4 Sawm(fasting in the month of Ramadaan)
Fasting is a practice common to many religious traditions. The Quran alludes to that fact in the verse that prescribed fasting upon the Muslims:
“O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, that you might achieve piety.”1
Jews fast on Yom Kippur, one day a year. They also have other scattered fasts of less importance. Although Jesus fasted (And he fasted forty days and forty nights and afterward he was hungry;2), fasting is no longer a part of the religious practice of most Christians. Restricting food intake is also a part of many secular ways of life, but the goal of such practices is very different from the goal of fasting in Islam. Some people, who are concerned with "natural living" and holistic health, fast to purify the body of toxins. In these fasts, solid foods are eliminated, but the person may drink water or juice. The most widespread Western form of restricting food intake is dieting. The only real goal of this practice to reduce weight. Most dieters are women. Their motive is to look as much as possible like models and actresses held up as the ideals of beauty in a steady barrage of movies, TV shows and advertisements. The more extreme forms of this state of mind are anorexia and bulemia. This obsession with outer appearance is the very opposite of the Islamic goal in fasting.
The above-mentioned verse has made clear the goal of Islamic fasting: “…that you might achieve piety.” The word taqwaa, translated as piety, is derived from a word meaning “protective shield.” The Qur’an repeatedly promises that those who achieve taqwaa will gain the good of this life and the Hereafter. When the Prophet’s companion 'Umar was asked to explain the meaning of taqwaa, he illustrated it with a metaphor: A man trying to walk through a field of thickly planted thorn bushes holds his clothes close to his body and maneuvers carefully to avoid tearing his clothes and skin. A person who achieves taqwaa is in a state of constant awareness of God. He thinks about how to please God by doing good and guarding against evil.
In Islamic fasting, no food, drink or intercourse is allowed from the first light of dawn until sunset during the entire lunar month of Ramadaan. These actions are permitted during the night. People who are temporarily sick or traveling may break their fasts, but they must make up the days they missed. Menstruating women and women bleeding after childbirth are not permitted to fast, and they must make up the days they missed. People with chronic illnesses should feed a poor person for each day they miss, and they do not have to make the missed days. Scholars agree that pregnant women and breastfeeding women who fear for their own health or the health of their children may forego fasting as long as their conditions persist. Scholars differ whether they must make up the missed days or feed a poor person; in other words: are they to be considered like someone with a temporary or a chronic condition? Two of the major scholars among the Companions of Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) considered them to be like people with chronic conditions, who need only feed the poor.
Fasting reduces one’s desires. It trains a person in self-restraint. He becomes accustomed to keeping a watch on himself. If one can forgo what is normally lawful for a limited amount of time, one should be able to forgo what is always unlawful. It shifts the focus of one’s attention from bodily needs to spiritual needs. This focus is complemented in Ramadaan by the exhortation to spend more time reading Quran and praying extra prayers. For the fast to be rewarded, refraining from food and drink must also be accompanied by refraining from unlawful acts. Prophet Muhammad said, “Whoever does not abandon falsehood in word and deed, Allah has no need for him to leave his food and drink.”3 Proper fasting causes the stomach to shrink. When one breaks the fast at sunset, one cannot eat as much food as one normally would in a meal during the rest of the year. A light meal should also be taken toward the end of the night to prevent fasting from becoming very difficult. When these guidelines are followed, fasting cleanses the body and the soul. Some weight is lost. One frequently experiences a great feeling of serenity while fasting. Feeling the pangs of hunger should also make a person empathize with those who feel hungry not as a matter of choice but because they can’t find enough to eat. Thus Ramadaan becomes a month of giving charity as well as fasting.
Many Muslims fast in a way that technically qualifies as fasting, but in reality achieves none of the goals of fasting. They gorge themselves at sunset on delicacies that no one bothers to prepare the rest of the year. Instead of praying extra prayers they play cards or engage in less wholesome diversions and snack and drink throughout the night before gorging themselves once again just before the dawn. Then they crawl into their beds like a python that has just swallowed a whole sheep. They may or may not pray the dawn prayer. They may wake up at noon. Some of them only wake shortly before sunset, just in time to prepare themselves for another night of festivities.
Fasting is obligatory on healthy, adult Muslims only in Ramadaan. However, there are a number of other days when it is recommended, such as three days at the middle of each month and every Monday and Thursday. Regular fasting helps to maintain the state of mind achieved in Ramadaan