Sawm (Fasting)

Many religions prescribe periods of fasting, or not eating, to strengthen or purify oneself from within. More recently, fasting has been linked to better health and wellbeing. These different qualities, and this religious heritage, are all linked. The Qur’an encapsulates this when it states: “Believers, fasting is prescribed for you, as it was for those before you, so that you may become more conscious of God”.

In Islam, fasting is prescribed as an essential religious practice during the (9th Islamic calendar) month of Ramadan. This means that healthy adult Muslims are dutybound to observe the practice each day of the month (though some healthy adults would be exempted from this duty). In addition, fasting is encouraged on other days during the year, in short bursts of a few days now and again.

All of these fasts follow the same pattern. A meal is eaten before dawn, and then no food or water is consumed until sunset. This is a personal challenge and draws upon one’s resolve and self-restraint, which is part of the impact fasting seeks to have upon a person. Controlling one’s hunger pangs and thirst is really a means of controlling other urges and impulses that come naturally to many of us, often in moments of personal weakness. We can all have tendencies to lose our cool, get angry, lie, fall prey to our lusts, and so on. It is the maturity, control and tempering of these impulses that fasting seeks to impact. In so doing, and in going hungry for some hours, one becomes more conscious of people with no access to basic food and water, and one hopefully becomes more conscious of what God provides.

During Ramadan, there is a tremendous community spirit that is unleased in a sort of ‘fasting season’. It is something family and friends who aren’t Muslim can even join in. Such a communal spirit makes it easier for individuals to observe fasting, whereas it can require more self-discipline at other times. Either way, no one truly knows who is and who isn’t fasting, which helps strengthen one’s commitment to God even more so. Fasting is done for the love of God and people feel genuinely good for having fasted, and resolve to do more good as a result.