What is Fasting?

Fasting has many purposes relating both to the Lordship of God and thanksgiving for His bounties, and to man’s individual and collective life, as well as to his self-training and self-discipline.

One of the multiple purposes of fasting connected with the Lordship of God is that God manifests the Perfection of His Lordship and His being the All-Merciful and All-Compassion-ate upon the surface of the earth which He has designed as a table upon which He has laid out all the varieties of His bounties in a way beyond the imagination of the inhabitants of the earth. Nevertheless, people cannot perfectly discern the reality of this situation because of heedlessness and the blinding veil of causality. But in the holy month of Ramadan, the believers, like an army waiting for the order ‘March!’, display a manner of worshipping in expectation of the command of ‘Help yourself!’ towards the end of the day, and they thus respond to that magnificent and universal Mercy with a comprehensive and harmonious act of collective worship.

Fasting is the key to a true, sincere, comprehensive and universal thanksgiving

One of the numerous purposes of fasting concerning thanksgiving for the bounties of God Almighty is that there is a price for the food brought from the kitchen of a king by the servant carrying the trays of food. Obviously, it would be folly of an infinite degree to tip the servant but not to recognize the king who sent the food – an act which would mean disrespect for that gift of precious food. In the same way, God Almighty has spread for mankind His countless bounties of infinite variety on the face of the earth. These bounties require the payment of a price, which is thanksgiving. The apparent causes of those bounties, or those who bring them to us are like the food-carrying servant in the example above. We pay the servants, feel indebted to them, and sometimes thank them and thereby show them a degree of respect they have not merited. The true Giver of Bounties is infinitely more deserving of thanks for those bounties received than the causes or the means by which they come to us. One thanks Him by acknowledging one’s need for the bounties, and being fully appreciative of them and ascribing them directly to Him.

Fasting is the key to a true, sincere, comprehensive and universal thanksgiving. Many people are unable to appreciate most of the bounties they enjoy since they suffer no hunger. A piece of dry bread, for example, means nothing as Divine bounty for those who are full, especially if they are rich, although it is, as even testified by his sense of taste, a very valuable bounty of God in the sight of a believer at the time of breaking his fast. Everyone, whether a king or the poorest of people, are favored with a heart-felt thanksgiving by understanding the value of Divine bounties. Also, because of being forbidden to eat during daytime, a believer thinks: those bounties do not originally belong to me, and I am not free to regard them as mere food or drink. One Other owns them, and He grants them to me. So, I should wait for His permission to eat them. By thus acknowledging whatever he eats and drinks to be a gift of God, the believer thanks God tacitly. On account of this, fasting becomes a key to thanksgiving, which is a real human duty in many respects.

Fasting has many purposes in connection with man’s collective life, one of which is this:

God has created human beings differently in respect of their livelihood. Because of this, He calls the rich to the help of the poor. However, only through the hunger of fasting can the rich feel the hunger and tragic situation of the poor. Without fasting, many rich and self-indulgent people cannot perceive how painful hunger and poverty are, and to what extent the poor need care. Whereas, care for one’s fellow-beings is a foundation of true thanksgiving. There is certainly one poorer than each individual, so everyone is obliged to show care for the one poorer than him. Unless, therefore, one is obliged to suffer hunger, it is nearly impossible for him to do good or give help to his fellow-beings as required by that duty of care. Even if he does, he cannot do it as perfectly as he should, since he does not feel the condition of the hungry to the same extent.

There are many Divine purposes for the obligation of fasting

There are many Divine purposes for the obligation of fasting related to self-training and self-discipline. One of those purposes is as follows:

The carnal self desires to be free and unrestricted and regards itself to be so. It even wishes, by its very nature, for an imagined lordship and free, arbitrary action. Disinclined to thinking that it is being trained and tested through the countless bounties of God, it swallows up, like an animal, those bounties in the manner of a thief or robber, especially if it has a degree of wealth and power accompanied by heedlessness.

It is the selfhood of everyone, whether the richest or the poorest, understands that, rather than owning itself, it is owned by One Other, and rather then being free, it is a servant. Unless it is ordered, or permitted, it is unable to do even the most common thing like eating and drinking, and thereby its illusory lordship is shattered, it can admit to servanthood and performs its real duty, which is thanksgiving.

Fasting also prevents the carnal self from rebellious acts and adorns it with good morals.

Man’s carnal self forgets itself through heedlessness. It does not see, nor does it want to see, the infinite impotence and poverty and the defects of the utmost degree in its very nature. It does not reflect how it is exposed to misfortunes and subject to decay, that it consists of flesh and bones tending to rapid disintegration and decomposition. It rushes upon the world with a violent greed and attachment as if it had a steel body and would live forever. It clings to everything profitable and pleasurable. In this state, it forgets its Creator, Who trains it with a perfect care. Being immersed in the swamp of bad morals, it thinks about neither the consequences of its life in this world nor about its afterlife.

Fasting however, causes even the most heedless and stubborn to feel their weakness and innate poverty. Hunger becomes an important consideration for them and reminds them how fragile their bodies are. They come to perceive to what extent they need compassion and care and, giving up haughtiness, feel a desire to take refuge in the Divine Court in perfect helplessness and destitute, and rise to knock at the door of Mercy with the hand of tacit thanksgiving, provided, of course, that heedlessness has not yet corrupted the individual completely.

Fasting has also many purposes related to the spiritual rewards of man.

Fasting has also many purposes related to the spiritual rewards of man, who has been sent to the world to sow it with the seeds of the next life. The following paragraphs explain one of those purposes.

So, the Fasting is the most proper time for carrying on that most profitable ‘trade’ in the name of the afterlife. It is like a most fertile field to cultivate for the harvest of the afterlife. For the multiplication of the reward for good deeds, it is like April in spring. It is also a sacred, illustrious festival for the ‘parade’ of those who worship the Sovereignty of God’s Lordship. Because of this, fasting is made obligatory for believers so that they should not gratify the animal appetites of the carnal self and indulge in its useless fancies. Since they become like angels while fasting or engaged in a trade for the next life, each acts as a mirror reflecting the Self-Sufficiency of God by moving in the direction of becoming a pure spirit manifested in corporeal dress through the abandonment of the world for a fixed period. In fact, the holy Ramadan contains, and causes a believer to gain, through fasting, a permanent life in a short period in this world.

One of the purposes of fasting related to man’s individual life is as follows:

Fasting is a diet from the viewpoint of both the physical and spiritual health of man. If the carnal self acts in eating and drinking in whatever way it wishes, this is harmful to man’s physical health, as well as being a poison for his spiritual life because of the absence of discrimination between what is lawful and unlawful. It becomes very difficult for such a carnal self to obey the heart and spirit. Without recognizing any principles, it takes the reins of man and drives him in whatever direction it desires. But, in Ramadan it gets accustomed to dieting through the fast and, in self-discipline, it is trained to learn to obey orders. Further, it does not cause the poor stomach to suffer illness because of over-eating without enough time allowed for proper digestion. In addition, since it has learned to forsake eating even what is lawful, it gains the ability to follow the decree of reason and religion to refrain from the unlawful. Thus, the carnal self tries not to corrupt the spiritual life of its owner.

Also, the great majority of mankind frequently become subject to hunger. In order to endure a long-lasting hunger with patience, people should train themselves in self-discipline and an austere lifestyle. Fasting during Ramadan provides just such a training based on patience with hunger of fifteen hours, or even twenty-four hours if the meal before dawn is missed. This means that fasting is a cure for the impatience and want of endurance, which double the misfortune of mankind.

Many members of the human body are either in direct or in indirect service of the factory of the stomach. If that factory is not made to stop working in daytime during a certain month of the year, it keeps those members busy with itself, forgetful of the kinds of worship and sublime duties peculiar to each. It is for this reason that, since the oldest times, saints have usually preferred to get themselves used to an austere lifestyle for the sake of spiritual and human perfection. Fasting in Ramadan reminds us that the members of the body have not been created only for the service of the stomach. In Ramadan, many of those members take pleasure in the angelic and spiritual pleasures, instead of the material ones. This is the reason why in Ramadan, believers receive, according to the extent of their spiritual perfection, different degrees of spiritual pleasures and enlightenment. The heart, the spirit, the reason and innermost senses of man are refined through fasting in Ramadan. Even if the stomach wails during fasting, these senses rejoice greatly.

Fasting breaks the illusory lordship of the carnal self

Fasting breaks the illusory lordship of the carnal self and, reminding it of its innate helplessness, convinces it that it is a servant.

The carnal self does not like to recognize its Lord, and claims lordship in great obstinacy. However much it is made to suffer, it preserves that temperament. It is only hunger which can alter that temperament. Fasting breaks the obstinacy of the carnal self and, by showing to it its intrinsic helplessness and poverty, reminds it that it is only a servant.

It is related from God’s Messenger that God Almighty asked the carnal self: ‘Who am I and who are you?’ The carnal self replied: ‘You are Yourself, and I am myself.’ However much God tormented it and asked the same question, He received the same answer: ‘You are Yourself, and I am myself.’ At last, God subjected it to hunger, and when asking the same question, the reply came: ‘You are my All-Compassionate Lord; I am Your helpless servant’.

Glorified be your Lord, the Lord of Honor and Power; exalted above what they falsely ascribe to Him! And peace be upon the Messengers! And all praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds. Amen!

Fasting

Fasting has many purposes relating both to the Lordship of God and thanksgiving for His bounties, and to man’s individual and collective life, as well as to his self-training and self-discipline.

One of the multiple purposes of fasting connected with the Lordship of God is that God manifests the Perfection of His Lordship and His being the All-Merciful and All-Compassion-ate upon the surface of the earth which He has designed as a table upon which He has laid out all the varieties of His bounties in a way beyond the imagination of the inhabitants of the earth. Nevertheless, people cannot perfectly discern the reality of this situation because of heedlessness and the blinding veil of causality. But in the holy month of Ramadan, the believers, like an army waiting for the order ‘March!’, display a manner of worshipping in expectation of the command of ‘Help yourself!’ towards the end of the day, and they thus respond to that magnificent and universal Mercy with a comprehensive and harmonious act of collective worship.

Fasting is the key to a true, sincere, comprehensive and universal thanksgiving

One of the numerous purposes of fasting concerning thanksgiving for the bounties of God Almighty is that there is a price for the food brought from the kitchen of a king by the servant carrying the trays of food. Obviously, it would be folly of an infinite degree to tip the servant but not to recognize the king who sent the food – an act which would mean disrespect for that gift of precious food. In the same way, God Almighty has spread for mankind His countless bounties of infinite variety on the face of the earth. These bounties require the payment of a price, which is thanksgiving. The apparent causes of those bounties, or those who bring them to us are like the food-carrying servant in the example above. We pay the servants, feel indebted to them, and sometimes thank them and thereby show them a degree of respect they have not merited. The true Giver of Bounties is infinitely more deserving of thanks for those bounties received than the causes or the means by which they come to us. One thanks Him by acknowledging one’s need for the bounties, and being fully appreciative of them and ascribing them directly to Him.

Fasting is the key to a true, sincere, comprehensive and universal thanksgiving. Many people are unable to appreciate most of the bounties they enjoy since they suffer no hunger. A piece of dry bread, for example, means nothing as Divine bounty for those who are full, especially if they are rich, although it is, as even testified by his sense of taste, a very valuable bounty of God in the sight of a believer at the time of breaking his fast. Everyone, whether a king or the poorest of people, are favored with a heart-felt thanksgiving by understanding the value of Divine bounties. Also, because of being forbidden to eat during daytime, a believer thinks: those bounties do not originally belong to me, and I am not free to regard them as mere food or drink. One Other owns them, and He grants them to me. So, I should wait for His permission to eat them. By thus acknowledging whatever he eats and drinks to be a gift of God, the believer thanks God tacitly. On account of this, fasting becomes a key to thanksgiving, which is a real human duty in many respects.

Fasting has many purposes in connection with man’s collective life, one of which is this:

God has created human beings differently in respect of their livelihood. Because of this, He calls the rich to the help of the poor. However, only through the hunger of fasting can the rich feel the hunger and tragic situation of the poor. Without fasting, many rich and self-indulgent people cannot perceive how painful hunger and poverty are, and to what extent the poor need care. Whereas, care for one’s fellow-beings is a foundation of true thanksgiving. There is certainly one poorer than each individual, so everyone is obliged to show care for the one poorer than him. Unless, therefore, one is obliged to suffer hunger, it is nearly impossible for him to do good or give help to his fellow-beings as required by that duty of care. Even if he does, he cannot do it as perfectly as he should, since he does not feel the condition of the hungry to the same extent.

There are many Divine purposes for the obligation of fasting

There are many Divine purposes for the obligation of fasting related to self-training and self-discipline. One of those purposes is as follows:

The carnal self desires to be free and unrestricted and regards itself to be so. It even wishes, by its very nature, for an imagined lordship and free, arbitrary action. Disinclined to thinking that it is being trained and tested through the countless bounties of God, it swallows up, like an animal, those bounties in the manner of a thief or robber, especially if it has a degree of wealth and power accompanied by heedlessness.

It is the selfhood of everyone, whether the richest or the poorest, understands that, rather than owning itself, it is owned by One Other, and rather then being free, it is a servant. Unless it is ordered, or permitted, it is unable to do even the most common thing like eating and drinking, and thereby its illusory lordship is shattered, it can admit to servanthood and performs its real duty, which is thanksgiving.

Fasting also prevents the carnal self from rebellious acts and adorns it with good morals.

Man’s carnal self forgets itself through heedlessness. It does not see, nor does it want to see, the infinite impotence and poverty and the defects of the utmost degree in its very nature. It does not reflect how it is exposed to misfortunes and subject to decay, that it consists of flesh and bones tending to rapid disintegration and decomposition. It rushes upon the world with a violent greed and attachment as if it had a steel body and would live forever. It clings to everything profitable and pleasurable. In this state, it forgets its Creator, Who trains it with a perfect care. Being immersed in the swamp of bad morals, it thinks about neither the consequences of its life in this world nor about its afterlife.

Fasting however, causes even the most heedless and stubborn to feel their weakness and innate poverty. Hunger becomes an important consideration for them and reminds them how fragile their bodies are. They come to perceive to what extent they need compassion and care and, giving up haughtiness, feel a desire to take refuge in the Divine Court in perfect helplessness and destitute, and rise to knock at the door of Mercy with the hand of tacit thanksgiving, provided, of course, that heedlessness has not yet corrupted the individual completely.

Fasting has also many purposes related to the spiritual rewards of man.

Fasting has also many purposes related to the spiritual rewards of man, who has been sent to the world to sow it with the seeds of the next life. The following paragraphs explain one of those purposes.

So, the Fasting is the most proper time for carrying on that most profitable ‘trade’ in the name of the afterlife. It is like a most fertile field to cultivate for the harvest of the afterlife. For the multiplication of the reward for good deeds, it is like April in spring. It is also a sacred, illustrious festival for the ‘parade’ of those who worship the Sovereignty of God’s Lordship. Because of this, fasting is made obligatory for believers so that they should not gratify the animal appetites of the carnal self and indulge in its useless fancies. Since they become like angels while fasting or engaged in a trade for the next life, each acts as a mirror reflecting the Self-Sufficiency of God by moving in the direction of becoming a pure spirit manifested in corporeal dress through the abandonment of the world for a fixed period. In fact, the holy Ramadan contains, and causes a believer to gain, through fasting, a permanent life in a short period in this world.

One of the purposes of fasting related to man’s individual life is as follows:

Fasting is a diet from the viewpoint of both the physical and spiritual health of man. If the carnal self acts in eating and drinking in whatever way it wishes, this is harmful to man’s physical health, as well as being a poison for his spiritual life because of the absence of discrimination between what is lawful and unlawful. It becomes very difficult for such a carnal self to obey the heart and spirit. Without recognizing any principles, it takes the reins of man and drives him in whatever direction it desires. But, in Ramadan it gets accustomed to dieting through the fast and, in self-discipline, it is trained to learn to obey orders. Further, it does not cause the poor stomach to suffer illness because of over-eating without enough time allowed for proper digestion. In addition, since it has learned to forsake eating even what is lawful, it gains the ability to follow the decree of reason and religion to refrain from the unlawful. Thus, the carnal self tries not to corrupt the spiritual life of its owner.

Also, the great majority of mankind frequently become subject to hunger. In order to endure a long-lasting hunger with patience, people should train themselves in self-discipline and an austere lifestyle. Fasting during Ramadan provides just such a training based on patience with hunger of fifteen hours, or even twenty-four hours if the meal before dawn is missed. This means that fasting is a cure for the impatience and want of endurance, which double the misfortune of mankind.

Many members of the human body are either in direct or in indirect service of the factory of the stomach. If that factory is not made to stop working in daytime during a certain month of the year, it keeps those members busy with itself, forgetful of the kinds of worship and sublime duties peculiar to each. It is for this reason that, since the oldest times, saints have usually preferred to get themselves used to an austere lifestyle for the sake of spiritual and human perfection. Fasting in Ramadan reminds us that the members of the body have not been created only for the service of the stomach. In Ramadan, many of those members take pleasure in the angelic and spiritual pleasures, instead of the material ones. This is the reason why in Ramadan, believers receive, according to the extent of their spiritual perfection, different degrees of spiritual pleasures and enlightenment. The heart, the spirit, the reason and innermost senses of man are refined through fasting in Ramadan. Even if the stomach wails during fasting, these senses rejoice greatly.

Fasting breaks the illusory lordship of the carnal self

Fasting breaks the illusory lordship of the carnal self and, reminding it of its innate helplessness, convinces it that it is a servant.

The carnal self does not like to recognize its Lord, and claims lordship in great obstinacy. However much it is made to suffer, it preserves that temperament. It is only hunger which can alter that temperament. Fasting breaks the obstinacy of the carnal self and, by showing to it its intrinsic helplessness and poverty, reminds it that it is only a servant.

It is related from God’s Messenger that God Almighty asked the carnal self: ‘Who am I and who are you?’ The carnal self replied: ‘You are Yourself, and I am myself.’ However much God tormented it and asked the same question, He received the same answer: ‘You are Yourself, and I am myself.’ At last, God subjected it to hunger, and when asking the same question, the reply came: ‘You are my All-Compassionate Lord; I am Your helpless servant’.

Glorified be your Lord, the Lord of Honor and Power; exalted above what they falsely ascribe to Him! And peace be upon the Messengers! And all praise be to God, the Lord of the Worlds. Amen!

Fasting in Judaism

Fasting for Jews means completely abstaining from food and drink, including water. Traditionally observant Jews fast six days of the year. With the exception of Yom Kippur, fasting is never permitted on Shabbat, for the commandment of keeping Shabbat is biblically ordained and overrides the later rabbinically instituted fast days. (The fast of the 10th of Teveth would also override the Sabbath, but the current calendar system prevents this from ever occurring.)

Yom Kippur is considered to be the most important day of the Jewish year and fasting as a means of repentance is expected of every Jewish man or woman above the age of bar mitzvah and bat mitzvah respectively. It is so important to fast on this day, that only those who would be put in mortal danger by fasting are exempt, such as the ill or frail (endangering a life is against a core principle of Judaism). Those that do eat on this day are encouraged to eat as little as possible at a time and to avoid a full meal. For some, fasting on Yom Kippur is considered more important than the prayers of this holy day. If one fasts, even if one is at home in bed, one is considered as having participated in the full religious service.

The second major day of fasting is Tisha B’Av, the day approximately 2500 years ago on which the Babylonians destroyed the first Holy Temple in Jerusalem, as well as on which the Romans destroyed the second Holy Temple in Jerusalem about 2000 years ago, and the Jews were banished from their homeland. Tisha B’Av ends a three-week mourning period beginning with the fast of the 17th of Tammuz. This is also the day when observant Jews remember the many tragedies which have befallen the Jewish people, including the Holocaust. The atmosphere of this fast is serious and deeply sad (in contrast to Yom Kippur which is a day of atonement).

Tisha B’Av and Yom Kippur are the major fasts and are observed from sunset to the following day’s dusk. The remaining four fasts are considered minor and fasting is only observed from sunrise to dusk. Both men and women are expected to observe them, but a rabbi may give a dispensation if the fast represents too much of a hardship to a sick or weak person, or pregnant or nursing woman.

The four other public but minor fast days are:

  • The Fast of Gedaliah on the day after Rosh Hashana
  • The Fast of the 10th of Tevet
  • The Fast of the 17th of Tammuz
  • The Fast of Esther, which takes place immediately before Purim

There are other minor fast days, but these are not universally observed, and they include:

  • “Bahab,” (literally an acronym for “Monday, Thursday, Monday”) the first two Mondays and first Thursday of the months Marcheshvan and Iyar (postponed by a week if Monday is the first of the month)
  • “Yom Kippur Katan,” (literally “Little Yom Kippur”) the day before every Rosh Chodesh, moved back to Thursday if that day is Saturday
  • The Fast of the Firstborn, on the day before Passover, which applies only to first-born sons; this obligation is usually avoided by participating in a siyum and ritual meal that takes precedence over fasting.

It is an Ashkenazic tradition for a bride and groom to fast on their wedding day before the ceremony as the day represents a personal Yom Kippur. In some congregations, repentance prayers that are said on Yom Kippur service are included by the bride and groom in their private prayers before the wedding ceremony.

Aside from these official days of fasting, Jews may take upon themselves personal or communal fasts, often to seek repentance in the face of tragedy or some impending calamity. For example, a fast is sometimes observed if a sefer torah is dropped. The length of the fast varies, and some Jews will reduce the length of the fast through tzedakah, or charitable acts. Mondays and Thursdays are considered especially auspicious days for fasting. Traditionally, one also fasted upon awakening from an unexpected bad dream although this tradition is rarely kept nowadays. In the time of the Talmud, drought seems to have been a particularly frequent inspiration for fasts. In modern times as well the Israeli Chief Rabbinate has occasionally declared fasts in periods of drought.

Judaism views three essential potential purposes of fasting, and a combination of some or all of these could apply to any given fast. One purpose in fasting is the achievement of atonement for sins and omissions in divine service. Fasting is not considered the primary means of acquiring atonement; rather, sincere regret for and rectification of a wrongdoing is key (see Isaiah, 58:1-13, which appropriately is read as the haftarah on Yom Kippur).

Nevertheless, fasting is conducive to atonement, for it tends to precipitate contrition (see Joel, 2:12-18). This is why the Bible requires fasting (literally self affliction) on Yom Kippur (see Leviticus, 23:27, 29,32; Numbers, 29:7; Tractate Yoma, 8:1; ibid. (Babylonian Talmud), 81a). Because, according to the Hebrew Bible, hardship and calamitous circumstances can occur as a result of wrongdoing (see, for example, Leviticus, 26:14-41), fasting is often undertaken by the community or by individuals to achieve atonement and avert catastrophe (see, for example, Esther 4:3,16; Jonah 3:7). Most of the Talmud’s Tractate Ta’anit (“Fast[s]”) is dedicated to the protocol involved in declaring and observing fast days.

The second purpose in fasting is commemorative mourning. Indeed, most communal fast days that are set permanently in the Jewish calendar fulfill this purpose. These fasts include: Tisha B’Av, Seventeenth of Tammuz, Tenth of Tevet (all of the three dedicated to mourning the loss of the destroyed Temple in Jerusalem), and the Fast of Gedaliah. The purpose of a fast of mourning is the demonstration that those fasting are impacted by and distraught over earlier loss. This serves to heighten appreciation of that which was lost. This is in line with Isaiah (66:10), who indicates that mourning over a loss leads to increased happiness upon return of the loss:

Be glad with Jerusalem, and exult in her, all those who love her; rejoice with her in celebration, all those [who were] mourners over her.

The third purpose in fasting is commemorative gratitude. Since food and drink are corporeal needs, abstinence from them serves to provide a unique opportunity for focus on the spiritual. Indeed, the Midrash explains that fasting can potentially elevate one to the exalted level of the Mal’achay HaShareyt (ministering angels) (Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, 46). This dedication is considered appropriate gratitude to God for providing salvation. Additionally, by refraining from such basic physical indulgence, one can more greatly appreciate the dependence of humanity on God, leading to appreciation of God’s beneficence in sustaining His creations. Indeed, Jewish philosophy considers this appreciation one of the fundamental reasons for which God endowed mankind with such basic physical needs as food and drink. This is seen from the text of the blessing customarily recited after consuming snacks or drinks:

You, Eternal One, are the Source of all blessing, our God, King of the universe, Creator of many souls, who gave needs for to all who You created, to give life through [fulfilling those needs] to every living soul. Blessed is the Life-giver to the universe.

Fasting in Islam

Fasting is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam and involves fasting during the holy month of Ramadan, which is probably the most notable time for fasting among Muslims.

In Islam, fasting for a month is an obligatory practice during the holy month of Ramadan, from fajr (dawn), until the maghrib (dusk). Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking (including water), and engaging in sexual activity. They are also encouraged to temper negative emotions such as anger and addiction. Fasting in the month of Ramadan is one of the Pillars of Islam, and thus one of the most important acts of Islamic worship. By fasting, whether during Ramadan or other times, a Muslim draws closer to God by abandoning body pleasures, such as food and drink. This makes the sincerity of their faith and their devotion to God (Arabic: Allah) all the more evident.

The Qur’an states that fasting was prescribed for those before them (i.e., the Jews and Christians) and that by fasting a Muslim gains taqwa, which can be described in one word as ‘Godconsciousness’ or ‘Godwariness’. Fasting is believed to help promote chastity and humility and prevent sin, the outburst of uncontrolled lusts and desires and far-fetched hopes. To Muslims, fasting acts as a shield with which the Muslim protects him/herself from jahannam (hell).

Muslims believe that fasting is more than abstaining from food and drink. Fasting also includes abstaining from any falsehood in speech and action, abstaining from any ignorant and indecent speech, and from arguing, fighting, and having lustful thoughts. Therefore, fasting strengthens control of impulses and helps develop good behavior. During the sacred month of Ramadan, believers strive to purify body and soul and increase their taqwa (good deeds and God-consciousness). This purification of body and soul harmonizes the inner and outer spheres of an individual. Muslims aim to improve their body by reducing food intake and maintaining a healthier lifestyle. Overindulgence in food is discouraged and eating only enough to silence the pain of hunger is encouraged. Muslims believe they should be active, tending to all their commitments and never falling short of any duty. On a moral level, believers strive to attain the most virtuous characteristics and apply them to their daily situations. They try to show compassion, generosity and mercy to others, exercise patience, and control their anger. In essence, Muslims are trying to improve what they believe to be good moral character and habits.

For Muslims, fasting also inculcates a sense of fraternity and solidarity, as Muslims believe they are feeling and experiencing what their needy and hungry brothers and sisters are feeling. Those who are already poor and hungry are often considered exempt from fasting, as their condition renders them effectively fasting all the time; however, many still refrain from eating during the day. Moreover, Ramadan is a month of giving charity and sharing meals to break the fast together.

The Siyam is intended to teach Muslims patience and self-control, and to remind them of the less fortunate in the world. The fast is also seen as a debt owed by the Muslim to God. Faithful observance of the Siyam is believed to atone for personal faults and misdeeds, at least in part, and to help earn a place in paradise. It is also believed to be beneficial for personal conduct, that is, to help control impulses, passions and temper. The fast is also meant to provide time for meditation and to strengthen one’s faith.

While fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered Fard (obligatory), Islam also prescribes certain days for non-obligatory, voluntary fasting, such as:

  • The 13th, 14th, and 15th of every lunar month
  • Each Monday and Thursday of a week
  • Six days in the month of Shawwal (the month following Ramadan)
  • Every other day, also known as the fast of the prophet David
  • The Day of Ashura, which is the tenth day of Muharram as well as either a day before, or a day after (while the Sunni majority take part in this, Shi’ites refrain due to their sect-specific regard for the day as one of mourning.)

Fasting is forbidden on these days:

  • Eid Fitr (1st Shawwal) and Eid Adha (10th Dhulhijjah)
  • Tashriq (11th, 12th, 13th Dhulhijjah) in accordance with Sunni Islam.
  • Eid Al Adha (10th of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Hijri (Islamic calendar)). (Not necessarily the belief of all sects and schools of thought within the body of Shia Islam as various Shi’ite sects have opposing views)

Although fasting at Ramadan is fard (obligatory), exceptions are made for persons in particular circumstances:

  • Prepubescent children; though some parents will encourage their children to fast earlier for shorter periods, so the children get used to fasting.
  • Unconditional vomiting because the food leaves through an unintentional part of the gut.
  • Serious illness; the days lost to illness will have to be made up after recovery.
  • If one is traveling but one must make up any days missed upon arriving at one’s destination.
  • A woman during her menstrual period; although she must count the days she missed and make them up later but before arrival of the next Ramadan.
  • A woman till forty days after giving birth to child or miscarriage. But she must count the day she missed in Ramadan and make up later but before the arrival of the next Ramadan.
  • A woman who is pregnant or breast feeding. But she must count the day she missed in Ramadan and make up later but before the arrival of the next Ramadan.
  • An ill person or old person who is not physically able to fast. They should donate the amount of a normal person’s diet for each day missed if they are financially capable.
  • A mentally ill person.
  • For elders who will not be able to fast, a lunch meal (or an equivalent amount of money) is to be donated to the poor or needy for each day of missed fasting.