Fasting

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Islam
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Furu' al-Din

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See also
FiqhRulings of Shari'aManual of Islamic lawPubertyWajibHaramMustahabMubahMakruh

Fasting or Ṣawm (Arabic: صوم), is one of the most important rituals in Islam. Muslims must abstain from eating and drinking from dawn (fajr) to sunset (maghrib) during fasting. Fasting is also one of the ten Ancillaries of the Faith (Furu' al-Din), and it is obligatory in different fashion in other religions.

Fasting is a mean to seek nearness to God, and it increases one's piety. It purifies soul and body, it atones for personal faults and misdeeds, and also it teaches self-control and patience. In addition, it inculcates a sense of fraternity with the needy and hungry. According to fiqh fasting is categorized into four types: wajib (obligatory), mustahab (recommended), makruh (abominable) and haram (forbidden). Moreover, according to some hadiths, fasting is categorized into three levels in 'irfan: common fasting, special (khas) fasting and the most especial fasting (khas al-khas).

Fasting is obligatory to every mature, rational and healthy Muslim. The verse on fasting was revealed in Sha'ban 28, 2/624: "Oh, ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed to you as it was prescribed to those before you that ye may learn self-restraint."(Q 2:183). However some of its details on the conditions of fasting were changed and some were abolished.

The ritual of fasting is an act of worshiping God. However expect obligatory fasting days in Ramadan, there are numerous recommended fasting days.

In Other Religions

Fasting (sawm), lexically means abstaining. Also in sharia 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. The similarity of observing fasting among different religions is ascribed to the practice itself not to its details. According to Islamic narrations, Adam was the first one who had observed fasting.

Fasting was a common practice among Jewish people and it is mentioned in the Old Testament several times. Moses (a) prior to receiving scrolls from God was observing 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. Obligatory fasting days for Jews include six days a year.

According to the New Testament, Maryam (Saint Mary) has observed fasting; also 'Isa (Jesus) observed fasting and recommended this practice to his companions.

In Islam

Shi'a
Usul al-Din (Beliefs)
Main Beliefs TawhidProphethoodResurrection'AdlImamate
Other Beliefs 'IsmaWilayaMahdawiyya: Occultation (Minor Occultation, Major Occultation), Intizar, Zuhur, and Raj'aBada'
Furu' al-Din (Practical Orders)
'Ibadi Orders PrayerFastingKhumsZakatHajjJihad
Non-'Ibadi Orders Forbidding the EvilEnjoining the GoodTawalliTabarri
Sources of Ijtihad Qur'anSunnaReasonIjma'
Ethics
Virtues ForgivenessGenerosityGenerous help
Vices Greater SinsKibr'UjbGhururJealousy
Sources Nahj al-BalaghaAl-Sahifa al-SajjadiyyaLetter of Imam 'Ali to Imam al-Hasan
Challenging Issues
Succession of the Prophet (s)Shafa'aTawassulTaqiyyaMourningMut'aCompanions
Figures
Shi'a Imams Imam 'Ali (a)Imam al-Hasan (a)Imam al-Husayn (a)Imam al-Sajjad (a)Imam al-Baqir (a)Imam al-Sadiq (a)Imam al-Kazim (a)Imam al-Rida (a)Imam al-Jawad (a)Imam al-Hadi (a)Imam al-'Askari (a)Imam al-Mahdi (a)
Companions

Men: HamzaJa'far b. Abi TalibSalman al-FarsiMiqdad b. AswadAbudhar al-Ghifari'Ammar YasirMalik al-AshtarMuhammad b. Abi Bakr'Aqil'Uthman b. HunayfAbu Ayyub al-AnsariJabir b. 'Abd Allah al-AnsariIbn 'Abbas'Abd Allah b. Ja'farKhuzayma b. ThabitBilalYasir

Women: KhadijaLady Fatima (a)ZaynabUmm KulthumAsma' bt. 'UmaysUmm AymanUmm Salama
Scholars LitterateursScholars of UsulPoetsScholars of RijalFaqihsPhilosophersBibliographersExegetes
Shrines
Mecca: Al-Masjid al-Haram
Medina: Al-Masjid al-NabawiAl-Baqi'
Al-Quds: Al-Masjid Al-Aqsa
Najaf: Shrine of Imam 'Ali (a)Masjid al-Kufa
Karbala: Shrine of Imam al-Husayn (a)
Kadhimiya: Shrine of al-Kazimayn (a)
Samarra: Shrine of al-'Askariyyayn (a)
Mashhad: Shrine of Imam al-Rida (a)
Damascus: Zaynabiyya
Qom: Shrine of Lady Fatima al-Ma'suma
Shiraz: Shah Chiragh
Rey: Shrine of 'Abd al-'Azim al-Hasani
Eids
Eid al-FitrEid al-AdhaEid al-GhadirMab'athProphet's birthdayImams' birthdays
Mournings
FatimiyyaMuharram (Mournings of Muharram), Tasu'a, 'Ashura and Arba'in)
Events
MubahalaEvent of GhadirEvent of Saqifa Bani Sa'idaFadakEvents of Lady Fatima's HouseBattle of JamalBattle of SiffinBattle of NahrawanEvent of KarbalaHadith al-ThaqalaynAshab al-Kisa'Tathir VerseKilling Shi'as
Literature
Qur'anNahj al-balaghaal-Sahifa al-SajjadiyyaThe Four Books: (al-Istibsaral-KafiTahdhib al-ahkamKitab man la yahduruh al-faqih) • Mushaf of Fatima (a)Mushaf Imam 'Ali (a)Asrar-i Al-i Muhammad (s)Wasa'il al-Shi'aBihar al-anwaral-GhadirMafatih al-jinanMajma' al-bayanal-MizanOther Books
Sects
Ithna 'AshariyyaIsma'iliyyaZaydiyyaKaysaniyya

Fasting became obligatory for Muslims in Sha'ban 28, 2/624, thirteen days after qibla was switched to Mecca. However Prophet Muhammad (s) and his companions observed fasting before this incident.

During the early periods of Islam, Muslims were supposed to follow two more commands: After iftar (evening meal) 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 abolished after some time. As the Qur'an stated, a number of Prophet's companions committed sins by refusing to abstain from these two commands.

They asked Prophet Muhammad (s), why we have to observe fasting for thirty days, and he responded: "Because when Adam ate the forbidden apple, it remained in his body for thirty days, then Allah, ordered his children to abstain from food and drinks for thirty days."

In Quran

Fasting was stated fourteen times in Qur'an. The commands on fasting are stated in sura al-Baqara verses 183 to 185[Note 1] and 187[Note 2]. In addition, fasting is regarded as a replacement for practices of hajj or compensation of committed sins. As stated in sura al-Ahzab verse 35, those men and women who observe fasting will be forgiven by God[Note 3]. Also in Sura Maryam verse 26, Maryam (Saint Mary) made a promise not to speak for a period of time, which is called as fasting in the Holy Qur'an.[Note 4]

In Hadith

Fasting was mentioned in hadiths as:

  • One of the five pillars of Islam
  • It creates balance between deprived and rich people
  • It is a test in proving ikhlas (sincerity)
  • It is regarded as zakat of body
  • It rescues people from hunger and thirst in the judgment day
  • It is a shield against the punishment in afterlife (akhira)
  • It is shafa'a for those who observed fasting
  • It is a comfort in difficulties of This world and The hereafter
  • It brings health for body
  • It improves memory
  • It is a shield against worldly temptations
  • It makes hearts calm
  • It is regarded as a special gift from God
  • Avoiding 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.

Levels

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 directing one's heart only to commands of God, avoiding obeying desires and lust and even avoiding thinking about committing sins.

Philosophy

Fasting has different advantages in the aspect of hygiene and health of body. One of the most important philosophies of fasting is improving piety, ikhlas (sincerity) and will power; it also provide time at dawn for praying and worshiping God.

Fasting would make people to recognize the hunger and thirst so that they would remember the judgment day and the eternal life in the hereafter. Such hardship would make people to avoid arrogance and egotism and also it prepare them for practicing the obligatory religious deeds (such as khums and zakat).

In a hadith narrated from God by Prophet Muhammad (s), the result of fasting is expressed as: true acknowledging 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, continence and patience against sins and difficulties of life among individuals and society. Social misconducts significantly reduce in Ramadan.

Through patience and tolerance, fasting prepare people to make determined attempts and in achieving their goals.

Kinds

According to sharia (religious rules) fasting is categorized into four types:

Obligatory

  • All days of Ramadan month
  • 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
  • Atonement for those who intentionally has broken obligatory fasting
  • Those who has broken their oaths

Recommended

All the days of year are regarded as recommended days for fasting except for the forbidden days, reprehensible days and obligatory days of fasting. Besides fasting is highly recommended in these several days:

Reprehensible

  • The tenth of Muharram ('Ashura),
  • A day which is a doubt between the day of 'Arafa and Eid al-Adha,
  • And fasting of guests without content of the host

Forbidden

  • Eid al-Fitr and Eid al-Adha,
  • The day in which there are doubts whether it is the first day of Ramadan or the last day of Sha'ban; if the intention is observing fasting for the first day of Ramadan it is regarded as a forbidden day (haram) 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 Ramadan, it can be regarded as the obligatory fasting of Ramadan.
  • If fasting is harmful or risky for a person, then observing fasting would be forbidden.
  • Fasting of speech, i.e. abstaining from speaking as well as abstaining from food and drinks,
  • If one Intentionally observe fasting 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 travel.

While people are indebted of obligatory fasting, they cannot observe recommended fasting, rather they have to compensate (qada) for their missed fasting.

If a person is observing a recommended fasting, then is invited for a meal by friends or relatives before noon, 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 observe fasting yet, to start preparing them by observing fasting in a partial fashion. In which they should abstain from snacks and only have lunch before iftar.

Those Who Are Not Obligated to Observe Fasting

Old and ill people who are suffering from difficulties, are not obligated to observe fasting, also they do not need to compensate it. However, if they are financially in satisfactory state, they have to feed a person for each obligatory fasting day they missed.

If fasting is potentially dangerous for pregnant or nursing women and their child, they are not permitted to observe fasting. However they have to compensate those obligatory fasting days in future.

Those ill people who may get better 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 a person is potentially in danger of death or losing a part of body they have to break fasting.

Observing fasting is not permitted for menstruating women and those who are in the condition of nifas (postpartum period).

Conditions

The intention of fasting is abstaining from the things which are forbidden by God for those who are observing fasting.

Intention

For recommended Fasting Muslims who did not break fasting until sunset, should intend to observe the rest of the day as a recommended fasting day.

During Ramadan, Muslims must intend to follow the rules of fasting before the time of dawn's prayer-for every day-or before the first day of Ramadan-for all of the month.

For compensating fasting, those who did not break the rules of fasting before the time of noon's prayer, they can intend to observe the rest of day as a compensatory fasting.

What Invalidate Fasting

Any of the following nine things can invalidate fasting:

  • Eating and drinking (even other than mouth, such as injection which is on debate),
  • Sexual intercourse,
  • Telling lies by the names of Allah, Prophet Muhammad (s), and Twelve Imams,
  • Immersing the entire head in water (according to several faqihs),
  • Deliberate inhalation of smoke, dust etc. (according to most of faqihs),
  • Remaining in the state of janaba (uncleanness due to seminal discharge) until dawn,
  • Masturbating,
  • Deliberate vomiting,
  • Enema

Drinking in Hardship

A number of faqihs have accepted drinking water during fasting only in the time of hardship. However they have to compensate it with another fasting.

Some of faqihs believe that if people during fasting face difficulties 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.

Newly Mature Teenagers

Girls reach their puberty when they are nine lunar years old (8 years and 9 months in solar years), then they are obligated to observe fasting. However if observing 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 observe fasting feel weak and pale which is normal, but if it put their health in danger they have to break fasting.

It is better to prepare situation for teenagers to observe fasting in an easier way, by keeping them awake during nights in order to use nutrition and drinks and giving them time to rest during the days.

In Polar Regions

Muslims in Polar Regions such as Sweden face long days in summer. Islamic organizations and also faqihs have expressed different attitudes toward this issue. Although they did not reach an agreement, it does not mean Muslims must observe fasting the whole day time.

Kaffara (Compensation)

Main article: Kaffara

Those who broke fasting during obligatory fasting days such as Ramadan due to traveling, sickness, etc. are required to compensate these fasting days until the beginning of Ramadan of following year. However if they fail to do so, they have to offer kaffara to a needy person and also compensate the missed day(s). If they intentionally break fasting, they are required to feed sixty poor people or observe fasting 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 haram (forbidden) deed, they are required to feed sixty poor people and observe fasting for sixty days as mentioned above.

If they break a compensatory fasting in the afternoon before the sunrise, they are required to feed ten poor people or observe fasting for three days.

Breaking Fast

Breaking Fast in Holy Shrine of Imam al-Rida (a)

The evening meal when Muslims end or break fasting at sunset is called iftar. According to Sunni Muslims, they can break fasting immediately after the sunset, while according to Shi'a Muslims, they must wait for the evening prayers' time. Usually Muslims break their fasting with date fruits. Sometimes they perform prayers after breaking fasting and after that they eat 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 became a costume among Muslims to give iftar to people in mosques and holy shrines.

From a Medical Perspective

Glucose is the main source for providing energy of body which is vital for health of 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, continues afterward then body would use the stored fat of body.

According to a research done by a group of cardiologist in American Hospital of Dubai, fasting in 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 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, thyroxin and Uric acid dramatically enhance in blood. Taking birth control pills in order to postpone menstruation in 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.

Nutritional Recommendations

It is recommended to have light meals at nights during 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 iftar to dawn.

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, lemon juice with honey, sisymbrium irio drink and watermelon are recommended.

According to Islamic narrations observing fasting has considerable benefits, however people have keep in mind by following the right principles fasting would purify body and soul. Here are a number of considerations on iftar and suhur meals:

Suhur

Main article: suhur
  • Overindulgence would cause excessive pressure on stomach and the digestive system of body which could lead to dyspepsia and having pain and tympanites of stomach. Also overindulgence would not prevent hunger in the last hours of day.
  • Waking up at midnight, earlier than dawn, would provide enough time to have nutrition 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 nutrition such as egg, beans, dairy and meat. Also instead of drinking a lot of water it is better to have juicy fruits.
  • Nutrition of suhur should be diverse; especially teenagers would better to have nutrition with high level of protein, carbohydrate and calories.
  • 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.
  • It is better to stay awake for a while after having suhur meal; going to bed immediately after meal would cause Acid reflux.

Iftar

Main article: Iftar
  • It is better to provide essential energy of body by the nutrition of suhur meal; therefore, it is better to have light meals at iftar.
  • Iftar meals should be light and also with calories-rich, 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 iftar meal.
  • It is recommended to avoid fatty meals.

Notes

  1. 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)
  2. 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)
  3. 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
  4. 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."

References

  • The material for this article is mainly taken from روزه in Farsi Wikishia.