How to Fast (Sawm)

Fasting (Sawm) in Islam is not a very complicated task- just like many other tasks in this holy religion. However, having a general knowledge of its rules and regulations is essential for all Muslims.



Fasting is generally defined as the act of voluntarily preventing oneself from eating and drinking during a particular period in the day – from the time of dawn prayer(Salat al-Fajr) until dusk prayer (Salat al-maghrib). According to the Sharia of Islam, there are seven types of fasting which are obligatory for Muslims to perform [1]; one of the most important of which is fasting during the month of Ramadan.



How to Fast?



The process of fasting is quite an easy one; first, you will need to make your intention (Niyyah) clear for your fasting: “I will fast today seeking Allah’s contentment and closeness to him.” Note that you should make your intention- whether in your mind or by saying the actual words- before the time of dawn Prayer (Salat al-Fajr). The next step is to avoid doing certain actions during the time of fasting. Basically, there are nine actions that would void your fast:



  1. Eating and drinking (if you forget you are fasting and ate or drank something unintentionally, your fasting won’t be voided)
  2. Having sexual intercourse
  3. Masturbation
  4. Insulting Allah and his holy prophets
  5. Inhaling thick dust
  6. Immersing your head completely into water
  7. Not having performed the obligatory ablutions before sunrise
  8. Doing enema using liquids
  9. To vomit intentionally [2]


How to Fast


Who Should Not Fast?



In certain cases, fasting would lose its obligation. If you are a traveler, you won’t need to fast, if you have become temporarily ill and by fasting your illness would worsen, fasting will be forbidden for you and if you fast you have committed a sin.



Nevertheless, you will have to fast before the coming of the next Ramadan, instead of the one(s) you have missed. However, if you have a chronic sickness – e.g., diabetes- and according to your doctor’s view fasting is harmful to you forever, instead of fasting you will have to pay a certain amount of money in order to be given to underprivileged people in society called atonement (Kaffareh) [3].



Eid al-Fitr



Muslims celebrate Eid-al-Fitr, Feast of Fast-Breaking, at the end of Ramadan which falls on the first day of the Islamic month of Shawwal. This religious Eid is a single day during which Muslims are not permitted to fast.



Many Muslims attend a particular congregational prayer (Salat al-Jama'ah) to thank the Almighty who enabled them to fast and to remember the needy and the destitute. It is also compulsory for Muslims to pay Zakat al-Fitr (Fitrah) during Eid al-Fitr, preferably before offering the Eid prayers.



Zakat al-Fitr



Zakatul-Fitr is a mandatory religious tax paid by those who can afford it as a kind of charity at the sunset of Eid al Fitr night (i.e., the night preceding Eid day). Whoever is an adult, sane, neither unconscious, nor poor, nor the slave of another, should give, on his own behalf as well as all those who are his dependents, about three kilos of wheat, barley, dates, raisins, rice or millet, etc. per person. It is also permissible if he pays the price of one of these items in cash. Fitrah should be given to deserving believers whose income is not sufficient to spend on their families for one year [4].



Spiritual Effects of Fasting



It is noteworthy that fasting is not a mere act of depriving oneself of foods or drinks; in fact, the most important aspect of fasting is its spiritual impact upon man. It makes human's soul kind, strengthens his determination and moderates his instincts. Trying to avoid foods and drinks in Ramadan, which are allowed on normal days, fasting helps people keep away from forbidden deeds (Haram) more easily.



Fasting is a special act of worship which is only between humans and God since no one else knows for sure if this person is actually fasting. Imam Ali (AS) explains the philosophy of this act as below:


 “Allah ordered the observance of fasts for fostering (the attribute of) sincerity within the people” [5].



Social Effects of Fasting



Fasting is also a practice for human beings to be more observant of their actions and to experience, even for a very short period, what poor people go through in their lives. God has obliged humans to fast to convey the message of equality between the rich and the poor; the rich experience the pangs of hunger and thus fulfill their obligations to the destitute.



If the wealthy nations of the world were to fast for just a few days in the year and experience hunger, pain and trouble poor people suffer from, they would probably exhibit mercy upon them, and there would not still exist any hungry people in the world [6].


Ramadan, fasting, sawm, effects, social, health


The Health Benefits of Fasting



The miraculous effect of abstinence (from food) in curing various diseases has been ascertained in modern as well as ancient medicine. Lots of articles have been written on the medical and therapeutic effects of fasting.



In a well-known tradition, the Noble Prophet (PBUH) says:


“Fast, in order that you become healthy.”



It is a fact that the cause of a great number of diseases is extravagance in the consumption of various types of food.



The prophet (PBUH) also says:


“The stomach is the house of all maladies and abstinence (from food) is the best of all cures” [7].



When we eat or drink, we inevitably enter many toxic substances into our body; consequently, organs should always be working to get rid of these harmful materials. The detoxification process of the body will be considerably accelerated during the time of fasting.  



Since our body does not receive any substance externally, the materials that had been stored in the body will be used to produce sufficient energy; thus, the infections and microbes that were accumulated in our body will be released along with those materials and our blood will be purified noticeably. It has been claimed that fasting will balance the hormones in our body and will result in better functioning of our organs [8] & [9].



To conclude, the ultimate goal of fasting in Islam is to redirect our attention toward our inner selves. In addition, it serves as a reminder for us of our superiority to other creatures in respect to our power of will, our capacity to choose to fight against evilness and to refuse to be driven by our desires. In consequence, we would finally be prepared to reach the summit of humanity and become the perfect human who is worthy of God’s attention and reward.



May Allah bless you and accept your fasting as well as all your other good deeds.



[1, 2].

[3]. 1:184,185


[5, 6, 7].

[8]. Reza Paknejad. The First University and the Last Prophet. Vol. III. Tehran: Islamie Bookselling, 1346.

[9]. Herbert M.C. Shelton. Fasting can save your life. Trans. Masha Allah Farkhonde. 1st. Tehran: No Andish Publication.