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14 August 2010

Why do Muslims Fast in Ramadan?

What is Fasting (Sawm)?

Sawm (Arabic: صوم) is an Arabic word for fasting regulated by Islamic jurisprudence. In the terminology of Islamic law, Sawm means "to abstain from eating, drinking or seeing what is against Islam, the saying of rude language". The observance of sawm during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam, but is not confined to that month.


Ṣawm is derived from Syriac: ܨܘܡܐ ṣawmā. Literally, it means "to abstain", cognates to Hebrew tsom.

Other languages

For example, the Muslims of Afghanistan, India, Iran, Bangladesh, and Pakistan use the word rozah which comes from the Indo-Iranian language of Dari. In Turkey, Sawm is called oruç (compare Kyrgyz öröz), while the Malay community in Malaysia, Brunei and Singapore call it puasa, which is derived from Sanskrit, upvaasa. Puasa is also used in Indonesia, Southern Thailand and Southern Philippines. Interestingly, the word is also found in the Maltese language.


Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking, smoking, and engaging in sexual intercourse from dawn (fajr) to sunset (maghrib). 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.

Conditions of Fasting

Intention (Niyyah)
For a fast to be intentional/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.

General conditions
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. This is in addition to the standard obligation already observed by Muslims of avoiding that which is not permissible under Quranic or Shari'ah 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 most rewardable worship.

If one is sick, nursing or traveling, 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 elderly who are too weak to fast for extended periods of time, diabetics, nursing, and pregnant women, but this must be made up by paying a fidyah which is essentially the iftar, dinner and suhoor for a fasting person who requires such financial help.

According to the clear guidance of the Quran and the Sunnah if someone does not afford fasting due to illness or traveling he is permitted to leave the fast and complete the left over fasts later on. However, the question of those suffering a permanent disease has not been resolved in the sources. One view is that they can leave the obligation if medical experts advise this. As to the question how to compensate for the failing it is held that they can feed a poor person a meal in lieu of every fast to make up for the obligation. Such a delinquent person should always be willing to fast when granted health.

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 the Quran indicates that all religious duties are ordained for both men and women.

Beginning and Ending the Fast

In accordance with traditions handed down from Muhammad (pbuh), 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 and Salat-ul-Maghrib 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 wudhu.

The meal eaten to end the fast is known as al-Iftar. Muslims, following the Sunnah of the Prophet, Muhammad (pbuh), break the fast with dates and water, before praying Salat-ul-Maghrib, after which they might eat a more wholesome meal.

Why Do Muslims Fast In Ramadan?

It has been enjoined on us so that we may become pious. A pious Muslim and Muslimah does whatever Allah and His Messenger have told them to do. Allah says (interpretation of the meaning):

"O you who believe! Observing As-Sawm (the fasting) is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may become Al-Muttaqoon (the pious)?"[Surah Al Baqarah 2:183]

And Allah says in a hadeeth qudsi:

"Fasting is for Me and I will reward for it. He gives up his desire and his food and drink for My sake." [Narrated by al-Bukhari, 7492; Muslim, 111]

The purpose of fasting is not to just get hungry and thirsty but it is to become pious. So one should stay away from Un-Islamic things such as:
- Getting angry
- Using Bad language
- Back biting and gossip
- Arguing and fighting with Muslims.
- Being rude and impolite
- Looking, touching , flirting with non-mahrems of the opposite sex.
- lying and cheating
- Engaging in riba (interest, usury)
- women non wearing Hijab
- men shaving beards and having cloths below ankles
- allying with the enemies of Islam against the Muslims
- promoting Un-Islamic ideologies such as democracy and socialism.
- basically staying away from anything that is Haraam.
Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:
""Whoever does not give up false speech and false actions and ignorance, Allah has no need of his giving up his food and drink." [Narrated by al-Bukhari, 6057]

He also (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) said:

"A fasting person may get nothing from his fast except hunger and the one who prays at night may get nothing from his qiyaam but a sleepless night." [Narrated by Ibn Maajah, 1690; classed as saheeh by al-Albaani in Saheeh Ibn Maajah.]

- The reward for fasting is immense, as mentioned in the following Hadeeth :
"Every action of the son of Adam is given manifold reward, each good deed receiving then times its like, up to seven hundred times. Allah the Most High said, 'Except for fasting, for it is for Me and I will give recompense for it, he leaves off his desires and his food for Me.' for the fasting person there are two times of joy; a time when he breaks his fast and a time of joy when he meets his Lord, and the smell coming from the mouth of the fasting person is better with Allah than the smell of musk." [al-Bukhari]

Also, Sahl ibn Sa`d said that the Prophet (peace be upon him.) said:
"Indeed there is a gate of Paradise called ar-Rayyaan. On the day of Resurrection those who fast will enter through it; no one enters it except for them, and when they have entered, it is closed so that no one enters it, so when the last of them enters it, it is closed, and whoever enters it drinks, and whoever drinks never becomes thirsty." [Ibn Khuzaimah, Saheeh]

- Fasting is a shield against the Fire:
"Fasting is a shield with which a servant protects himself from the Fire." [Ahmad, Saheeh]
- On the Day of Judgment, "Fasting will say: O My Lord I prevented him from food and desires so accept my intercession for him." [Ahmad, al-Haakim and Abu Nu'aim, Hasan]

- Fasting is a means for one's sins to be forgiven. The Prophet (peace be upon him.) said:

"He who fasts Ramadan, due to Imaan and hoping for reward (from Allah) then his past sins are forgiven." [al-Bukhari, Muslim]

- The supplication of the fasting person is answered:

"There are in the month of Ramadan in every day and night those to whom Allah grants freedom from the Fire, and there is for every Muslim a supplication which he can make and will be granted." [al-Bazzaar, Ahmad, Saheeh]
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