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Fasting or Ṣawm (Arabic: صوم), is one of the most important obligatory rituals in Islam. Muslims must abstain from a number of activities including eating and drinking from dawn to dusk to obey God's command. Fasting is one of the ten Ancillaries of the Faith, and it has been obligatory in other religions in different fashion.
Fasting is a mean to seek proximity to God, and it increases one's piety. It purifies the soul and the body, atones for some sins, and also strengthens self-control and sympathy [towards the poor]. In addition, it inculcates a sense of fraternity with the needy and hungry. According to jurisprudence fasting is categorized into four types: obligatory, recommended, disliked and forbidden. Moreover, according to some hadiths, fasting is categorized into three levels in Mysticism: common fasting, special (khas) fasting and the most especial fasting (khas al-khas).
Fasting has been considered as one of the pillars of Islam. It is obligatory for every mature, rational and healthy Muslim. The verse on fasting was revealed in Sha'ban 28, 2/624: "O you who have faith! Prescribed for you is fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may be Godwary.". However some of its details on the conditions of fasting were changed and some were abrogated.
In Other Religions
Fasting, lexically means abstaining. In shari'a fasting means abstaining body and soul from things which invalidate fasting.
The Qur'an clearly expressed this divine deed as a religious ritual which was practiced in different religions. However, the similarity of fasting among different religions is ascribed to the practice itself not to its details. According to Islamic narrations, Prophet Adam (a) was the first one to fast.
Fasting has been among the rituals of Jewish people and it is mentioned in the Old Testament several times. Prophet Moses (a) prior to receiving scrolls from God was fasting forty days and nights in the Mount Sinai; he avoided drinking and eating during that time.
In Judaism, fasting is considered as one of the common ways to seek nearness to God. Also nowadays fasting is a regular religious deed among Jews which is practiced in both obligatory and optional forms. Fasting in Hebrew (ta'anit) means suffering of body which means abstaining from eating and drinking during the day. In Jewish calendar, fasting six days is obligatory.
During the early periods of Islam, Muslims were supposed to follow two more commands: After breaking meal (iftar) Muslims had to eat only before they go to bed and also marital intercourse was regarded unlawful during the whole month of Ramadan. Both commands were abrogated later. As the Qur'an states, a number of Prophet's companions betrayed themselves by refusing to abstain from these two commands.
They asked Prophet Muhammad (s), why we have to fasting for thirty days, and he responded: "Because when Adam (a) ate the forbidden fruit, it remained in his body for thirty days, then Allah, ordered his children to abstain from food and drinks for thirty days."
Fasting was stated fourteen times in Qur'an. The commands on fasting are stated in Qur'an 2 verses 183 to 185 and 187. In addition, fasting is regarded as a replacement for practices of hajj or compensation of committed sins. As stated in Qur'an 33:35, the men and the women who fast will be forgiven by God. Also in Qur'an 19:26, lady Mary (a) made a promise not to speak for a period of time, which is called as fasting in the Qur'an.
Fasting was mentioned in hadiths as:
- One of the five pillars of Islam
- Creates balance between deprived and rich people
- Wisdom, knowledge and certainty
- Is a test in proving ikhlas (sincerity)
- Is a form of jihad
- Is regarded as zakat of body
- Reminds people of thirst and hunger on the Day of Judgment
- Rescues people from hunger and thirst in the day of judgment
- Brings happiness in the resurrection
- Intercedes for those who fast
- Is a comfort in difficulties of this world and the hereafter
- Brings health for the body
- Improves memory
- Is a shield against worldly temptations
- Calms the hearts
- Keeps Satan away
- Is regarded as a special gift from God (or God Himself is its reward)
- Paradise aspire those who fast in the month of Ramadan
- To abandon fasting would lead to disbelief
According to hadiths a true fasting is regarded as abstaining every part of body from things prohibited by God which can invalidate fasting, including eye, ear, tongue, etc. In addition, being careful about mouth is far more important than abstaining from food, and also being careful about heart is far more important than mouth.
In 'irfan books, three levels of fasting is mentioned:
- Common fasting is only abstaining from eating and drinking and also the things which could make fasting unacceptable.
- Special fasting (khas) also includes the rules mentioned above as well as abstaining every part of the body from things which make fasting unacceptable. It also includes praying at nights, avoiding bothering people, not being jealous of people, avoiding personal adversities and also trying to have a better day comparing to the other days.
- The most especial fasting (khas al-khas) not only includes the rules mentioned for special fasting but also it includes emptying one's heart from everything other than God, avoiding obeying desires and lust and even avoiding thinking about committing sins.
In the Qur'an, hadiths and the words of scholars, some reasons have been mentioned for fasting. When the Qur'an states the ruling of fasting, it mentions piety as one of its reasons: "O you who have faith! Prescribed for you is fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may be Godwary." (Qur'an 2:183)
Fasting would make people to recognize the hunger and thirst so that they would remember the Day of Judgment and the eternal life in the hereafter and prepare for themselves. Such hardship would make people to avoid arrogance. It also prepares them for practicing the obligatory religious deeds as well as khums and zakat.
In a hadith narrated from God by Prophet Muhammad (s), the result of fasting is expressed as: wisdom and true knowledge of God which makes people spiritually calm and peaceful in difficulties of life.
Fasting makes people united, co-operative and devoted, which lead to helping the poor.
Moreover, fasting improves discipline, contentment and patience in the face of sins and difficulties of life among individuals and society. Social misconducts significantly reduce in the month of Ramadan.
Through patience and tolerance, fasting prepare people to be committed in achieving their goals.
Kinds of Fasting in Jurisprudence
According to jurisprudence, fasting is categorized into four types:
- All days of the month of Ramadan
- Compensation of the missed fasting days
- Compensation of the missed fasting days of parents
- The third day of i'tikaf
- Fasting instead of animal sacrifice as one of the practices of hajj
- Expiation for those who intentionally has broken obligatory fasting
- Those who has broken their promise or oath
All the days of year are regarded as recommended days for fasting except for the forbidden days, disliked days and obligatory days of fasting. Besides fasting is highly recommended in these several days:
- The first and the last Thursday as well as the first Wednesday after the tenth of each lunar month
- Thirteenth, Fourteenth and Fifteenth of each lunar month
- All days of the months of Rajab and Sha'ban
- From fourth to ninth of Shawwal
- The twenty ninth and twenty fifth of Dhu l-Qa'da, known as dahw al-ard
- The first nine days of Dhu l-Hijja, about the ninth of Dhu l-Hijja which is known as Arafa if one is incapable of reciting the Arafa supplication, fasting would be Makruh (reprehensible)
- The eighteenth of Dhu l-Hijja known as Eid al-Ghadir
- Twenty fourth of Dhu l-Hijja known as Day of mubahala
- The first, third and seventh of Muharram
- Seventeenth of Rabi' I in which Prophet Muhammad (s) was born
- Fifteenth of Jumada I
- Twenty fifth of Rajab, the day of Bi'tha
- The tenth of Muharram known as Day of 'Ashura
- The day of doubt between the day of 'Arafa and Eid al-Adha
- And fasting of guests without content of the host
- Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha
- The day in which there are doubts whether it is the first day of the month of Ramadan or the last day of Sha'ban; if the intention is fasting for the first day of the month of Ramadan it is regarded as a forbidden, but if the intention is fasting on the last day of Sha'ban it will be acceptable. However if it turns out it was the first day of the month of Ramadan, it can be regarded as the obligatory fasting of the month of Ramadan.
- If one is sure that fasting is harmful or risky for him, then fasting would be forbidden.
- Fasting of speech, i.e. to intend abstaining from speaking in addition to abstaining from food and drinks.
- If one Intentionally fasts for two consecutive days without breaking the first one, it is regarded forbidden.
- Fasting of the days of tashriq for those who are in Mina (during Hajj).
- Fasting of a person who is on a trip.
- While people are still liable to obligatory fasting, they cannot make recommended fasting, rather they have to compensate (qada) for their missed fasting.
- If a person is observe a recommended fasting, then is invited for a meal by friends or relatives, it is recommended to accept the invitation and break the recommended fasting.
- It is common among Muslims to prepare teenagers who are not obligated to fast yet, to start preparing them by fasting in a partial fashion in which they should abstain from snacks between meals.
Those Who Are Not Obligated to Fasting
Old and ill people who are not expected to recover and who may suffer severe difficulty, are not obligated to fasting, and they do not need to compensate it either. However, they have to give away a specific amount of food called "mudd" (approximately 750 grams of flour or rice or dates etc.) for each obligatory fasting day they have missed.
If fasting is potentially dangerous for pregnant or nursing women and their child, they are not permitted to fast. However they have to compensate those obligatory fasting days in future.
Those ill people who may recover in future and those who cannot tolerate hunger and thirst are allowed to break their fasting, only they have to compensate each fasting day they miss. If one is potentially in danger of death or losing a part of body one has to break fasting.
Fasting is not permitted for menstruating women and those who are in the condition of nifas (postpartum period).
The intention of fasting is abstaining from the things which are forbidden for those who are fasting.
Time of Intention
- Before the Adhan of Fajr prayer and at the beginning of the first day of Ramadan, the intention should be made to fast during this sacred month to attain nearness to God.
- For compensating fasting, whoever did not break the rules of fasting before call for noon prayer, he can intend the rest of day as a compensatory fasting.
- For recommended fasting whoever did not break the fasting until sunset, can intend the rest of the day as a recommended fasting.
What Invalidate Fasting?
- Main article: Invalidators of Fasting
Any of the following nine things can invalidate fasting:
- Eating and drinking (issues like injection is a matter of dispute)
- Sexual intercourse
- Attributing lie to God, Prophet Muhammad (a) or the Imams (a)
- Immersing the entire head in water (according to some jurists)
- Deliberate inhalation of smoke, dust etc. (according to most of jurists)
- Remaining in the state of janaba, hayd (menstruation) or nifas (postnatal bleeding) up to adhan of fajr
- Deliberate vomiting
- Enema with liquid
The above-mentioned acts will invalidate Fasting if done intentionally; however, if one does them unintentionally or is forced to do them, the fasting is not void.
Drinking in Hardship
A number of jurists have accepted drinking water during fasting only in the time of "Severe Hardship". However they have to compensate it with another fasting.
Some of jurists believe that if people face difficulties during fasting in tolerating thirst, they are allowed to drink only amount of water which fulfills their need, and they should continue fasting without compensating it in future. However some other jurists believe that the fasting is invalid and it should be compensated.
Girls reach their puberty when they are nine lunar years old (eight years and nine months in solar years), then they are obliged to fast. However if fasting is potentially dangerous for their health, especially in long hot days of summer, they are obligated to be on a fast according to their physical ability. However, usually those who fast, feel weak and pale which is normal, but if it put their health in danger they have to break fasting. They should compensate before next Ramadan and if they cannot compensate till next Ramadan they have to give one "mudd" of food for each day.
It is better to prepare situation for teenagers to fast in an easier way, by keeping them awake during nights in order to have food and drinks and giving them time to rest during the day.
In Polar Regions
Muslims in Polar Regions such as Sweden face long days in summer. Islamic organizations and also jurists have expressed different attitudes toward this issue and they have not reached an agreement yet.
- Main article: Kaffara
Those who has broken fasting during obligatory fasting days such as the month of Ramadan due to traveling, sickness, etc. are required to compensate these days until the beginning of next month of Ramadan. However if they fail to do so, they have to offer kaffara to a needy person and also compensate the missed day. If they intentionally break fasting without an excuse, they are required to feed sixty poor people or fast for sixty days (thirty one days must be consecutive according to most of marja's), they also have to compensate the missed fasting day.
If they break fasting by a forbidden action, they are required to feed sixty poor people and fast for sixty days as mentioned above.
If they break a compensatory fasting in the afternoon before the sunset, they are required to feed ten poor people or fast for three days.
The evening meal when Muslims end or break fasting at sunset is called iftar. According to Sunni jurisprudence, people should rush to break fasting immediately after sunset, while according to Shi'a jurisprudence, they must wait for the time of Adhan of Maghrib prayers. Usually Muslims break their fasting with date fruits. Sometimes they perform prayers after breaking fasting and after that they have a bigger meal. Because giving iftar to people is considered highly praiseworthy among Muslims, it would generally lead to gatherings of relatives, neighbors and friends.
Also it has become a custom among Muslims to give iftar to people in mosques and holy shrines.
From a Medical Perspective
Glucose is the main source of energy for the body which is vital for the health of the brain. When body is not provided with Glucose for four to eight hours, it uses glycogen of liver which is a storage source of glucose. Then body would use some parts of its protein in order to compensate the lack of energy and after twelve hours it would use glycogen stored in muscles. If lack of Glucose, as the source of energy, still continues then body would use the stored fat of body.
According to a research done by a group of cardiologists in American Hospital of Dubai, fasting in the month of Ramadan has positive effects on Lipid panel and it also reduces the chances of getting heart diseases. As they said LDL (Bad Cholesterol) reduces highly while HDL (Good Cholesterol) increases. According to this research fasting in the month of Ramadan reduces blood cholesterol. It shows limitation in receiving calorie every other day has a lot of benefits for body in different ways including: It reduces the chance of getting cancer, heart diseases, diabetes, Insulin resistance, disorders of the Immune system and also it generally slows down aging process.
According to Paul C. Bragg, fasting has considerable benefits such as: It helps removing toxins from bloodstream and vital organs regularly; it also prevents heart diseases and it reduces the chances of getting diabetes and Alzheimer.
Dizziness and low blood pressure are the consequences of fasting. Perspiration, weakness, tiredness, low level of energy and dizziness are the signs of fasting which happen mostly in afternoon. In addition, gradually the ability of recognition reduces while headaches increases and people become more irritated. According to a number of researchers lack of enough sleep is one of the main reasons of such consequences, which probably happens due to being awake at dawn.
Disorder in the fluid balance is another consequence of fasting which is not proved risky for body. Although fasting is not risky for healthy people, those who are suffering from illnesses must consult with specialists.
According to researches the levels of serum cholesterol, thyroxine and Uric acid dramatically enhance in blood. Taking birth control pills in order to postpone menstruation in the month of Ramadan would lead to low level of water in the blood which can lead to blood coagulation in brain. Moreover, having inefficient water or doing physical activities can lead to perspiration. Then this change in fluid balance of body can cause blood coagulation in brain.
It is recommended to have light meals at night during the month of Ramadan, while having a proper meal at dawn is strongly recommended. In order to compensate low fluid level of body, Muslims should have vegetables and fruits, and they should avoid drinks such as tea at dawn because it decreases fluid level of body. It is recommended to have about two liters of drinks from breaking-meal to pre-dawn meal.
However, Muslims should avoid caffeinated soda and sugary syrups and juices, because they would enhance thirst as well as decreasing fluid level of body. On the other hand, drink made of flixweed seeds, lemon juice with honey, and watermelon are recommended.
According to Islamic narrations fasting has considerable benefits, however people must keep in mind that fasting would purify body and soul only if the right principles of health are observed. Here are a number of considerations on breaking-meal (iftar) and pre-dawn meal (suhur):
- Main article: Suhur
- Overeating would cause excessive pressure on stomach and the digestive system which could lead to dyspepsia and having pain and gassy stomach. Overeating would not prevent hunger in the last hours of day either.
- Waking up at midnight, earlier than dawn, would provide enough time to have food and drinks steadily and unhurriedly which would make digestion easier.
- Not having suhur meal is a mistake which would definitely cause health problems.
- It is recommended to have protein-rich foods such as egg, beans, dairy and meat. Also instead of drinking a lot of water it is better to have juicy fruits.
- Suhur should include diverse foods; especially teenagers are recommended to have foods with high level of protein, carbohydrate and calory.
- Avoid having too much salt; it causes thirst and low fluid level of body during the day. Body should be provided with only enough amount of salt with a normal diet.
- It is better to stay awake for a while after having suhur meal; going to bed immediately after meal would cause Acid reflux.
- Main article: Iftar
- It is better to provide essential energy for body by suhur meal; therefore, it is better to have light breaking meals.
- Breaking meals should be light and with high levels of calorie, which can be digested easily, such as date fruit, milk and tea.
- It is better to break fasting with tea and date fruit; avoid having too much water, which causes being pale, weak and pain in stomach. It is better to drink water a couple of hours after breaking meal.
- It is recommended to avoid fatty meals.
- Qur'an 2:183
- O you who have faith! Prescribed for you is fasting as it was prescribed for those who were before you, so that you may be Godwary. (183) That for known days. But should any of you be sick or on a journey, let it be a [similar] number of other days. Those who find it straining shall be liable to atonement by feeding a needy person. Should anyone do good of his own accord, that is better for him, and to fast is better for you, should you know. (184) The month of Ramadan is one in which the Qur'an was sent down as guidance to mankind, with manifest proofs of guidance and the Criterion. So let those of you who witness it fast [in] it, and as for someone who is sick or on a journey, let it be a [similar] number of other days. Allah desires ease for you, and He does not desire hardship for you, and so that you may complete the number, and magnify Allah for guiding you, and that you may give thanks. (185)
- You are permitted, on the night of the fast, to go into your wives: they are a garment for you, and you are a garment for them. Allah knew that you used to betray yourselves, so He pardoned you and excused you. So now consort with them, and seek what Allah has ordained for you, and eat and drink until the white streak becomes manifest to you from the dark streak at the crack of dawn. Then complete the fast until nightfall, and do not consort with them while you dwell in confinement in the mosques. These are Allah's bounds, so do not approach them. Thus does Allah clarify His signs for mankind so that they may be Godwary (187)
- Indeed the Muslim men and the Muslim women, the faithful men and the faithful women, the obedient men and the obedient women, the truthful men and the truthful women, the patient men and the patient women, the humble men and the humble women, the charitable men and the charitable women, the men who fast and the women who fast, the men who guard their private parts and the women who guard, the men who remember Allah greatly and the women who remember [Allah greatly] —Allah holds in store for them forgiveness and a great reward
- Eat, drink, and be comforted. Then if you see any human, say, "Indeed I have vowed a fast to the All-beneficent, so I will not speak to any human today."
- The material for this article is mainly taken from روزه in Farsi Wikishia.