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Sawm (Fasting)

Sawm (Fasting)



Every year in the month of Ramadhan Muslims all around the world refrain from food and drink during daylight hours.


God states in the Qur'an:


"O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed to those before you that you may achieve God consciousness." (Surah Al Baqarah, Chapter 2 Verse 183)


Those who are sick, elderly, or on a journey, and women who are menstruating, pregnant or nursing, are permitted not to fast but are to make up an equal number of days later in the year if they are healthy and able. Children begin to fast (and to observe prayers) from puberty, although many start earlier.


Ramadhan is used as a time of:


Reflection - By cutting oneself from worldly comforts, even for a short time, a fasting person gains true empathy with those who go hungry. This helps us recognise everything good we have in this life and how blessed we are, making us closer to our Creator.


Devotion ? It is a time used to re-focus one?s self on the worship of Allah and one?s purpose in life. Muslims are encouraged to read the Qur'an and perform special prayers, called Taraweh, which are held in the mosques every night of the month. Over Ramadhan the whole of the Qur?an can be recited in these prayers.


Generosity - Remembrance of those who are less fortunate makes Muslims more generous and charitable during Ramadhan. As well as giving the obligatory Zakah people will often help needy neighbours, orphans, the elderly and the sick. The Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) once said "A man's wealth is never diminished by charity."


Unity ? during the month of Ramadhan people make a special effort to come together and break their fast. Sharing food with neighbours and eating together is a unifying experience.  Attending congregational prayers also encourages interaction with fellow Muslims and neighbours.


Just before dawn Muslims will wake up and have a meal before the start of the fast, this is known as suhur. Yes, that?s right ? we wake up in the middle of our deep sleep for about 40-60 minutes and have either a healthy, high energy meal like porridge or a small feast. Some people just have a glass of water.  The Prophet (pbuh) gave much merit to this meal.  The meal is then followed by the fajr prayer. Most of us will then try and catch a little sleep before getting ready for school, university or work but some stay awake and read the Qur?an or just get an early start to the day.  


At sunset the adhan (call to prayer) will be made and Muslims break their fast.  This is traditionally with 3 dates and water, although if you?re in a rush a chocolate bar will do. Muslims break their fast with the prayer, "O God, for You I fasted, and in You I believe, with Your provision I broke your fast?. After eating, Muslims say 'Alhamdulillah? (thanks be to God).It is common practice to open the fast, or have Iftar, with family and friends. These gatherings serve to strengthen the bonds of brotherhood and sisterhood and bring the community closer together. After opening the fast Muslims will then pray Maghrib, the obligatory sunset prayer.  


The final of the five daily prayers is said as night falls. A special lengthy prayer called Taraweh is said only during the month of Ramadan, after the night prayer. It is optional and characterized by long recitations of the Qur?an.  

Lailat ul Qadr

Lailat ul Qadr (Night of Power) marks the anniversary of the night on which the Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) first began receiving revelations from God through the angel Gabriel. An entire chapter in the Qur?an deals with this night:

"We have indeed revealed this (Message) in the Night of Power: and what will explain to you what the Night of Power is? The Night of Power is better than a thousand months. Therein come down the angels and the Spirit by God's permission, on every errand. Peace!  This until the rise of the morning" (Surah Al Qadr, Chapter 97)

Muslims believe Lailat ul Qadr is one of the last odd-numbered nights of Ramadan.  This is a very special night when Muslims spend a lot of time praying and reciting Qur?an, hoping for much reward.  

As you can see fasting is therefore not merely physical, but is rather the total commitment of the person's body and soul to the spirit of the fast and is seen as a method of self-purification as well as self-restraint. We all hope that the feelings and lessons we experience during this special month stay with us throughout the year.

Muslims also fast at other times of the year to maintain the spiritual closeness to God and re-focus their heart and minds.

Eid ul Fitr  

The Islamic festival of Eid ul Fitr marks the end of the fasting period of Ramadhan. Everyone puts on their best clothes and communal prayers are held in the early morning, followed by feasting and visiting relatives and friends.    

Personal note:

Fasting in Britain is easier than fasting in areas where the climate is extremely hot. This year at least the number of daylight hours will be less than when Ramadhan occurs during the spring or summer. As the Islamic calendar is based on a lunar calendar Ramadan begins about eleven days earlier each year. We will therefore be enjoying long summer fasts in a couple of years; who said Muslims weren?t worried about global warming! (On a serious note we are ? see environment section in ethical issues).

It is probably important to mention the difficulties one faces whilst working during Ramadhan. Lunchtime meetings are a true test of one?s self restraint, especially when the fresh cream cakes arrive! Some work places are very understanding and allow short breaks when the fast is about to open and let people to say their prayers in a corner of the office. It is really appreciated when colleagues give special consideration to those fasting by accommodating requests for flexible starting and finishing times at work or holiday requests.  

I think I speak for most British Muslims when I say one of the most frequently asked questions is whether or not we lose weight. The usual answer is unfortunately no. Whilst some do, the majority find that the large iftars with family and friends lead to an abundance of a variety of sweets which are too good to resist  

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