Fasting in the month of Ramadan is compulsory on every Muslim adult. The Arabic word sawm is used for fasting. The word sawm (plural siyam) literally means 'to refrain', but as an Islamic term, it means refraining from food, drinks and sexual activity from dawn to sunset. Allah says in the Quran, in Surah Al-Baqarah (2-183):
'O you who believe, siyam is prescribed on you as it was prescribed to those before you so that you may become self-restrained.'
The importance of Siyam in Ramadan is clearly expressed in several sayings of the Prophet (S.A.W.). It is reported by Abu Hurairah that the Prophet said:
'He who fasts during Ramadan with faith and seeks his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven; he who prays during the night in Ramadan with faith and seeks his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven; and he who passes Lailat al- Qadr in prayer with faith and seeks his reward from Allah will have his past sins forgiven.'
(Bukhari and Muslim)
Fasting in Ramadan is practiced by Muslims all over the world. The most significant aspect of Siyam is the development of Allah-consciousness (Taqwa) in the heart and the soul of a fasting Muslim. One must abstain from immoral behavior and attitude as well. Refraining from food and such is essential during fast but it is not sufficient. The Prophet of Allah is reported to have said:
'If one does not abandon falsehood in words and deeds, Allah has no need for his abandoning of his food and drink.' (Al-Bukhari)
WHO IS EXEMPT FROM SAWM?
Fasting is mandatory on every Muslim who is sane, adult, able and resident. The following exemptions apply:
children who are not adolescent yet;
the elderly and chronically ill for whom fasting is unreasonably strenuous; Such persons are required to feed at least one poor person every day in Ramadan for which he or she has missed fasting.
pregnant women and nursing may postpone the fasting at a later time;
the ill and the travellers can also defer their fasting. Allah says in the Qur'an, Surah Al-Baqara: 'But if anyone is ill, or on a journey, the prescribed period should be made up by days later. Allah intends every facility for you; He does not want to put you to difficulties.'
Women during the period of menstruation or of postchildbirth confinement. Fasting during these periods is forbidden and should be made up later, a day for a day.
DURATION OF SAWM: Fasting starts everyday in Ramadan at the break of dawn, which is also the start of the Salatul Fajr time. Fasting ends at sunset or with the call of Salatul Maghrib.
VALIDITY OF FASTING:
The validity of fasting depends on the following:
Abstaining from food, liquids and sexual activity from dawn to sunset.
The intention to fast must be made every day before dawn. The intention(niyyah) may be made during night before going to sleep or it can also be made at the time of Suhoor before dawn. Suhoor is eating before fasting. It should be as close to Fajr time as possible. Prophet Muhammad (pbuh) says:
'Partake Suhoor, for there is blessing in Suhoor.'(Bukhari, Muslim)
It is desirable to break the fast as soon as possible after sunset. Breaking the fast with dates or water is a tradition of the Prophet. Following is one of the Du'a for breaking fast:
Allahumma laka sumtu wa 'ala ridhqika aftartu (O Allah! For You did I fast and with Your bounties did I break the fast.)
The things which invalidate fast are of two kinds. The first one requires Qada (only making up missed days), the other one not only requires Qada but also Kaffarah(a penalty).
The following are the things that require Qada only:
Eating or drinking intentionally. This includes non-nourishing items taken by mouth.
Deliberately causing oneself to throw up.
The beginning of menstruation or post-childbirth bleeding even in the last moment before sunset.
Ejaculation for reasons other than sexual intercourse.
Intending to break the fast before sunset even if one changes his mind, since intention is one of the pre-requisites of the validity of fasting.
Eating, drinking or having intercourse after dawn on the mistaken assumption that it is not dawn yet. Similarly, engaging in these acts before Maghrib on the mistaken assumption that it is already sunset.
Things that not only require Qada but also Kaffarah are the following: Sexual intercourse during fasting(dawn to dusk). The penalty is to fast an additional period of 60 continuous days. If one is not able to do so then he must feed sixty poor people-one average meal each.
Before the days of the Prophet Muhammad(S.A.W.), slavery was a common practice in the Arab world. Islam eliminated slavery from the society in a very short period of time. A useful approach was to allow people free a slave as a charity or as a penalty for a sin. Thus during the time of the Prophet(S.A.W.), setting a slave free was the penalty one must pay as a kaffarah, if he or she had a slave.
What does not break the fast:
If anyone forgets that he is fasting and eats or drinks, he should complete his fast, for it is only Allah who has fed him and given him drink.(A Hadith from Muslim).
Swallowing things which are not possible to avoid, such as one's saliva, street dust, smoke, etc.
Brushing the teeth.
Injection or intra-venous which is solely medical and not nutritional.
Breaking of fast under exceptional conditions: Muslims are permitted to break the ordained fast of Ramadan when there is danger to their health. In this situation a Muslim should make up his fast later at any other time of the year.