Fasting (Sawm). It's the fourth Pillars of Islam.
Muslims are required to fast during Ramadan, the ninth month of the Islamic calendar.
During the 29/30 days of Ramadan all adult Muslims must give up the following things during the hours of daylight:
- Food or drink of any sort
- Smoking, including passive smoking
- Sexual activity
Muslims who are physically or mentally unwell may be excused some of these, as may those who are under twelve years old, the very old, those who are pregnant, breast-feeding, menstruating, or travelling.
If an adult does not fast for the reasons above they should try to make up the fast at a later date, or make a donation to the poor instead.
Muslims do not only abstain from physical things during Ramadan. They are also expected to do their best to avoid evil thoughts and deeds as well.
There are many good reasons for this fast, including:
- Obeying God
- Learning self-discipline
- Becoming spiritually stronger
- Appreciating God's gifts to us
- Sharing the sufferings of the poor and developing sympathy for them
- Realising the value of charity and generosity
- Giving thanks for the Holy Qur'an, which was first revealed in the month of Ramadan
- Sharing fellowship with other Muslims
Eating in Ramadan
During Ramadan many Muslims will try to eat a large meal called suhur just before dawn.
When daylight is over, most Muslims will break or open the fast with dates or water, following the example of the Prophet Muhammad, before having a proper meal later.
The evening meals during Ramadan are occasions for family and community get-togethers.
The month of Ramadan ends with the festival of Eid ul-Fitr. This is marked by dressing up and visiting the mosque for prayer, and with visits to family and friends for celebratory meals.
Ramadan and the Western calendar
Because Islam uses a lunar calendar, the month of Ramadan comes around 11 days earlier each successive year, so there is no Western season associated with Ramadan.
A discussion of self-denial
A Muslim chaplain discusses self-denial and corporal mortification with contributors from Opus Dei and a Greek Orthodox church.