Our Motto : 'In-Allah-ha-Ma'anaa' ("Be not grieved, for surely Allah is with us." - The Holy Quran 9:40). We find spiritual strength, courage and comfort, in the times of trials and  hardships, from this Divine Quranic revelation that descended upon the pure heart of the Holy Prophet Muhammad (may Allah's peace and blessings be upon him), so as to console and compose him during one of the most perilous moments of his life. <Please click the 'Our Motto' link on our homepage for more details>

The Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for the Propagation of Islam (A.A.I.I.L. - Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at-e-Islam Lahore)

Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian (the Founder of the Ahmadiyya Movement; the Mujaddid (Reformer) of the 14th Century Hijrah; and, the Promised Messiah and Mahdi) <Please read his biography in the 'Biography' section>

Please click here to SUBSCRIBE to this site!

Please click here to SEARCH this site!



What's New



Prophet Muhammad (pbuh)

Other Religions

My 1st Muslim Site for Children

Accusations Answered

Becoming a Muslim


Hazrat Mirza Ghulam Ahmad of Qadian

Joining Our Movement

What Others Say About Us

Our Foreign Missions & Contact Info

Accusations Answered

News & Info

Other Ahmadiyya Sites


Qadiani Beliefs Refuted





Articles & Magazines


True Stories



Dreams, Visions & Prophecies


Questions & Answers





Dutch [Netherlands]

Dutch [Suriname]



India [Hindi/Urdu]









* MISC.:

Muslim Names

Muslim Prayer Times


Screen Savers


FREE E-mail Accounts:

* Click to:

[1] 'Subscribe' to this site!

[2] 'Recommend' this page to a friend!

[3] 'Search' this site!

[4] 'Send a Greeting Card'

* FREE CDs *


Books Section > The Religion of Islam > Fasting

Fasting or Saum:


The primary signification of saum is abstaining, in an absolute sense1. In the technical language of the Islamic law, saum and siyam signify fasting or abstaining from food and drink and sexual intercourse from dawn till sunset.

1 Al-imsaku 'ani-l-fi'l, which includes abstaining from eating or speaking or moving about. Thus a horse that abstains from moving about, or from fodder, is said to be sa'im, and wind is said to be saum when it abates, and the day when it reaches the midpoint (R.). In the sense of abstaining from speech, the word is used in the Quran in the early Makkah revelation: "Say, I have vowed a fast to the Beneficent God, so I shall not speak to any man today" (19:26).

Institution of Fasting in Islam:

The institution of fasting in Islam came after the institution of prayer. It was in Madinah in the second year of Hijrah that fasting was made obligatory, and the month of Ramadzan (Note by the webmaster: The ninth lunar month of the Islamic calendar) was set apart for this purpose. Before that the Prophet used to fast, as an optional devotion, on the tenth day of Muharram, and he also ordered his followers to fast on that day, it being a fasting day for the Quraish as well, according to 'A'ishah (Bu. 30:1). The origin of fasting in Islam may thus be traced to the time when the Prophet was still at Makkah; but, according to Ibn 'Abbas, it was after his flight to Madinah that he saw the Jews fasting on the tenth day of Muharram; and being told that Moses had kept a fast on that day in commemoration of the delivery of the Israelites from Pharaoh, he remarked that they (Muslims) were nearer to Moses than the Jews and ordered that day to be observed as a day of fasting (Bu. 30:69).

A Universal Institution:

In the Quran, the subject of fasting is dealt with only in one place, that is, in the 23rd section of the second chapter; though there is mention on other occasions of fasting by way of expiation (fidyah) in certain cases. This section opens with the remark that the institution of fasting is a universal one. "O you who believe! Fasting is prescribed for you as it was prescribed for those before you, so that you may guard against evil" (2:183). The truth of the statement made here – that fasting "was prescribed for those before you" – is borne out by a reference to religious history. The practice of fasting has been recognised well-nigh universally in all the higher, revealed religions, though the same stress is not laid on it in all, and the forms and motives vary. "Its modes and motives vary considerably according to climate, race, civilisation and other circumstances; but it would be difficult to name any religious system of any description in which it is wholly unrecognised" (En. Br., art. Fasting). Confucianism, according to the writer in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, is the only exception. Zoroastrianism, which is sometimes mentioned as another exception, is stated as enjoining, "Upon the priesthood at least, no fewer than five yearly fasts." Present-day Christianity may not attach much value to religious devotions of this sort, but not only did the Founder of Christianity himself keep a fast for forty days and observe fasting on the Day of Atonement like a true Jew, but also commended fasting to his disciples: "Moreover, when ye fast, be not as the hypocrites, of a sad countenance . . . But thou, when you fastest, anoint thine head, and wash thy face" (Mt. 6:16, 17). It appears that his disciples did fast, but not as often as did those of the Baptist, and when questioned on that point, his reply was that they would fast more frequently when he was taken away (Lk. 5:33-35). The early Christians are also spoken of as fasting (Acts 13:2, 3; 14:23) . Even St. Paul fasted (II Cor. 6:5; 11:27).

New Meaning Introduced by Islam:

Cruden's remark in his Bible Concordance that fasting in all nations was resorted to "in times of mourning, sorrow and afflictions" is borne out by the facts. Among the Jews, generally, fasting was observed as a sign of grief or mourning. Thus, David is mentioned as fasting for seven days during the illness of his infant son (II Sam. 12:16-18); and, as a sign of mourning, fasting is mentioned in I Sam. 31:13 and elsewhere. Besides the Day of Atonement, which was prescribed by the Mosaic law as a day of fasting (Lev. 16:29) – the people being required to "afflict" their souls while the priest made an atonement for them to cleanse them of their sins – various other fast-days came into vogue after the Exile "in sorrowful commemoration of the various sad events which had issued in the downfall of the kingdom of Judah" (En. Br.). Four of these became regular fasting-days, "commemorating the beginning of the siege of Jerusalem, the capture of the city, the destruction of the temple and the assassination of Gedaliah" (ibid.). Thus it was generally some trouble or sad event of which the memory was kept up by a fast. Moses's fasting for forty days – which example was later followed by Jesus Christ – seems to be the only exception, and the fast, in this case, was kept preparatory to receiving a revelation. Christianity did not introduce any new meaning into the fast; Christ's words that his disciples would fast oftener when he was taken away from their midst, only lend support to the Jewish conception of the fast, as connected with national grief or mourning.

The idea underlying this voluntary suffering in the form of a fast in times of sorrow and affliction seems to have been to propitiate an angry Deity and excite compassion in Him. The idea that fasting was a act of penitence seems gradually to have developed from this as an affliction or calamity was considered to be due to sin, and fasting thus became an outward expression of the change of heart brought about by repentance. It was in Islam that the practice received a highly developed significance. It rejected in toto the idea of appeasing Divine wrath, or exciting Divine compassion through voluntary suffering and introduced in its place regular and continuous fasting, irrespective of the condition of the individual or the nation, as a means, like prayer, to the development of the inner faculties of man. Though the Quran speaks of expiatory or compensatory fasts in certain cases of violation of the Divine law, yet these are quite distinct from the obligatory fasting in the month of Ramadzan, and are mentioned only as an alternative to an act of charity, such as the feeding of the poor or freeing of a slave. Fasting, as an institution, is here made a spiritual, moral and physical discipline of the highest order, and this is made clear by changing both the form and the motive. By making the institution permanent, all ideas of distress, affliction and sin are dissociated from it, while its true object is made plain, which is "that you may guard (tattaqun)." The word ittiqa from which tattaqun is derived, means the guarding of a thing from what harms or injures it, or the guarding of self against that of which the evil consequences may be feared (R.). But besides this, the word has been freely used in the Quran in the sense of fulfilment of duties, as in 4:1 where arham (ties of relationship) occurs as an object of ittaqu, or, as generally in ittaqu-llah where Allah is the object of ittaqu, and therefore the significance of ittiqa in all these cases is a fulfilment of obligations. In fact, in the language of the Quran, to be a muttaqi is to attain to the highest stage of spiritual development. "Allah is the friend of the muttaqin" (45:19); "Allah loves the muttaqin" (3:75; 9:4, 7); "Allah is with the muttaqin" (2:194; 9:36, 123); "The good end is for the muttaqin" (7:128; 11:49; 28:83); "For the muttaqin is an excellent resort" (38:49) – these and numerous similar passages show clearly that the muttaqi, according to the Quran, is the man who has attained to the highest stage of spiritual development. And as the object of fasting is to be a muttaqi, the conclusion is evident that the Quran enjoins fasting with the object of making man ascend the spiritual heights.

A Spiritual Discipline:

Fasting, according to Islam, is primarily a spiritual discipline: On two occasions in Quran (9:112; 66:5), those who fast are called sa'ih (from saha meaning he travelled) or spiritual wayfarers; and according to one authority, when a person refrains, not only from food and drink but from all kinds of evil, he is called a sa'ih (R.). While speaking of Ramadzan, the month in which fasting is ordained, the Quran specially refers to nearness to God, as if its attainment were an aim in fasting, and then adds: "So they should hear My call (by fasting) and believe in Me, that they may walk in the right way" (2:186). In Tradition too, special stress is laid on the fact that the seeking of Divine pleasure should be the ultimate object in fasting: "Whoever fasts during Ramadzan, having faith in Me and seeking My pleasure" (Bu. 2:28). The Prophet said, "Fasting is a shield, so the faster should not indulge in foul speech . . . and surely the breath of a fasting man is pleasanter to Allah than the odour of musk; he refrains from food and drink and other desires to seek My pleasure: fasting is for Me only" (Bu. 30:2). No temptation is greater than the temptation of satisfying one's thirst and hunger when drink and food are in one's possession, yet this temptation is overcome not once or twice, as if it were by chance, but day after day regularly for a whole month, with a set purpose of drawing closer and closer to the Divine Being. A man can avail himself of the best diet, yet he prefers to remain hungry; he has the cool drink in his possession, yet he is parching with thirst; he touches neither food nor drink, simply because he thinks that it is the commandment of God that he should not do so. In the inner recesses, there is none to see him if he pours down his dry and burning throat a glass of delicious drink, yet there has developed in him the sense of the nearness to God to such an extent that he would not put a drop of it on his tongue. Whenever a new temptation comes before him, he overcomes it, because, just at the critical moment, there is an inner voice, "God is with me," "God sees me." Not the deepest devotion can of itself develop that sense of nearness to God and of His presence everywhere, which fasting day after day for a whole month does. The Divine presence, which may be a matter of faith to others, becomes a reality for him, and this is made possible by the spiritual discipline underlying fasting. A new consciousness of a higher life, a life above that which is maintained by eating and drinking, has been awakened in him, and this is the life spiritual.

A Moral Discipline:

There is also a moral discipline underlying fasting, for it is the training ground where man is taught the greatest moral lesson of his life – the lesson that he should be prepared to suffer the greatest privation and undergo the hardest trial rather than indulge in that which is not permitted to him. That lesson is repeated from day to day for a whole month, and just as physical exercise strengthens man physically, moral exercise through fasting, the exercise of abstaining from everything that is not allowed, strengthens the moral side of his life. The idea that everything unlawful must be eschewed and that evil must be hated is thus developed through fasting. Another aspect of the moral development of man by this means is that he is thus taught to conquer his physical desires. He takes his food at regular intervals and that is no doubt a desirable rule of life, but fasting for one month in the year teaches him the higher lesson that, instead of being the slave of his appetites and desires, he should be their master, being able to change the course of his life if he wills it. The man who is able to rule his desires, to make them work as he likes, in whom will-power is so developed that he can command himself, is the man who has attained to true moral greatness.

Social Value of Fasting:

In addition to its spiritual and moral values, fasting as prescribed in the Quran has also a social value, more effective than that which is realised through prayer. Rich and poor, great and small, residents of the same vicinity are brought together five times daily in the mosque on terms of perfect equality, and thus healthy social relations are established through prayer. But the commencement of the month of Ramadzan is a signal for a mass movement towards equality which is not limited to one vicinity or even one country but affects the whole Muslim world. The rich and the poor may stand shoulder to shoulder in one row in the mosque, but in their homes they live in different environments. The rich sit down on tables laden with dainties and with these they load their stomachs four, even six, times daily; while the poor cannot find sufficient food with which to satisfy their hunger even twice a day. The latter often feel the pangs of hunger to which the former are utter strangers; how can the one feel for the other and sympathise with him? A great social barrier thus exists between the two classes in their homes, and this barrier is removed only when the rich are made to feel the pangs of hunger like their poorer brethren and go without food throughout the day, and this experience has to be gone through, not for a day or two, but for a whole month. The rich and the poor are thus, throughout the Muslim world, brought on the same level in that they are both allowed only two meals a day, and though these meals may not be exactly the same, the rich have perforce to shorten their menu and to adopt a simpler fare and thus come closer to their poorer brethren. This course undoubtedly awakens sympathy for the poor in the hearts of the rich, and it is for this reason that the helping of the poor is specially enjoined in the month of Ramadzan.

Physical Value of Fasting:

Refraining from food during stated intervals does no physical harm to a healthy person. On the contrary, it does some good. But fasting has yet another, and a more important, physical value. The man who cannot face the hardships of life, who is not able to live, at times, without his usual comforts, cannot be said to be even physically fit for life on this earth. The moment such a man is involved in difficulty or distress, as he must be every now and again, his strength is liable to give way. Fasting accustoms him to face the hardships of life, being in itself a practical lesson to that end, and increases his powers of resistance.

The Month of Ramadzan:

With some exceptions, which will be mentioned later on, Muslims are required to fast for 29 or 30 days of the month of Ramadzan. The exact number depends on the appearance of the moon which may be after 29 or 30 days. Fasting commences with the new moon of Ramadzan and ends on the appearance of the new moon of Shawwal (Note by the webmaster: The tenth lunar month of the Islamic calendar). The Prophet is reported to have said: "We are a people who neither write nor do we keep account; the month is thus and thus, showing (by his fingers) once twenty-nine and again thirty" (Bu. 30:13). Another tradition says: "The Prophet mentioned Ramadzan and said, "Do not fast until you see the new moon and do not break fasting until you see it (again), and if it is cloudy, calculate its appearance" (Bu. 30:11; M. 13:2). Another says that if it is cloudy, thirty days should be completed (Bu. 30:11). To begin and end by the actual appearance of the new moon2 was the easier method for a "people who did not know writing, and did not keep account," and it is still the easier method for the vast masses living in villages and distant places, but the tradition quoted above also allows that the appearance of the moon may be judged by computation. There is however an express prohibition against fasting when the appearance of the moon is doubtful (yaum al-shakk) (AD. 14:10).

2 The actual appearance of the moon may be established by the evidence of a single man if he be trustworthy. It is related that on a certain occasion the people of Madinah were doubtful about the appearance of the new moon of Ramadzan and they had decided not to fast, when a man came from the desert and gave evidence that he had seen the new moon. And the Prophet accepted his evidence and directed the people to fast (AD. 14:14).

Choice of Ramadzan:

The injunction laid down in the Quran, relating to fasting in the month of Ramadzan, runs as follows: "The month of Ramadzan is that in which the Quran was revealed, a guidance to men and clear proofs of guidance and the Criterion. So whoever of you is present in the month, he shall fast therein" (2:185). It will be seen from the words of the injunction that the choice of this particular month for fasting is not without a reason. It has been chosen because it is the month in which the Quran was revealed. It is well-known that the Quran was revealed piecemeal during a period of twenty-three years; therefore by its revelation in the month of Ramadzan is meant that its revelation first began in that month. And this is historically true. The first revelation came to the Prophet on the 24th night of the month of Ramadzan when he was in the cave of Hira (IJ-C. 2:185). It was therefore in Ramadzan that the first ray of Divine light fell on the Prophet's mind, and the angel Gabriel made his appearance with the great Divine message. The month which witnessed the greatest spiritual experience of the Prophet was thus considered to be the most suitable month for the spiritual discipline of the Muslim community, which was to be effected through fasting.

There are evident reasons for choosing a lunar month. The advantages and disadvantages of the particular season in which it falls are shared by the whole world. A solar month would have given the advantages of shorter days and cooler weather to one part of the world, and burdened the other with the disadvantages of longer days of hotter weather. The lunar month is more in consonance with the universal nature of teachings of Islam, and all people have the advantages and disadvantages equally distributed. On the other hand, if a particular time had not been specified the discipline would have lost all its value. It is due to the choice of a particular month, that with its advent the whole Muslim world is, as it were, moved by one current from one end to the other. The movement effected by the advent of Ramadzan in the Muslim world is the greatest mass movement on the face of the earth. The rich and the poor, the high and the low, the master and the servant, the ruler and the ruled, the black and the white, the Eastern and the Western, from one end of the earth to the other, suddenly change the course of their lives when they witness the tiny crescent of Ramadzan making its appearance on the western horizon. There is no other example of a mass movement on this scale on the face of the earth, and this is due to the specification of a particular month.

Persons who may not Fast:

The injunction to fast is laid down only for those who witness the coming of the month, man shahida min-kum alshahra. The verb shahida is from the infinitive shahada, which means the bearing of witness; so the injunction to fast is laid upon those only who witness the coming of the month. Evidently all people who live in places where the division into twelve months does not exist, are excluded from the purview of the injunction. Fasting is not compulsory in their case.

People who are exempted are specially mentioned either in the Quran or in the Tradition. The Quran mentions the sick and those on journey in the following words: "But whoever among you is sick or on a journey, (he shall fast) a like number of other days. And those who find it extremely hard3 may effect redemption by feeding a poor man" (2:184). This is not an absolute exemption for the sick man and the traveller; they are required to fast afterwards, when the sickness has gone or when the journey ends, but there may be cases of protracted illness or constant journeying, and such people are allowed to effect a redemption by feeding a poor man for every fast missed. Tradition makes a further extension and gives relaxation to certain classes of people who, on account of some physical disability, are not able to fast. It is related of Anas that he used to feed a poor man when he grew too old to fast (Bu. 65, surah 2, ch. 25), and Ibn 'Abbas is reported to have held that the words "those who find it hard to do so may effect a redemption" relate to the old man and old woman and the pregnant woman and the woman that suckles a child, and that all of them are allowed to break the fast, -- the latter two, only if they fear for the child – and feed a poor man instead (AD. 14:3). This view was also held by Hasan and Ibrahim (Bu. 65, surah 2, ch. 25). It will be seen that the underlying idea is that a burden should not be placed on any one, which he is unable to bear. The case of old people who have become enfeebled by age is very clear while in the case of pregnant and nursing women, the permission to effect a redemption is due to the fact that fasting may cause harm to the unborn baby, or the baby that is being nursed, as well as the woman herself; and as she is likely to remain in this condition for a sufficiently long time, she is given the benefit of the relaxation. Sickly people and those who are too weak to bear the burden would be dealt with as sick. Ibn Taimiyah further extends the principle that the fast may be deferred in cases of hardship, and holds that those engaged in war may not fast, though thy may not be journeying, for, he adds, the hardships of war are greater than the hardships of travel (ZM. I. pp. 165, 166). From this it may be argued that, in unavoidable cases of very hard labour, the choice of postponing the fast may be given to those who are engaged in such labour.

3 The Arabic word is yutiquna-hu, which is generally interpreted as meaning those who are able to do it. If this interpretation be adopted, the significance would be that invalids and travellers may either fast afterwards when they are not under such disability, or they may effect a redemption by feeding a poor man for every day of fasting. But I prefer the other interpretation which some commentators have accepted, viz., that yutiquna-hu means those who find it hard to keep the fast even afterwards; only such persons are allowed to effect a redemption by feeding a poor man. This interpretation is supported by a different reading yutayaquna-hu which means those on whom a hard task is imposed. Ibn 'Abbas' reading yutawwaquna-hu (Bu. 65: surah 2, ch. 25) carries a similar significance, and he interprets these words as relating to very old people who are unable to fast.

To define the limits of sickness or travel is rather difficult. 'Ata was of opinion that whatever the ailment, great or small, it entitled a person to the benefit of the exception (Bu. 65, surah 2, ch. 25). But generally it has been held that only such sickness as is likely to cause harm comes under the exception. As regards travel, there is nothing on record from the Prophet as to its limit (Zm. I, p. 166). A certain Companion, Dihya, is reported to have travelled to a village which was about three miles distant from his own place and to have broken the fast, and some people followed his example but others did not (AD. 14:46). But it has been held that the proposed journey must be one that extends over more than a day, i.e., twenty-four hours; according to others, it must extend over two days; and others still think it necessary that it should extend over three days at least. But when the journey is actually started, the fast may be broken, whatever the distance travelled over may be. Thus of Abu Basra Ghifari, a Companion of the Prophet, it is related that he took a boat from Fustat to Alexandria, and broke the fast while yet the buildings of Fustat had not disappeared (AD. 14:45). I would interpret the exception relating to sickness and travel as meaning a sickness or journey which causes inconvenience to the subject of it, as the exception is followed by the words, "Allah desires ease for you, and He desires not hardship for you" (2:185).

The permission to break the fast for sickness or journey is meant for the convenience of the person who is under an obligation to keep the fast, as the words quoted above show. There is, however, a strong opinion that the permission granted by God must be made use of, just as in the case of prayer the traveller must shorten his prayer. The case of prayer and fasting do not, however, stand on a par, because, if the fasts are broken, the number of days must be completed afterwards, while in the case of prayer, there remains no obligation upon the traveller when the journey is over. The sick person and the traveller have therefore the option of keeping the fast if they do not find it hard, or of availing themselves of the permission and breaking the fast. The permissive nature of the words of the Quran is reflected in many of the most reliable traditions. There are reports showing that the Prophet himself kept a fast while on a journey (Bu. 30:33). In one tradition it is stated that on a certain journey on a very hot day, only the Prophet and Ibn Rawahah kept the fast (Bu. 30:35). There are other traditions showing that when a certain person questioned the Prophet whether he should or should not break the fast, when on a journey, his own inclination being for fasting, the Prophet replied: "Keep the fast if thou likest, and break it if thou likest" (Bu. 30:33). Anas relates that they used to travel with the Prophet, and those who kept the fast did not find fault with those who broke it, nor did those who broke the fast find fault with those who kept it (Bu. 30:37). There is not doubt, a saying of the Prophet to the effect that "it is not a virtue to fast when journeying," but these words were spoken to a person who was in severe distress on account of the fast, and around whom people had gathered to provide shade for him (Bu. 30:36). Bukhari's heading of this chapter is significant: "The Prophet's saying to him who was protected with a shade and the heat was severe. It is not a virtue to fast when journeying," the meaning evidently being that one should not fast when one finds it hard. There is a very large number of traditions on this subject, and some of these seem to contradict others, but the weight of evidence lies on the side that one is given the option of keeping the fast or breaking it.

Who is Bound to Fast?

The commandments of the Quran are meant for those who are full-grown, and so is the injunction relating to fasts. According to Imam Malik, minors should not fast, but the Caliph Umar is quoted as saying "Even our children are fasting" (Bu. 30:47). Probably this may have been done when the weather was not too hot, and the object may have been to habituate the children to fasting. From what has been stated above, it would further appear that only such people are bound to fast as are physically fit. The jurists lay down three conditions, viz., that of being baligh (one who has reached the age of majority), qadir (physically fit) and 'aqil (sane). Women are bound to fast if they are free from menstruation (Bu. 30:41). But while the woman who has the menstruation on is freed from the obligation of prayer completely, she is bound to make good the fasts that she has not kept and complete the number of days after Ramadzan, being treated in this respect like a sick person. The bleeding of childbirth [note by the webmaster: lochia meant here] is considered as menstruation with this difference, that if the mother is nursing the baby, she can effect a redemption by feeding a poor man. In all cases in which fasts have to be recovered, whether it is the case of a sick person or a traveller or a menstruating woman, a person is at liberty to do it when he or she likes, before the coming of the next Ramadzan (Bu. 30:40).

Voluntary Fasts:

In all the four principal ordinances of Islam – prayer, charity, fasting and pilgrimage – there is an obligatory part (fardz) and a voluntary part (nafl). But there are some restrictions imposed on voluntary fasting, for, if carried to an extreme, it would weaken the constitution. The following tradition is illustrative of how far voluntary fasting may be resorted to: "Ibn Umar says that the Prophet was informed of my resolve to fast in the day and keep awake in the night so long as I lived. (On being questioned) I admitted that I had said so. The Prophet said, Thou canst not bear this, therefore keep the fast and break it and keep awake and have sleep, and keep (voluntary) fast for three days in the month, for virtue has a tenfold reward, and this would be like your fasting every day. I said, I can bear more than this. The Prophet said, Then fast for one day and break the fast for two days. I said, I can bear more than this. He said, Then keep the fast for one day and break it for one day, and such was the fasting of David, on whom be peace, and this is the best of voluntary fasts. I said, I can bear more than this. The Prophet said, There is nothing better than this" (Bu. 30 : 56). This tradition shows that what the Prophet really recommended was voluntary fasting for three days in the month, but on no account should the voluntary fast be continuous. There are traditions in which it is stated that the Prophet especially recommended for voluntary fasting the last days of Shaban [Bu. 30 : 62; AD. 14 : 56.] or the ayyam al-bidz, that is the 13th, 14th and 15th of the lunar month [Bu. 30 : 60; Ah. IV, p. 165.] or Monday and Thursday [AD. 14 : 59.] or the Arafah day, that is, one day before the 'Id al-Adzha [(Tr. 8 : 45). There is a hadith showing that a cup of milk was sent to the Prophet on the 'Arafah day by Umm al-Fadl to settle the question, and the Prophet drank it (Bu. 30 : 65).], or the first six days of Shawwal [AD. 14 : 57.], or Muharram [AD. 14 : 55.] or the Tashriq days, that is, 11th, 12th and 13th of Dhu-l-Hijja [Bu. 30 : 68], or the 'Ashura', that is, 10th Muharram [Bu. 30 : 69. The tenth of Muharram was particularly observed as a fasting day before the fasting of Ramadzan was made obligatory, but afterwards it was voluntary (Bu. 30 : 1).]; but his own practice was that he never specified any particular day or days for voluntary fasting, as the following tradition shows: "'Aishah was asked, Did the Holy Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, specify any days (for fasting). She said, No" (Bu. 30 : 64).

Restrictions on Voluntary Fasting:

Voluntary fasting is particularly prohibited on the two 'Id days (Bu. 30 : 66). It is also forbidden that Friday should be specially chosen for voluntary fasting (Bu. 30 : 63). Nor should a day or two before Ramadzan be specially selected (Bu. 30 : 14). Other restrictions are that it should not be resorted to if it is likely to interfere with other duties. There is no asceticism in Islam, and no one is allowed to go to the length of neglecting his worldly duties for the sake of religious exercises. Religion is meant to enable a man to live a better life, and voluntary fasting should be undertaken only if the aim is to enable a man to achieve this objective. This is made clear in the story of Abu Darda' and Salman, between whom brotherhood had been established by the Prophet. Salman paid a visit to Abu Darda' and saw his wife in a neglected condition (mutabadhdhila). Being asked the reason she replied that Abu Darda' had become an ascetic. When Abu Darda' came home and the meals were served, Abu Darda' refused to eat because he was fasting. Salman said that he would not take any food until Abu Darda' took it, so he ate (and broke the fast). When the night came Abu Darda' woke up after a little rest, Salman asked him to remain sleeping, and when it was the latter part of the night, they both said there Tahajjud prayers. Then Salman said to Abu Darda': "Verily thou owest a duty to thy Lord, and thou owest a duty to thyself, and thou owest a duty to thy wife and children." When this was mentioned to the Prophet, he approved of what Salman had said and done (Bu. 30 : 51). Here, therefore the husband was forbidden to fast, for the sake of the wife. Similarly the wife should not resort to voluntary fasting without the permission of her husband (Bu. 67 : 85). And as the host in the instance cited above broke the fast on account of his guest, there is a tradition stating that the guest should not undertake a voluntary fast, without the permission of the host (Tr. 8 :69).

Expiatory Fasts:

Fasts are also recommended as an expiation for breaking certain commandments. The expiatory fasts mentioned in the Quran are, (1) two months' successive fasting when a Muslim has killed a Muslim by mistake and the killer has not the means sufficient to free a slave (4 : 92); (2) two months' successive fasting when the husband resorts to practice called zihar (putting away of the wife by saying, Thou art to me as the back of my mother), and he has not the means to free a slave (58 : 3, 4); (3) three days' fasting as an expiation for taking an oath by which one deprives oneself of something lawful when one is unable to free a slave or feed ten poor men (5 : 89); (4) fasting as decided on by two judges, as an expiation for killing game while one is on pilgrimage as an alternative to feeding the poor (5 : 95).

Tradition mentions two months' successive fasting by way of expiation when a fast during Ramadzan is broken intentionally (Bu. 30 : 30). This was the case of a man who had sexual intercourse with his wife while fasting in Ramadzan, and the Prophet told him to free a slave. On being told that he was too poor for that, he was asked if he could fast for two months successively, and he replied in the negative. Then he was asked if he could feed sixty poor men, and he again said, No. Thereupon the Prophet waited till there came a sack of dates to be given in charity, and the Prophet gave this away to the breaker of the fast, telling him to give it in charity. He said that there was no one in Madinah poorer than himself, upon which the Prophet laughed heartily and allowed him to take away the sack of dates for his own use. This would show that the keeping of expiatory fasts for two months was only meant to make the violator feel contrite for his offence. Abu Hurairah was, however, of opinion that the act of not fasting one day in Ramadzan cannot be expiated, even if the man fasts all his life; others (Sha'bi, Ibn Jubair, Qatada, etc.) have held that the expiation for not fasting for one day is simply one day's fast to be kept afterwards (Bu. 30 : 29).

Compensatory Fasts:

Fasting is also mentioned as being resorted to by way of effecting redemption (fidya, that is to say, as a compensation for not being able to do some act. Thus in the case of pilgrims who, for some reason, cannot observe fully the requirements of ihram, compensatory fasting (for three days) is mentioned as an alternative to giving away something in charity and sacrificing an animal (2 : 196); and in the case of pilgrims who may in combining 'umra with hajj (tamattu') get out of the condition of ihram in the interval between the two, three days' fasting during the pilgrimage and seven days' after returning from the pilgrimage (2 : 196).

Fasting in Fulfilment of a Vow:

An instance of a vow to take a fast is mentioned in the Quran where Mary the mother of Jesus says: "Surely I have vowed a fast to the Beneficent God, so I shall not speak to any man today" (19 : 26). This however appears to be only a fast to keep silent and not to talk with any person; a similar fast of silence is spoken of in the case of Zacharias: "Thy sign is that thou shouldst not speak to men for three days except by signs, and remember thy Lord much and glorify Him in the evening by signs, and remember thy Lord much and glorify Him in the evening and the morning" (3 : 40). The case of Zacharias shows that the object of the fast of silence was the remembrance of God. From certain traditions it appears that if one has vowed to keep a fast, the vow must be fulfilled (Bu. 30 : 42), while in one report it is stated that a woman came to the Prophet and spoke of her mother who died; and she had taken a vow to fast for a certain number of days and the Prophet told her to fulfil the vow (ibid.). But there is no tradition recommending the taking of such vows.

Limits of the Fast:

The limits of a fast are clearly laid down in the Quran: "And eat and drink until the whiteness of the day becomes distinct from the blackness of the night at dawn (al-fajr), then complete the fast till night (al lail)" (2 : 187). Lail (night) begins when the sun sets, and hence the fast in the terminology of Islam is kept from the first appearance of dawn, which is generally about an hour and a half before sunrise, till sunset. Wisal (lit., joining together) is fasting, or continuing the fast throughout the night and then the next day so that there is no break, is definitely prohibited (Bu. 30 : 48, 49). But one tradition permits continuity of fast till daybreak (Bu. 30 : 50). This would mean that a man may not, if he chooses, break the fast at sunset but must take the morning meal for fasting for the next day; in other words, he must take a meal once in twenty-four hours at least. Wisal was prohibited lest people should, in trying continuous fast, impair their health or make themselves unfit for worldly work, for it appears that the Prophet himself sometimes kept a continuous fast (Bu. 30 : 48, 49); but, for how many days, is not definitely known. Only on one occasion, when some of the Companions joined with the Prophet in keeping a continuous fast, it was continued for three successive days, and being the close of the month, the moon appeared on the evening of the third day, the Prophet adding that if the moon had not appeared he would have continued the fast. When some one asked him, why he forbade wisal to others, when he himself kept continuous fasts, he replied: "I pass the night while my Lord gives me food and makes me drink" (Bu. 30 : 49). He referred of course to the spiritual food which sometimes makes a man bear hunger and thirst in an extraordinary way, thus, in a sense, taking the place of food and drink. But all men had not the same spiritual sustenance, and, moreover, continuity of fast, if allowed generally, would have given rise to ascetic practices which Islam does not encourage. It should be noted in this connection that fasting, according to the Quran, meant abstaining from food as well as from drink, and three days' continual suffering of hunger and thirst, in a hot country like Arabia, shows the extraordinary power of endurance which the Companions of the Prophet had developed, while his own power of endurance was much greater. This endurance was no doubt due to extraordinary spiritual powers.

In this connection it may be further noted that, though the taking of a morning meal is not made obligatory, yet special stress is laid on it, and it is said to be a source of blessing, because it enables a man the better to cope with the hardship of the fast. The Prophet is reported to have said: "Take the morning meal, for there is blessing in the morning meal (suhur)" (Bu. 30 : 20). This meal was taken very near the break of dawn. One Companion relates that, after taking the morning meal, he hastened to the mosque so that he might be able to join the morning prayer. Another says that the interval between the finishing of the morning meal and the beginning of prayer in congregation was such that hardly fifty verses could be recited in it (Bu. 9 : 27). It is even recommended that the morning meal should be taken as near the break of dawn as possible (Ah. V, p. 147). In one tradition it is stated that the adhan [Call for morning prayers, signifying break of dawn] of Bilal should not lead you to give up the morning meal, for, it is added, he utters the adhan while yet it is night, so that the man who is saying his Tahajjud prayers may finish his prayers and the one who is sleeping may get up from his sleep (Bu. 10 : 13). And according to another, the morning meal was to be continued till Ibn Umm Maktum gave the call to prayer, for he was a blind man and he did not give the call till (dawn became so clear and well established that) "people called out to him, the dawn has broken, the dawn has broken" (Bu. 10 : 11). And even if the adhan is called out when the dawn has fully appeared, and a man has a cup in his hand ready to drink, he need not put it away and may drink it up (AD. 14 : 18).

As it is recommended in the case of the morning meal that it should be as late as possible, it is recommended that the breaking of the fast should be as early as possible. The Prophet is reported to have said that when the sun is set, the fast should be broken (Bu. 30 : 45). And according to another tradition: "People will have the good so long as they hasten in breaking the fast" (Bu. 30 : 45). Some wait to break the fast till they see the stars, thinking that the night does not set in till darkness is spread, but there is no authority for this.

The Niyyah:

A good deal of misunderstanding prevails on the question of niyyah in the observance of fasts. The niyyah really means intention, aim or purpose in the doing of a thing; but it is wrongly supposed that the niyyah consists in the repetition of certain words stating that one intends to do so and so. Bukhari shows the true significance of niyyah when he gives as the heading to one of his chapters: "He who fasts during Ramadzan having faith (in God) (iman-an) and seeking His pleasure (ihtisab-an) and having an aim or purpose (niyyat-an)" (Bu. 30 : 6). And he adds a portion of a tradition reported by 'Aishah in which it is stated that "people will be raised up (on the Judgement Day) according to their aims ('ala niyyati-him)." The very first tradition with which Bukhari opens his book is an example of what niyyah means: "(Good) actions shall be judged only by their aims4innama-l-a'malu bi-l-niyyat." Hence if a good action is done with a bad aim, it shall not benefit a doer. Exactly the same object is in view in the statement that there must be a niyyah in fasting, as Bukhari says: that is, the man who fasts must have an aim or purpose before him. The aim or purpose of fasting has already been stated, being, according to the Quran, the attainment of taqwa, to make the fast a spiritual discipline, to attain nearness to God and to seek His pleasure in all one's actions, and to make it a moral discipline, to shun all evil. It is in this sense alone that the niyyah is of the essence of fasting, as it is in fact of the essence of all good actions.

4 I have translated the word a'mal as meaning good actions. A reference to what follows in the report makes it clear, for the example of actions given there is hijra, the flight of a man for the sake of his principles which is an action of the highest value, but as the report tells us, if the hijra is undertaken with a bad aim in view, to attain worldly wealth or for the love of a woman, it loses all its value. That there can be no question of a good aim in evil actions is self-evident, and hence by a'mal in this report are meant good actions.

"Formulating the niyyah," or the expression on one's intention in set words, is unknown to the Quran and the Tradition, and is in fact meaningless, for a man will not fast unless he intends to do it. Only in the case of voluntary fasting, it is stated in a tradition, that the Prophet sent a crier to inform the people on the day of 'Asuhra', in daytime that people who had not eaten anything up to that time may fast. And of Abu Darda', it is related that he used to ask his wife if there was any food, and if none was found, he used to keep the fast (Bu. 30 : 21). According to 'Aishah, the Prophet used to ask if there was any food in the house, and when none was found he would fast (AD. 14 : 70). In the case of voluntary fasts one can understand the making up of mind in daytime, but there is no question of such intention in the month of Ramadzan, when everybody knows that he must fast.

What Breaks the Fast:

The word for breaking the fast is iftar, from fatr meaning to cleave or split a thing lengthwise (R.), and the things which break a fast are called muftirat, pl. of muftir. The three things which one should abstain from in fasting being eating, drinking and having sexual intercourse, these three, if resorted to of free will [Therefore anything done under compulsion or involuntarily does not break the fast.] and intentionally, between day-break and sunset, would break the fast, but if done through forgetfulness or inadvertently, the fast remains and must be completed (Bu. 30 : 26). Rinsing the mouth with water or with a toothbrush, gargling or sniffling the water into the nostrils, even if a little water passes into the throat unintentionally, does not break the fast (Bu. 30 : 25, 26, 27, 28). Nor does taking a bath or keeping a wet cloth on the head or pouring water on the head break the fast, even though done intentionally to relieve the severity of thirst (Bu. 30 : 25; MM. 7 : 4-ii). Cupping and vomiting also do not break the fast, for as Ibn 'Abbas and 'Ikrama say, a fast is broken by that which goes into the body, not by that which comes out (Bu. 30 : 32) [Note: There is a difference of opinion on some of these minor points, but what has been said here is based on weightier authority]. It is related that the Prophet would kiss his wife when fasting (Bu. 30 : 23). There is a difference of opinion regarding the punishment for breaking a fast intentionally before its time, as shown under the heading "Expiatory fasts." The Quran is silent on this point, while Tradition only shows that it is sufficient that the violator should be sincerely repentant. If fast is broken on a cloudy day, under the impression that the sun has set, and the sun then appears, then the fast should be completed (Bu. 30 : 46). If a man is fasting and then undertakes a journey, the fast may be broken (Bu. 30 : 34). The same rule may be followed in the case of sickness. In the case of voluntary fast, a man is at liberty to break the fast on account of a guest or the persistence of a friend (Bu. 30 : 51).

Ethical Side of Fasting:

What has been said hitherto relates only to the external side of the fast but, as stated in the beginning, the essence of the fast is its moral and spiritual value, and the Quran and Tradition have laid special stress on this. "Whoever does not give up," says one tradition "lying and acting falsely, Allah does not stand in need of his giving up food and drink" (Bu. 30 : 8). This is true of all the Islamic injunctions. A man who says his prayers and does not keep in view their inner meaning, the object of prayer, is condemned in clear words: "Woe to the praying ones, who are unmindful of (the object of) their prayers" (107 : 4, 5). In another tradition, the ethical side of the fast is shown in the following words: "Fasting is a shield, so let the man who fasts not indulge in any foul speech or do any evil deed (la yajhal), and if any one fights or quarrels with him or abuses him, he should say, I am fasting. By Him Who holds my soul in His hand, the breath of the faster is pleasanter with Allah than the scent of musk" (Bu. 30 : 2). It is not refraining from food that makes the breath of the faster so sweet; it is refraining from foul speech and abuse and evil words and deeds of all kinds, so much so that he does not even utter an offensive word by way of retaliation. Thus a fasting person undergoes not only a physical discipline by curbing his carnal desires, the craving for food and drink, and the sex appetite, but he is actually required to undergo a direct moral discipline by avoiding all kinds of evil words an evil deeds. It is not only a training on the physical side, which has a moral value; it is a direct training on the spiritual side as well. In the sight of God, as plainly stated in these traditions, the fast loses its value not only by taking food or drink but also by telling a lie, using foul language, acting unfaithfully, or doing an evil deed.

The moral value of the fasting discipline is further enhanced by laying stress on the doing of good to humanity in the month of Ramadzan. The example of the Prophet is quoted in this connection in a tradition. "The Prophet, peace and blessings of Allah be upon him, was the most bountiful of all people, and he exceeded his own bounty in the month of Ramadzan" (Bu. 30 : 7). Another tradition describes the month of Ramadzan as "a month in which the sufferings of the poor and the hungry must be attended to" (MM. 7 : I-iii).

These injunctions make clear the significance of the tradition which says that when the month of Ramadzan commences, "the doors of Heaven are opened and the doors of Hell are closed and the devils are put into chains" (Bu. 30 : 5). This is true of the man who keeps the fast, both physically and morally. The devils are chained in his case because he curbs and conquers the lower passions, by exciting which the devil makes a man fall into evil. The doors of Hell are closed on him because he shuns all evil which is man's hell. The doors of Heaven are opened for him because he rises above physical desires and devotes himself to the service of humanity. In one tradition, fasting is described as bringing about a forgiveness of sins "for him who fasts having faith (in God) and to seek His pleasure and having an aim or purpose" (Bu. 2 : 28; 30 : 6). There is not the least doubt that fasting as qualified here, that is, when it is kept having true faith in God and when the person fasting resorts to it as a discipline for seeking the pleasure of God, is practical repentance of the highest value; and when a man sincerely repents of sins, his previous sins are forgiven, because the course of his life has been changed.

There is, however, yet another sense in which the doors of Heaven are opened to a fasting person in the month of Ramadzan. It is specially suited for spiritual advancement, for attaining nearness to God. Speaking of Ramadzan, the Quran says: "And when My servants ask thee concerning Me, surely I am nigh; I answer the prayer of the suppliant when he calls on Me" (2 : 186). The ways of attaining nearness to God are here spoken of as being specially opened in Ramadzan, and this nearness is to be sought through prayer. It is for this reason that the Prophet used to have special regard for Tahajjud prayers in the month of Ramadzan. And he also recommended that his followers should, during this month, awake at night for prayers (Bu. 2 : 27).


I'tikaf [I'tikaf is derived from 'akafa 'alai-hi, meaning he kept, or clove, to it constantly or perseveringly (LL.)] means literally to stay in a place; technically it is staying in a mosque for a certain number of days, especially the last ten days of the month of Ramadzan. Bukhari has devoted a whole book to I'tikaf (book 33), showing the practice of the Prophet in this connection. During these days, the man who enters the state of I'tikaf (mu'takif) dissociates himself from all worldly affairs, and he does not leave the mosque unless there is necessity (hajah), such as evacuation, or having a bath, etc. (Bu. 33 : 3, 4). Usually a tent was pitched for the Prophet in the yard of the mosque (Bu. 33 : 7). Women are also allowed to enter a state of I'tikaf (Bu. 33 : 6). The mu'takif may be visited by other people or by his wife (Bu. 33 : 11). According to one tradition, he may visit a sick person (AD. 14 : 78) [Note: There are other traditions showing that he should not visit the sick, not assist at a burial, but evidently such deeds fall within the meaning of hajah.]. An I'tikaf may be performed in other days (AD. 15 : 75), but the last ten days of Ramadzan are specially mentioned in traditions and I'tikaf is spoken of in the Quran in connection with Ramadzan.

Lailat al-Qadr:

One of the last ten nights of the month of Ramadzan is called Lailat al-Qadr, the night of grandeur or majesty. In the Quran, it is spoken of in two places. In ch. 97, it is mentioned thrice as lailat al-Qadr: "Surely We revealed it on lailat al-Qadr. And what will make thee comprehend what lailat al-Qadr is? Lailat al-Qadr is better than a thousand months. The angels and the Spirit descend in it by the permission of their Lord – for every affair – Peace! it is till the break of morning." Here this night is spoken of as the night in which the Quran was revealed, and it is further stated that it is the night on which angels and the Spirit descend. It is also mentioned in ch. 44 where it is called a blessed night (laila mubaraka): "By the Book that makes manifest (the truth)! We revealed it on a blessed night – truly We are ever-warning. Therein is made clear every affair – full of wisdom – a command from Us" (44 : 2-5). It will be seen that, in both places, the Quran is spoken of as having been revealed on this night, and elsewhere it is stated that the Quran was revealed in the month of Ramadzan, which shows that this night occurs in the month of Ramadzan. The revelation of the Quran on this night means that its revelation began on that night; in other words, the first revelation came to the Prophet on this night. It is called a blessed night or the grand night because in it was laid the basis of a new revelation to the world which contains every commandment (amr) full of wisdom and knowledge (hakim). The lailat al-Qadr is, therefore, as it were, the anniversary of the revelation of the Quran.

As shown above, the last ten days of Ramadzan are specially observed as days of devotion, so much so that, though Islam discourages asceticism, yet in these ten days, a Muslim is allowed to lead an ascetic life, by keeping himself to the mosque and giving up all worldly affairs. There are various traditions showing that the Muslims should look for this night as one of the odd nights in the last ten nights of Ramadzan (Bu. 32 : 3) or in the last seven nights (Bu. 32 : 2). According to some traditions it is the twenty-fifth or twenty-seventh or twenty-ninth night of Ramadzan. One tradition says that some of the Companions of the Prophet were shown lailat al-Qadr in their dreams in the last seven nights (MM. 7 : 9-i). It should be borne in mind that lailat al-Qadr is a spiritual experience, as it was the spiritual, not the physical, experience of the Prophet, and as the last-quoted tradition shows, it was the spiritual experience of the Companions, and therefore it is an error to think that it can be beheld as a physical experience, or that any physical change is witnessed on that night. It is the spiritual experience of the man who exerts himself in Ramadzan to seek nearness to the Divine Being.


Books Section > The Religion of Islam > Fasting


'E-mail' this page to a friend!

E-mail Us!
This website is designed, developed and maintained by the members of:
Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for the Propagation of Islam
Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at-e-Islam, Lahore -- A.A.I.I.L.)
and is being managed in the Netherlands.

The responsibility of the content of this website lies with the respective authors
You may print-out and spread this literature for the propagation of Islam provided our website [aaiil.org] is acknowledged

Ahmadiyya Anjuman Isha'at-e-Islam Lahore (Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement for the Propagation of Islam)

Thank you for visiting us at aaiil.org or ahmadiyya.ws or muslim.sh or islam.lt !