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Sawm (Arabic: صوم‎) is the Arabic word for fasting which literally means “to abstain”. It refers to abstaining from food, drink and sex between sunrise (imsak) and sunset (maghrib). Fasting during the month of Ramadhan is obligatory on all Muslims. In the second year after Hijrah (migration), it was declared an obligation on all capable individuals. [1] It is also a very recommended act at other times of the year, including special occasions, but is forbidden on the two days of Eid (Eid al-Fitr & Eid al-Adha).


Fasting in the Qur'an

يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِنْ قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

[2:183] O ye who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you, even as it was prescribed for those before you, that ye may ward off (evil);

أَيَّامً۬ا مَّعۡدُودَٲتٍ۬‌ۚ فَمَن كَانَ مِنكُم مَّرِيضًا أَوۡ عَلَىٰ سَفَرٍ۬ فَعِدَّةٌ۬ مِّنۡ أَيَّامٍ أُخَرَ‌ۚ وَعَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ يُطِيقُونَهُ ۥ فِدۡيَةٌ۬ طَعَامُ مِسۡكِينٍ۬‌ۖ فَمَن تَطَوَّعَ خَيۡرً۬ا فَهُوَ خَيۡرٌ۬ لَّهُ ۥ‌ۚ وَأَن تَصُومُواْ خَيۡرٌ۬ لَّكُمۡ‌ۖ إِن كُنتُمۡ تَعۡلَمُونَكُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ ٱلصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى ٱلَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ

[2:184] (Fast) a certain number of days; and (for) him who is sick among you, or on a journey, (the same) number of other days; and for those who can afford it there is a ransom: the feeding of a man in need - but whoso doeth good of his own accord, it is better for him: and that ye fast is better for you if ye did but know -

أُحِلَّ لَكُمۡ لَيۡلَةَ ٱلصِّيَامِ ٱلرَّفَثُ إِلَىٰ نِسَآٮِٕكُمۡ‌ۚ هُنَّ لِبَاسٌ۬ لَّكُمۡ وَأَنتُمۡ لِبَاسٌ۬ لَّهُنَّ‌ۗ عَلِمَ ٱللَّهُ أَنَّكُمۡ كُنتُمۡ تَخۡتَانُونَ أَنفُسَكُمۡ فَتَابَ عَلَيۡكُمۡ وَعَفَا عَنكُمۡ‌ۖ فَٱلۡـَٔـٰنَ بَـٰشِرُوهُنَّ وَٱبۡتَغُواْ مَا كَتَبَ ٱللَّهُ لَكُمۡ‌ۚ وَكُلُواْ وَٱشۡرَبُواْ حَتَّىٰ يَتَبَيَّنَ لَكُمُ ٱلۡخَيۡطُ ٱلۡأَبۡيَضُ مِنَ ٱلۡخَيۡطِ ٱلۡأَسۡوَدِ مِنَ ٱلۡفَجۡرِ‌ۖ ثُمَّ أَتِمُّواْ ٱلصِّيَامَ إِلَى ٱلَّيۡلِ‌ۚ وَلَا تُبَـٰشِرُوهُنَّ وَأَنتُمۡ عَـٰكِفُونَ فِى ٱلۡمَسَـٰجِدِ‌ۗ تِلۡكَ حُدُودُ ٱللَّهِ فَلَا تَقۡرَبُوهَا‌ۗ كَذَٲلِكَ يُبَيِّنُ ٱللَّهُ ءَايَـٰتِهِۦ لِلنَّاسِ لَعَلَّهُمۡ يَتَّقُونَ

[2:187] It is made lawful for you to go in unto your wives on the night of the fast. They are raiment for you and ye are raiment for them. Allah is Aware that ye were deceiving yourselves in this respect and He hath turned in mercy toward you and relieved you. So hold intercourse with them and seek that which Allah hath ordained for you, and eat and drink until the white thread becometh distinct to you from the black thread of the dawn. Then strictly observe the fast till nightfall and touch them not, but be at your devotions in the mosques. These are the limits imposed by Allah, so approach them not. Thus Allah expoundeth His revelation to mankind that they may ward off (evil).

Philosophy of Fasting

A common subject of discussion in the holy month of Ramadhan is the philosophy behind fasting. There are benefits to the act of fasting, and many of these are discussed and elaborated upon in order to inspire Muslims to receive the maximum benefit from their fasting. Due to these benefits, many Muslims also enthusiastically participate in supererogatory fasts. One of the ideas promoted in Islam is that while human beings have desires and instincts that should be taken care of, one cannot let these desires and instincts control one's soul. Therefore, to achieve will-power and strength against one's desires and whims, fasting has been prescribed. Refraining from food, drink, and sex, the base desires of most humans, leads to a person having control over these desires, and only pursuing them through halal, permissible means.

Along with the pursuit of will-power against a human's base desires, the month of Ramadhan is also seen as a time to refrain from sins, and to train oneself against all forms of sinning. A famous narration of the Holy Prophet (pbuh) says: "One who, while fasting, neither guards his tongue from telling lies nor refrains from doing bad deeds does not respect his fast, while Allah does not approve of mere abstention from food. When you fast, you should not speak ill of anybody, nor should you be boisterous or noisy."[2]

Imam Jafar Sadiq, the sixth Imam, in one narration has said: "Fasting is not only to refrain from eating and drinking, when you fast, you should safeguard your tongues, lower your gaze, and you should not dispute with or envy one another." Furthermore, in another narration, it has been said: "Fasting is a shield against the fire of hell."[3]

Other benefits of fasting have been speculated as appreciating the blessings of Allah, and feeling the pangs of hunger that many people of the world suffer.

Types of Fast

Fasts can be divided into four categories: Wajib (obligatory), Mustahab (supererogatory), Haraam (forbidden), and Makruh (less-liked).

The obligatory fasts are those of the month of Ramadan, their qadha (fulfilling them when missed), the expiatory fasts performed as kaffarah (compensation), those performed in fulfilling a vow and the fast related to the Hajj and i'tikaf.[4]

Conditions of Fasting

Acts that Break a Fast

There are nine actions which invalidate fast[5]:

  1. Eating and drinking
  2. Sexual intercourse
  3. Masturbation (Istimna) which means self abuse, resulting in ejaculation
  4. Ascribing false things to Almighty Allah, or his Prophet or to the successors of the Holy Prophet
  5. Swallowing thick dust
  6. Immersing one's complete head in water
  7. Remaining in Janabat or Haidh or Nifas till the Adhan for Fajr prayers
  8. Enema with liquids
  9. Vomiting

Days For Fasting

Obligatory and Prohibited

Fasting every day during the holy month of Ramadhan is obligatory. If any fasts are missed, they must be made up for.

It is prohibited to fast on the day of Eid-ul-Fitr and Eid-ul-Adha. Furthermore, it is also prohibited to fast on a day in which one is not sure whether it is the last day of Sha'ban or the first of Ramadhan with the intention of the fasting for the first day of Ramadhan. Fasting on the days of Tashriq is prohibited only for those who are at Mina. The days of Tashriq are the eleventh, twelfth and thirteenth of Dhu al-Hijja.[6]

It is also prohibited for a wife to keep a recommended fast without the permission of her husband and for a child to observe a recommended fast if it causes emotional suffering to his or her parents.

Recommended and Less-Liked

Fasting is recommended (mustahab) on everyday of the year except for those days where it is prohibited or makruh (less-liked). Some specific days where it is recommended to fast are as follows (as per the rulings of Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani):

It is makruh to single out Fridays and Saturdays for fasting[7] and it is also makruh to fast on Ashura (10th of Muharram)[8].


  1. Fasting, According to Five Islamic Schools of Law Allamah Muhammad Jawad Maghniyyah
  2. Benefits of Fasting By Yasin T. al Jibouri
  3. How Do We Fast? By Sayyid Baqir Imrani
  4. Ibid
  5. Things which make a Fast void Islamic Laws by Ayatullah al Uzama Syed Ali al-Husaini Sistani
  6. Fasting, According to Five Islamic Schools of Law by Allamah Muhammad Jawad Maghniyyah
  7. Ibid by Allamah Muhammad Jawad Maghniyyah
  8. Haraam and Makrooh fasts Ayatullah Ali al-Sistani
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