Sawm or Fasting – Fourth Pillar of Islam

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Sawm or Fasting – Fourth Pillar of Islam

Fasting in Islam, known as Sawm is abstaining from eating and drinking and other prohibited in the month of Ramadan the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.  The time if fasting is between dawn to sunset.  Sawm is the fourth of the Five Pillars of Islam.

The fourth Pillar of Islam, the Fast of Ramadan, occurs once each year during the 9th lunar month, the month of Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.

Fasting is not unique to the Muslims. It has been practiced for centuries in connection with religious ceremonies by Christians, Jews, Confucianists, Hindus, Taoists, and Jains. God mentions this in Quran:

“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)

Benefits of Fasting

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. Not only is food forbidden, but also any sexual activity. 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 our 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.

There are many good reasons for this fast, including:

  • Obeying God
  • Learning self-discipline
  • Becoming spiritually stronger
  • Appreciating God’s gifts to us
  • Sharing the sufferings of the poor and developing sympathy for them
  • Realizing the value of charity and generosity
  • Giving thanks for the Holy Quran, which was first revealed in the month of Ramadan
  • Sharing fellowship with other Muslims
  • Sawm is intended to teach believers patience

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.  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.

Fasting in Quran

There are multiple references to fasting in Quran:

Surah: Al-Baqara, Ayah 183 / Surah: Al-Baqara, Ayah 184 — In an address to the believers of this Ummah, Allah ordered them to fast, that is, to abstain from food, drink and sexual activity with the intention of doing so sincerely for Allah the Exalted alone. This is because fasting purifies the souls and cleanses them from the evil that might mix with them and their ill behavior.

Allah mentioned that He has ordained fasting for Muslims just as He ordained it for those before them, they being an example for them in that, so they should vigorously perform this obligation more obediently than the previous nations.

O ye who believe! prescribed unto you is fasting even as it was prescribed unto those before you, that haply ye may fear God.
يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

Times When One Can or Cannot Fast

Sawm is not confined to the month of Ramadan and may be performed as a mustahab during other periods such as:

  • On every Mondays and Thursdays
  • For 6 days in Shawal (except during the first 3 days)
  • Day of Arafat (9th day of Zilhajj) and the preceding 8 days (i.e. the first 9 days of Zilhajj for those not performing the Hajj)
  • Day of Asyurah (10th day of Muharram)
  • In the month of Rajab and Shaban (these are the 7th and 8th months – the months preceding Ramadan)

Similarly, there are days when you can’t perform a fast:

  • Days of celebration (Eidul Fitr and Eidul Adha)
  • Singling out Fridays ONLY – it is alright to fast on Fridays of you do fast other days as well.
  • Fasting EVERYDAY of the year

How To Fast

As with all activities in Islam, it begins with niyah or intention. The Muslim who is intending to perform sawm shall recite :

 

Prayer for Fasting in the Morning after Eating
Prayer 1 I intend to keep the fast for tomorrow in the month of Ramadan  وَبِصَوْمِ غَدٍ نَّوَيْتُ مِنْ شَهْرِ رَمَضَانَ
Prayer 2 I state my intent to fast tomorrow in the month of Ramadhan for Allah نَوَيْتُ صَوْمَ غَدٍ عَنْ أَدَاءِ فَرْضِ رَمَضَانَ هَذِهِ السَّنَةِ لِلَّهِ تَعَالَى
Note: Either one of the above can be used.

This must be made beforehand and must be made verbally. Without this, the sawm is not valid. It may be said in languages other than Arabic.

In Islam, it is Sunnat or Mustahab to eat as close as possible to Fajr (generally, Imsak, or time till no longer permissible to eat) is up to 10 minutes before the Fajr prayers.  Families rise before dawn to take their first meal of the day, which sustains them until sunset.

Prayer Before Breaking Fast
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 اللَّهُمَّ اِنِّى لَكَ صُمْتُ وَبِكَ امنْتُ وَعَليْكَ تَوَكّلتُ وَ عَلى رِزْقِكَ اَفْطَرْتُ

At dusk, the fast is broken with a light meal popularly referred to as iftaar. Families and friends share a special late evening meal together, often including special foods and sweets served only at this time of the year. Many go to the mosque for the evening prayer, followed by special prayers recited only during Ramadan. Some will recite the entire Quran as a special act of piety, and public recitations of the Quran can be heard throughout the evening.

During the sawm, be aware of yourself and your activities. Aim to be a better Muslim. Sawm has been known to soften even the hardest of emotions (including anger, lust, etc).

You are recommended to eat dates as this is the practice of Prophet (pbuh).

After you’ve had some (light) food, recite the following as a show of thanks to Allah:

O Allah! For You have I fasted and upon Your sustenance have I broken my fast.
اَللّهُمَّ لَكَ صُمْتُ وَعَلى رِزْقِكَ أَفْطَرْتُ

Who is Excused From Fasting

If one is sick, nursing or traveling, 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.

End of Ramadan

The month of Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid ul-Fitr. This is marked byMuslims joyfully celebrating the completion of Ramadan and dressing up and visiting the mosque for prayer, and with visits to family and friends for celebratory meals.

Muslims are also obliged to help the poor join in the spirit of relaxation and enjoyment by distributing zakat-ul-fitr, a special and obligatory act of charity in the form of staple foodstuff, in order that all may enjoy the general euphoria of the day.