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Sawm (Arabic: صوم, plural: Siam) is an Arabic word for fasting regulated by Islamic jurisprudence. In the terminology of Islamic law, sawm means to abstain from eating and drinking during daylight hours. 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.
For example, the Muslims of Central Asia, Afghanistan, India, Iran, Bangladesh, Pakistan and Turkey use the words roza/rozha/roja/oruç, which comes from Persian. 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.
Muslims are prohibited from eating, drinking and engaging in conjugal sexual relationships from dawn (fajr) to sunset (maghrib). Whilst fasting, Muslims are also obliged to abstain from smoking and other comforts such as chewing gum. Fasting is essentially an attempt to seek nearness to God and increase one's piety. One of the aims of fasting is to empathise with less fortunate members of society who do not always have food and drink readily available. One must also try to avoid cursing and thinking (of) evil thoughts, with the aim of controlling the tongue and temper during the fasting hours. Fasting is also viewed as a means of controlling one's desires (of food, drink and sex) 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 and to learn self-restraint.
Fasting in the Qur'an
In the Qur'an, this practice is mentioned:
يَا أَيُّهَا ٱلَّذِينَ آمَنُواْ كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ
"O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you, that ye may (learn) self-restraint."
—Quran, Sura 2 (Al-Baqara), ayat
أَيَّامً۬ا مَّعۡدُودَٲتٍ۬ۚ فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوۡ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ۬ فَعِدَّةٌ۬ مِّنۡ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَۚ وَعَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ ۥ فِدۡيَةٌ۬ طَعَامُ مِسۡكِينٍ۬ۖ فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيۡرً۬ا فَهُوَ خَيۡرٌ۬ لَّهُ ۥۚ وَأَن تَصُومُواْ خَيۡرٌ۬ لَّكُمۡۖ إِن كُنتُمۡ تَعۡلَمُونَ
"(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."
—Quran, Sura 2 (Al-Baqara), ayat
شَهۡرُ رَمَضَانَ ٱلَّذِىٓ أُنزِلَ فِيهِ ٱلۡقُرۡءَانُ هُدً۬ى لِّلنَّاسِ وَبَيِّنَـٰتٍ۬ مِّنَ ٱلۡهُدَىٰ وَٱلۡفُرۡقَانِۚ فَمَن شَهِدَ مِنكُمُ ٱلشَّهۡرَ فَلۡيَصُمۡهُۖ وَمَن كَانَ مَرِيضًا أَوۡ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ۬ فَعِدَّةٌ۬ مِّنۡ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَۗ يُرِيدُ ٱللَّهُ بِكُمُ ٱلۡيُسۡرَ وَلَا يُرِيدُ بِكُمُ ٱلۡعُسۡرَ وَلِتُكۡمِلُواْ ٱلۡعِدَّةَ وَلِتُكَبِّرُواْ ٱللَّهَ عَلَىٰ مَا هَدَٮٰكُمۡ وَلَعَلَّكُمۡ تَشۡكُرُونَ
"The month of Ramadan in which was revealed the Quran, 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. God desireth for you ease; he desireth not hardship for you; and (he desireth) that ye should complete the period, and that ye should magnify God for having guided you, and that peradventure ye may be thankful."
—Quran, Sura 2 (Al-Baqara), ayat
Types of Fasting in the Quran
- Food Fasting (Sawm ut Taam).
- Money Fasting (Sawm ul Maal).
- Word Fasting (Sawm ul Kalam).
Usually "fasting" means food fasting.
Conditions of fasting
The intention of the fast is to represent a special time of purification and religious devotion.
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.[Quran 2:187] 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 most rewardable worship.
If one is sick, nursing or travelling, 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 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, dinner and suhur for a fasting person who requires such financial help.
According to the Quran and the Sunnah, if someone cannot afford fasting due to illness or traveling they are permitted to suspend fasting and continue at a more opportune time or condition of health. However, the question of those suffering a permanent disease has not been resolved. One view is that they can waive the obligation to fast if advised by a medical expert. Furthermore, it is held that they can provide a poor person with a meal for each day of fasting waived. Nonetheless, such a delinquent person must be willing to fast when in health.
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.
Breaking the fast and the consequences
During Ramadan, if one unintentionally breaks the fast by eating or drinking then they must continue for the rest of the day and the fast remains valid. For those who intentionally break the fast by eating, drinking or having sexual intercourse, the consequences are:
- Free a slave, and if that is not possible,
- Fast for two consecutive Hijri (moon) months,
- 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 the 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 a slave and if that is not possible, feed or clothe ten poor people and if that cannot be done because due to lack of financial means or poor people cannot be found, fast for three consecutive days.
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 azaan-ul-Fajr, the pre-dawn call to prayer. Unlike the Salat-ul-Zuhr and Salat-ul-Maghrib prayers, which have clear astronomical definitions (after-noon and after-sunset), there are several definitions used in practice for the timing of "true dawn" (al-fajr as-sadiq), 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 Muslim diet. After completing the suhoor, Muslims recite the fajr prayer. No food or beverage are 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. 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 is said to inculcate a sense of fraternity and solidarity with the needy and hungry. Most importantly, the fast is also seen as a great sign of obedience by the believer to God. Faithful observance of the sawm is believed to atone for personal faults and misdeeds and to help earn a place in Paradise.
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. Some scholars, following the earliest understanding of the uses and objectives of the ritual of fasting strongly object to identifying mundane objectives of the ritual such as physical and psychological well being. To them the ritual of fasting is purely a worship and should not be treated as an exercise mixed with worship. The objectives of the fast is to inculcate taqwa (God-consciousness) in a believer. As mentioned earlier, fasting can also be observed voluntarily (as part of the Greater Jihad).
Detriments of fasting
Fasting on a long hot day carries a risk of dehydration. However, if one is at medical risk of dehydration, which leads to serious consequences, then it is permitted to break one's fast. An increase of negative health affects are observed exclusively during the month of Ramadan due to fasting, such as migraines, tachycardia, severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, circulatory collapse, and sleeping problems.
  
Days for fasting
Month of Ramadan
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered Fard.
Days of Oath
If you have an oath, for example: "If I graduate with a good mark, I will fast for three days for God" then one must fulfil this. This type of fasting is considered obligatory. Breaking the oath will result in a sin.
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 Arafah (9th of Dhu'I-Hijja 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 Sha'aban before Ramadan
- First nine days of Dhu'I-Hijja in the Islamic calendar (only for non-Hajjis)
Days when fasting is forbidden
Although fasting is considered a pious act in Islam, there are times when fasting is prohibited:
- 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
- For the Shi'a, the Day of Ashura, 10th of Muharram in the Hijri calendar.
- 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 a 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 also forbidden; Muhammad said "There is no reward for fasting for the one who perpetually fasts."
Fasting while in polar region
The opinion adopted by Al-Azhar and most Muftis is to follow in fasting and praying the nearest Islamic region (or country) or follow Mecca or Medina.
This fatwa is based on the authentic hadith in Sahih Muslim about Dajjal :
No. 7015 also here 7015:
We said: 'God's Messenger, would one day's prayer suffice for the prayers of day equal to one year? Thereupon he said: No, but you must make an estimate of time (and then observe prayer).'
another translation No.7373 (vol.7 p.334):
We said: 'O Messenger of God, on that day which is like a year, will the salat (prayers) of one day be sufficient for us?'
He said: 'No. Calculate the time (for prayer).'
Another opinion: as the Quran states that "(During Ramadan) eat and drink until the white thread of dawn appear to you distinct from its black thread."[Quran 2:187] 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."[Quran 2:185]
Fasting in other religions
Lent in Culture 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. Eastern Orthodox Christians fast during specified fasting seasons of the year, which include not only the better-known Great Lent, but also fasts on every Wednesday and Friday (except on special holidays), together with extended fasting periods before Christmas (the Nativity Fast), after Easter (the Apostles Fast) and in early August (the Dormition Fast). 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.
- ^ Fasting (Sawm), muslimliving.org
- ^ Quran 2:183
- ^ Quran 2:184
- ^ Quran 2:185
- ^ Quran 2:187
- ^ Quran 2:188
- ^ Quran 19:26
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- ^ "Quran 2:184".
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- ^ Fidya and Kaffara. Islamic Relief USA. Accessed: January 2015
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- ^ https://tspace.library.utoronto.ca/bitstream/1807/6924/1/jp06011.pdf
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- ^ Kadri N, Tilane A, El Batal M, Taltit Y, Tahiri SM, Moussaoui D, "Irritability During the Month of Ramadan", Psychosomatic Medicine 2000 Mar-Apr 62:2 280-5
- ^ Yasmine Saleh - Ramadan saw rise in violent domestic crimes - Daily News Egypt, November 2, 2006
- ^ Bati Kartini & Samuel L - 4 Gold Shop Robbers Killed, 2 Caught During Police Raids Across the City - The Jakarta Globe, August 28, 2009
- ^ David - Ramadan Crime - Indonesia Matters, October 20, 2006
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- ^ Bener, A., Absood, G. H., Achan, N. V., & Sankaran-Kutty, M. (1992). Road traffic injuries in Al-Ain City, United Arab Emirates. The Journal of the Royal Society of Health, 112, 273-276.
- ^ . SahihMuslim. Accessed: January 2015
- ^ Collected by Muslim ibn al-Hajjaj Nishapuri Sahih Muslim Sahih Muslim, 41:7015
- ^ (Maarif ul Qur'an page#450)
- ^ http://www.al-mawrid.org/pages/articles_english_detail.php?rid=196&cid=330&search=fasting