As-Sawm (الصوم) is the Arabic word for fasting. As-Sawm means to refrain from eating, drinking, smoking, sexual contact and other forbidden acts of islamic law during the hours of daylight from dawn (fajr) to sunset (maghrib). The observance of As-sawm during the Islamic holy month of Ramadhan is one of the Five Pillars of Islam.
As-Sawm (fasting) is essentially an attempt to seek nearness to Allah and increase one’s piety. One of the aims of fasting is to sympathise 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 so on in order to focus more on devoting oneself to Allah.
As-Sawm (fasting) also teaches oneself the principle of love. This is because when one observes As-Sawm (fasting), it is done out of deep love for Allah and to learn self restraint.
In the Qur’an, As-Sawm (fasting) is mentioned:
يَا أَيُّهَا 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’ (Surah Al Baqarah, Chapter 2 Verse 183)
The Prophet Muhammad (صلي الله عليه وسلم) said: Whoever fasts during Ramadhan with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven. Whoever prays during the nights in Ramadhan with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven. And he who passes Lailat al-Qadr (the night of power) in prayer with faith and seeking his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven. (Bukhari, Muslim)
Those that do not need to observe As-Sawm (fasting) during the holy month of Ramadhan are those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are menstruating are permitted not to fast but are to make up an equal number of days later in the year if they are healthy and able. Fasting is obligatory for all Muslims from puberty, although many start earlier.
Ramadhan is a time for Reflection as it helps us recognise everything good we have in this life and how blessed we are, making us closer to Allah. It is a time used to re-focus one’s self on the worship of Allah and one’s purpose in life. Muslims are encouraged to read the Qur’an and perform special prayers, called Taraweh, which are held in the mosques every night of the month. During Ramadhan the whole of the Qur’an is recited in these prayers. During Ramadhan as well as giving the obligatory charity (Zakāt) people will often help needy neighbours, orphans, the elderly and the sick.
The Prophet Muhammad (صلي الله عليه وسلم) once said ‘A man’s wealth is never diminished by charity.’
Suhur: Just before dawn Muslims will wake up and have a meal before the start of the fast, this is known as suhur. The meal is then followed by the fajr prayer.
Du’a for the intention to fast:
وَبِصَوْمِ غَدٍ نَّوَيْتَ مِنْ شَهْرِ رَمَضَا
Wa bisawmi ghadinn nawaytu min shahri Ramadhan. (I intend to keep the fast for tomorrow in the month of Ramadhan).
Iftar: At sunset the Athan (call to prayer) will be made and Muslims break their fast. This is traditionally done with 3 dates and water. After opening the fast Muslims will then pray Maghrib, the obligatory sunset prayer.
Du’a for breaking the fast:
اللَّهُمَّ اِنِّى لَكَ صُمْتُ وَبِكَ امنْتُ وَ عَلى رِزْقِكَ اَفْطَرْتُ
Allahumma inni laka sumtu wa bika amantu [wa ‘alayka ta wakkaltu] wa ‘ala rizqika aftarthu. (O Allah! I fasted for You and I believe in You [and I put my trust in You] and I break my fast with Your sustenance.
Taraweh: The final of the five daily prayers is said as night falls. A special prayer called Taraweh is said only during the month of Ramadan. It is optional and consists of recitations of the Qur’an.
Lailat ul Qadr (Night of Power) marks the anniversary of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad (صلي الله عليه وسلم) first began receiving revelations from Allah through the angel Jibrail (Gabriel). An entire Surat in the Qur’an deals with this night: ‘We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power: and what will explain to you what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by God’s permission, on every errand. Peace! This until the rise of the morning’ (Surah Al Qadr, Chapter 97)
Muslims believe Lailat ul Qadr is one of the last odd-numbered nights of Ramadhan. This is a very special night when Muslims spend a lot of time praying and reciting Qur’an, hoping for much reward.
Eid ul Fitr marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadhan. Everyone puts on their best clothes and communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends.
Islam also prescribed certain days for non-obligatory, voluntary fasting and these are:
- Each Monday and Thursday of the 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
- As often as possible in the months of Rajab and Shaban before Ramadhan
- First ten days of Dhu al-Hijjah in the Islamic calendar