or "Islamic" month of Shawwal (the month after Ramadan (Hijri)
  • Fasting on Mondays and Thursdays is desirable if possible.[38]
  • the 13th, 14th, and 15th day of each lunar month (Hijri)
  • the Day of Arafah (9th of Dhu'I-Hijja in the Islamic (Hijri) calendar)
  • As often as possible in the months of Rajab and Sha'aban before Ramadan
  • First 9 days of Dhu'I-Hijja in the lunar (Islamic) calendar (but not for any who are performing Hajj (the pilgrimage)

Days when fasting is forbiddenEdit

Although fasting is considered a pious act in Islam, there are times when fasting is considered prohibited or discouraged according to the majority of the sunni scholars:

  • Eid al-Adha and three days following it, because Muhammad said "You are not to fast these days. They are days of eating and drinking and remembering God", reported by Abu Hurairah.
  • Eid al-Fitr
  • It is also forbidden to single out Fridays and only fast every Friday, as 'Abdullah b. 'Amr b. al-'As said that he heard Muhammad say "Verily, Friday is an eid (holiday) for you, so do not fast on it unless you fast the day before or after it."
  • Fasting every day of the year is considered non-rewarding; Muhammad said: "There is no reward for fasting for the one who perpetually fasts." This Hadith is considered authentic by the Sunni scholars.[39]

The Quran contains no prohibition regarding the days of fasting.

In polar regionsEdit

Nothing was said directly about the polar region and fasting. But there is Hadith about Al-Masih ad-Dajjal[40] that proves that fast as prayers have to be estimated and done every 24 hours, this is the opinion of the Council of Senior Scholars in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.[41][42]

In Tafsir Maarif ul Qur'an it is said that the Quran states that "(During Ramadan) eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread."[Quran 2:187] This results that fasting is a duty for Muslims only when days and nights are producing otherwise fasting is not necessary.[43] So the Muslims of Svalbard have to fast only when days and nights are prominent by the sun. If Ramadan comes in June/December (when days and nights are not prominent by the sun in Svalbard, Norway) they may leave fasting and then complete their fasting in March/September (when days and nights are prominent by the sun in Svalbard, Norway). In Islamic law it is called Qadha. God says in the Quran: "God intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties. (He wants you) to complete the prescribed period, and to glorify Him in that He has guided you; and perchance ye shall be grateful."[Quran 2:185]


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