What is Fasting in Islam?
Fasting in Arabic is صَوْم or صِيَام. Linguistically, both words are verbal nouns of the verb صَامَ. Generally speaking, صَامَ means to refrain from doing something. To say صَامَ عَنِ الْكَلَام means to refrain from talking; to say صَامَ عَنِ التَّدْخِيْن means to refrain from smoking; صَامَ عَنْ فِعْلِ الشَّر means to refrain from doing evil; and so forth. In Arabic, the words صَامَ, صَوْم, and صِيَام are always associated with religion, namely fasting Ramadan, the fourth pillar of Islam. This has been clearly stated in the Holy Book of Islam, the Koran, in verse 183 of Surat Al-Bagarah: " يَا أَيُّهَا الَّذِينَ آمَنُوا كُتِبَ عَلَيْكُمُ الصِّيَامُ كَمَا كُتِبَ عَلَى الَّذِينَ مِن قَبْلِكُمْ لَعَلَّكُمْ تَتَّقُونَ" ‘O you who believe! Observing the fast is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those (who came) before you, that you may become pious.’ Therefore, historically and religiously fasting has been a necessity of life.
It is said that ancient Egyptians, particularly priests, clergymen, religious people, used to fast. The period of their fast ranged from one week to seven weeks. Likewise, ancient Chinese used to fast. Following Egyptians, the ancient Greek habitually fasted. Some fasted for a purpose. For example, the Romans fasted in order that they became victorious and defeated their enemies. In times of dangers and pandemics, the Jews fast a lot more frequently than it is prescribed in their religious beliefs. Christians have their own way of fasting. Hence, most religions have imposed fasting upon its followers. It is not restricted to specific months or seasons. Rather, it can be practiced throughout the year.
Besides the obligation to fast Ramadan, Islam has evoked love and interest for fasting throughout the year. Prophet Mohammed (PBUH), by preference, recommended that Muslims fast during certain days and months of the year. Whoever fasts Ramadan, he states, and fasts six days of Shawwal, the lunar month that follows Ramadan, his fast is an eternal one. Also, he recommended that Muslims fast the day of Arafa, the day before the big Eid / Eid al-Adha (the festivity of sacrifice) and the second day of the Hajj. Furthermore, he recommended that Muslims fast specific days in Muharram (the first month in the Islamic calendar) Rajab (the seventh month in the Islamic calendar), and Sha’ban (the eight month of the Islamic calendar). Many Muslims around the world also fast the white days, the 13th, 14th, and 15th, of each month in the Islamic. It is also recommended that Muslims fast Mondays and Thursdays of every month in the Islamic calendar. So, what exactly is fasting and how is it performed?
Linguistically, fasting is to abstain and to refrain from changing one’s existing condition to another. Fasting in Islamic Law is to have the intent refrain from doing anything that breaks one’s fast from dawn until sunset. To fully and precisely fulfill this intent, the person who fasts must refrain from eating, drinking, and engaging in a sexual activity. Equally important is the avoidance of what is interdicted by the Sharia Law. In a Hadith, Prophet Mohammed enjoined that whoever does not forgo the falsehood or participating in it, his abstinence from eating and drinking is needless and pointless. Hence, fasting is one of the greatest good deeds that a Muslim perform and is immensely valued by Allah (swt).
Allah (swt) says that every deed of a human being (of a Muslim) is for himself except fasting; it is for Me and I shall reward him for it. Compared to other forms of worships, Fasting is the only worship that prohibits peoples’ (Muslims’) pleasures and lusts. Also, fasting is a worship that is between the person who fasts (the Muslim) and Allah, that is, deeds and intentions of the faster are not apparent to other human beings. Only Allah (swt) knows how fasting is being done. For these reasons, Allah, the Almighty, says that fasting is for Him. The month of fasting (i.e. Ramadan) is the greatest month in Islam.
During the Holy Month of Ramadan, the doors of heaven are wide open, the doors of hellfire tightly locked, and devils are firmly chained. In a hadith, Abu Huraira narrated that Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said, ‘when Ramadan arrives, the doors of heaven are opened, the doors of hellfire are locked, and the devils are chained.’ Fasters are greatly rewarded on the day of judgement. In another hadith narrated by Sahl, the Prophet (PBUH) said: ‘there is a door in heaven called Al Rayyan. Only those who fast Ramadan go through it. On the day of judgement, a loud call says, ‘where are the fasters?’ They stand up and go through the Al Rayyan door, and no one else is allowed to enter through. Once the fasters go through it, it is locked.