Fasting in Islam
Fasting in Islam (known as Sawm(صَوْم) or Siyam (صِيَام), also commonly known as Rūzeh or Rōzah (Persian: روزه) in non-Arab Muslim countries), is the practice of abstaining, usually from food, drink, smoking, and sexual activity. During the Islamic holy month of Ramadan, Sawm is observed between dawn and nightfall when the evening adhan is sounded. Ramadan is the ninth month of the Muslim lunar calendar and fasting is the fourth of the five pillars of Islam.
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.
Fasting is not for only Muslims, it has been practiced for centuries by religions such as Christianity, Judaism, Confucianism, Hinduism, Taoism, among others.It is stated in the Quran that Allah says
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you may develop God-consciousness.” (Quran 2:183).
Some societies in North America fasted to serve as penance for sin and avert catastrophes. Incas of Peru and Native Americans of Mexico observed fasts to appease their gods. Former nations such as Assyrians and the Babylonians observed fasting as a form of penance. Jews observe fasting as a form of purification and penitence on the Day of Atonement or Yom Kippur annually. Food and drinks are not permitted on this day. Fasting took a different form in the West such as hunger strike which is a form of fasting, used in modern times as a political weapon which was made popular by the leader of India’s struggle for freedom,(Mohandas Gandhi). He undertook fasts to compel his followers to obey his precept of non violence. Early Christians during the first two centuries, associated fasting with purification and penitence. The Christian church made fasting as a voluntary preparation for receiving the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion and for the ordination of priests. Later, they were made compulsory and other days were subsequently added. The Lenten fast was expanded in the 6th Century to 40 days where one meal was allowed on each day. Fasting was retained by most Protestant churches and was made optional in some cases after the Reformation. However, stricter Protestants condemned both the festivals of the church and their traditional fasts. The Roman Catholics fast on Ash Wednesday and Good Friday as their fast may involve partial abstinence from food and drink or total abstinence.
In the Quran
In the Quran, the practice of fasting is mentioned. In verse 2:183, Quran expresses situations in which a Muslim is allowed to abstain from fasting and introduces alternative solutions such as feeding needy people. Also, it is emphasized in verse 2:183-185 that it is not necessary for people who are traveling or sick to be fasting. It can be postponed until “another equal number of days.” According to verse 5:95, among other things, fasting may be used to make up for certain sins, such as killing an animal during a state of ihram. The Quran verse 2:185 also states that the Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadan. Another verse 97:1 in the Quran states that it was revealed “on the Night of Power,” where Muslims observe in one of the last 10 nights of Ramadan.
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 when at 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
Perform the pilgrimage and the visit 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
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 (5), Ayah 95
Such of you as put away your wives (by saying they are as their mothers) They are not their mothers; none are their mothers except those who gave them birth–they indeed utter an ill word and a lie. And lo! Allah is Forgiving, Merciful. ‘Those who put away their wives (by saying they are as their mothers) and afterward would go back on that which they have said; (the penalty) in that case (is) the freeing of a slave before they touch one another. Unto this ye are exhorted; and Allah is informed of what ye do. And he who findeth not (the wherewithal), let him fast for two successive months before they touch one another; and for him who is unable to do so (the penance is) the feeding of sixty needy ones.’ This, that ye may put trust in Allah and His messenger. Such are the limits (imposed by Allah); and for disbelievers is a painful doom. — Quran, Surah Al-Mujahidah (58), Ayah 2-4
Fasting is primarily an exercise of devotion to willingly renounce oneself, for a definite period of time, from all bodily appetites in order to form spiritual discipline and self-control. Muslims are prohibited from eating or drinking from dawn (fajr) to dusk (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.
“The intention (niyyah) means resolving to fast. It is essential to have the intention the night before, night by night, in Ramadaan.” For fasting, the intention is necessary.
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’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 travelling 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.
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 woman may still do dhikr (remembrance of Allah) and make dua (supplication to Allah) during this time.
Fasting is obligatory for a person if they fulfill five conditions:
- They are a Muslim.
- They are accountable (Islamic past the age of puberty).
- They are able to fast.
- They are settled (not traveling).
- There are no impediments to fasting such as sickness, extreme pain from injury, breastfeeding, or pregnancy.
Breaking the fast and the consequences
During Ramadan, if one unintentionally breaks the fast by eating or drinking, then they must continue fasting 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 and also repent. For breaking fast by having sexual intercourse, the consequences are:
- Free a slave, and if that is not possible,
- Fast for two consecutive Hijri (moon) months, and if that’s not possible
- Feed or clothe sixty people in need.
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.
Breaking oaths and consequences
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 60 slaves, or feeding or clothing sixty 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.
Beginning and ending
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 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.
Fasting has been prescribed to all Muslims as a form of religious obligation for overcoming their lust and desires within a reasonable limit so that one can control oneself and prevent becoming a slave to their appetites. The Qur’an states that if humans cannot prevent themselves from desires then they cannot achieve salvation.
“As for him who fears to stand before his Lord and restrains himself from low desires, Paradise is surely the abode” (Verse 79: 40-41).
Muslims abstain from a permissible norm of daily life due to the command of Allah so it strengthens one’s self-control and increases consciousness of the Lord. It is not prescribed as a punishment upon people or to inflict burdensome practices. It is a moral and spiritual training whose underlying idea is to teach moderation and spiritual discipline so that human temptations do not surpass the moral disciplines implemented in Islam. Furthermore, fasting is mandatory for only a definite period of time and does not promote total renunciation from the appetite of the flesh. Eating, drinking, and sexual intercourse become permissible for a human at the end of the fast. Therefore, Islamic fasting aims at promoting proper limits within its natural bounds.
Islamic fasting, as a time-restricted eating habit that inverts the normal human day-night-routine for the observants, can have deleterious health effects on sleep patterns and the general health. Fasting in Ramadan has been shown to alter the sleep patterns and the associated hormone production. Statistical comparison of thousands of school children, part of whom were born without the month of Ramadan during pregnancy and part of whom where Ramadan coincided with the pregnancy, has revealed significantly lower intelligence, lower cognitive capability, and lower growth in adolescence if the mother observed Ramadan fasting during pregnancy. Children whose mother fasted during Ramadan also have a higher incidence of several chronic diseases, e.g. Type 2 Diabetes.
The education departments of Berlin and the United Kingdom have tried to discourage students from fasting during Ramadan, as they claim that not eating or drinking can lead to concentration problems and bad grades. Ramadan fasting has also been associated with loss of workplace productivity by 35 to 50%.
Many of the purported health benefits associated with Ramadan fasting only take into account the abstinence from food while ignoring the lack of water intake, which can have a harmful impact even in healthy individuals.In many cultures, it is associated with heavy food and water intake during Suhur and iftar times, which may do more harm than good. Ramadan fasting is safe for healthy people provided that overall food and water intake is adequate, but those with medical conditions should seek medical advice if they encounter health problems before or during fasting.The fasting period is usually associated with modest weight loss, but weight can return afterwards.
A review of the literature by an Iranian group suggested fasting during Ramadan might produce renal injury in patients with moderate (GFR <60 ml/min) or severe kidney disease but was not injurious to renal transplant patients with good function or most stone-forming patients. Ramadan fasting can be potentially hazardous for pregnant women as it is associated with risks of inducing labour and causing gestational diabetes, although it does not appear to affect the child’s weight. It is permissible to not fast if it threatens the woman’s or the child’s lives, however, in many instances pregnant women are normal before development of complications.
Month of Ramadan
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered Fard.
Days of Oath
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 fasting
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.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.
- The White Days, 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 al-Hijjah in the Islamic calendar (but not for any who are performing Hajj (the pilgrimage)
Days when fasting is forbidden
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.
Fasting is also prohibited on the 11th, 12th, and 13th of Dhul Hijjah – Days of Tashreeq The Quran contains no other prohibition regarding the days of fasting.
In polar regions
Nothing was said directly about the polar region and fasting. But there is Hadith about Al-Masih ad-Dajjal 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.
These concerns are because at polar latitudes, summer solstices feature the midnight sun and winter solstices have polar night. These natural phenomena occur because the earth’s axis tilts toward the sun in summer and away from the sun in winter, causing the poles to be exposed to the sun’s rays for six months each, non-stop. The reason most of the earliest Muslims did not experience these phenomena during Islam’s early days is because they did not live in polar regions, but in the Subtropics, where the Sun can be directly overhead and does set at night.
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.” This results that fasting is a duty for Muslims only when days and nights are producing otherwise fasting is not necessary. 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.”
Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia