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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 and sexual intercourse".[1] 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 Template:Lang-syr ṣawmā. Literally, it means "to abstain".

Other languages

For example, the Muslims of Afghanistan, India, Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Central Asia use the word rozah which comes from the Indo-Iranian language of Dari. In Turkey, Sawm is called oruç, while the Malay community in Malaysia and Singapore call it puasa, which is derived from Sanskrit, upvaasa. Puasa 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 (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.

Fasting in the Qur'an

In the Qur'an, this practice is mentioned:

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.[Qur'an 2:183]

Conditions of Fasting

Intention (Niyyah).

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.

General conditions

Throughout the duration of the fast itself, Muslims will abstain from certain provisions that the Qur'an 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 (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 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 the Qur'an 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 two 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.

Ending the fast at a mosque

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 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 [1] 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 (obligitory)

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 Abominate 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-Fitrbut it could be offered before eatinf the breakfast and after ofering the prayers
  • Ayyam at-Tashriq (the 11th, 12th and 13th of the month of Dhu al-Hijjah).

Fasting in other religions

Lent in Christianity, Yom Kippur, Tisha B'av, Fast of Esther, Tzom Gedalia the Seventeenth_of_Tamuz, 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 and Buddhism. 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 Baha'i Faith observe a Nineteen Day Fast from sunrise to sunset during March each year.

See also


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