Fasting in Islam

Fasting in Islam, known as Sawm (صَوْم) Arabic pronunciation: [sˤɑwm] or Siyām (صِيَام) Arabic pronunciation: [sˤijæːm], the Arabic words for fasting, also commonly known as Rūzeh or Rōzah (Persian: روزه) in some Muslim countries, is the practice of abstaining, usually from food and drink. The observance of Sawm during the Islamic holy month of Ramadan is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam.


Literally meaning "to abstain," ṣawm is a semitic cognate to Syriac: ܨܘܡܐ ṣawmā, Hebrew: צוֹם "ṣōm", and Ge'ez: ጾም "ṣom".[1]

Other languages

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). It is considered time to begin fasting when a person standing outside can tell a white thread from a black thread.[2] Fasting helps Muslims develop self-control, gain a better understanding of God’s gifts and greater compassion towards the deprived. Fasting in Islam involves abstaining from all bodily pleasures between dawn and sunset. All things which are regarded as prohibited is even more so in this month, due to its sacredness. Each and every moment during the fast, a person suppresses their passions and desires in loving obedience to God. This consciousness of duty and the spirit of patience helps in strengthening one's faith. Fasting helps a person gain self-control. A person who abstains from permissible things like food and drink is likely to feel conscious of his sins. A heightened sense of spirituality helps break the habits of lying, staring with lust at the opposite sex, gossiping, and wasting time.[3] 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. Many Muslims have had food before the sun rises.

Sawm also carries a significant spiritual meaning. It teaches one the principle of God Consciousness: because when one observes fasting, it is done out of deep love for God and to learn self-restraint. As mention in the Quran:"O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous".[4]

Fasting in the Quran

In the Quran, this practice is mentioned:

  • "O you who have believed, decreed upon you is fasting as it was decreed upon those before you that you may become righteous -"

    Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah (2), Ayah 183[5]
  • "[Fasting for] a limited number of days. So whoever among you is ill or on a journey [during them] - then an equal number of days [are to be made up]. And upon those who are able [to fast, but with hardship] - a ransom [as substitute] of feeding a poor person [each day]. And whoever volunteers excess - it is better for him. But to fast is best for you, if you only knew."

    Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah (2), Ayah 184[6]
  • "The month of Ramadhan [is that] in which was revealed the Qur'an, a guidance for the people and clear proofs of guidance and criterion. So whoever sights [the new moon of] the month, let him fast it; and whoever is ill or on a journey - then an equal number of other days. Allah intends for you ease and does not intend for you hardship and [wants] for you to complete the period and to glorify Allah for that [to] which He has guided you; and perhaps you will be grateful."

    Quran, Surah Al-Baqarah (2), Ayah 185[7]

Conditions of fasting

Intention (Niyyah)

"The intention (niyyah) means resolving to fast. It is essential to have the intention the night before, night by night, in Ramadaan."[8][9]

General conditions

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 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 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 and suhur for a fasting person who requires such financial help.[10]

According to the Quran and the Sunnah,[11] 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. 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 women may still do dhikr (remembrance of Allah) and make duaa (supplication to Allah) during this time.[12][13]

Fasting is obligatory for a person if he or she fulfils five conditions:

  1. He or She is a Muslim.
  2. He or She is accountable (Islamic past the age of puberty).
  3. He or She is able to fast.
  4. He or She is settled (not travelling).
  5. There are no impediments to fasting such as sickness, extreme pain from injury, breastfeeding, or pregnant.[14]

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 or drinking they have to make up for that by fasting another day. For breaking fast by having sexual intercourse, the consequences are:

  1. Free a slave, and if that is not possible,
  2. Fast for two consecutive Hijri (moon) months, and if that's not possible
  3. Feed or clothe sixty people in need.[15]

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.[16][17]

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, or feeding or clothing ten 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.[18]

Beginning and ending the fast

In accordance with traditions handed down from Muhammad, Muslims eat a pre-dawn meal called the suhur. 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[19] 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 suhur, Muslims recite the fajr prayer. No food or beverage are allowed to go down the throat after the suhur. 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.

According to some scholars of the Quran, the correct time to end the fast is instead at night and not sunset.[20][21]

Believed benefits of fasting

Fasting is said to inculcate a sense of fraternity and solidarity with the needy and hungry.[10] Most importantly, the fast is also seen as a great sign of obedience by the believer to God.[22] 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 effects are observed exclusively during the month of Ramadan due to fasting, such as migraines,[23][24][25] tachycardia, severe headaches, dizziness, nausea, vomiting, circulatory collapse,[26] and sleeping problems.[27][28][29][30][31][32][33][34]

Days for fasting

Month of Ramadan

Fasting in the month of Ramadan is considered Fard.[35]

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 two days to distinguish themselves from the People of the Book. 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.[36]
  • 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'I-Hijja in the lunar (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 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 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.[37]

The Quran contains no prohibition regarding the days of fasting.

Fasting while in polar region

Nothing was said directly about the Polar region and fasting. But there is Hadith about Al-Masih ad-Dajjal[38] 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.[39][40]

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."[Quran 2:187] This results that fasting is a duty for Muslims only when days and nights are producing otherwise fasting is not necessary.[41] 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.[42] 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 and health

Fasting is one of the alternatives proved to reduce the DPP-4 level and activate the dipeptidyl peptidase-4 inhibitors and so, prevent osteoporosis. On the other hand, the circadian rhythm has a direct relationship with osteoporosis. This has been found by the biochemical markers, indicating that fasting at certain hours of the day, especially during those hours of the day which are recommended as part of the Muslim tradition (Islamic fasting), is very effective in reducing the effects of osteoporosis.[43]


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