What is Fasting? by Sh. Kifah Mustapha
Fasting is called sawm in the Qur'an. The word sawm literally means "to abstain". According to Shari 'ah, the word sawm means to abstain from all those things that are forbidden during fasting from the break of dawn to the sunset, and to do this with the intention of fasting.
Purpose of Fasting
The Qur'an says, "O you who believe, fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those who were before you, in order that you may learn taqwa (piety)." (Al-Baqarah 2:183). Taqwa is the sum total of all Islamic spirituality and ethics. It is a quality in a believer's life that keeps him/her constantly aware of Allah. Taqwa is piety, righteousness and consciousness of Allah. Taqwa requires patience and perseverance. Fasting teaches patience, and through patience, one can rise to the highest position of taqwa. The Prophet (PBUH) said that fasting is a shield. It protects a person from sin and lustful desires. Imam Ibn Al-Qayyim viewed fasting as a means of releasing the human spirit from the clutches of desire.
Fasting Is Obligatory
In the second year of Hijrah, Muslims were commanded to fast in the month of Ramadan every year. The prophet (PBUH) said, "Islam is built upon five pillars: testifying that there is no god except Allah and Muhammad is the Messenger of Allah; performing Prayer; paying the zakah; making the pilgrimage to the Sacred House (Hajj); and fasting the month of Ramadan." Narrated by Bukhari.
Rules of Fasting
Fasting in the month of Ramadan is obligatory upon every Muslim, male or female, who is adult (i.e., has reached puberty) and sane and who is not sick or traveling.
Temporary sickness allows people to break their fast but he/she must fast at a later time after Ramadan to complete the missed days. An incurable illness allows people to break their fast, but they must pay the fidyah (Feeding a needy person, or approximately $10 per day).
Women in their menses and post-partum bleeding are not allowed to fast, but they must make up the missed days after Ramadan. If pregnant women and mothers who are nursing babies find it difficult to fast, they can also postpone their fasting to a later time when they are in a better condition. Some scholars say they can pay fidyah only without having to make up the missed days.
A journey according to the Sharia is any journey that takes you away from your city of residence, a minimum of 48 miles or 80 kilometers, according to the norm of what would be considered traveling, i.e. 48 miles or more from your city, outside the boundaries of whatever it encompasses. The traveler who misses fasting in Ramadan must make up those missed days as soon as possible after Ramadan.
Fasting According to the Sunnah
- It is Sunnah and there is a great reward and blessing in taking suhur. The best time for suhur is the last half hour before the time of Fajr prayer begins (dawn).
- Take Iftar (break-fast) immediately after sunset. During the fast, abstain from all false talks and deeds.
- Do not quarrel, have disputes, indulge in arguments, use foul words or indecent language, or do anything that is forbidden.
- During the fast, do acts of charity and goodness for others and increase your worship and reading of the Qur'an. Every Muslim should try to read the whole Qur'an at least once during the month of Ramadan.
Things That Invalidate the Fast
You must avoid doing anything that may render your fast invalid. Things that invalidate the fast and require qadaa' (making up for these days) are the following:
- Intentionally eating or drinking.
- Deliberately causing yourself to vomit.
- The beginning of menstrual or post-childbirth bleeding even in the last moment before sunset.
- Sexual contact (intercourse, or any touching which causes the semen to leak out).
Things That Do Not Invalidate Fasting
- Taking a bath or shower. If water is swallowed involuntarily it will not invalidate the fast.
- Using perfumes, wearing contact lenses or using eye drops.
- Taking medicinal injections (non-nutritional) or having a blood test. (an IV or stomach tube would be considered nutritional, thereby breaking the fast)
- Using miswak (tooth-stick) or toothbrush (even with toothpaste) and rinsing the mouth or nostrils with water, provided it is not overdone (so as to avoid swallowing water).
- Eating or drinking unintentionally, like forgetting that one was fasting. But one must stop as soon as one remembers and should continue one's fast.
- Sleeping during the daytime.
- Women whose menstruation stops during the night may begin fasting even if they have not made ghusul (full bathing of the entire body) yet.
- Having dental work.
- Using inhalers. (such as for asthma)
Requirements for Fasting to Be Valid
There are basically two main components of fasting:
- The intention (niyyah) for fasting. One should make a sincere intention to fast for the sake of Allah everyday before dawn. The intention need not be in words. Some jurists are of the opinion that it is sufficient to make the intention once for the whole month and does not have to be repeated everyday.
- Abstaining from dawn to dusk from everything that invalidates fasting.